Fostering Potential

Through Coded by Kids, Danae Tilghman Mobley (’06) is working to make tech careers available to more children and young adults in Philadelphia.

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Danae Tilghman Mobley (’06) finds the energy for her new role as CEO of Coded by Kids, the Philadelphia nonprofit that she helped her husband launch a decade ago, when she steps into a classroom and sees children in action.

She feels that too many adults assume, “Oh, they’re kids. They can’t really do much,” Mobley says. “But to see some of the stuff that they’ve been able to build is really amazing. … They are finding problems that they care about deeply, and they’re trying to find solutions to them.”

Coded by Kids teaches underrepresented children and young adults tech skills, from basic coding to advanced software development, and offers mentorship opportunities for entrepreneurship and leadership lessons. 

Danae Tilghman Mobley ('06), the new CEO of Coded by Kids, a Philadelphia nonprofit that teaches underrepresented children and young adults tech skills
Photos courtesy of Danae Tilghman Mobley and Coded by Kids

Mobley remembers her father, an Air Force reservist and configuration manager at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, stressing the importance of developing her own potential and helping others do the same. “What I’ve always been told is one of the worst things you can do is to leave this Earth (without) actually reaching or realizing (your) potential and giving back out the gifts that you’ve been given,” she says.

She has long taken her father’s lessons to heart — through service projects at Wake Forest, as an instructor in Houston with Teach for America and as an urban planner. Now, at Coded by Kids, Mobley focuses on students underrepresented in tech, including girls and children of color. Black people make up a mere 8% of the U.S. tech labor force, according to CompTIA, a nonprofit industry trade association, and she’s working to increase numbers like those.

“We’re always investing the time, especially in Black and Brown youth, into sports,” she says. “What would it look like to grow up and invest in a student in technology, where we could have them build and scale their own business, and we can invest in it? … And how would that change communities if we could do that?”

Mobley remembers how her father stressed the importance of developing potential.

For Mobley, it all comes back to building on people’s potential — so they can generate wealth for themselves and their communities. She’s living by example, having grown up in a small town in southern New Jersey. Mobley was drawn to Wake Forest’s small-community warmth and big-university amenities. But after starting out pre-med, she eventually majored in health and exercise science instead, with a minor in studio art. She channeled her experiences as a Black pre-med student into a painting on a lab coat, which was exhibited at Winston-Salem’s Tessera Gallery.

“You could frequently see me walking around campus with my paint-covered jeans,” Mobley says. “That was my thing.”

She joined the Black Student Alliance, University Gospel Choir and Delta Sigma Theta, a historically Black sorority. Early on, Mobley found ways to give back, organizing an annual charity ball to raise money for scholarships and helping to coordinate a summit for multicultural college women from across North Carolina. 

"One of the things that was incredible about Coded by Kids was ... giving me a sandbox to play in with real-world scenarios and real-world skills.”

Mobley’s friends remember her much as she does her father, always checking up on their needs: Porsche Jones (’06), a record-breaking point guard on the women’s basketball team, says Mobley would make sure she’d eaten and would offer up her dorm room for a quiet nap. “Danae was almost like my personal caregiver … for weeks and months at a time,” Jones says.

Will Perry (’04, MAEd ’05) is among Mobley’s friends drawn to her quiet leadership. “She was just mature. There was a gravity about her,” he says. “If Danae was speaking, it was going to be meaningful.”

Upon graduation, Mobley joined Teach for America, working with English language learners in Houston for two years. She found the school’s neighborhood underserved and neglected; even stores selling fresh food were out of reach for her students.

Sylvester and Danae Mobley, who married in 2013

With an eye for finding solutions, Mobley left Houston for Philadelphia to earn a master’s degree in city planning, urban design and development from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. After graduating, she worked on initiatives across the region, ranging from park revitalizations to libraries and water infrastructure projects. For about four years, she also worked at Penn as a lecturer, teaching urban planning classes to graduate students.

“I was really able to start thinking about large-scale change and what kind of investment it required, what kind of policy is required in order to make neighborhoods function the way that they should,” Mobley says.

She also was starting to build a life with her husband, Sylvester Mobley, whom she married in 2013. They have three children.

Sylvester had recently left the U.S. military and started working in technology. After realizing that he was often the only person of color in the room, he launched Coded by Kids in a recreation center in South Philadelphia, with the goal of diversifying the tech workforce in future generations. The nonprofit started small but grew quickly by word of mouth, serving nearly 350 young people in Philadelphia last year, and winning support from Jason Kelce, a retired Philadelphia Eagles center, through his foundation.

Danae Mobley with her family

From the start, Mobley wore a number of unofficial hats at Coded by Kids. “Being the partner of someone when they start something, you’re kind of in it, informally,” she says. Her first official role was chief marketing officer in 2018 and then chief operating officer in 2021. This year, she became CEO, and her husband left to become more involved in an early-stage venture fund he had started in 2020.

Mobley is also executive director of 1Philadelphia, a citywide coalition that spun out of Coded by Kids and includes more than 30 partners across the city to build a vision for equitable tech in Philadelphia.

Coded by Kids’ free programs, designed for young people ages eight to 24, expose them to basic coding skills, along with how to manage a project, validate a problem and build a prototype. Students can compete to win prizes of up to $5,000 by building websites or creating startup prototypes. Last year’s winner harnessed machine-learning technology to help people practice fingerspelling in American Sign Language. The second-place winner built a website to teach kids Java, a coding language.

Coded by Kids offers free programs and prizes for websites and startup prototypes.

Other projects have included an AI-powered journal to promote positive self-reflection; a one-stop shop for information about local politics; and an app to help students with time management.

A decade in, some of Coded by Kids’ first students are attending college and achieving in big ways. That includes the founders of Scaffold Ed, a software solution for educators, who met through the program. Scaffold Ed was recently accepted into TechStars, a national startup accelerator, and named one of the 50 most innovative digital learning and workforce skills startups by Google Cloud and GSV Ventures, a venture firm.

Evan Wilson, one of Scaffold Ed’s co-founders, was already an ambitious teen, wading into the Philadelphia-area startup community when he connected with Coded by Kids as a high school senior. There, he spent several years working on his own projects and supporting the nonprofit, including helping to move its programs online during the pandemic.

“I’ve always had some level of ambition,” Wilson says. “But, like a 14- or 15-year-old, I was running at something full speed with not a lot of direction. … One of the things that was incredible about Coded by Kids was not only [connecting] me with other people my age and similar backgrounds who had that ambition, but also giving me a sandbox to play in with real-world scenarios and real-world skills.”

Throughout his time with Coded by Kids, Mobley was a friend, colleague and resource. “She’s very good at drilling down and building relationships with people on an individual level,” he says.

Coded by Kids is “working. It’s doing what it was intended to do,” Mobley says. “We are incredibly fortunate to have a great community here that has embraced the work and what we’re doing.”

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall is a longtime North Carolina-based journalist, former staff writer for the Winston-Salem Journal and The (Raleigh) News & Observer and founding editor of WRAL-TV’s popular parenting website. Today, she’s a freelance writer, regularly diving into stories about interesting people and parenting, health, education, business and technology topics. 

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