Ian Michael Brock of Dream Hustle Code: “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes”

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, look at mistakes as a teaching tool instead of something negative. Being afraid of making mistakes is what stops people (including myself sometimes) from taking action. Don’t let that fear of making a mistake stop you from even trying. In traditional school, making mistakes is not really embraced so […]

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Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, look at mistakes as a teaching tool instead of something negative. Being afraid of making mistakes is what stops people (including myself sometimes) from taking action. Don’t let that fear of making a mistake stop you from even trying. In traditional school, making mistakes is not really embraced so as students we’re worried more about “being perfect,” instead of the actual learning. Instead of taking the shot, many times I was too worried I would fail.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Michael Brock.

Ian Michael Brock (www.ianmichaelbrock.com), co-founder of Dream Hustle Code® and New Nerd, is a 17-year-old computer science activist and public speaker. For the past seven years, Ian has been on a mission to inspire confidence in Black and Brown children, while empowering them to believe that they too can be creators of new cutting-edge technology. He is writing a book on success for kids that has led to interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Bob Johnson, R. Donahue Peebles, Steve Harvey, Chris Bosh, and Will Packer, to name a few. Ian’s live daily webinars have impacted hundreds of students throughout the U.S. and across the globe. Most recently, Ian was featured in McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden Mentors Commercial Campaign. Other appearances include: CBS Evening News, BET Awards, and Van Jones Tech Town Hall. He has been featured online in media outlets such as Forbes, Black Enterprise, Medium, Education Week, Chicago Tribune, NPR and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

My name is Ian Brock and I’m a self-proclaimed “New Nerd.” I’m 17yrs old, born and raised in Chicago. I co-founded a non-profit organization called Dream Hustle Code. I’m a Computer Science Activist, Entrepreneur, Public Speaker, Youth CS/Personal Development Coach and Soon-To-Be Author. Growing up in Chicago, I was very fortunate to have two amazing parents who always supported me and kept me focused and in line. They’ve been a major part of the foundation for everything that I’ve done and are the reason why I’m in the position that I’m in today.

I grew up with the love of basketball and often dreamed of going to the NBA (although it didn’t quite work out). I also loved playing video games including NBA2K and COD as well as watching youtubers who actually helped shape my online personality. My life forever changed when I was inspired by one of my favorite NBA Players to learn to code when I was eight years old. My mission started at that very moment!

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Computer Science skills are one of the most sought-after in the U.S. job market, yet less than 50% of schools offer CS-related courses. Dream Hustle Code’s mission is to introduce CS Education and Personal Development to youth who are underrepresented and underestimated in the tech space as a way to inspire them to consider future careers in technology. We hosted multiple annual in-person events, but because of the pandemic we were forced to make a major shift and take our programming online.

That’s when we created our New Nerd Computer Science and Personal Development classes for students 5th-12th grade. We produce exciting and engaging daily online programs that impact youth across America and even in Canada, Barbados, Ghana, Trinidad and the Philippines. Students are able to see mentors who look like them and communicate like them, paving the way for a more relatable learning experience along their journey.

Our vision is to ultimately expose students to opportunities in technology, learn necessary personal development skills to be successful in tech and life, and then pipeline them into well paying jobs in the digital economy.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

It all started in 3rd grade. My mom found a Code.org video that Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook titled, “What Most Schools Don’t Teach.” The video talked about the importance of computer science and how every kid should learn how to code.

My mom encouraged me to watch the video even though it was almost 10:00 pm. Initially, I thought it was boring. I saw people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg but I couldn’t relate to them nor did I really understand who they were at that time — I was only eight years old! At that age my interests included basketball, video games, and Youtube.

What made the difference was when 2x NBA Champ & Olympic Gold Medalist Chris Bosh discussed his experiences with learning to code and how he thought “coding was cool.” The fact that I saw someone who looked like me and someone that I could relate to is what grabbed my attention.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

My “Aha Moment” was at the beginning of the pandemic. We had just hosted an Hour of Code Event in December 2019 with over 300 students at Google’s Chicago HQ. Governor Pritzker, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Congressman Davis joined us and the media was there to cover the event — it was a big win for us and it was the first time for so many students and educators to be at Google.

We had planned out the year with amazing in-person events including another tech trip to California. That all changed when the pandemic hit and closed the world down. All of our events were instantly cancelled and we had no idea what the future was going to look like.

