Tag: diversity

Oct 28 2018

Pioneer In Skirts Sizzle Trailer

Amy and I are proud executive producers of the upcoming movie Pioneer In Skirts. It has been part of our activity supporting independent documentaries about gender diversity, especially in science and tech.

The daughter/mother leadership of Ashley Maria and Lea-Ann Berst along with their team has stayed after it and are close to the finish line. Watch the trailer and then if you are inclined toss a little money into the GoFund Me campaign to help finish off the film.

Pioneers in Skirts Sizzle Trailer from Pioneers in Skirts ® on Vimeo.

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Jul 31 2018

Designing For Underrepresented Technologists First

I’ve written several times about leveling the playing field for women in tech, including our own actions at Foundry Group. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground for how to do this better.

Recently, I was connected to Kate Catlin, the Founder of Find My Flock, by my partner Jason. From the outside, it looks like Find My Flock is a tech job board that is enthusiastically open to all. What isn’t obvious is that they did 100% of their product research, design, and UX testing with developers who happen to be women and/or people of color.

This led to some very specific features:

  • You can filter jobs by benefits like maternity leave, trans-inclusive healthcare, or visa sponsorship.
  • You get a personal interviewing coach.
  • If a company wants a premium posting, Find My Flock has an off-the-record phone call with two developers in the company to make sure they’re happy.

While mostly driven by “determined intersectional feminism,” Kate thinks more platforms should be designed this way. She’s a former IDEO CoLab Fellow, and follows IDEO’s belief that you can spur the most creativity by interviewing users at the extreme ends of the bell curve, in addition to those in the middle.

To understand this, imagine you’re designing a new sneaker. You’ll come up with very different ideas if you go interview the most blister-prone ultramarathoner instead of the average neighborhood jogger.

Find My Flock took it a step further by interviewing only at the extremes. If developers most likely to experience unconscious bias feel this process is effective, supportive, and fair, then they believe everyone else will also have an outstanding experience as well. “This is not about handouts,” Kate says. “No one I know wants a job they haven’t worked for. It’s about a level playing field.”

What are your thoughts? How would major tech platforms be different if they had designed for underrepresented people first?

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Mar 8 2018

International Women’s Day #StartWithEight #MovingForward

Today is International Women’s Day (“IWD”) which dates back to 1909, although the UN did not start celebrating IWD annually until March 8, 1975.

With the current global movement for women’s rights and equality, IWD 2018 has spawned numerous initiatives including #PressForProgress and #TimeIsNow. While the hashtags vary, the common theme of 2018 is action. For many organizations, the goal is for these initiatives to launch on March 8th but continue throughout the year and beyond. At a minimum, IWD and the organizations and individuals celebrating it will spark action, continue existing conversations, and force new ones.

At Foundry Group, as part of our efforts to help build a more inclusive tech industry, we’ve joined two initiatives as part of IWD 2018: #StartWithEight and Project #MovingForward.

#StartWithEight addresses the gender disparity in venture capital funding by asking participants to commit to taking eight meetings with women from outside their existing networks during the month of March. The idea there is that “the dynamics will change when capital flows equally to any talented founder, no matter his or her gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic.” For many VCs, deal flow is extremely network driven and often our networks look a lot like us. At Foundry Group, we’ll do at least eight new meetings with women looking for funding who we’ve never met with before in the month of March.

Project #MovingForward is building an open-source directory that pools diversity, inclusion, and anti-harassment commitments from VCs. We (along with 35 other VC firms) shared information (now public on the site) on how we’re #MovingForward. At Foundry Group, in addition to adopting new policies, we’ve created a portal for internal and external stakeholders to report sexual harassment.

There’s a ton of work to be done to achieve gender equality and inclusivity in tech, but these action-oriented initiatives are a good start. I hope the momentum continues to build and we start to see some real change. K9’s Project #MovingForward submission really sums it up: “Actions speak louder than words.”

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Dec 22 2017

Defy Colorado – Feb 8th With Me and Governor Hickenlooper

As we start spinning up Defy Ventures in Colorado, we are doing a Business Coaching Day at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, Colorado. It’s one of our first Defy Colorado events and Governor Hickenlooper will be joining us for the day.

There will be around 80 Entrepreneurs-in-Training. While we were planning on having spaces for 50 volunteers, we’ve already filled over 40 of them before even talking about the program so there are only a few spaces left.

If you are interested, the event is happening on February 8th, 2018 from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. Contact Melissa O’Dell to sign up or get on the list for the next Defy Colorado event.

