Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.
Many Americans think of GI benefits as applying only to secondary education. But that’s a fairly narrow interpretation of a bill that originally set out to provide broader assistance for those transitioning from the military to civilian life.
In 1945, when the GI Bill (then called the Servicemen's Readjustment Act) was first passed, it provided low-interest loans to start a business, low-cost mortgages, tuition and living expenses to attend higher education. The Bill made not just college, but also business and home ownership possible for millions – opportunities that were previously seen as unattainable by the average American.
In 2015, GI benefits primarily emphasize education, providing about $20,000 per year (for three years), plus a stipend, to attend a university program. As Todd Connor of Bunker Labs (a network of veteran business incubators) explained in his recent blog post, this assumes that further education is what every veteran needs to become gainfully employed and reach their career goals. However, not all veterans demand nor need a secondary degree -- for many, employment and personal goals are better achieved by launching a startup or traditional small business. In a study conducted by Bunker Labs, 90 percent of veterans said they would like to use their benefits towards starting a business.
One way to make that dream a reality for more of our veterans is through the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015, legislation co-sponsored by Senators Moran and Tester that was recently passed out of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. The VET Act would set up a pilot program to evaluate and fund proposals by veteran entrepreneurs, allowing them to use their $20,000+ per year towards starting (or acquiring) their own business. This would include “purchasing goods or services necessary for the creation or operation of a qualifying business enterprise.” The pilot would even allow veterans to apply as a group and pool their benefits.
Our military is made up of diverse individuals who are hard working, strategic thinkers, and fast learners. We’re missing a great opportunity by not helping more of them become the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We support the efforts of Senators Moran and Tester and urge the Senate and House to pass this important piece of legislation.
by Anna Duning and Anthony Hogrebe
Memorial Day provides an opportunity for all of us to think about what we can do to support our nation’s veterans. The technology community—employers, investors and educators—play a pivotal role in helping men and women in uniform succeed back at home by ensuring veterans have opportunities to join our fast-growing technology economy.
According to the Schultz Family Foundation, over 2.6 million post 9/11 veterans are transitioning back to civilian life. The heartening news about this population is that overall unemployment among veterans is at its lowest since 2008, around 5.3 percent as of March. Yet hundreds of thousands of veterans remain unemployed. And post 9/11 veteran unemployment remains higher than the national average at 7.2 percent.
Meanwhile, according to the White House, there are currently over half a million unfilled jobs in information technology, making up 12 percent of all job openings in the U.S. This number is only projected to grow. This is a massive opportunity for our hard-working and talented veterans to either build on the skills they already have or acquire new skills they can deploy.
Many organizations around the country are working toward this goal of preparing veterans and connecting them with job opportunities in technology fields. VetsinTech runs eight national chapters that coordinate training programs with major technology firms including SalesForce and Microsoft. Sharp Decisions, an IT consulting firm based in New York, hires tech-savvy armed services veterans to participate in their internal vets-only bootcamp (we profiled their inventive program in our Innovation for All blog series last year.) And many tech bootcamps, typically marketed to recent graduates or people seeking a career change, are developing courses and creating scholarship funds specifically for veterans.
Yet there’s still much work to be done. More tech companies need to make recruiting veteran candidates a priority when hiring, and provide the mentoring and other supports that veterans will need to succeed. And we need to help more veterans access non-traditional tech education programs. Right now, GI benefits can only be used at federally accredited programs, but almost no coding bootcamps and schools—many of which boast high job placement rates—have that accreditation. Congress needs to work to modernize the accreditation system, to help veterans access quality coding programs that are often more effective than traditional two and four year programs in preparing students for jobs in tech.
Over the months ahead, we’ll be making veteran access to technology jobs a key part of our diversity efforts and a key focus of our Diversifying Tech Caucus. Not only is it the right thing to do - tech companies simply can’t afford to miss out on tapping into such a great pool of talent.
You can also read this post on Medium.
When the Tennessee Code Academy started coding camps for kids in the summer of 2013, its organizers noticed something missing: girls. Young women weren’t signing up for the weeklong code camps despite generally high enrollment. “So we sat down with the team to figure out how to get girls to sign up,” explained Sammy Lowdermilk, who is now the director of the growing spin-off project, 100 Girls of Code.