Our team met to figure out what we could do at that moment. Just imagine…millions of kids in America who now had no school to go to. Dream Hustle Code wanted to somehow be of service to students and parents during this life changing moment when everyone was at home. All we could think of was creating an online program where kids would learn something new and have fun at the same time. Parents were feeling stressed and we wanted to take the load off of them so the environment that we created was safe, yet fun and engaging. We didn’t have any teachers or professors who were available to teach so I became the front person. At that moment I really didn’t have a choice so I had to step up to the plate and take the lead.

The “New Nerd CS + Personal Development Program” was launched. In our first week we started with 11 students. I wasn’t sure how I would run the classes because I had never done anything like this before. No one knew this at the time, but I was using our mobile hotspot from our phones. We even found a hack to get a webinar service for almost free!

18 Months later and we have a thriving program that has impacted over 8,000 students through our virtual events.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

You have to first identify a problem that you want to solve. After that, you have to spend some time thinking about the steps that you intend to take toward solving the problem. This will become your Mission. It’s important that you begin with as clear a vision as possible for your path forward but understand that things will change along the way. Knowing what you want to accomplish is key but understand that the road will have twists, turns and delays all along the way.

Next, you must do more research in the field that you’ll be working in to help develop the best strategy for attacking the problem you are trying to solve. This may include creating a step-by-step plan (not always). Sometimes, you’ll know exactly what to do to achieve your goal, but most of the time you won’t know and that’s ok. This is where team building comes into play. Building your team will be a fluid process that will happen as you move forward but understand that no one does this work alone.

Now, get to work. Invest your time, energy and even some money (when necessary) to get your organization off the ground.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?

The most interesting story was during our fundraising for our VisionScape Tech Tour. The idea for this started back in late 2017 after I had an eye opening experience visiting Google’s HQ in Silicon Valley. That trip allowed me to gain a firsthand view of the possibilities in the tech space and how amazing it really could be for me to get involved. After that, I knew that I couldn’t be the only one to have these experiences and I wanted to give my friends and peers the same opportunity.

So, in 2018 we began raising funds for the trip. The fundraising process was an emotional roller coaster. We experienced that initial high then had to face a ton of lows coming from all different directions. I went from getting doors slammed in my face, to selling cookies, asking for donations, to getting the runaround from companies during our fundraising campaign. Then, on the last day before we were supposed to make our final deposit, two of our major donors backed out with no explanation. This left us at a major crossroad, and we had to quickly decide between scrapping the trip altogether or pushing the date back one whole year. We ended up pushing it back to summer 2019, forcing us to go back to all of those parents and ask them to be patient with us for another year. Plus, we were not excited about starting all over and going through that fundraising process again.

Fast forward to May 2019, we were in the last stretch of our second fundraising campaign. BET’s Head of Media Sales commented on a post that I made on Instagram referencing the violence in Chicago. We messaged each other and scheduled a meeting to discuss our project. During the meeting, he said that he would not only donate money for the trip, but he would get BET to commit to donating the last of the funds. He also said that he would fly my family to the BET Awards so that I could speak to millions of television viewers from the Main Stage of the Red Carpet. Excited doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we were feeling. We had just spent over a year and a half on this journey with all the ups and downs and now it was finally happening. In July 2019, we went on to have a successful VisionsScape Tech Tour visiting tech companies including Netflix, Twitter, Google and others!

On the last leg of our tour in Los Angeles, we ended up at the late “Nipsey Hussle’s” Tech Incubator where then Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg was visiting. The media attendance was insane! We were interviewed, made it onto the national news cycle and even got a mention in Rolling Stone Magazine. After it was all said and done, coming up short on our first fundraising campaign turned out to be a true blessing in disguise. I wouldn’t trade that entire experience for the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I’ve been working on a book about success for kids by interviewing highly successful people and writing their life and career lessons through the voice of a kid.

I had just interviewed Super Producer and Grammy Award Winner Dallas Austin in May of 2017. Mr. Austin agreed to introduce me to his friend Mr. Sean “Diddy” Combs so I could interview him too. Fast forward to August — it was a Saturday afternoon and I was taking a nap. My parents burst into my room and woke me up yelling, “Ian, GET UP!!! Dallas is on the phone and he wants to talk to you!”

