Thursday, 23 March 2023

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Millennial teaches tech skills to low-income youth with video games

Millennial teaches tech skills to low-income youth with video games

As tech talent remains in high demand, Damon Packwood, founder and executive director of Gameheads, a nonprofit teaching tech and video game design skills, is making sure that underserved youth has the tools necessary to get jobs in the field.

From a “working-class, low-income community” in San Francisco, Packwood, 35, worked hard to become the first in his family to go to college via the Upward Bound program. He found himself doing college access and youth development work shortly after graduating, but noticed that there was one thing that all his students were obsessed with. 

“I started noticing that the students were different around 2007-2008. They were all on the computer. They were finishing assignments quicker, and we realized that they were getting their resources from the computer,” Packwood explains to CNBC Make It. “I was a film studies major, so I knew about media. But they were really tapped into media without being media literate, [doing things like] getting new music and finding the latest movies online, which was fascinating.”

At that moment, Packwood recognized that he and his colleagues needed to switch gears.

“We weren’t digital natives, we didn’t really know what was going on. And there was a point where I realized, ‘Oh, my God, we’re starting to sound like old people.’ I told everybody that we need to change what we’re doing right now or we’re going to be obsolete, because what [the students] are doing is different. And they said no. So I quit.”

Years later that experience inspired him to create a space that gives low income youth and young people of color the training and resources necessary to strengthen their IT, production, design, and media skills through video games. 

Gameheads students on their laptops

Damon Packwood

Founded in 2015 and based in Oakland, CA, Gameheads has provided free classes, mentorship, equipment, and soft/hardware to hundreds of high school and college-aged students. 

Here’s how Packwood started his entrepreneurship journey, how he looks at partnerships and his advice for others seeking to do work that they love.

‘Stop complaining and do something about it’

In 2011, Packwood started graduate school at California State University, and he says the tech diversity movement in California was just starting to kick off, citing the launches of Black Girls Code, Van Jones’ #YesWeCode, and Impact Oakland.

But teaching tech skills through video games was still uncharted territory.

“Nobody was focused on video games,”…

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