Sammy and other partners, including several female programmers, decided to establish a one day workshop specifically for girls between the ages of 12 and 18. In the summer of 2014, they launched these workshops, at no charge to students, with the support of volunteer instructors and organizers in 12 different locations throughout Tennessee. Their goal was to reach 100 girls. Over 200 girls signed up for the workshops, and shortly thereafter the organizers were contacted by interested groups outside of the state. Could they offer these workshops in South Carolina? In Kentucky?
Since last summer, over 600 girls have attended free 100 Girls of Code workshops in nine different states and new chapters of the program continue to open across the country. Typically, up to 25 girls attend each six hour workshop, entirely led and supported by female programmers and volunteers. “We want to create an environment where the girl from the beginning is comfortable being herself without any distractions, any fear or intimidation,” explained Sara Kennedy, a front end web developer who leads the Columbia, South Carolina chapter.
The workshop begins with a short history lesson in computer science that specifically highlights women who were integral in the field early on, such as Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace. Instructors also discuss current female leaders in technology: Marissa Mayer and Megan Smith, for instance. The students then get to coding. They learn some introductory HTML and CSS, and even dabble in programming languages, primarily through Scratch, an MIT-built tool that facilitates learning computer programming through creating interactive stories, games and animations. By the end of the workshop, the girls have created basic websites that tell stories about their day spent as a “girl of code.”
While the workshops only introduce computer programming skills, the hope is these few hours have a lasting impact. “At minimum, I hope they can walk away and feel proud about what women can do in technology,” said Sara. And at best, 100 Girls of Code alumni will seek out additional opportunities to build on their skills and eventually pursue a college education and a career in computer programming. They’ve already had a few girls come back to help assist in additional workshops.
100 Girls of Code is starting to explore how they can provide their alumni with additional coding education opportunities. In most locales, computer science is not offered in public schools. The organization is planning to establish more advanced workshops in some chapters and hopes they can eventually create a scholarship fund for girls graduating high school and planning to pursue STEM degrees in college. And they’re actively looking for sponsors to contribute supplies, resources and funding for the free workshops across the country.
“Software, hardware, the Internet—this all comes from someone,” said Sara “and it needs to be created by the people it’s for.” That includes women. According to one study, 74% of girls show interest in STEM fields in middle school, yet only 3% of them go on to pursue degrees in this field. 100 Girls of Code wants to change that, one girl at a time.
You can also read this post on Medium.
Your company’s talent will probably have kids. That’s a fact that Tina Lee wants everyone to know. Tina is the founder of MotherCoders, a non-profit that provides a tech orientation program for moms. Another fact: 81% of women become moms. Tina thinks moms are one demographic that too often gets overlooked in the conversation about how to increase diversity in technology fields.
Not just women, but mothers in particular, are an enormous population with insight, perspective and influence. MotherCoders makes that case explicitly on its homepage, pointing to the fact that moms represent a $2.4 trillion market. “And with many of them already online and using technology, their participation in driving innovation can result in better products and services for everyone.”
It’s clear that the tech industry can’t afford to miss out on mothers as valuable contributors. Yet both anecdotal evidence and data indicate that tech companies both large and small can be inhospitable for expecting, new or even seasoned mothers.
In a recent survey of 716 women who left the tech industry, two thirds cited “motherhood” as the primary reason. Whether companies had bad or no maternity leave policies, “lack of flexible work arrangements…or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare,” women who become mothers have faced significant strains in staying and succeeding in tech jobs. Even Sheryl Sandberg had to ask Sergey Brin to designate parking spots for expectant mothers at Google—he admitted that it hadn’t ever occurred to him.
“I just have so much empathy for moms who’ve had to step out of the workforce,” said Tina, who has years of experience as an IT consultant and a technical recruiter, an M.A. in Learning, Design & Technology from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, and programming skills she’s picked up along the way. However, when she wanted to gain more proficiency after having her first child in 2011, she couldn’t find a resource that worked well for her as a working mom. Weekend workshops and weeknight meetups conflicted with her parenting responsibilities and the online classes she tried after her second child was born weren’t conducive to her learning style.
