Paul Morigi/Getty Images
Veronica Hilbring
Jun, 18, 2018

Back in 2017, producer and singer-songwriter Ne-Yo announced that he would be teaming up with the Holberton School to bring diversity to the tech school by providing tuition for underrepresented students. 

Based in San Francisco, the Holberton School uses project-based learning and peer learning to educate future software engineers with many of the school's grads going on to work at top-tier tech companies. The school announced earlier this month that members of its inaugural class have landed jobs at Apple, IBM, CreditKarma, and Dropbox. Holberton also recently raised $8.2 million to expand its engineer-training program. 

ESSENCE spoke with Ne-Yo about his involvement with the school, how Max Johnson, a Holberton alum, caught his eye, and other philanthropic endeavors he has on the horizon. 

How did you first hear of the Holberton School?

I was introduced to the school by Anjula Acharia and Trinity Ventures. As soon as I heard about what they were doing, I knew I wanted to get involved. Technology is changing the world by the minute. It is impacting all of us—so it’s only fair that all of us have the opportunity to contribute to it. I hope to use my platform to inspire people who otherwise wouldn’t have thought it possible to explore the opportunity.

What was it about Max that made you interested in his personal success?

Here was this super bright kid with more than a few setbacks. He was homeless when he came to Holberton. I was so inspired when I heard what he’d overcome. It was exactly for kids like Max that I got involved in Holberton in the first place. I loved meeting with him one-on-one and hearing his story and goals for the future. I’m so proud of him for landing such a great job at J-Crew. He worked hard for it, and he deserves it.

How does your work with Holberton School tie in with your own personal or professional goals?

This was my first startup investment and I’m eager to do more with companies whose missions are aligned with my values. I want to introduce people to innovations that can help them reach their goals or otherwise improve their lives. I care a lot about expanding access to technology for groups that have been largely left out by the technology revolution. My involvement in Holberton supports that goal. I also care a lot about helping people lead healthy lives, so I want to explore healthy lifestyle options in the consumer packaged goods space.

Are there any other philanthropic endeavors are on the horizon for you?

Tech is the future, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to participate in it. I’d like to get involved with more startups that are unleashing new opportunities for underserved populations. I also founded the Smith Family Foundation to support children in the foster care system. My family and I are always exploring new opportunities to make a positive difference in people's lives.

Anything you would like to mention that I didn’t ask?

The future will rely on tech and love. Be sure you know your way around both.