Tech Learning Collective

Technology education for radical organizers and revolutionary communities.

About

Tech Learning Collective is an apprenticeship-based technology school for radical organizers headquartered in New York City that provides a security-first IT infrastructure curriculum to otherwise underserved communities and organizations advancing social justice causes. We train politically self-motivated individuals in the arts of hypermedia, Information Technology, and radical political practice.

Founded and operated exclusively by radical queer and femme technologists, we offer unparalleled free, by-donation, and low-cost computer classes on topics ranging from fundamental computer literacy to the same offensive computer hacking techniques used by national intelligence agencies and military powers (cyber armies).

Our students are primarily people of marginalized groups and other individuals who are politically engaged.

Unlike coding bootcamps that focus on moving the highest number of students through rote memorization exercises for the goal of job placement, Tech Learning Collective teachers facilitate foundational skill building through Socratic discussion and kinetic, experience-based training.

This makes us very different from many other educational institutions in a variety of ways. Many of these differences grew organically from our unique history.

Tech Learning Collective has two primary goals. These are:

  1. Provide meaningful technology education to underserved communities
  2. Fund existing community-owned technology projects for radical social good

Provide meaningful technology education to underserved communities

Tech Learning Collective course enrollment is open only to approved students. To be eligible for enrollment, prospective students must submit a student statement describing their motivations for enrolling. We spend the most time supporting applicants who are in one way or another materially disenfranchised in mainstream society, particularly financially.

We closely scrutinize and often reject the applications of prospective students who are primarily motivated to enroll in a Tech Learning Collective course for the purpose of getting a job at a tech company (i.e., software development companies, data brokers, adtech, fintech, large enterprises, or other similar entities). This is because Tech Learning Collective is explicitly not a job placement program or school-to-corporation pipeline; our curriculum is not accredited, we do not offer any certifications, and we are both philosophically and politically positioned against techno-capitalism as well as the very concept of employment.

We do not believe a just or humane society would require you to perform labor of any kind to be perceived as having enough value to support with basic human rights such as access to food, shelter, and privacy.

The skills we teach do make individuals more likely to get hired in technology-sector jobs, and numerous students have successfully switched careers to become programmers or Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) without any prior background in or experience with the software and Internet industries. This is partly thanks to our superior pedagogy, and partly thanks to our focus during class sticking to Free Software and commodity, low-cost hardware that individuals and advocacy organizations can use immediately, perpetually, and without any fees.

Fund existing community-owned technology projects for radical social good

Proceeds from Tech Learning Collective courses, workshops, events, and private bookings provides support to a number of existing community-owned technology projects, including hardware for physical infrastructure installations, operating costs for community information and communication networks, and seed funding for hyperlocal advocacy efforts that align with Tech Learning Collective’s mission. Tech Learning Collective instructors and teaching assistants are also paid for their time on a student-per-course basis for the courses and workshops they teach, as are our promotions, partner operations, and special event staff.

Funding secured through Tech Learning Collective course tuition and workshop or event ticket sales always funds projects that are, themselves, free of charge. View a list of our benefitting organizations.

Our Difference

We are unlike many other educational institutions in ways that make the quality of our teachers, students, and alumni community noticably better than existing coding bootcamps, technical trade schools, and development academies you might otherwise attend. By “better” we mean:

Master more skills more quickly

Tech Learning Collective students master more skills more quickly that will serve them for a longer period of time and in more contexts than they would otherwise acquire. This is because code bootcamps and certification courses are primarily focused on job placement and reward task-completion, whereas Tech Learning Collective courses are primarily focused on foundational skill building and reward curiosity.

Many companies automatically disqualify coding bootcamp graduates during the hiring process. Overwhelmingly, hiring managers at technology companies report that the bootcamp graduate pool performs extremely poorly on their technical assessments. Put another way, the educational experience at code bootcamps is abysmal. These for-profit schools, for which students pay an average of $11,000 USD per course experience, prey on precisely the sort of financially disadvantaged people that Tech Learning Collective educational offerings are designed to empower.

In contrast, Tech Learning Collective students spend approximately ten thousand dollars less for an equivalent educational self-investment. This is partly thanks to the fact that Tech Learning Collective’s pedagogy begins at critical foundations almost always overlooked by the rush-to-employment curriculums of competing offerings, and partly thanks to our unmatched teachers, who are trained to identify knowledge gaps and personally mentor students throughout their course experience. The trade-off is that we provide no job-hunting assistance (other than access to our alumni network), partly because we are confident that your demonstrable skills will carry you, and partly because we believe there are better things you can be doing with your newfound skills than relegating the pursuit of your dreams to nights, weekends, and boss-approved lunch breaks.

Militantly reject corporate monopolies

Every Tech Learning Collective educational offering focuses on free and open source software, ruthlessly calling out and militantly rejecting proprietary platforms, products, or services that enforce vendor lock-in, or require subscriptions or licenses to use. Big Tech companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and even Microsoft owe their very existence to what is now known as free and open source software because each of these company’s core business objectives fundamentally relies on freely available, open source, and standards-based protocols and applications to power the heart of their day-to-day operations at all parts of their technology stack, from operating system (e.g., Linux) to Web encryption (e.g., OpenSSL).

Frustratingly, most tech education initiatives funded by these same Big Tech players only shows students how to use their specific product offering. This is a blatant attempt to restrict an entire generation of technologists to the proprietary platforms already controlled by monopolistic corporations. To counter this, Tech Learning Collective educational materials cover the same industry-standard tools that engineers in large, global teams use in their day-to-day jobs while revealing the potential for completely autonomous and indepenent use of those tools so that students are never bound to a certain manufacturer’s or provider’s business plans.