Needless to say, in most environments, Tina was the only mother with young children, exacerbating her feelings of loneliness and frustration. “I came from tech and understand tech. I’m not afraid of it, and I was having this many problems?”
In 2012, Tina launched MotherCoders in San Francisco in an effort to create an open and supportive community of moms either entirely new to technology or interested in relaunching their careers in tech. MotherCoders offers a series of eight Saturday classes to introduce students to major themes in computer programming. By the end of the course, students have built a personal website, learned about the technology landscape and tools driving innovation, and connected with women—many of them moms, too—who expose students to the many career possibilities that tech skills enable, from full stack engineering to user experience design.
In addition to fostering an open and supportive space, for a little extra money MotherCoders also provides onsite childcare, a benefit very few, if any, of the more mainstream technology education programs offer.
Two classes of women have now graduated from MotherCoders and each of the 13 graduates has taken a different path. Some moms have used MotherCoders to prepare themselves for intensive tech education bootcamps while others have used the skills they gained to grow their own businesses.
Tina is now figuring out how to scale the program to attract more students, and far beyond San Francisco. She’s received inquiries from mothers across the U.S. as well as in Ireland, New Zealand, and India who face similar challenges, and she wants to build a curriculum and an infrastructure that could support these women too. This includes attracting more donors to support the organization’s mission.
Meanwhile, more Silicon Valley companies have stepped up and re-evaluated their company policies in efforts to retain talented women. The Atlantic reported that many leading tech companies, like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, have some of the most generous parental leave policies is the U.S., across industries. And even smaller companies are starting to follow suit.
That’s a start, but the industry has a long way to go. Beyond parental leave, childcare has to be an integral part of the equation, along with a broader cultural shift in the way employers and fellow employees view women who become mothers in their careers.
“Employees have to have peace of mind about their kids to do good work,” Tina explained, “It’s a systemic problem to women participating fully in our economy and women being able to lean in. The motherhood penalty is real. The fatherhood bonus is infuriating.”
It’s time companies see motherhood as an asset. MotherCoders instills women with the skills and the confidence to prove it.
You can also read this post on Medium.
If the Census projections are accurate, by the year 2040 people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population. This statistic inspired the name of the organization Code2040, a summer program to help Hispanic and black engineering students succeed and ultimately, become leaders in technology. According to Code2040’s website, jobs in STEM are the fastest growing category of professions in the United States. Yet, fewer than 4% of Black and Latino students pursue degrees in computer science. That gap is significant, it’s problematic and Code2040 aspires to narrow it, one fellow at a time.
Increasing the talent pool in STEM fields, especially from underrepresented minorities, doesn’t only require more degrees. Education is just one of the steps in a long pipeline to both success and leadership in a technology profession. Code2040 recognizes that many aspiring individuals who start down the path towards a career in technology may drop out due to lack of preparedness or even because they lack of the right connections.
“A lot of African American and Latino students don’t realize Silicon Valley is a place,” Tristan Walker, one of the co-founders of Code2040 told SV411 in an interview last year. “And once they get here, it’s very hard for them to find a way in, to make those connections and get in a room with people who can fund their idea.” That’s where Code2040 steps in.
Code2040 provides internships, mentorship, leadership training, and network development for the fellows admitted to its summer program. Since 2012, the organization has selected a group of students studying computer science and engineering to be placed with some of Silicon Valley’s top technology companies. Their interns have worked at LinkedIn, FourSquare, Tumblr, and a handful of tech startups. And through the course of their summer, the fellows attend workshops, meet with mentors, and tour Silicon Valley companies.
Ben Harvey was admitted into Code2040’s program for the summer of 2014, Code2040’s third class of fellows. Ben grew up in Baltimore County, and while he didn’t know many people who worked in technology, he did know that he enjoyed working with computers. Tinkering with HTML code and trying out new apps came naturally to him. He attended Towson University in Maryland and began pursuing a major in computer science. When he learned about Code2040, he had a feeling the program would offer an unmatched opportunity to jumpstart his career.
