Innovation for All

Reflecting on Diversity in Tech on MLK Day

Reflecting on Diversity in Tech on MLK Day

Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most ardent advocates for the advancement and equality of African Americans in history, we should reflect on the continuing injustice in our socioeconomic system and contemplate how we can more effectively work to close the racial entrepreneurship gap.

2016 Year in Review: Talent + Diversity

2016 Year in Review: Talent + Diversity

Conversations about talent and diversity were once again at the forefront in 2016, with a heated Presidential election, bold actions by the Obama Administration around immigration and computer science education, and efforts by major tech players to diversify their workforces. The tech community and policymakers continued to search for solutions, and while 2016 didn’t unearth a silver bullet for fixing tech’s workforce and diversity issues, significant progress was made.  

Startup News Digest 12/23/16

Startup News Digest 12/23/16

A Big Year for Startup Policy in 2016. The Startup News Digest will be taking a hiatus over the holidays, but you can still get your startup policy fill on our blog. Yesterday, we began publishing Year in Review posts on some of 2016’s most notable debates in tech and entrepreneurship. Watch this space for reports on capital access, intellectual property, net neutrality, emerging technologies, and more over the coming days. Thanks for all of your support in 2016, and we’ll catch you in the new year!

Training the Next Generation of Tech Talent

Training the Next Generation of Tech Talent

Computer Science (CS) Education Week is an annual initiative that aims to get kids excited about computer science and inspire interest in technology careers—an effort that is more important now than ever. It’s no secret that demand for computer science professionals has skyrocketed in recent years. Virtually every industry has an increasing need for STEM workers, especially those with a background in computer science and coding. And yet, there is a growing gap in the availability of these skilled individuals. There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs nationwide, but last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. In fact, there are fewer students graduating with degrees in computer science today than there were ten years ago. Our workforce is woefully unprepared to meet the growing demand for IT professionals.


Veterans Sign Letter Supporting Greater Entrepreneur Training

Veterans Sign Letter Supporting Greater Entrepreneur Training

Over the past year, Engine has teamed up with veterans working in the tech industry and several Veterans Service Organizations to understand how government can better support transitioning servicemembers interested in careers in technology. Whether as entrepreneurs, managers, or engineers, it’s clear that given the proper training and support, veterans have the talent, resolve, and discipline to thrive in the tech workforce.

Diversifying Tech Caucus Hosts First 2016 Briefing on African Americans in Tech

Diversifying Tech Caucus Hosts First 2016 Briefing on African Americans in Tech

The Diversifying Tech Caucus, the bipartisan, bicameral caucus that Engine helped establish last year, held its first briefing of 2016 earlier this week. The Capitol room was packed with over 70 congressional staffers who heard from a panel of tech workers, leaders, and entrepreneurs about African American participation in the tech workforce. The numbers aren't great, with African Americans making up just 6 percent of STEM workers, a dismal 2 percent of employees at major Silicon Valley firms, and an even smaller percentage of venture-backed startups. Yet, many efforts, from private industry as well as non-profit organizations, are underway to the bolster the participation and leadership of blacks in tech.

Improving Access to STEM with Policy


Back in January, we worked with Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Barbara Comstock, Tulsi Gabbard, Ruben Gallego, Robin Kelly, Cathy McMorris Rodgers to launch the Diversifying Tech Caucus (DTC). The Caucus was organized to address one of the most pressing issues facing the tech sector today: the alarming lack of diversity in the tech workforce. DTC members have been instrumental in promoting a variety of bipartisan bills that would not only strengthen the tech talent pipeline by providing Americans with better access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education opportunities, but would make it easier for new entrepreneurs and workers to participate in the startup ecosystem.

Here are a few pieces of legislation introduced and sponsored by DTC members (and others) that have our support:

  • Diversity in Science Technology and Nurturing Capable Educators Act (DISTANCE) Act
    Sponsored by DTC Chair Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), this bill would provide scholarships to college students studying in a STEM field who agree to teach in a K-12 school for five years after they graduate. The Department of Education’s most recent teacher shortage report highlights the consistent shortage of math and science teachers, which affects 28,000 students a year in California alone. The DISTANCE Act would incentivize STEM college students to become teachers, improving America’s ability to train the next generation of tech innovators.
  • Innovate America Act
    Sponsored by DTC Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the Innovate America Act would, among other things, create 100 new STEM-focused secondary schools, measure graduation rates for students majoring in STEM degrees, increase the number of scholarships for aspiring computer science teachers, and expand undergraduate research opportunities to encourage more students to enter STEM fields. Since computer science is often not designated as a core academic subject, administrators are less likely to hire teachers who are prepared to teach it. Bills like the Innovate America Act help increase the pool of skilled computer science teachers who are crucial to building the STEM pipeline.
  • GI Bill STEM Extension Act
    Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), this bill would authorize nine months of additional Post-9/11 Educational Assistance for a veteran who has used all his or her benefits and who: (1) is enrolled in a postsecondary education program that requires more than the standard number of credit hours for completion in a STEM field; or (2) has earned a postsecondary degree in one of those fields and is enrolled in a teaching certification program. Given that a typical undergraduate engineering program takes around 4.5 years to complete, this bill provides important financial relief for veterans transitioning into STEM jobs.
  • America Can Code Act
    Introduced by DTC members Reps. Farenthold and Cardenas, the bill would designate “computer programming languages” as “critical foreign languages,” which would provide incentives for state and local schools to teach more computer science classes in K-12 curricula. Creating incentives for schools to boost computer science curricula might seem peculiar, considering the well-known need to train a ever-growing need for skilled programmers, but currently, only one in four schools teaches coding. The bill also establishes a Task Force on Computer Programming and Coding (in the Department of Education) to identify and prioritize challenges of educating and training a workforce equipped to fill jobs in emerging STEM fields.
  • Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act (VET Act)
    Introduced by Sens. Moran and Tester (and co-sponsored by DTC chair Sen. Shelley Moore Capito), this bill would establish a pilot program enabling veterans to use their GI Bill benefits towards starting a new business or purchasing an existing business. We described the context (and our support) for this bill here. The VET Act would make it easier for veterans to participate in the tech startup economy and achieve entrepreneurial goals that don’t require higher education.