For a taste of what the experience is like, watch the video above or go to my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison.

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Nov 27 2017

Pronoun Thoughts – She and He

As I continue my exploration of feminist literature, I’ve become much more aware of pronoun usage.

I realized my default pronoun for writing and speaking has been male gendered. If I thought about pronoun usage in advance, I could alternate and use female gendered pronouns, but when I wasn’t paying attention, my default went back to the male pronoun.

I also noticed that much of what I read used male-gendered pronouns as a default. When referring to a specific person, pronoun usage was linked to the person, but whenever the writing referenced a non-specific person, the pronouns were usually male.

I’ve given several talks in the past few months where I consciously decided to use only female-gendered pronouns, except when referring to a specific person (where I then matched the gender of the person.) After these talks, I regularly got positive notes about this, from both women and men, thanking me for doing this.

Some of these talks were about gender issues in tech, but others were about something entirely different, so the positive reactions were instructive to me. I started mentioning this approach, including to several women I respected a lot for their views on gender issues. I specifically asked if my behavior around this was useful. All gave me a resounding yes.

So I’ve decided to try to use female-gendered pronouns as my default in writing and talking for a while and see how it goes. I’ll still occasionally use male-gendered pronouns, but by having the female as the default, I hope to have “her” appear more frequently.

All of this notwithstanding, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an entire generation that is moving quickly past binary pronouns to epicene (or gender-neutral) pronouns. I write this way also and in lots of situations, it works well. But I’m not ready to shift to it, especially since I have a massive deficit of female-gendered pronouns in my historical writing.

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Jun 12 2017

Go For Culture Add, Not Culture Fit

I’ve come to despise the phrase “culture fit.”

I don’t remember when I first heard it, but it was many years ago. Over time, it became woven into the world of entrepreneurship, as companies used it as a primary frame of reference for hiring. VCs turned it into a cliche, espousing the importance of culture fit during the entire spectrum of company creation, from the functioning of the very earliest teams through scaling a business.

For the past few years, I’ve tried to use the phrase “cultural norms” instead of culture whenever the concept of culture fit was mentioned. At first, this felt a little ponderous as I had to regularly explain what I meant by cultural norms and why I didn’t just say the word culture instead. I eventually learned that if I stated that culture meant nothing and was shorthand for saying “I don’t want to think hard about what is going on here,” I usually stimulated enough of a conversation that it ultimately became a useful one.

About a year ago, I was in a conversation (I can’t remember who it was with) and they mentioned the phrase “culture add.” I immediately loved it. Since then, I’ve used it as a direct contrast to culture fit and let it evolve to the phrase “go for culture add, not culture fit” as part of a longer rant on diversity on all dimensions (beyond just gender and race) and the evolution of culture norms in a company.

I felt confident in my understanding of this concept. I’d cite the Rooney Rule as an element of how to hire for culture add. If you aren’t familiar with the Rooney Rule, a relatively recent article in 538 titled Rethinking The NFL’s Rooney Rule For More Diversity At The Top has a short and clear description of it.

“In place since 2003 for head coaches and expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, the rule — named after Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and onetime head of the league’s diversity committee — mandates that an NFL team must interview at least one minority candidate for these jobs. The rule, however, has two fatal flaws: the temptation to substitute sham interviews in place of a search for real diversity, and coordinator-level positions, a crucial step to head-coaching jobs, are not under the umbrella.”

As with many things in life, I marched forward, spreading the gospel of the Rooney Rule once I had internalized it as part of the idea of culture add. And then, in February, I ran into a brick wall during a Boulder roundtable on diversity organized by Andrea Guendelman of BeVisible. I was sitting in a big circle in the room, listening carefully, but also feeling like I was contributing my perspective and expertise to the group (which, when I reflect on this, means I was probably feeling smug, self-important, and casually tossing around things like the Rooney Rule) when I heard something referenced from Stefanie Johnson, a CU professor that made me pull out my iPhone and type a few notes to myself.

“Stefanie Johnson just wrote an article that the Rooney Rule doesn’t work. If you have only one female candidate in the finalist pool, it doesn’t increase that probability that you’ll hire a female candidate. The same is true for a non-white candidate. If you want to increase the probability, you have to have at least two female candidates in the finalist pool.”

