NYC Engineer Offers Homeless Man Free Software Coding Classes
Patrick McConlogue is a lot like the many others working in the New York tech scene. Every morning, he walks to work, passing a few homeless people on the streets, and then spends the rest of his day at a computer, writing software code for a 35-person startup.
But the 23-year-old engineer didn't think those two parts of his day had to stay separate. Earlier this week, he made an offer to one of those homeless men.
"I walk by a homeless guy every day on the way to work and I get this feeling every day that he is a smart guy -- he has books and he writes," McConlogue told ABC News. "I was trying to think of a way to engage him and help him."
McConlogue approached Leo, a 36-year man who lives on the streets of lower Manhattan, on Thursday and gave him two options.
The first was $100 in cash.
"I figured that was enough for a ticket some place or a few meals, if that's what he wanted," McConlogue said.
After hearing the offer, Leo, who McConlogue described as very articulate and gifted, especially in on the topic of environmental issues, decided to take the coding option."I want to spread knowledge and information about climate change and global warming," Leo told ABC News in a phone interview facilitated by McConlogue.
McConlogue began documenting his plans to help Leo on the blogging platform Medium earlier this week and has seen a mix of reactions.
The technology community, in particular, was critical of his first post, which was titled, "Finding the unjustly homeless, and teaching them to code." Many commenters criticized McConlogue for using the word "unjust," which he admitted was a poor word choice.
Still, some writers heavily criticized McConlogue's effort beyond that.
Techcrunch editor-in-chief Alexia Tsotsis said McConlogue was "tone-deaf" and that his plan demonstrated "a profound cluelessness about poverty and the disenfranchised."
Slate's Matthew Yglesias argued that housing, not coding, is the first step in fixing homelessness.
Then, Slate's Will Oremus called him a "naive techie."
But along with the critics, there were those who supported his effort. More than 1,200 people have liked the "Journeyman" Facebook page McConlogue has set up about the project and he said he has even heard from some previously homeless individuals who see the effort as useful.
Leo himself, who is aware of the online chatter, said that he is understanding of the criticism. "It's America, people have the right to have their opinions," he said. "It's the Internet, people have the right to post what they want. I agree to disagree." When asked about housing Leo said that he thought "housing was great for people who want to be put in housing, for people who want and need it."
Ultimately, McConlogue says he is offering what he can do right now to help.
"Being able to code will help him do some of the things he wants to do," McConlogue said. "The negative feedback is that you should give him housing and food. My thought is that technology will do a better job connecting him, in the long term, to what he wants."
McConlogue plans to keep blogging about the experience on Medium and Leo himself will write the next post. He said he doesn't have plans to do anything with the larger homeless community at this point, however.
"I've tried to build products for the many before, but I wonder if this new generation is building projects for the power of one," he said. "I am going to do a really good job with this guy. I will learn from him, maybe even more than he learns from me."