Congressional interest in working on legislation that addresses the tech world’s diversity problem remains high, but adding your voice to the conversation about these bills will go a long way towards moving the agenda forward. Bill sponsors are always looking for emails, calls, and letters from the public in support of the provisions in the bill; personal anecdotes are particularly impactful in order to highlight the importance of a bill’s goals. You can find contact information for members of Congress on their respective websites (also linked to their names in this post).

Are you a startup that cares a lot about improving the tech talent pipeline? Do you want to work with Engine to support legislative solutions? Send us an email at


In NYC with VetTechTrek, Supporting #VetsWhoTech


On Friday, we were honored to join the organization,  VetTechTrek (VTT), on their New York City trek into the offices of ten tech companies.VetTechTrek’s mission is “to build a known path between the military and breaking the mold of traditional recruiting practices.” Over the course of two days, they brought over twenty veterans, and current servicemembers nearing their military exits, into tech companies, incubators, and coworking spaces to connect them directly with current employees and see first-hand the atmosphere and opportunitiesin the industry. Not only does the experience support veterans by expanding their networks with host companies, but the VTT program supports community building among veteran participants.

At each company stop, the VTT entourage is introduced to a panel of employees with relevant roles, recruiters, and veteran employees. Panelists provided a range of insights for VTT participants, including:

  • At a high level, how to translate veteran resumes, what the company is looking for in their employees, and how veterans’ military skills fit into roles at a specific company.
  • What veterans should look for in the company they work for, depending on their interests, personal goals, and values.
  • How veterans should best position themselves for the jobs they want and the importance of building a network.
  • How military experience is an asset—an asset that brings critical skills to the company workforce and diversity that improves the product.

The group visited more than ten tech companies including, Uber, Venmo, and Warby Parker. Seeing very different spaces and business models back-to-back allowed participants to understand the breadth of companies in the tech sector and the importance of finding a company that aligns with their own needs and values. However, what was consistent across the companies visited was the overall feeling that company employees are dedicated to their products and care about making an impact, a feeling very familiar for former and current servicemembers.

It was an empowering afternoon seeing an organization directly strengthening the #VetsWhoTech pipeline. For more information on the trek, read VTT’s recap.

Commemorating Veterans Day and #VetsWhoTech


Here at Engine, we are commemorating Veterans Day by driving and supporting conversation about #VetsWhoTech.

  • We launched a booklet that follows the paths of seven successful veterans in the technology industry and calls on Congress to update services provided to veterans to reflect the changes in a 21st century economy.
  • We shared many of these stories as part of our “Innovation for All” series on  Medium.
  • We hosted a briefing for members of Congress and their staff on Capitol Hill about “Veterans Diversifying Tech”. The event included a panel moderated by Engine’s Executive Director Julie Samuels and featured Todd Bowers (Director UberMILITARY, Uber), Nicole Isaac (Head of Economic Graph Policy Partnerships, LinkedIn), Steve Weiner (Co-­Founder, VetTechTrek), Andrew Kemendo (Founder & CEO, Pair Inc.), and Rob Polston (Recruiter, Amazon Web Services).
  • Yesterday, we celebrated #VetsWhoTech in San Francisco with a launch event for our booklet, featuring many of the veterans profiled. (Recap to come!)
  • Later this week, we’ll join our friends at VetTechTrek for their visits with over 20 veterans to various tech companies, exposing and connecting them to jobs in engineering, sales, and beyond. (For a recap of their previous treks, visit their Medium page.)

But this is just the beginning. We’re calling on Washington to support policy that would better prepare our nation’s veterans for careers in the tech industry, with relevant training and resources before and after exiting the military.

Our military is made up of diverse, driven individuals with a range of skills and experiences—and a diverse entrepreneur and employee population is key to ensuring the tech economy fosters prosperity, creates jobs, and improves our lives. We look forward to working with members of Congress on policy efforts aimed at strengthening the veteran tech talent pipeline.

Vets Who Tech: Sonny's Story


Throughout the week, we're posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry on our blog and on Medium. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

Sonny Tosco sounds like a typical Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur. He grew up in the Bay Area, has an engineering degree from a good school, and a strong entrepreneurial spirit. However, his network and story differ from other Silicon Valley rising stars: he is a West Point graduate who was deployed on three tours of duty before launching his business.