I may have said something like “can you say that again?” If I didn’t, I should have. Regardless, it was seared into my brain. A few days later, I got an email from Stefanie (who had heard about the conversation) with a link to her recent HBR article titled. If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be HiredThe article is clear and has the appropriate statistical support for Stefanie’s assertion. If you don’t feel like reading the article, the chart below summarizes it.

There’s a lot in the article, including this gem:

“Why does being the only woman in a pool of finalists matter? For one thing, it highlights how different she is from the norm. And deviating from the norm can be risky for decision makers, as people tend to ostracize people who are different from the group. For women and minorities, having your differences made salient can also lead to inferences of incompetence.”

and this punchline:

“And the evidence simply does not support concerns surrounding the myth of reverse racism. It is difficult to find studies that show subtle preferences for women over men, and for minorities over whites. But the data does support one idea: When it is apparent that an individual is female or nonwhite, they are rated worse than when their sex or race is obscured.”

As I finish up this ramble, let’s cycle all the way back to the notion of culture add. By using this phrase, one of the things I’m trying to do is break the notion of hiring people like everyone else in the company as a default to supporting the idea of culture. Instead, you are looking for people who add to your culture. This does not invalidate the idea of adding people like you, but it doesn’t let this be the default. It’s more subtle than mechanisms like the Rooney Rule, but hopefully, it will be effective long-term.

More importantly, at a discussion earlier this year, I realized once again how little I know about something I’ve been immersed in for many years. Or, if I’m optimistic, how much I can regularly learn just by paying attention, listening, and participating in a discussion, even when I think I’m one of the experts, advocates, or some other word that makes me feel good about myself. And, most of all thank you, Andrea, for staying after me, and for creating a forum for a major new insight for me that I might have otherwise missed.

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Nov 29 2016

#GivingTuesday: Donate to Path Forward

When I woke up this morning, I wondered which non-profit that I should highlight today on #GivingTuesday.

After reading Sallie Krawcheck’s article in Fortune titled A Letter to My Daughter, Post-Trump, I immediately decided the organization of the day is Path Forward.

Path Forward began as a program at Return Path, a data-solutions company with more than 500 employees in 12 offices around the globe. The company’s CTO, Andy Sautins, came up with the idea of an internship program aimed at women who were interested in returning to work after a career break. The program began in 2014 with just one participant. Under the leadership and guidance of Cathy Hawley, VP of People, the company brought in six women in January 2015, four of whom were hired. The program expanded later that year to include a larger cohort at Return Path and also to bring in partners who also wanted to create return to work programs. The first partners were PayPal, SendGrid, ReadyTalk, Moz, and MWH. Along with Return Path, these companies assembled a cohort of nearly 40 women and men. From this, the idea to create a nonprofit focused on bringing return to work programs to even more companies was born.

If you want to support an organization that supports women (and men) who want to return to the workplace after an extended absence for any reason (health, children, aging parents, or caregiving of any nature), consider making a #GivingTuesday gift to Path Forward.

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Nov 18 2016

Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison

A month ago Mark Suster (Upfront) and I hosted 75 colleagues for a full day at the California State Prison, Los Angeles County – also known as Lancaster. We did this as part of Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment, and character development training program for currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and youth. It was a top 10 peak life experience for me – easily one of the most profound things I’ve experienced to date.

Mark wrote an incredibly detailed post about the experience. Rather than repeat it, I’m going to point you to his post How I Promise You One of the Most Meaningful Days of Your Life. In order to understand this post, you have to start there. So – go read it now – I’ll be here when you get back.

Defy Walk The Line

If you want more views of the day, read Ali Berman’s (Techstars) The Day I spent in Prison, Kerri Shea Beers’ (Techstars) White Privilege, Prison, and a Shot at Redemption, Ben Casnocha’s Visiting Prison Again — With Defy Ventures, Caroline Fairchild’s (Linked) I spent 12 hours in prison with 75 venture capitalists and founders. Here’s what happened, Rick Klau’s (GV) Last month, I went to prison. Next month, I’ll return, Jason Wang’s Going back to prison as the founder of my own startup, Kobie Fuller’s (Upfront) How a day in prison could give you a lesson on judgement, and Kara Nortman’s (Upfront) Spending a day in prison lead me on a path of radical self-improvement. Everyone wrote about the same day (we were all together) if you want to triangulate on the experience.

I’m going to focus on the part of the day where I finally began to understand the notion of privilege. It’s worth starting with one of the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society.”