For Ben, the summer at Code2040 opened an entirely new realm of job possibilities—even life changes. He interned at a San Francisco edtech startup, Panafold, where he learned what it takes to work in a professional setting, built several Android apps, and ultimately received a job offer from the company. He accepted their offer, extended his stay in the Bay Area and most recently took another offer to work as a mobile developer for Disney. While Ben still has another couple of semesters left to complete his degree back at Towson, he isn’t in a rush to return. He hopes to become a top developer at a big company or a tech entrepreneur himself one day. He’s already built at least one Android app as a side project and is working on another.
“I wasn’t aware of all the potential for me in Silicon Valley until I got there,” Ben said. “People get funding for ideas, because they can build them. It was a culture shock. It’s inspiring.”
Getting more minorities into the tech field is a complicated problem, Ben acknowledges, but he thinks if students like himself were at the very least more aware of the kinds of opportunities that would open up to them, more people would be learning to code.
Code2040 just closed applications for their 4th summer of fellows. They plan to accept up to 40 fellows who will intern at around 20 Silicon Valley companies starting in June. By 2040, hopefully those fellows will serve as the mentors and advisors to a new generation of even more diverse programmers and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Yesterday, we were on Capitol Hill to launch our new Diversifying Tech Caucus. We’re excited to work with our Congressional Co-chairs—Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Tim Scott (R-SC), and Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)— to increase representation of women, minorities, and veterans in the tech sector, and the ability of these groups to access the good jobs that this industry creates.
Lack of diversity in tech is a well-documented and serious problem. Right now only one in 14 technical employees in Silicon Valley is African-American or Hispanic. Women currently represent fewer than 13 percent of employed engineers and hold fewer than 25 percent of STEM jobs. And just three percent of all startups are founded by women.
Congress can play a unique role in calling attention to these challenges, highlighting existing best practices, driving a public conversation, and designing policy initiatives that support and promote diversity. The Diversifying Tech Caucus will be a true partnership between policy makers, industry, and academia to organize, advocate, and create awareness about underrepresented groups and develop strategies for improving access and engagement. Industry and academic leaders will also work together to undertake extensive new research that legislators can use to elevate the issue and help develop meaningful solutions.
Lack of diversity in the tech industry is a complicated problem, one without a single, easy fix. But we are confident that when you get smart people from different walks of life with different sets of tools around a table, you can take great strides toward making it better. We have lots of work to do and can’t wait to get started.
Engine Executive Director Julie Samuels
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Congresswomen Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-TX)
While the San Francisco Bay Area is home to many of the country’s most successful startups and innovations in technology, it’s also a region of staggering inequalities. NPR reported last year that one-third of the households in Santa Clara County, where Google, Apple and hundreds of high-tech startups have their headquarters, don’t earn enough to cover basic income expenses. And in the city of San Francisco, troves of data confirm the already apparent trends in rising income inequality, increasing poverty rates, and a shrinking middle class. With these realities, it’s not surprising that anger, resentment, and frustration, among longtime residents in San Francisco watching their neighborhoods become increasingly unaffordable have been directed to newcomers working for technology companies, both big and small. But, as many have suspected, tech startups may not be responsible for this kind of increasing inequality, after all.
That’s what renowned urban economist Richard Florida concluded in a recent study that examined the relationship between high-tech startups and increasing inequality in cities throughout the country. Florida and his partner at the Martin Prosperity Institute charted venture capital investment in startups against the two primary measures of inequality: wage and income disparity. In urban tech hubs across the country from Boston to Seattle, they found a fairly high correlation between wage inequality and venture capital investment. Notably, however, this same trend did not hold when charting venture capital investment against the more common measure of inequality: the Gini coefficient, a measurement based on income distribution within an economy. Income inequality didn’t necessarily increase as venture capital investment in a given area did.
These mixed results are evidently limited in the extent to which they can diagnose urban challenges. Perhaps these findings can only demonstrate that urban inequity is a complex matter with dozens of factors. Whether it’s simply correlation or more significantly (though not addressed in this study), causation, inequality has myriad historical, political, and economic sources, even city by city. (And for a formidable, detailed account of what's happened in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out this Tech Crunch article.)
To put it another way: the data shows us that urban tech startups aren’t worsening inequality—that means there’s a lot of room for startups to make things better for a wider range of citizens.