Sonny graduated from West Point in 2006, where he studied systems engineering. After graduating, he was deployed on three tours of duty as an Army Captain: Bahrain in 2008, United Arab Emirates in 2009, and then finally back to Bahrain during the Arab Spring in 2011 as an Army chief of operations, overseeing nearly 200 troops.

All the while, Sonny dreamed of starting his own business upon returning from duty. Initially, he contemplated pursuing an MBA, thinking it would be the best way to learn the business skills he required. However, by the end of his second tour, he recognized the degree may not be worth the time commitment. "When I was in service, I always had an entrepreneurial drive, and I didn't want to be sidelined for two years. I wanted to be in it already," says Sonny. Instead, he started reading all of the publicly available materials from Stanford’s MBA program.

Upon returning to civilian life, Sonny took a sales job at a publishing company. He was unsatisfied with his work and still eager to build his own venture, but realized that despite being in the Bay Area, just miles from Silicon Valley, he lacked a network of like-minded and tech-focused entrepreneurs.

In an effort to build these relationships, Sonny started attending networking events, up to four a week, including the Lean Startup Conference and TechCrunch’s Disrupt. These experiences provided him with opportunities for finding mentorship, building a strong and supportive network of likeminded individuals, and learning negotiating skills.

At one tech event, Sonny met his future chief technology officer, a highly experienced mobile developer with extensive startup experience. Finding a technical leader was key, because Sonny lacked the financial resources to pursue the coding education required to build an app on his own. Most programs covered by GI benefits would take years to complete.

The two of them began to develop the idea for what would later become Limelight Mobile, a social app that allows users to request real time images from others anywhere in the world. The idea was inspired by Sonny’s experience in the army; he’d enter conflict areas with incomplete and sometimes inaccurate reports of ground activity. Yet he knew that information was available through the power and connectivity of mobile phones. The company officially launched in April 2014, and in just over a year, Sonny has hired five full-time employees.

Vets Who Tech: RaeAnne's Story


Throughout the week, we're posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry on our blog and on Medium. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

When RaeAnne, an intel officer in the Army, got out of the military in 2012, she never envisioned herself working at a tech company like Facebook. During her time in the Army, she had been a company commander managing 100 people, and deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq where she analyzed data to inform operations on the ground. Up until that point, Facebook had played a different, but crucial, role in her day-to-day life: while she was deployed in Afghanistan, it was the lifeline between RaeAnne and her husband, who was serving in Iraq.

After leaving the Army, she and her husband made the move from Kentucky to New York City, where he could attend business school using his GI benefits. RaeAnne started at an event marketing job at the New York Stock Exchange. As she worked with client companies going public, she was particularly excited by her tech startup clients, such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

When she and her husband moved to Silicon Valley in 2014 for his new job at LinkedIn, her next career move wasn’t clear, but she came across an exciting opportunity. The COMMIT Foundation, a non-profit that helps veterans transition to the civilian workforce, offered to cover the $12,000 tuition for an immersive training program for people who want to work in startups. She took the opportunity as a chance to build relationships with employers in the tech industry, understand startup culture, and strengthen her skills in sales and business development. However, “Without the scholarship, I couldn’t have afforded paying $12,000 and not earning an income for 12 weeks,” she says.

The Tradecraft program gave RaeAnne the foundational skills she needed, but it also took a friend championing her from the inside, some coaching sessions on the Facebook sales pitch and business, as well as several exchanges with multiple recruiters at Facebook to finally land a position. It wasn’t easy: “Not a ton of vets were being hired at the time.” Many recruiters don’t know how to translate a veteran’s resume, and they may not want to take a risk on a candidate. Her friend at the company had to work hard behind the scenes to interpret RaeAnne’s military background for recruiters and hiring managers in terms, skills, and experience they could understand and translate into a sales role.

Now she is in a position that draws on her experience old and new. In the military, RaeAnne was required to analyze data, paint the current landscape, and infer appropriate decisions for senior commanders. Facebook requires that she fulfill similar responsibilities, but with a focus on optimizing advertising campaigns and advising decisions for startup clients to help grow their business—emphasizing, as the military did, the importance of teamwork and camaraderie along the way.

Vets Who Tech: Carly's Story


Throughout the week, we're posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry on our blog and on Medium. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

As a communications officer in the Army, Carly DaCosta was integral to making sure the military stayed connected in the field and in homeland. She set up the technology necessary at bases in Alaska that enabled units to talk to one another: computers, landlines, networks, and cell phones. Though a nuclear engineer by training, with a longtime interest in technology, she wasn’t certain what was next for her after leaving the military.

She chose to pursue an MBA, a move she thought would help her transition to civilian life. Following graduation, she began working in the financial industry as an account manager. In her new role, she learned what it means to build a business, how to network, and started to recognize the power of technology in new ways: she knew she wanted to move into the tech industry.