The exercise lasted about an hour and was just before lunch. We’d had a lot of interaction with the EITs (we are volunteers, they are entrepreneurs in training or EITs) and were feeling as comfortable as one can feel in a level four maximum security prison. Catherine Hoke, the founder and CEO of Defy who ran the event, told us it was time to shift gears. As she described what we were going to do, she told us that it was imperative that we respond honestly. This wasn’t going to be a legalistic exercise, but it was going to be uncomfortable. We then got the rules.

The exercise was called Walk the Line. There were two strips of tape running diagonally across the gymnasium we were in. They were a yard apart. The EITs lined up on one side. The volunteers lined up on the other. We then all took five steps back from the line. As Cat called out questions, if our answer was yes we walked to the line. If our answer was no, we retreated to our position five steps behind the line. We were instructed to look around and connect visually with empathy across the line. We were not to look at the ground or at Cat. We were allowed to shake hands across the line and hug on our side of the line. Cat ended by reminding us that the dominant emotion we should be carrying is empathy.

She then started asking us questions. I’m going to list them all below along with comments in italics on how I felt in response to some of them. I encourage you to read them out loud – it’s the only way you will go slowly enough to really understand what was going on. Each question consumed about a minute as people walked to and back from the line, shook hands, looked at each other, hugged, and cried.

The Warm-up

  1. I like hip-hop.
  2. I work out 3 or more days per week.
  3. I’m older than 20 years old. 25. 30. 40. 50. 60. 70.
  4. I dropped out of high school.
  5. I’ve earned a four-year college degree. Suddenly, I had a feeling about what was to come. Every EIT was away from the line. Almost every volunteer was on the line. This was an almost complete reversal from the previous question.
  6. I’m a natural-born hustler. There were lots of smiles as both sides were generally on the line.
  7. I’ve been self-employed or started my own business, legal or illegal. The smiles continued, with some chuckles interspersed, as a lot of people on both sides were on the line.
  8. I’m committed to starting my own business. 100% of the EITs were now on the line.

About today

  1. This is my first trip to prison. Very few EITs were on the line at this point, meaning many had been in prison before.
  2. I felt at least a little nervous about coming to this event today. 100% of the volunteers were on the line. 100% of the EITs were on the line.
  3. I regularly feel judged by others … for skin color or economic status. The volunteers take a step back, the EITs stay on the line.
  4. I regularly judge others.
  5. I regularly judge myself.
  6. I came here to give of myself.
  7. I came here to take or to receive for myself.
  8. I can already feel myself comparing myself to others, or judging myself or others, right now. 100% of the people on both sides are on the line. Cat reminds us that we are answering honestly and thanks us for doing this.

Even if I don’t know all of you at this line …

  1. I will to do my best to set aside my judgments and comparisons so I can connect with you.
  2. If you become vulnerable in this exercise, I will show you respect and will do my part in creating a safe and reassuring environment for you.
  3. If I see or sense pain or vulnerability, I will offer a hug to reassure you. Both sides of the line are full. I feel anxious all over – I’m sweating and staring ahead across the line, making eye contact in a way that I think is empathetic with the person directly across from me. He looks uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable.

My childhood

  1. I grew up in poverty. Boom.
  2. My parents paid for braces to straighten out my teeth. All the EITs are off the line.
  3. I heard gunshots in my neighborhood. (wave for “a lot”) All the EITs are on the line. Several volunteers who I know are on the line.
  4. I was suspended or expelled from school. Almost all the EITs are on the line. Several volunteers are on the line.
  5. Violence took place in my home. Again, all the EITs are on the line.
  6. Think of the age when you lost your innocence: I lost my innocence after age 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6. As the count down begins the EITs are on the line while the volunteers quickly back off the line. By age 6 there are still a startling number of EITs on the line. I have tears in my eyes as a wave of emotion comes over me. I don’t feel like I lost my innocence until sometime in my early 20s. I can’t imagine self-identifying with losing it younger than age 6.

My Family

  1. For most of my childhood, I was raised with both of my biological parents in the same house.
  2. At least one of my parents wasn’t exactly a positive role model for me – or wasn’t even around.
  3. I was born out of wedlock. I was born to a teenage mother.
  4. At least one of my parents abused drugs or alcohol.
  5. I suffered through the loss of an immediate family member before the age of 18.
  6. My mother or father has been to jail or prison. At this point, the patterns are clear. The EIT directly across me stays on the line through all these questions but the first one. I’ve been off the line since the first one. Now he has tears in his eyes. I keep his gaze while thinking how fortunate I am to have had my childhood and not his.

