Tech Learning Collective is an apprenticeship-based technology school for radical organizers headquarted 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.
The Tech Learning Collective has two primary goals. These are:
- Provide meaningful technology education to underserved communities
- 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 students who are in one way or another materially disenfranchised in mainstream society, particularly financially.
Moreover, 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 the 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.
The skills we teach do make individuals more likely to get hired in technology-sector jobs, and some of our students have successfully switched careers to become programmers or Site Reliability Engineers (SREs), but our focus during class is on 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, and events 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.
We are unlike many other educational institutions in ways that we believe 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 due to routine demonstrably subpar performance from the bootcamp graduate pool. 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.
Militantly reject corporate monopolies
Every Tech Learning Collective educational offering focuses on free and open source software and militantly rejects proprietary platforms, products, or services that require subscriptions or licenses to use. Big Tech companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and even Microsoft owe their 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, our teachers all have a crucial additional skill: the skill of teaching.
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 force students to sit through boring slideshows for hours before ever putting their hands on a keyboard, our methodology focuses almost exclusively on providing guided, kinetic, experience-based training.
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).
The Tech Learning Collective offers low-cost courses on computer technologies specifically for Left-leaning, politically engaged individuals and groups. Courses cater to people with skill levels ranging from self-identified “beginners” to very experienced technologists.
The first version of the TLC was formed in 2016 by a group of radicals who sought out methods of mutual self-education around technology, and met regularly in Brooklyn. None of us were formally trained technologists; none of us have ever held computer science degrees. Many of the traditional techniques of and environments offering technology education felt alienating to us.
From 2016 to 2019, TLC members dispersed into a number of 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. Today, the TLC serves both to offer exceptional Information Technology (IT) educational opportunities at a much lower cost than traditional computer courses, and as a means to provide supplementary funding for the existent activist projects that grew out of the first version of the TLC in the mid 2010’s.
In keeping with our original mission, the TLC is especially in service to people who might identify themselves as being “outsiders” to the mainstream “tech world.” That is, 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.
The goal of the TLC is to provide its students with the knowledge and abilities to in turn provide for their communities, especially as it relates to liberating their communities from corporate overseers in order to own and operate their own information and communications infrastructure. 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. At TLC, students learn how to extend and enhance the existing capabilities of their projects and communities using free, open, and increasingly ubiquitous digital technologies.