Carly evaluated the jobs that she could pursue in the tech industry and thought skills in computer programming would set her up for success and at least get her foot in the door. As she considered how to get there, she realized coding bootcamps offered her that shorter term investment that a four-year degree didn’t. Her research led her to a 90-day program, an all-women course at Hackbright in San Francisco, where she learned Python, one of the most widely-used high-level programming languages. She found a culture of camaraderie among women who were also new to programming, where participants worked together and had each other’s backs, that provided the environment she needed to succeed.  

The bootcamp style allowed Carly to find a program that suited her desired skill set and personal needs. She did not have four years to go unpaid and provide for a husband and a toddler. She “was interested in learning the practical side of engineering first and, after speaking with people who had gone through bootcamps versus the four-year [computer science] degree, it seemed the bootcamp was the way to go. Instructors at the bootcamp are in-industry and their curriculum changes with what’s hot.” It was clear that a university experience wouldn’t give her the entirely hands-on approach she needed to jumpstart a skillset and a career change. And instead of four years of study without pay, she sacrificed only six months of pay—three months of learning and three months of job searching.

As Carly puts it, bootcamps provide an important option for those wanting to jumpstart their career in the tech industry, including veterans transitioning into civilian life. For Carly, this jumpstart meant finding the ideal business operations role that valued both her engineering experience as well as relationship management expertise from her time in finance and the military. She now works at the Director of Operations as a database startup, Fauna DB.

Vets Who Tech: Nick's Story


Throughout the week, we're posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry on our blog and on Medium. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

When Nick Mastronardi transitioned out of the Air Force in 2014, he knew he wanted to start a company. Even though he was able to serve in senior positions in the Pentagon and White House, there was one assignment that forged his desire to build a business. “I was an Economics professor at the Air Force Academy, and from teaching knew small businesses and startups were the engine to and an indispensable component of our economy.”

“I wanted to make sure military members were implementing representative and crowd-sourced public policies.” Out of this idea came POLCO, a political participation platform that allows citizens to find, learn about, and participate in their public policies. “I wanted to create a platform where the best minds in our country could wrestle the day’s most important policy debates in front of citizens to win their favor.”

Having already earned a PhD in Economics while serving, Nick knew he really needed private sector experience to make his dream a reality. Additionally, with two young children, Nick knew he couldn’t be as cavalier as someone with greater financial flexibility. After some exposure to the community through TechStars Patriot Boot Camp, an intensive three-day program that provides veterans with entrepreneurial education and mentorship, and a year at Amazon, Nick was accepted to the Seed Sumo tech accelerator in Bryan, TX. He decided he was ready to take the leap and left Amazon to move to Texas and start POLCO in the spring of 2015.  Since then, POLCO’s website has launched and the company is making progress.

Nick would like to be able to put some of his GI benefits towards POLCO, but the rules around GI benefits don’t allow for this. “I have over $100,000 of GI benefits going unused right now. Money that I earned and want to use in an impactful way,” he says. “The current GI Bill blanket policy is not adequately flexible to support veterans seeking entrepreneurship instead of school, even though they are arguably of comparable value.”

In a time of less financial certainty for his young company, Nick would use his benefits towards a VA home loan, which would provide more stability for his family. Even though Nick has good savings, great credit, and a history of private-sector earning potential, it’s very tough to get a VA or any type of home loan until he has a two-year track record of self employment. “One thing I was really looking forward to for my family following my active duty time was growing some roots in a community.”

Military experience uniquely prepares veterans for entrepreneurship and roles in the tech economy—but financial constraints for transitioning service members disincentivize veteran participation in the startup economy. Because of this unique preparation, Nick is committed to hiring veterans at POLCO. In fact, his entire team is composed of veterans.

As Nick puts it, “I think one of the most valuable lessons from the military is learning how to deal with adversity, face challenges, and ultimately expand your frustration tolerances. As a startup founder or employee, you are directly responsible for the fate of your company, which is exhilarating with growth and frustrating with plateaus. During these periods you rely on your ability to deal with those ups and downs. Military adversaries don’t slow down for you out of sympathy and neither does the market so you always have to keep charging.”

“Vets Diversifying Tech”: Bringing the Conversation to Washington


In January, Engine launched the Diversifying Tech Caucus, a bicameral, bipartisan Caucus that’s now grown to over 30 members committed to increasing the number of women, minorities, veterans, and other underrepresented groups in the tech sector. Since then, Engine has hosted briefings on the Hill that further this conversation. This week, in light of Veterans Day, we hosted a briefing to highlight the work of veterans in the industry and how Congress can better support them. Moderated by Engine’s Executive Director, Julie Samuels, the panel included Todd Bowers (Director UberMILITARY, Uber), Nicole Isaac (Head of Economic Graph Policy Partnerships, LinkedIn), Steve Weiner (Co-Founder, VetTechTrek), Andrew Kemendo (Founder & CEO, Pair Inc.), and Rob Polston (Recruiter, Amazon Web Services).