My beliefs and values before the age of 18

  1. I learned that I couldn’t trust anyone. It continues. Now I have tears again. He smiles at me. He breaks my gaze and looks at the person next to me. I use this moment to look up and down the line on my side. Very few volunteers are on the line. One who I know is on the line and is crying openly. But we continue.
  2. I learned that it’s better to keep my mouth shut and my feelings to myself.
  3. The way I was living, I thought there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it to age 21. There are hugs on our side of the line as we process what is going on. At this point the word privilege isn’t being used (nor does it get used openly throughout the day), but the idea of privilege and how it impacts one’s belief system and values is what is front of mind for me.

Past Criminal life – Cat reminds us that Defy doesn’t work with criminals, but with people who have committed crimes in their past.

  1. I’ve been arrested.
  2. I’ve done criminal things for which I could’ve been arrested, but didn’t. (drunk driving, weed) A series of experiences run through my mind as I think of how different things could be for me if I hadn’t grown up white and middle-class in the suburbs of North Dallas.
  3. I’ve committed a violent offense (even if I wasn’t convicted). Cat stays on this for a while. As all the EITs are on the line, a few volunteers join them. Cat isn’t satisfied and calls out “a bar fight is a violent offense” and a dozen volunteers sheepishly walk to the line. Then a few more do. And we sit with this one for a while.
  4. I’ve been convicted of murder.
  5. I was sentenced before 18 years of age. I’m ready for this experience to end. Between 25% and 50% of the EITs are on the line. All of them are black. Another switch just flipped in my brain.
  6. I’ve spent more than two years of my life in behind bars. 4. 6. 8. 10. 12 (go all the way up). Guys that look like they are in their 30s are hanging on the line through 20 years. We keep going. 30 years. 40 years.
  7. I’m a lifer. Yup – there are a bunch of EITs on the line.
  8. I’ve actually been shot or stabbed.

 Loss

  1. I’ve lost someone I loved to gang violence.
  2. I’ve lost someone I’ve loved to AIDS. I was one of the few volunteers on the line for this one. I didn’t expect this question at all and it sent me back to my late 20s when my fraternity big brother died of AIDS. I remembered the dream I had on an airplane just before he died but about a week after he called me to say goodbye. I kept looking ahead at the EITs on the line.
  3. I’ve lost one or both of my parents.
  4. I’ve lost a child.
  5. I haven’t properly grieved some of my losses.
  6. I have suffered, or currently suffer, from depression. A lot of volunteers are on the line along with me. I feel a sense of relief that the stigma associated with depression might be lifting, but then I remember the context I’m in.
  7. I could use a hug right now. Everyone walks to both sides of the line. Hugs ensue.

 My children

  1. I’m a father (or mother).
  2. My lifestyle caused me to miss out on valuable years in my child’s life.

If you could see inside my brain …

  1. If you knew every one of my dirty secrets, and knew the real me, you wouldn’t love me.
  2. I feel ashamed of my past.
  3. I feel inadequate, at least in some ways.
  4. Sometimes my feelings of inadequacy lead me to overcompensate in some areas, or act out.
  5. There are some things I haven’t forgiven myself for, and may never forgive myself. A number of volunteers walk to the line, including me. I thinking of a specific thing that has happened to me as an adult. It’s something I don’t talk publicly about because I haven’t yet resolved it myself. Or, more honestly, I haven’t forgiven myself for letting it happen to me. I feel ashamed against the backdrop of everything else.
  6. There are some people I haven’t forgiven for hurting me.
  7. Not forgiving others or myself is hurting me to this day.
  8. I am kind to myself; I do a great job of nurturing myself and taking care of my own needs.

My growth

  1. I’m on a journey of personal transformation. Almost all of the EITs are on the line. People are starting to smile again.
  2. Others look at me as a role model. I’m aware of the importance of my influence.
  3. I might not be able to explain it, but even though I’ve been revealing difficult things and have made myself vulnerable in this exercise, right here, right now, I feel safe, accepted and loved.
  4. I already love Defy!! Everyone on both sides is on the line.

I know that words above doesn’t do the experience justice, but at the end of the hour I was emotionally exhausted. There were at least 25 of the EITs who I had made eye contact with that I wanted to go talk to. There were an equal number of volunteers who I wanted to talk to. Instead, I tried to relax a little. I grabbed on to one word – privilege – that I knew represented a fundamental difference between most of the people on either side of the line.