Crusty-eyed, dry mouth, I was dazed and confused about what was happening. Before I realized it, I was on the phone talking to Mr. Austin and he tells me that he wants to introduce me to someone. Still a little groggy and not fully aware of what was happening, I’m suddenly on the phone with the one and only Mr. Sean “Diddy” Combs! He and Mr. Austin along with Mr. Combs’ family were vacationing on a yacht somewhere off the Amalfi Coast of Italy. In one split second after hearing Mr. Combs’ voice, from out of nowhere I found the energy to wake up for that call. I was super nervous at this point because I was still trying to compose myself and I did not want to mess up this opportunity. I told Mr. Combs about my book project and after talking up the mission that I was on, he agreed to do the interview.

“He said YES,” I screamed!!! Jumping up and down for joy, I proceeded to let him know that we would contact him to schedule the interview. I got off the phone and realized that I forgot the most important thing. I forgot to ask him for his phone number or at least the number of his assistant to schedule the interview.

I couldn’t believe what I had just done! And to this day, I still have not been able to connect with him for that interview. As painful as it was, this is where I learned one of my biggest lessons in business. When you’re connecting with people and building relationships, make sure to ALWAYS get their personal contact information!!! And if it’s not them directly, find out who their number two person is and connect with them ASAP!!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

First, I have to start off with my parents. They are my biggest cheerleaders, my support system, and even my biggest critics. My parents taught me so many lessons (and there’s too many to list here): understanding the value and importance of managing my time, learning how to speak in public, taking risks, education does not just take place in the classroom, dreaming bigger dreams and don’t be afraid to journey down roads where others have not yet traveled. They have also taught me how important it is to be of service to others, regardless of what you have or level of success you’ve obtained in life.

Since I work with them, our relationship is unique and it’s not your typical family relationship. They allow me to not only express my ideas but they give me the freedom to work on things that are unconventional for a teen and learn from my mistakes along the way.

Outside of my parents, there is an amazing group of mentors who have played a crucial role in my life. People like Mr. Shaka Senghor, Mr. Louis Carr, and Mr. Jeff Hoffman (there are more I can add to this list, but there wouldn’t be enough space). They have all supported the mission and opened doors to amazing opportunities. Without their help I would not have made it as far as I have along this journey.

Here are a few pieces of sage advice that they’ve blessed me with through the years.

Mr. Senghor — It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. Therefore it is important to make connections with people who can fill the gaps.

Mr. Carr — Actions speak louder than words.

Mr. Hoffman — Know your audience and don’t be afraid to speak to them.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I have a student from North Carolina who joined our program when she was in 5th grade. Like many of our students, they have fun, but it’s difficult in the beginning because they’re learning something new. What I loved about her was the energy she brought to our class every day! She always participated with a positive attitude and flooded our chat with that same high energy. She was definitely vibing on a different level whenever class started.

During her first week in our program her mom contacted us and asked how long it would take for her daughter to become a full-fledged programmer because she loved our class. She had no previous experience in CS or coding, but she was hooked!

She showed up to class every day and on time. She was so immersed in the coding lessons that she worked on them outside of our daily webinars. Needless to say, she became one of my more advanced students, and she was only in 5th grade! She finished so many projects in record time that in the middle of class I sometimes had to assign her independent projects on the fly to keep her motivated. She soaked up so much of the information that I had to make sure I was keeping up with her too.

This program inspired her to join a game development course where she learned how to build basic mobile video games. What’s even more amazing is that she inspired her father to change career paths. He told our team that his daughter’s excitement and willingness to learn a new language (JavaScript) inspired him to want to speak the same language with her and he decided to take a course so that he could pursue more lucrative job opportunities in tech.

Now, That’s IMPACT!!!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Successfully solving the problem that we’re addressing extends far beyond the communities that we serve. Our success means that the entire Nation benefits on multiple levels. Not only will we be pipelining a larger portion of the BIPOC population into higher paying jobs in the tech space but our work opens the door for more trained talent to be nurtured to address some of the greatest challenges that we face in our communities and in our nation.

Ideally, taking into consideration the many stakeholders that will benefit from greater numbers from the BIPOC community entering the tech space, it would make sense for U.S. communities, politicians and society as a whole to stop focusing on the differences that separate us. Instead, they should place all of their collective energy on the benefits of investing time, energy and resources into getting this rapidly growing, yet overlooked segment of people into technology as soon as possible.