The conversation among this group of veterans and tech industry leaders demonstrated the huge potential of the veteran community to succeed in this sector . As Andrew Kemendo put it: “We need strong executors starting companies—and I see no better people for this than veterans.” It also highlighted the ways our policies for veterans fall short. Here’s what we and the audience of over 60 Hill staffers and friends from the veteran community heard:

  • We must give veterans a running start BEFORE exiting the military to make them competitive candidates for tech industry jobs. The one week Transition Assistance Program is not enough for transitioning service members; currently, the Department of Labor’s employment workshop is a one-size-fits-all program that still leaves a lot of guesswork for newly transitioned veterans trying to get into the tech industry. Beyond simply accessing more information about appropriate job opportunities in the tech industry, service members should be encouraged to take up additional training or internships before they leave the military and be provided with the support to evaluate career options (and the skills they require) before they transition. For example, Amazon Web Services is partnering with Microsoft to hire some of the graduates of their Microsoft Software & Systems Academy—a 16 week development initiative focused on developing tech-ready, active-duty service members.
  • Veteran entrepreneurs need a better network and access to capital. When members transition out of the military, they have little money in the bank and have a far smaller network of potential funders and co-founders than potential entrepreneurs who graduated from Stanford or worked at Google. This puts veteran entrepreneurs at a disadvantage. In order to make the connections they need to build funding opportunities, they need access to mentors and people with experience. The VET Act, introduced by Senators Moran and Tester, allows veterans to use GI benefits towards starting a business, but these entrepreneurs also need experienced funders and advisors that have started businesses and can provide connections to bigger networks, improving access to capital.
  • GI benefits aren’t currently supporting the veteran tech talent pipeline. For example, “skills academies” (such as coding bootcamps and hackschools) are not clearly covered by the GI Bill, though these programs are well recognized by the tech sector and would improve the bridge between military resumes and tech company job descriptions. In addition to being a resource for brushing up on valuable technical or business skills in pursuit of landing a job in the tech industry, skills academies also provide a hiring partner network that enables an easier transition from student to employee. VetTechTrek organizes high-impact trips for veterans to leading tech companies and expose veterans to opportunities for training that can jumpstart their career in the tech industry— and skills academies, as they put it, provide “an environment very similar to a military qualification process: a focus on prerequisites and only the essential skills to complete the task.”

Veterans have notoriously been an underrepresented community in the tech sector. But this panel (as well as the veterans featured in our latest booklet “Supporting Vets Who Tech”) demonstrated that there is room for the government to proactively make changes, working in conjunction with industry players, to improve veterans’ access to jobs in the tech industry. We look forward to working with members of Congress on policy efforts aimed at strengthening the veteran tech talent pipeline.

Vets Who Tech: Isaac's Story


Throughout the week, we're posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry on our blog and on Medium. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

After five years on active duty with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Isaac Elias left the U.S. Army in 2009. As he transitioned out of the military, he found that a large portion of existing career development resources were available through formal partnerships with traditional industry, like manufacturing or logistics. “Those roles just didn’t make sense for me,” says Isaac, who realized during his deployment to Iraq as a human intelligence coordinator that he thrived in small, agile teams.

So Isaac decided to use his GI benefits to attend college. He was able to finish a degree in business administration at California State University in just three years, and in 2012 he began looking for a job. During school, Isaac had started teaching himself programming and coding skills. He had been inspired by professors who extolled how technological advances were dramatically changing business. However, from November 2012 to April 2013, Isaac tried to find a job and couldn’t get any traction. “I had a business degree, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with that. Then I had these self-taught technical skills that I was passionate about, but no formal training.”

In the spring of 2013, Isaac learned about General Assembly (GA), an educational institution that offers a variety of technology-focused classes. He applied and was accepted into their 12-week full-time Web Development Immersive (WDI) program—an opportunity to receive that formal technical training he lacked. With three young children at home, Isaac knew the program would be a commitment, in terms of both time and money.

Isaac accumulated $25,000 in debt on four separate credit cards to pay for the program and his family’s living expenses while he was in school—a debt that Isaac is still repaying two years later. “It was a big commitment, and I wasn't sure that I could manage the whole thing. But it was absolutely worth it.”

Following graduation from the GA program, Isaac was hired as a full-stack developer at a Pleasanton, CA based startup, Milyoni, which builds tools to make video watching and sharing more social. Since then, he has held positions at two other companies, moving into higher-paying, more advanced roles each time. His current job as a software engineer for True Link Financial pays almost three times what he could have made when he was looking for a job with just his business degree. And on top of that, he is frequently contacted by recruiters.

Isaac is proud of how far he’s come. He should be. But he noted how he felt like he had to fight and break down barriers to achieve these goals. “People who have been in war zones have skills that are applicable to startup world: we are dedicated, disciplined, entrepreneurial. We know how to build and manage teams. We take assignments and commitments seriously. We know how to deal with less-than-ideal surroundings, fatigue, hunger, and stress. We just need the right training and the relationships to get into that world. It shouldn’t be that hard.”

Vets Who Tech: Aaron's Story


Throughout the week, we're posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry on our blog and on Medium. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

When Aaron Saari applied to West Point in 2002, he was well aware that in a post-9/11 world a military deployment would immediately follow his graduation. “Our whole class knew what was coming after graduation,” he says. Indeed, Aaron did end up deploying twice after graduating from West Point in 2007. He spent 15 months in Iraq and another six months in Afghanistan as an officer. It was these experiences, leading a team of soldiers halfway across the world, that inspired him to become an entrepreneur.