While it’s easy to talk about privilege it’s hard to really understand it. It’s even harder to experience it if you are the one with privilege. I thought I understood it, but I didn’t. As I let the next five minutes quietly unfold in my mind, I decided that I was no longer going to assume I really understood privilege. Instead, I was going to engage with society in a way to help those without privilege have a better opportunity. Through that, I’d understand it better, have empathy for others who didn’t have privilege, and channel my actions as a human into making the world better from that frame of reference.

I’ve committed to go to prison with Defy four times in 2017. If you want to join me as a volunteer on one of the trips, just reach out. I can promise you a life changing day.

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Nov 14 2016

Weekly Techstars Diversity / Inclusion Office Hours in New York City

The day after the election, Alex Iskold (Techstars NY Managing Director) wrote a great post titled Dear Founders, I Commit to Double My Support For You and Your Startups. It’s vintage, wonderful Alex along with a series of specific things he’s going to do.

  • Work even more closely with the founders to help them with their financings.
  • Help founders drive up revenue, achieving profitability and independence.
  • Send even more introductions, connect even more people.
  • Answer every single email and every single tweet from a founder.
  • Meet more founders in NYC and around the world and give feedback.
  • Always iterate on my calendar and make more time for the founders.
  • Speak at public events in NYC and around the world about entrepreneurship.
  • Blog more about topics founders care about and want to read about.
  • Publish my (long in the works) book for founders.

Today, Alex wrote a post titled Introducing Techstars Weekly Diversity and Inclusion Office Hours for Founders in NYC. Every Tuesday from 5pm – 7pm a group of Techstars employees in NY will meet with any female, minority, LGBTQ, or immigrant founder about anything. Sign up here.

In addition to Alex, other Techstars folks who will do these office hours include KJ Singh and Jillian Canning who help Alex run the Techstars NY City Program, Jenny Fielding who runs the Techstars IoT and Fintech Programs, Eamonn Carey who runs Techstars Connection, and Jenny Lawton, who recently joined Techstars as a Chief Operating Officer.

Bravo gang – I love seeing things like this just happen.

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Jun 6 2016

More Coders. More Diversity.

If there’s one consistent concern I hear from the companies I work with, it’s the shortage of qualified tech talent. But just like in so many other areas, a Boulder entrepreneur has come up a great idea to address the problem that not only adds to the talent pipeline, but also brings in more diversity — a personal passion of mine.

Too often, aspiring engineers who lack the funds to pursue a computer science degree from a university or take part in a bootcamp find themselves locked out of technology jobs, despite often severe talent shortages. Think about it: if you need to pay rent and buy groceries, it’s pretty tough to quit, or work part time, and pay either tuition or boot camp fees. To address this, Heather Terenzio, founder and CEO of Boulder’s Techtonic Group, developed Techtonic Academy, an innovative solution in the form of Colorado’s first federally recognized by the Department of Labor technology apprenticeship. Rather than paying thousands in tuition or fees, qualified individuals can get their foot in the door to a tech career while earning a salary from their very first day.

Techtonic Academy provides underprivileged youth, minorities, women, and veterans both technical training and mentorship to become entry-level software engineers and pursue a career in the technology field. It works like this: the program looks for people with an interest in and aptitude for tech but little or no formal training — think gamers, self-taught hobbyists and the like — and puts them to work as apprentices. They work with senior developers to gain coding experience on real client projects under careful guidance and supervision while earning a livable salary. They are required to earn a series of accreditation badges covering coding skills and are constantly mentored in “soft” skills — things like being on time or working effectively on a team.

After about six months, graduating apprentices are qualified junior developers, ready to work. Some choose to stay at Techtonic Group, where they become part of a team to build custom software, mobile applications and content-managed websites, while others move on to Techtonic Group clients. If a client hires an apprentice, Techtonic does not charge a conversion fee, which can run into the thousands for a junior developer hired through a traditional recruiter.

As Heather told me, “I have an Ivy League education, but that’s not where I learned to code. I learned to code doing it on the job.” I think many software developers share that sentiment.

Heather welcomes all technology hopefuls and works hard to bring diversity to the program, recruiting women, veterans and those who aren’t in a financial position to quit work to pursue a degree or certificate. The benefits are obvious. Apprentices earn a living salary on their first day, and we as a tech community can support a program that puts more coders in the market with a keen eye toward diversity and opportunity while getting work completed.

Heather’s got a great idea and it gives all of us the chance to both find help on projects and add new, diverse talent to our community. Reach out to Heather if you’d like more information.

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