Learn from expert teachers, not merely experts

Tech Learning Collective teachers go through immense scrutiny to be considered as teachers, ensuring that they are not merely experts in their field but are also actually good at transferring their skills to others. Unlike many code bootcamp teachers, who are often merely recent graduates of the bootcamp itself with little to no professional nor teaching experience, our teachers all have a crucial additional skill: the skill of teaching.

Moreover, as a collective, all Tech Learning Collective teachers are actively engaged in one or more of the projects Tech Learning Collective funds. This ensures that they have demonstrated a deep and lasting commitment to anti-State, anti-racist, feminist ideals. Further, the majority of our teaching team is genderqueer and femme, which we feel meaningfully impacts the experience of our students for the better.

Learn by doing, not watching PowerPoint slides

Tech Learning Collective courses are dramatically more interactive than most other educational offerings. Whereas most online and even in-person tech classes frequently force students to sit through boring slideshows before ever putting their hands on a keyboard and then only to perform narrowly-scoped, pre-defined practice problems in tightly constrained, simulated environments, our methodology focuses almost exclusively on providing guided, kinetic, experience-based training in fully-fledged, real-life scenarios using physical hardware, cloud environments, or both.

Although students are provided with many supplementary course materials, there are no required textbooks or assignments in any Tech Learning Collective course. Instead, every course is modeled on a Socratic, collaborative discussion. The main activity at each class is “keyboard time” and direct interaction with fellow students (e.g., pair programming).

Instead of terse PDF checklists outlining a sequence of steps you are expected to memorize, Tech Learning Collective educational materials are detailed, human-language, hyperlinked deep dives thoroughly discussing each and every concept of the relevant exercise. These labs are not mere simulations, but are built using state-of-the-art, industry-standard DevOps tools (e.g., Vagrant). This means they are real Operating Systems that are bit-for-bit identical to production systems, and that you will never lose access to your practice environments because they run locally on your own computer and never expire. Additional materials are provided as in-browser interactive Web shells and in-person or hands-on physical hardware installations.

Our History

In 2016, a group of Ⓐnarchist and autonomist radicals met in Brooklyn, NY to seek out methods of mutual self-education around technology. Many of us did not have backgrounds in computer technology, but some of us did. We had all participated in justice movement organizing at one point or another, whether at the WTO protests before the turn of the century, anti-war movement organizing against US imperialism in the mid 2000’s, supporting whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, participating in Occupy Wall Street, or in various campaigns against oil pipeline projects, labor organizing, sexual health and gender justice, indigenous rights, anti-gentrification and tenant unionization efforts, and more.

This first version of Tech Learning Collective met regularly in several anarchist-occupied spaces for about a year as a semi-private mutual-education project and succeeded in sewing the seeds of what would later become several additional justice-oriented technology groups. None of the members were formally trained technologists, including—notably—those with tech industry backgrounds. None of us have ever held computer science degrees. Many of the traditional techniques of and environments offering technology education felt alienating to us.

Nonetheless, everyone involved recognized the transformative and astonishingly powerful capacities that modern digital technologies could have in the hands of people whose focus is ethics and justice rather than profit—exactly the opposite ethos as that enacted by Silicon Valley, despite their claims to “make the world a better place.” We began offering free workshops and classes on computer technologies specifically for Left-leaning politically engaged individuals and groups so as to advocate for more effective use of these technologies in our movement organizing. We quickly learned that courses needed to cater to people with skill levels ranging from self-identified “beginners” to very experienced technologists, that they needed to be self-sustaining, and that our trainers needed to exemplify a totally new culture to reach our comrades, many of whom had sworn off technical self-sufficiency as a legitimate avenue for liberation in a misguided but understandable reaction to the poisonous prevalence of machismo, knowledge grandstanding, and blatant sociopathy exhibited by the overwhelming majority of “techies.”

Following the 2016 US Presidential election, Tech Learning Collective members dispersed into a number of urgent community projects, but the need to offer high quality technology education to groups and individuals engaged in radical, grassroots, and non-profit community projects remained. Then in early 2019, and now engaged in numerous different new groups, several Tech Learning Collective members worked to loosely codify a curriculum development and student mentoring process that they had experienced themselves be dramatically more effective at “upskilling” interested students than those provided by code bootcamps, digital vocational training, and other employment-centric initiatives. This lived experience of contrasting the different pedagogies convinced members to form what is now Tech Learning Collective’s free, by-donation, and low-cost educational efforts in our existing formats.

Today, Tech Learning Collective continues offering exceptional Information Technology (IT) educational opportunities at a much lower cost than traditional computer courses and provides supplementary funding for the existent activist projects that grew out of the first version of Tech Learning Collective meetings in the mid 2010’s. In keeping with our original mission, Tech Learning Collective is especially in service to people who might identify themselves as being “outsiders” to the mainstream “tech world.” That is, we are primarily invested in those folks who have either never been tech workers or who have otherwise felt at odds with the general culture of technocapitalism, its tech bros, and its monocultural intentions.

Tech Learning Collective’s singular overarching goal is to provide its students with the knowledge and abilities to liberate their communities from corporate and government overseers, especially as it relates to owning and operating their own information and communications infrastructures, which we view as a necessary prerequisite for meaningful revolutionary actions. Using these skills, our students assist in the organization of activist work like abortion access and reproductive rights, local Food Not Bombs and Copwatch chapters, anti-surveillance organizing, and other efforts that help build collective power beyond mere (“voter”) representation.

At Tech Learning Collective, students learn how to extend and enhance the existing capabilities of their projects and communities using free, open, and increasingly ubiquitous digital technologies.