We already know these new businesses create jobs, supply municipal tax revenue, and can make urban life more efficient and convenient. Yet urban innovation—technology for local governments, neighborhoods, and schools; tools to create safer streets, smarter public transit, and more efficient energy use—may still be in its infancy.
As startup hubs continue to expand across the country, they’ll play an increasingly important role in the urban fabric of their host cities. For the sake of long term economic prosperity, it’s incumbent upon burgeoning entrepreneurs as well as urban policymakers to understand existing inequities and think about how technology can create a “more inclusive urbanism,” as Florida puts it.
This includes not only building tools for a more diverse and urban public, but also training a new generation of citizens to contribute to creating that technology. Examples of organizations already doing this work aren’t hard to find. In San Francisco, an organization called Missionbit offers public school students free coding classes. Another exciting pogram we’ve seen is the Coalition for Queens, an organization with the mission to “increase economic opportunity and transform the world’s most diverse community into a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.” With the support of both local government and technology experts, the organization has launched an entrepreneurial and computer programming program for low-income New Yorkers called Access Code. As they grow and add alumni to their network, the Coalition for Queens and programs like it could serve as models for cities both new and established as centers for startups—in creating more diverse and participatory startup ecosystems and perhaps a new technologically-empowered middle class.
You can also read this post on Medium.
Many immigrants who come to the U.S. to work in technology dream of starting their own companies, but the limited visa system makes this ambition near impossible to achieve. Other aspiring entrepreneurs may be U.S. citizens, but simply can’t incur the risks and costs of starting their own companies without a reliable salary or health insurance. The founders of a new angel fund, Unshackled, rethought what it means to support entrepreneurs who may face these obstacles despite showing great promise. The fund they’ve created will consequently enable a greater diversity of passionate entrepreneurs to take the leap into building their businesses.
“We saw an opportunity to be more inclusive from the funding side,” explained Manan Mehta who, together with his business partner, Nitin Pachisia, launched Unshackled just weeks ago. As experienced and solution-oriented entrepreneurs themselves, Manan and Nitin built an innovative kind of angel fund.
In addition to investing in the startup teams selected for funding, Unshackled will sponsor visas for entrepreneurs already authorized to work in the U.S., but “shackled” to their current employers. Most high-skilled immigrants come to the U.S. on H-1B visas, but if they leave their sponsoring company, they’re no longer eligible to remain in the U.S. This restriction thus bars talented, would-be entrepreneurs from devoting meaningful time to starting a new company. Madhuri Eunni, for instance, is originally from India and worked at Sprint for nearly 10 years. But when she decided to launch her own venture, she uprooted from the U.S. and moved to Toronto where she could more easily and quickly secure a visa.
Visa sponsorship isn’t the only benefit Unshackled offers. They also pay founding teams steady salaries and provide health insurance, aspects that may attract other potential entrepreneurs who would otherwise be unable to pay their student loans, rents, or health costs out of pocket while committing resources to their startups. This unprecedented fund liberates founders from what are debilitating yet unavoidable challenges for many people.
“The funding model has been the same for the last 50 years. How can we modernize it to reflect realities in our country?” asked Manan.
With a $3.5 million fund financed by heavyweights in the investment community, Unshackled plans to work with up to 25 teams of two to three founders over the next couple of years.
Like many other potential investors, Unshackled will evaluate a prospective startup’s founding team, business plan, and prototype in deciding whom they’ll accept. Selected startup teams will then become employees of Unshackled and receive a working space in the Bay Area, a salary that allows them to cover living expenses in the region, and benefits. Unshackled will cover legal costs, visa sponsorships--if and when necessary--and manage banking. And the fund will also connect entrepreneurs to an experienced network of mentors and advisors from the very beginning.
Unshackled is now accepting applications for prospective teams and Manan says they’re already attracting impressive proposals, which doesn’t surprise him. The high-skilled immigrants Unshackled may appeal to, as Manan points out, have “already had to beat out the best in their country,” to even be accepted to study at a U.S. university or acquire one of the very limited visas. They’ve already proven they “have the hustle and the passion to become the best entrepreneurs.”
