Neil Shah – Code Tenderloin

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A South Californian native, Neil Shah would never have thought that a walking tour of Tenderloin with Del Seymour could practically change his life forever as well as the many lives of homeless people around the Tenderloin neighborhood. Neil basically never stopped hustling, jumping from med school to law school to business school, getting an MBA at UC Irvine, and doing a short stint behind bars. But it was his passion for helping people that got him volunteering at different non profit projects and organizations. Neil is now the Head of Business Development and Partnerships at Code Tenderloin where they have partnered with a whole bunch of startups and organizations in order to relentlessly help homeless people break into tech, disrupting the career pathway and transforming people’s lives.


Years in Tech 1
Grew Up Southern CA
Current Job Educator
Date Recorded 8/10/2016

Key Points:

  • Code Tenderloin is a startup nonprofit social enterprise that helps the underprivileged Tenderloin community in to getting entry-level jobs by providing the necessary support they need.
  • If you can just take someone literally off the streets that everybody misconceived and misperceived, and just put enough support around them, you will see a miracle!
  • Inspiration will only take you so far. When you can’t pay your bills, you go through trauma dealing with people every day. Have a spiritual program that will keep you intact.
  • Code Tenderloin has helped so many homeless people get back on their feet and start anew. If they can do it, so can you. Keep hustling. Don’t be afraid. Always be positive.

Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):

[01:21] Neil’s background growing up in Southern California, taking undergrad at Stanford initially wanting to be a physician and getting a mix up in drugs and alcohol (with 4 Drunk in Public and 2 DUI charges)

[03:52] Deciding to follow his heart taking a job at Larkin St. Youth Services, a nonprofit homeless youth organization as a Residential Case Counselor

[05:41] The extremes of the Northside and Southside of Market Street

[07:00] His 6-year gap between Larkin and Code Tenderloin: Living and working in Brooklyn, applying to law schools, and took MBA in UC Irvine

[09:39] Joining the Hult Business Challenge and meeting Ross Baird of Village Capital, a social venture capital where he joined the team

[10:52] Getting locked up in jail for his 3rd DUI, literally leaving the jail in a suit and go to interviews and come back to the facility, get searched, and get back in his jumpsuit until he landed his real estate job

[14:14] Being on a panel for the Local Homeless Coordinating Board and volunteering at Lava Mae, mobile shower for the homeless

[15:18] Joined the Hive Global Leaders Program (where he got funding through GoFundMe) and joined the board of Lava Mae and Concrn, a mobile app that does mental health crisis response in Tenderloin

[16:36] Touring Tenderloin with Del Seymour, Founder of Code Tenderloin and “the unofficial mayor of Tenderloin,” and crying over a video of Del’s TEDx talk that Del has shown to him. Neil then joined as a full-time volunteer at Code Tenderloin.

[19:06] Del and Neil hustling to get sponsorship and funding from various companies and putting up an Indiegogo campaign

[23:22] A 100-person walking tour done by ARGONAUT and their CEO took Code Tenderloin as a pro bono project (They did the whole Indiegogo video for free!)

[24:30] Benchmark Capital (that has portfolio companies like Uber, Twitter, Glassdoor, Zillow, Yelp, OpenTable, Snapchat, etc)

[28:18] Hosting the Code Ramp program, offering free coding classes at PianoFight

[30:11]TechSF Resource – offers a program for underemployed and unemployed tech professionals where you can get fast track certifications and get connected back to the tech industry

[31:38] How they’ve disrupted the career pathway and getting support from Shawn Drost, Co-Founder of Hack Reactor, a coding bootcamp that has 99% job placement rate in software engineering

[33:57] Jorge’s story: Studying ruby on rails during the day at a public library and getting scholarships for online coursed at Coursera while Sleeping in a tent outside of the library

[37:04] Given access to Telegraph Academy’s online Telegraph Prep

[41:00] The future of Code Tenderloin: Reversed-engineered curriculum + Financial literacy + Mental health and wellness + unrestricted, flexible funding from the city

[46:34] Working with SRO’s: Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation + job placement initiatives other than tech

[48:50] The Lightning Round

Imagine you’re dropped in a city and only had $100 and had to start all over again. What would you do and how would you spend it?

  • Take a Greyhound to San Francisco. Go to Code Tenderloin and take it from there.

What song, movie, or art piece did you look at that inspired you to get through those roadblocks?

  • So Tired of Being Alone by Al Green
  • The Payback by James Brown
  • Marvin Gaye
  • Books from Indian philosopher Krishnamurti
  • Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
  • Translations of the Bhagavad Gita

What is your one piece of advice for someone homeless and they have this hustle and desire to make it but they just don’t know where to start?

  • Be fearless.

What’s one thing that you fundamentally believe while you’re going through this process that you changed your mind on after?

  • Inspiration will only take you so far. When you can’t pay your bills, you go through trauma dealing with people everyday. It’s his spiritual program that keeps him intact. Keep your head down but be optimistic.

Articles Mentioned & Resources:

Learning Resources

Larkin St. Youth Services
Hult Business Challenge
Village Capital
Local Homeless Coordinating Board
Hive Global Leaders Program
Lava Mae
Del Seymour’s TEDxTalk

Personal Projects/Partnerships:
Code Tenderloin
Code Ramp
Hack Reactor
Saint Francis Foundation
Benchmark Capital
Silicon Valley Bank
Press Shop
Telegraph Academy
Telegraph Prep
General Assembly
App Academy
San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
Mission Asset Fund
Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation

Contact Information:

Neil Shah
Facebook: Code Tenderloin
Twitter: @codetenderloin
Instagram: @codetenderloin
Code Tenderloin welcomes donations of laptops and smart phones.
Tenderloin Walking Tours:

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