“I’m less than a year out of college and at 23, I’m given 30 people—some older than me, some younger than me, some men, some women—and $15-20 million worth of equipment, and I’m told to do all these things I’ve never done before…if that’s not being an entrepreneur, I’m not sure what is.” His experience in the field also taught him risk analysis, leadership, how to be nimble, and how to pivot quickly in life-threatening situations.

Upon returning stateside, Aaron recognized a further career in the military wouldn’t entail the same kinds of responsibilities he had been afforded as an officer on the battlefield—it looked a lot more like a desk job. Growth opportunities seemed riddled with layers of bureaucracy and hierarchy, a stark contrast to the relatively flat and merit-based culture of technology entrepreneurship.

All the while, Aaron had been following and studying startups and successful entrepreneurs. While still in the military, Aaron read Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Workweek. “It was a paradigm-shifting book,” Aaron explains, “It gives you a glimpse into the future of work and how the global economy operates.” He picked up other ideas and skills from books on entrepreneurship, the lean startup model, and Internet marketing, teaching himself what it would take to eventually start his own business.

“When I got out, I started building the business,” Aaron says.

To pursue a career change from a military officer to a technology and marketing entrepreneur, Aaron first considered some of the resources the GI Bill provided. He could earn an MBA or take advantage of business education programs offered by Veterans Affairs and the Small Business Administration. But ultimately, he didn’t want to spend two valuable years sitting in a classroom gaining a graduate degree, and the other resources available to veterans just seemed outdated. “The concepts that they’re teaching are not the way the world works any more.”

In addition to the books he had read, Aaron also came across online resources covering the latest trends in digital marketing, data analysis, and usability testing. He sought out informal, online communities of veterans who had started their own businesses or worked at fast-growing technology companies. “I found people that were doing things, doing things well, doing things quickly... [who] created their own networks.” Aaron found these resources were relevant and easily available to prepare him to launch his own business and take a lead role at a growing startup.

Today, he runs Base of Fire, a growth and marketing consultancy for small businesses, but that’s not all. After focusing on Base of Fire for nine months, Aaron attended a startup event in San Francisco where he met the founder of a new company called Remoov—an online platform that helps people declutter their homes by integrating pickup, moving, and donation services. Soon, Remoov was recruiting him. Realizing that scaling operations at a young company would offer him even greater experience and exposure as a burgeoning tech entrepreneur, Aaron joined on as head of operations.

Aaron continues to tap into networks of veterans in the tech and startup world as he seeks out advice in growing and expanding his latest ventures. As a business leader, he also wants to hire veterans. However, he worries many veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce aren’t getting the education they need, noting that many of the officially accredited programs haven’t kept up with the pace of technological and business changes.

One thing is certain though—the veteran community is a unique workforce because more than anyone, they know how to “adapt and overcome,” Aaron says. “We’re a community of problem solvers. We’re going to find a way to get things done.”

It’s Time We Expand Veterans Benefits for the 21st Century Economy


You can also read this post on Medium.

Each day, nearly 550 military veterans transition to civilian life looking for jobs. Meanwhile, the technology industry is growing fast, driving up the demand for hardworking individuals who can take on roles in well-paid and understaffed tech fields. Technology itself is also lowering the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs to launch their own businesses, which in turn create new jobs.

Not only is there increasing demand for workers in the technology industry, military veterans are also uniquely positioned for roles in this field. Trained as leaders and decision makers in complex situations, many veterans have the fundamentals to quickly learn or adapt problem-solving skills as an entrepreneur launching a startup or an engineer at a fast-paced tech company.

Unfortunately, many veterans who choose to enter the tech industry—either as an employee or a founder—face major obstacles. One obstacle is the limitation on benefits that cover relevant training, education, and programming.

Federal funding guidelines make it particularly difficult for veterans to access non-traditional, skill-based education programs that are relatively new to the education landscape, but are already producing success stories. These programs provide crucial resources for making tech training accessible to people of all backgrounds, especially those new to the civilian workforce. Not only can these programs provide skills that bridge military experience with roles in the tech sector, but they also provide the tech vocabulary and network that enable veterans to land the job.

Similarly, federal funding guidelines make it hard for veterans to use the benefits they have earned through their service towards building a business. Twenty-five percent of active duty service members report that they would like to start their own company. Many veterans are empowered to create their own jobs and jobs for others. Unfortunately, restrictions around the use of GI benefits preclude them from putting that money toward a startup or un-accredited alternative entrepreneurial education programs that help bring their ideas to reality.

Congress should develop policies that help veterans transition into roles in the tech sector. Growing the diversity of the tech sector and expanding innovation in America depends on it.

Throughout the week, we’ll be posting stories from veterans from around the country who’ve pursued careers in the technology sector following their military service. Each of their stories is unique: some built on tech skills that they had already acquired during their services, others sought to build an entirely new skill base, and several of the veterans profiled here have started their own companies.

Together, these men and women showcase the enormous potential within the veteran community to serve and lead in our country’s most rapidly growing job sector. Yet to accelerate these successes and enable more veterans to enter into this industry, we must do more.

Watch this space for stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry or find them all here. You can also follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.

Entrepreneurs are Building a Better Baltimore



This week Engine is traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. For more updates follow #RiseofRest on Twitter.