And data overwhelmingly supports this: in one study the Kauffman Foundation concluded that immigrants are nearly twice as likely to start businesses in the U.S. as are native-born Americans.
Eventually, Congressional immigration reform could both expand and ease the visa process for high-skilled workers and aspiring entrepreneurs. President Obama’s recently announced plans for reform expressly recognize the enormous talent pool among our immigrant population and the economic importance of diversity among entrepreneurs. And one initiative the president has proposed could provide founders with a special exemption from the company sponsorship requirement if founders can prove they’ve created jobs. Yet a true “startup visa” similar to those in other countries starting to attract and retain entrepreneurial talent and innovation will require congressional action.
Meanwhile, Manan and Nitin plan to enable a pool of entrepreneurs who at this point in time may otherwise be excluded from accessing capital and growing their businesses here in the United States.
“I hope we can prove to not only the venture community, but the global community that America can retain the top talent by giving everyone an equal opportunity in innovation,” said Manan.
You can also read this post on Medium.
Jesse and Edwardo Martinez are brothers from Houston, software engineers by training and co-founders of several startups. Jesse has been in San Francisco since the late nineties, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he realized there wasn’t a dedicated effort in Silicon Valley to connect Latino entrepreneurs in technology like himself. So, he and Edwardo took it upon themselves to host a Meetup of their own.
“We were all wondering, were there really that many Latino entrepreneurs?” said Jesse.
Turns out, there were, but no one had brought them together just yet.
Since then, the Meetup has burgeoned into the Latino Startup Alliance with the mission of cultivating entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino community and increasing the amount of Latino led technology innovation. The organization is based in Bay Area and expanding to chapters in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Austin next year. Jesse has now left his third startup to support the Latino Startup Alliance full-time.
The expansion seems ambitious, but LSA may just barely be tapping into the Latino entrepreneurial community in the U.S. at large. Latinos are far and away the largest minority group in the United States, making up 17 percent of the population. U.S. News reports the Hispanic student population at 4-year colleges and universities is spiking, with a 20 percent enrollment increase since 2010, and 2015 will be the most Latino Congress in history, with 29 Hispanics in the House and three in the Senate.
Nonetheless, the representation of Latinos in technology lags at only seven percent. And in California, the hub of tech innovation and where the Hispanic population is expected to become the largest ethnic and racial group in the state, Latino students represented less than 1.3 percent of computer science AP test takers in 2013.
Jesse thinks the problem is due in large part to education (or, more precisely, lack thereof). He wants LSA to help expand opportunity for more Latinos and inspire more to pursue both careers in technology and take the risks of becoming an entrepreneur. Like many startup networks, LSA supports entrepreneurs in its community through fostering connections, offering educational opportunities, and providing mentorship.
Take for instance Deldelp Medina, a San Francisco-based mobile app entrepreneur. Medina got involved with LSA and soon connected to several other Latina women in tech. With the support of the LSA community, she and Jesse founded a pre-accelerator for Latina entrepreneurs in the mobile application industry called Avión Ventures. Through training and programming, Avión will support Latina women with an interest and potential in building technology.
Jesse and Deldelp hope to see many more connections and new ventures, like Avion Ventures, emerge from LSA. This week, LSA is hosting its second annual summit in San Francisco featuring startup pitches, keynote speakers, and networking events. They’re hoping it’ll be their biggest event yet and a catalyst to inspire more Latinos to become leaders in technology.
A recent Pew Research Study showed that the “Digital Divide” in Latino community in the U.S. is rapidly shrinking: technology usage is higher than ever among Latinos and at pace with most other demographic groups. While it is encouraging to see that divide shrinking, the Latino community—and the nation at large—only stands to benefit when Latinos don’t just use, but also create, that technology.
You can also read this post on Medium.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the unemployment rate for veterans is way too high. Nearly 250,000 Americans who have volunteered to serve our country and put their lives at risk are out of work entirely. Meanwhile, technology companies are actively seeking larger talent pools.
There’s enormous opportunity here to provide high-demand job training to some our our country’s most dedicated, disciplined, and hard-working citizens.