We have more than enough resources available, but it’s the will to prioritize and focus how those resources are deployed. We have to come together to set an agenda to get this accomplished. Access to reliable internet, computers in households, setting the stage for interaction between kids that we serve and others in the tech space who look like us are critical hurdles that the collective effort of all parties are capable of overcoming.

If we do this…watch out World!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each!!!

Lesson #1

The first lesson I wish I knew earlier is that the journey will take a lot longer and be more expensive than you think. In the beginning we thought the work would be done in 5 years, and we’re already in year eight. Understanding and accepting that the journey will take time and patience is huge.

Take the Silicon Valley Trip! It took us double the anticipated time to raise those funds. I literally had doors slammed in my face and at two companies backed out on financial commitments at the last minute. This was one of my most embarrassing moments but it taught me a great deal about having contingency plans and being flexible.

Lesson #2

The next important lesson that I wish I knew early on is that building and nurturing relationships will take you far. What I saw, first hand, was that the relationships I built with people, ranging from Google Execs, to owners of multi-billion dollar companies have opened doors to opportunities I would have never imagined and never experienced had I not built and worked to maintain those relationships.

During my journey, I started writing a book on success for kids, which has now become a three-book trilogy. The original book was supposed to be based on Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich book model. So I set out to interview as many highly successful people as I could connect with so I could tell the stories of their journeys through the voice of a kid (me).

Ms. Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Steve Harvey and Mr. Ben Horowitz were some of the most difficult interviews to complete and all three took much longer than I expected. I would not have secured these interviews without leveraging relationships.

Lesson #3

The third lesson is not to worry about how other people view you based on what you’re doing. Often we get so wrapped up in what other people think, when in reality those opinions are only in your head. It’s easy to get caught up in making decisions based on how other people feel or what they will think about your decisions.

When I left school to be homeschooled this was a major turning point in my life! From friends to family members, everyone had an opinion about that decision and thought my parents and I were crazy. I have to admit that at the time it did get to me, but now it’s crystal clear that we were making the right decision.

Lesson #4

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, look at mistakes as a teaching tool instead of something negative. Being afraid of making mistakes is what stops people (including myself sometimes) from taking action. Don’t let that fear of making a mistake stop you from even trying. In traditional school, making mistakes is not really embraced so as students we’re worried more about “being perfect,” instead of the actual learning. Instead of taking the shot, many times I was too worried I would fail.

When I used to play basketball I would pass on open shots instead of shooting them because I was scared of missing. This held me back as a ball player and eventually led to me giving up the sport. One of the last things my coach said to me was, “You gotta lose that fear because that’s what’s holding you back.”

Lesson #5

Enjoy the moment. In the beginning it feels like reaching your goals and experiencing success takes so long…and it does. But learn to enjoy it and be present.

During the pandemic, our entire strategy had to shift. I recalled being really uncertain about how we were going to adapt to going fully virtual. My family and I were all stuck at home and we had these virtual classes to produce every day! The numbers were small in the beginning but grew steadily over time. It was crazy because we launched from my bedroom then created a studio (still at home) months later.

With so much uncertainty all around us and so many new relationships being built, I learned to step back from it all, take a deep breath, take it all in and enjoy the ride. I’ve taken those lessons with me and now I apply them to everything. It’s been an amazing journey.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We need more of us out there — it’s that simple!

Although I am working on some amazing projects to uplift others, we need more of us to make the world better for everyone.

Even if we aren’t passionate about someone else’s cause or mission, solve a problem that moves you! When I think about how we started Dream Hustle Code I really didn’t realize the impact we were making because I was eight year old. But, I stayed on the mission even when the odds were stacked against us. Almost ten years later we are still here fighting to level the tech playing field for others.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My Top 3 would be Warren Buffett, Elon Musk and Lil Uzi Vert.

Warren Buffett is one of the smartest individuals I know of and he has a lot of financial principles, especially his views on investing, that I would love to learn.

Elon Musk is a visionary! Not only is he one of the wealthiest people on the planet, but his risk taking approach fascinated me when I read his biography. He has a brilliant mind and I’d love to pick his brain about growing successful companies and how he manages it all while staying true to who he is.

Last, but not least, I would love to have lunch with Lil Uzi Vert because he is my favorite artist.

OK, so my list includes one more. I met Mr. Robert F. Smith, but I still would love to actually spend time with him since we share a similar mission to onboard more Black and Brown youth into technology.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can visit our website at www.dreamhustlecode.com and you can follow me on social media @dreamhustlecode and @Ian__Brock on instagram

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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