This week marks the fourth Rise of the Rest road trip, and our first stop was Baltimore, Maryland. While we often hear about the challenges facing Baltimore, during our full day tour we saw another Baltimore story—a story about opportunity, innovation and economic development. Baltimore is one of the busiest ports in the United States and has a thriving healthcare sector, in large part driven by Johns Hopkins University’s hospitals and world class research facilities. Baltimore has 11 more universities and it’s just miles away from from major federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Security Agency which draws technology security talent to the region.

On our visit to Baltimore, we caught a glimpse of how entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the city’s leading industries. In the security space, we stopped by ZeroFox, a young, but fast-growing company with a cloud-based security platform that blocks malicious content from social applications. TechCrunch called its team “a who’s-who of some of the best and brightest security technologists.” We visited Fast Forward, an accelerator at Johns Hopkins that advances and commercializes technologies developed at the university. Many of the companies at yesterday’s culminating pitch competition also focused on new technologies in the health sector. ShapeU is a data-driven application digitizing the personal trainer, Sonavex offers a platform to detect blood clots, and Edessa is an automated hand washing system. The winner of the $100,000 investment from Steve Case was Sisu Global Health, a medical device company with an innovative blood transfusion product for healthcare providers in emerging markets.

We also saw some signs of entrepreneurial success in Baltimore, first and foremost at Under Armour headquarters. Under Armour has called Baltimore home since its inception. The company now has over over 1,000 employees, making it one of the city’s biggest employers. Their campus spans the Baltimore harbour and, unsurprisingly, includes a state-of-the-art fitness center complete with Under Armour’s newest wearable technology and health-tracking devices. Though Under Armour is no longer a startup, Baltimore entrepreneurs commented on how supportive the fitness-wear company has been of the ecosystem. The last startup tour of the day was at OrderUp, a food delivery platform acquired this summer by the Chicago-based Groupon—a sign to many of Baltimore’s competitive consumer technology sector.

We also sensed the broader commitment to fostering greater and more inclusive economic prosperity in Baltimore. The cries for justice after the killing of Freddie Gray this summer resonated deeply with the community and local leaders here, and many entrepreneurs are thinking about how to create new economic opportunity that’s accessible to more of Baltimore’s residents. One promising sign is the opening of Baltimore’s own Impact Hub—a local outpost for social business leaders that will open its doors within months. During a sneak peek of the space we heard from one young company making it easier for the formerly incarcerated to find jobs, as well as from a new local ice cream maker employing some of Baltimore’s youth.

Overall, we sensed great optimism in Baltimore about the potential to build on the city’s existing talent pool and create new solutions where challenges remain. From here, we’re traveling up the Northeast corridor to Philadelphia. Stay tuned for more dispatches from the road.

Startup News Digest 9/18/15

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.

Tech and 2016. In case you missed it, check out Julie talking about tech and the 2016 election on KCRW’s Press Play with Madeleine Brand.

FCC Opens Up Business Broadband Data to New Eyes. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it will release data on the little-understood special access market. While most consumers have never heard of special access lines, you probably unknowingly use them every day. They are the high capacity business broadband lines that allow ATMs to connect directly to your bank or cell phone towers to connect back to the network. Competition in this industry is sorely lacking, with just two providers covering most of the U.S. and jacking up prices for the startups, universities, hospitals, and other businesses that use them. While the data will only be accessible to analysts approved by the FCC, its release represents a step in the right direction towards more transparency, increased competition, and lower broadband prices.

Senate Committee Considers ECPA Updates. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) on Wednesday morning. As we’ve covered in past digests, it's still legal for law enforcement to access your emails and other digital data without a warrant. Last week, the California legislature passed a bill to modernize these outdated digital privacy laws at the state level. Still, a federal overhaul of ECPA would be an even better fix, bringing these laws out of the digital dark ages.  Sens. Lee (R-UT) and Leahy (D-VT) have proposed a bill in the Senate, and there is similar legislation in the House. We’ll be tracking reform efforts.  

Dancing Baby Wins Victory For Copyright Fairness. The courts ruled this week in Lenz v. Universal, the famous “dancing baby” case. As Evan writes, “The Lenz ruling is important for a few reasons. First, it should make it much harder for content owners to abuse the takedown process. […] Second, the decision should serve as a loud reminder that the tech world needs to get to work rebalancing our copyright laws to ensure that they’re actually promoting creativity and expression.”  Read the whole post here.

$81M for CS in NYC. On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an $81 million public private partnership to make computer science education available to every student in city public schools by 2025. Substantial contributions have come from the Wilson family foundation, the AOL Charitable Foundation, and the Robin Hood Foundation. New York joins Chicago and San Francisco in terms of large cities that have made similar commitments, and we hope to see other cities, states, and the federal government continue to build on such efforts to prepare students for jobs in the growing innovation economy.

The Fight Is On Over Chicago’s Streaming Tax.  A group of Chicago residents have sued the city over its controversial application of the 9% Amusement Tax to online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify.  The Amusement Tax, which applies to events like concerts and sporting games, has been in existence for a while, but was only recently expanded to cover streaming services. And Chicagoans’ bills are already increasing.  As Ars Technica reports, one reader’s Spotify bill went from $7.99 to $8.71 this month. We’ll be watching, as the outcome of this case could have a national impact on the power of cities and states to tax the internet economy.

