NYC Engineer Offers Homeless Man Free Software Coding Classes

Reactions to his decision to help have been mixed.

By Joanna Stern

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.

The second option on the table was a laptop, three JavaScript books and two months of coding instruction from McConlogue.

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.

Soon, McConlogue will deliver him a Samsung Chromebook with 3G connectivity, three JavaScript books, a solar charger for the laptop and something to conceal the laptop in. He will spend an hour before work every morning teaching him the basics of software coding.

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."

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the photo didn't say which was which??

October 25 2013 at 10:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Has Leon the homeless guy sold the laptop he was given for money to buy a couple of cans of wine yet? If it's one of the new Mac's, Leon might even get enough money for some weed to go along with the wine.

October 24 2013 at 6:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lonzie Johnson

It puzzles me why the press correlate homeless individuals as nameless individuals. What is Leo's last name? e

October 02 2013 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

God helps those who help themselves. I hope he succeeds and pays it forward. I'm sure even the most handicapped homeless person can do something productive.

September 27 2013 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please keep us updated on how this progresses.

August 31 2013 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kid has empathy and will be blessed. At least he has already proven the purpose of his human existence while his ciritics continue to be miserable with their lives.

August 30 2013 at 2:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

If you may want my list of Americans who are doing the most with the least in our country please ask. I will share it with all, so that you too may know who gives and does from the goodness of their hearts, because they just care....This is what made our country the greatest nation in the history of the world. Let us all work to keep that way. God Blessed America. I feel He still does.

August 28 2013 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Part II :
..the beauty of the tax advantages. Over the past three decades I have searched out, across our great country, across American for those people and groups who are doing wonderful life saving things for other Americans. I seek out those who understand that the nature of a non-profit truly robs the U.S. Treasury and the people of America. It has become free money to and from the receiver and the giver.
How do you feel when you are able to help a neighbor or a stranger? My guess is you feel pretty darn good, you feel great knowing that in your selfless way you may have helped to change a bad situation into a good one. My guess, also, is that most Americans don't even care about the tax advantages. We are the greatest most giving people in the world. Why, we even send our money to help without taking the time to really see where our contribution went or how it was used. "The chairwoman of that non-profit makes an annual salary of over one million dollars, gets a house and car for free, and the use of several vacation homes, along with the non-profits private jet. Over the decades I have found some really good Americans, some very special people who are changing our country for the better. These same people have no desire for any of the tax advantages, they do not join the non-profit club. Every day, they do great acts that save children and others from lives of hunger, and despair. Those folks who wish to dump on McConlogue for his selfless act of kindness should look at themselves first. He never asked for this press or media attention. Why the media even caught wind of it is my only question. Why they have decided to seize upon this and run it for weeks now is a little alarming to me. I know for certain, as the various media outlets continue to report on this there are some fifteen groups, and five individuals, who are working to help other Americans. Why they do not report on their kindness and the changes they are making I do not understand. They suffer one major disadvantage that I can see. The big money givers will never give to them, never! The big money givers only give to the certified "non-profits," the dot orgs, the foundations with the dot org. because in coughing up big time time to them they are able to pay little to no income taxes. Tell me again Warren old buddy why it is your secretary pays more in taxes than you, explain it to America how the system works, come on Warren, and Mr and Mrs Hollywood, the stars of America, explain how it is better to receive than to give, or better to keep on giving to the official non-profits.

August 28 2013 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

McConlogue; I am pretty darn sure that he never thought this kind and unselfish act would draw so much attention. He is the type of American I remember; those who do their good deeds with no idea or thought to any personal gain. I have always received requests from the hundreds of thousands of non-profits across America who are doing good deeds to save this or that. They have become so refined in their requests that now they offer the free legal council of how I can turn my gift of dollars into a legal and massive tax write-off. My tax attorneys have been telling me the same for decades. "You have done it again, you are in the 60% tax bracket." They offer their good council on how to reduce my taxable income, drop it say to a mere 20%. They advise I start a "Foundation," or that I, in the very least, take the legal right -off of my so-called "charitable giving." That would all be a tax write off with the potential of reducing my taxes due to some 18% rather than the 60%. My old pal Warren Buffett made a big deal years back when he got on the television to announce to the country and the world that he, out of his greatness in my opinion, was going to give a bunch of his money to the gates Foundation. What he did not say was the tax advantage of the gift. Perhaps that is the reason he pays less in taxes than his secretary? Some "saint" isn't he? Then there are the Hollywooders who before making some grand gift to save this or that first call their agent and press secretary. The media is on the spot to cover their gift of one million or so to another non-profit. They all look good and they all fail to mention that their modest gift keeps giving---directly back into their pocket. My parents. long ago, raised me to just do my good deeds and shut my mouth about them. I feel this is what McConlogue had in his mind. To take the legal tax write-off really, bottom-line, comes out of the pockets of the American tax-payers, willy-nilly, like it or not. The so called "middle-class" of our great nation has but a few write-offs. They can deduct the interest from their mortgage payment, and the sum of what they may have been able to give to others, their church, or the value of the their used clothes given to one or the other. I suppose it is all in our feeling and understanding of the beauty of "giving." Many people give of their precious time to help others; a great good thing I feel. Many are able to "Text JJJJ" with their ten bucks. In recent months there has been some on going problem, or question about the IRS and their alleged favoritism towards apllications towards certain groups applying for their non-profit status. The real solution to that problem and others would be to do away with all of the non-profits completely. That will never happen, a mere dream of a thought. They are so much a part of our culture that perhaps they contribute to our misunderstanding of "The Beauty of Giving." For too many that beauty has grown into the beauty of the tax a

August 28 2013 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This Mr. C., is reparation at it's finest. Kudos to the African American man for disspelling all the rumors, that ethnics do not read. I have a college degree and no one has ever offered to teach me the secrets of American, kinowledge. LOVE YA SIR!

August 28 2013 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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