This New York Programmer Wants To Teach A Homeless Man To Code

An article posted to Medium on Wednesday describes one programmer’s plan to use a homeless man as a social experiment.


Patrick McConlogue’s article “Finding the unjustly homeless, and teaching them to code” — in which he describes his plan to offer a homeless man either $100 in cash, or three JavaScript books, an inexpensive laptop and free lessons in how to code — has left some on the internet very angry.

“What do you think he will take?” writes McConlogue. “And do you have any other suggestions/gear he would need?”

The implication that learning to code might be more valuable to this man than food, water, or shelter has garnered wide criticism. Not to mention the title; are others “justly homeless,” and if so, are they somehow less deserving of his wisdom? The author dehumanizes the man several times, referring to him as “step one” and “The Journeyman Hacker,” and describing his appearance as “movie poster worthy.”

When asked if he will follow through with the experiment despite the backlash, McConlogue said “absolutely.”

In a bizarre email to BuzzFeed, McConlogue wrote:

The problem is inaccessibility to education resources…In my mind we (society) often make things much more complicated than they are. Regan? Laws? Philosophy? This is pretty simple, tomorrow I either walk by him or offer to teach coding. I choose to offer.

More from the Medium post:

Part 1

Every day walking to work in New York City you will see the homeless. Some mentally gone, some drunk, some just making a wage begging…

I pass a homeless man who lives by the Hudson every day on the way to work. He is young, maybe 28, I will call him “The Journeyman Hacker” until I discover his true name.

Before you think this is some weird “fish bowl” experiment, you can just tell when he looks at you that he lost a series of battles.

Step one. Drive.
…this morning, I saw step one. He had found chains and was doing lifts by throwing them over his neck. I suck at empathy but my two-sizes-too-small heart snapped a little seeing this. It was epic drive, here was this homeless guy with chains around his neck fighting to not to give up. It was movie poster worthy. It was drive.

Step two. Patience.
I am going to head over and talk to the guy with a puzzle. You need to know, I am a software engineer working in what is basically a tech bubble, the skill is in high demand.

The idea is simple. Without disrespecting him, I will offer two options:

I will come back tomorrow and give you $100 in cash.
I will come back tomorrow and give you three JavaScript books, (beginner-advanced-expert) and a super cheap basic laptop. I will then come an hour early from work each day—when he feels prepared—and teach him to code.
What do you think he will take? And do you have any other suggestions/gear he would need? …

Step three. Execute.

McConlogue did not acknowledge whether he was aware of the negative backlash on the internet, and told BuzzFeed he would write an additional post on Medium after tomorrow’s interaction.

11. Update - Aug. 22, 11:46 a.m., EDT:

Patrick McConlogue /

The author, Patrick McConlogue, with the homeless man, Leo, who will receive free lessons in computer coding.

In a follow up post on August 22, Money < Education, McConlogue writes that Leo, the homeless man he previously referred to as “step one” and “the journeyman hacker,” rejected the money for JavaScript lessons.

“Regardless of where people stand, issues aside, Leo has accepted the challenge,” says McConlogue.

For the next two months the 23 year old programmer will meet with Leo for one hour per day. He has provided him with a Samsung Chromebook with 3G which has access to the popular, free program Code Academy, three books on JavaScript, and a solar charger for his laptop. McConlogue referred to Leo as “a genius” who is “concerned with environmental issues.”

“He is smart, logical, and articulate,” writes McConlogue. “Most importantly, he is serious. It’s up to him if dedication is also his gift.”

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