Most professionals can look back to a time in their careers when a selfless individual provided them with guidance, encouragement, or advice. Usually, it was someone more experienced, who had seen and done much more than they had, who provided the needed direction. That small sacrifice, that gift of time and talent, ultimately had a profound impact on their professional journey.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have such a person in their lives. For marginalized members of society, including those dealing with homelessness or addiction, learning the basic skills necessary to find and retain a job is a formidable challenge, especially without help navigating topics like resume building, financial planning, and public speaking.

This is where San Francisco-based Code Tenderloin is stepping into the gap. The non-profit provides individuals living in the Tenderloin district, one of the poorest, most ethnically diverse and densely populated neighborhoods in San Francisco, with coding and web development training. In addition, Code Tenderloin provides residents with practical training, including lessons in interviewing, resume creation, and researching prospective employers. This unique combination of technical and professional skills training helps Code Tenderloin participants secure long-term employment in the technology industry.

Code Tenderloin is a client of San Francisco advertising agency ARGONAUT, and the two have partnered on this endeavor in a way that speaks to the core culture of ARGONAUT: from creating campaigns that surprise and delight the world, now they’re taking steps to make it a better one, starting from right in their backyard. .

How I see it

  • Code Tenderloin is addressing a critical need at the right time, in the right place. There has been much talk about the lack of diversity in tech companies, especially in Silicon Valley. Hiring people who have gone through the Code Tenderloin program is a way for these organizations to show their commitment, not just to diversity, but to giving those with different perspectives, experiences, and socioeconomic backgrounds a chance.
  • ARGONAUT’s partnership with Code Tenderloin is a winning formula for all involved. Code Tenderloin benefits from ARGONAUT’s marketing acumen, and ARGONAUT becomes more attractive to prospective talent who are increasingly concerned with the philanthropic values of their employers.

How the industry sees it

I had the opportunity to sit down with Maura Heilbron, Head of Culture at ARGONAUT, to learn more about the agency’s work with Code Tenderloin.

What type of work does ARGONAUT perform for Code Tenderloin, and what is the biggest thing that ARGONAUT gets out of that relationship?

In 2016, Del Seymour, founder of Code Tenderloin, set out to raise $150,000 through a campaign with crowdfunding site, Indiegogo. As those familiar with the site know, a successful Indiegogo campaign requires a compelling video piece, so we raised our hands to create it. A team from ARGONAUT worked closely with Del and his team to bring Code Tenderloin’s story to life though a film we called Crossing Market, starring one of Code Tenderloin’s graduates, and Del himself. The result was not only donations through the Indiegogo site, but large donations from the San Francisco tech companies that allowed Code Tenderloin to exceed their fundraising goal.

Our work with Code Tenderloin has brought a pride in doing our part to help the neighborhood we work in, as well as a deeper understanding of the neighborhood’s residents, their struggles, and relationships with local heroes like Del who have devoted their life’s work to making positive impact.

What does it mean to be the Head of Culture at ARGONAUT? How would you say it differs from the standard human resources roles?

We see employee happiness as three pronged: department heads and managers ensure employees are fulfilled in their roles, human resources ensures their employment needs (pay, benefits, safety, etc.) are met so they can focus on doing their best work, and as Head of Culture, I’m charged with creating programs and experiences that enrich their time at the agency, and make ARGONAUT a standout place to work. This includes a range of touchpoints such as orientation, weekly/monthly/annual agency events, developing unique employee perks and rewards, managing our ARGONAUT art gallery, and connecting the agency with both the San Francisco advertising community, as well as the community at large.

Does giving have a big place in the corporate culture at ARGONAUT?

Giving, in various forms, has a big place at ARGONAUT as well as our parent company, Project. In addition to working with Code Tenderloin, ARGONAUT has also done pro bono work with the California Coastal Commission, creating a campaign to promote their annual Coastal Cleanup Day. We also participate in the community though serving meals at GLIDE and Raphael House’s Adopt-A-Family program. Additionally, Project has pledged to donate up to $1 million each year to non-profits, matching employee donations up to $5,000 through donation platform, Benevity.

What kind of impact do you think digital tools will have on charitable involvement in years to come?

We’ve seen firsthand the power of sites like Benevity and Indiegogo to help connect charitable organizations and donors. Paired with the power of social media, I personally believe that these digital platforms will have a huge impact on charitable involvement in the form of donations.

Why is having a relationship with a local institution like Code Tenderloin, which your employees can go visit and support in person, important to ARGONAUT?

The one thing I don’t think digital platforms can ever fully replace is the human interaction of working with charitable organizations. Getting out and actually meeting people, listening to their stories, understanding their journeys, and doing the physical legwork needed to make a true impact that not only helps the organizations, but enriches us as empathetic humans and connects us to the work.

What is your best job interview advice?

Ask questions! What makes or breaks an interview in my mind is not their answers to my questions, but the questions they ask me. It shows us how your mind works, what you find important, that you’ve thought about what you want for your own career path, etc. Plus, people love to talk about themselves, so it’s a great opportunity to learn from others in the industry.

What’s the most interesting thing in your office?

A BB gun with ARGONAUT engraved into the handle. It was given to us by a dear friend of the agency when we opened in 2013. We created a bit of a shooting range for it at or original office, but it now hangs framed in our main conference room as a reminder of our journey.