“Cool clock, Ahmed”. When a Texas middle-schooler’s homemade invention was mistaken for a bomb this week, prompting an outlandish response by his school and local law enforcement, it caught the tech world’s - and the President’s - attention. As a New Yorker writer points out, “His arrest comes at a moment when some of the world’s most influential people...have argued that there aren’t enough U.S. students gaining the math and science skills that will get them jobs in the tech sector."

A Different Kind of Tech Event. We were impressed and encouraged by the conversation at last week’s Tech Inclusion conference in San Francisco, which brought together leaders in Silicon Valley and the national tech community to discuss the challenge of making the tech industry more diverse. Read our take on why this wasn’t your typical tech event and what we took away.



Not Your Typical Tech Event: What We Learned at the Tech Inclusion Conference


You can also read this post on Medium.

This past week’s Tech Inclusion conference in San Francisco was not your typical tech event. The audience included engineers, entrepreneurs, policymakers and community activists who were far more representative of the diversity of the Bay Area - and the rest of the country, too. The speakers didn’t shy from pointing out serious flaws in the very industry in which they work. An Oakland food startup employing local youth catered the lunches. And a “Mommy Pod”—an RV outfitted for breastfeeding mothers—was stationed just outside the entrance.

Where’s the diversity in tech? It all showed up last week at Tech Inclusion, a conference where speakers and attendees discussed the major challenges to improving the makeup of tech, but also the potential and the widespread commitment to doing better. From rethinking recruiting, to repurposing federal education grants, to envisioning tech as a platform for social justice, ideas big and small were all debated with both energy and a kind honesty not always heard at Silicon Valley meetups. The conversations between panels and during networking sessions were frank and authentic: Speaker Julia Nguyen quite accurately said, "when you don't talk about something it perpetuates ignorance." Congresswoman Barbara Lee's speech was empowering and direct.  

For a full rundown of conference speakers and topics, visit or check out the recorded event on YouTube. While we can’t chronicle all the motivating conversations we had and tell you about all the inspiring people we met, here’s a few things we took away:

Demand Transparency - We can’t address the problem if we don’t understand the scope of it. A growing number of technology companies are making their employee diversity data public. Most recently, the fast-growing startup Slack announced its numbers. We applaud this initiative and hope it continues to gain momentum with more companies releasing data. But we also need to see more categories of data released. As one conference-goer noted, we have no idea how many people with disabilities are working in the tech industry. They represent a workforce that’s massively underemployed despite the skills they have to offer. And we’re just starting to talk about veterans too

Look to Role Models - Many tech companies are actively addressing the lack of diverse employees in their ranks, some by hiring an employee whose role it is to oversee all aspects of making their company more inclusive. The directors and leaders of diversity efforts at Pinterest, Yelp, Twitter, and Thoughtworks all shared their ideas for recruiting a broader range of talent and also ensuring these new employees stick around and grow their careers. For some, recruiting at historically black colleges and universities is a new focus. And nearly every company of substantial size has employee resource groups (ERGs) for workers to consistently discuss and address making the workplace more welcoming.

Invest in the Pipeline - The importance of the talent pipeline cannot be underestimated. While it won’t help the industry embrace a more diverse employee pool right away, investing in education now will ensure our next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs come from a wider set of backgrounds, (and that there are more of them with the skills to power our innovation economy.) The Department of Labor has estimated over 1.3 million new tech jobs will open by 2022. This presents a massive opportunity for communities that have been historically excluded from tech and dozens of community organizations, governments and educational institutions are working to bring them into the fold. These efforts—from neighborhood programs like Hack the Hood to national movements like Girls Who Code—must be supported, scaled and expanded.

Build Coalitions  - Witnessing so many connections being made over shared values and complementary efforts was one of the best parts of attending this conference. We sensed new partnerships and collaborations forming by the minute. Coalitions based on shared goals - especially goals as big as overhauling the makeup of a fast-moving, fast-growing industry - are critical. They allow us to share resources and ideas, amplify our message and expand our reach.

Advocate for Policy Change - As a policy organization, we can’t overlook the impact that can be achieved when policymakers heed our calls for action. The conference highlighted several leading examples when government has been a powerful tool, including a local ballot initiative to fund job-based education programs in Oakland and the White House’s tech hire initiative. Engine also led a policy workshop, “Achieving Inclusion Through Policy and Advocacy” where attendees developed their own policy action plans that included reforming community block grants to fund diverse entrepreneurs and requiring the IRS to tax corporations based on their gender pay gap. And we’ve invited anyone who wants to continue this conversation to joins us at

Policymakers are just beginning to engage with our wider tech community to understand how to propel tech-based entrepreneurship and, most importantly, ensure more of our country participates. At Engine, we work every day to push policymakers to support inclusive forms of technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

Over the past year, we’ve been part of conversations with policymakers as well as community organizations and industry leaders about the future of the tech sector. Tech Inclusion was a powerful convergence of the many disparate efforts we’ve seen. Like us, we hope the other attendees found new fuel, new partners, and new avenues for pursuing change last week. And if you’d like to join our efforts, visit us at