Karen Ross, CEO of Sharp Decisions, a strategic business and technology consulting services firm based in New York City, recognized this opportunity and decided to take initiative. In 2013, Sharp Decisions established a training program tailored exclusively to veterans. They hire, train, and deploy groups of veterans on client-based technology projects around the country.
Today, Sharp Decisions employs around 50 veterans who receive full salaries and benefits, and are hoping to expand their veteran pool to 200 by the end of next year, said Jared Baiman, a strategist at Sharp Decisions.
Their V.E.T.S. program—Vocation, Education and Training for Service members—recruits tech-savvy armed services veterans who undergo intensive training centered on quality assurance and software testing, a set of skills well-suited to military personnel with some level of technical background. "Vets have a unique skill set,” explained Jared. For one, they know how to perform in high-pressure situations.
Sharp Decisions hires veterans with a baseline of technical experience, whether from their positions in intelligence gathering, as operations specialists, or using highly classified technology unfamiliar to American consumers. During “technology bootcamp”, trainers use military terminology that resonates with vets: client projects are deployments, objectives are missions, and the client teams they put together are squads.
“A lot businesses don’t understand how veterans’ technology experience translates,” said Jared. But veterans are uniquely qualified for many kinds of work in technology: “They bring leadership, an unparalleled work ethic, strong self-motivation and a respect for each client’s unique culture and chain of command,” explains the V.E.T.S. website.
Veterans train together and offer one another support with a kind of no-man-left-behind mentality. Sharp Decisions then assigns them to client projects together, where they can continue to work in teams and support one another. In the past year, these veteran squads have been deployed on technology assignments in cybersecurity, quality assurance, and payment processing for major clients including EmblemHealth, Experian, and Freddie Mac.
With a 94% retention rate, Sharp Decisions is doing something right—and they’ve run the program without even touching the GI Bill. The GI Bill has been a critical part of educating our country’s veterans since World War II, but its benefits are only available for federally accredited programs. As we’ve written before, nearly all modern coding bootcamps and schools lack this accreditation, (though Galvanize recently became accredited through its partnership with the University of New Haven.) Where private companies like Sharp Decisions aren’t taking initiative, (and picking up the tab,) for educating veterans with today’s high-demand skills, a reformed GI Bill could. What Congress can and should do is create a special category of accreditation that would pave the way for veterans to receive this kind of technical training.
Despite GI Bill limitations, we’re excited to see programs like the one at Sharp Decisions as well as other companies team up with developer bootcamps to offer scholarships to veterans. General Assembly now offers an $8,500 scholarship sponsored by Microsoft for veterans through their Opportunity Fund, and Code Fellows has invited veterans to join some of their summer intensive coding programs.
As a country, we can do better for our veterans. We hope other companies and organizations can follow the lead of Sharp Decisions and come up with innovative ways to solve the vets job crisis. In this time of unprecedented opportunity in the technology sector, it would be a dishonor and a disservice to leave these men and women behind.
You can also read this post on Medium.
Hackbright Academy is software development school in San Francisco exclusively for women. Launched in 2012, Hackbright has since graduated 163 women from its 10-week program. According to its blog, 90 percent of graduates land jobs in tech and 73 percent as software engineers.
Hackbright is one of dozens of new developer “boot camps” that have sprung up in the past few years to teach the essential skills of software development. Students in these short, fast-paced programs learn the basics of coding within a few months and soon after pursue, and often take, jobs at technology companies eager for more qualified applicants. According to a New York Times survey of 48 programs like Hackbright, over three quarters of graduates are now employed.
What’s distinctive about Hackbright, though, is that only women need apply. Deliberately acknowledging the gender gap—or what they refer to as the Dave-to-Girl Ratio (the ratio of guys named to Dave to women in computer science programs) on their site—Hackbright founders think a women-only computer science school is one way to start closing this gap.
Jane Williams graduated from Hackbright in August and recently took a job as an implementation engineer at OPower, a tech company that builds software for the utility industry. Jane had had some exposure to data analysis in her previous job, but felt she was missing out on the kinds of tools she could be building herself to make her work more efficient and also, more creative. Jane considered several programs but ultimately found Hackbright the most appealing because of the community it fosters. “They’re clearly committed to women,” she said.
Small classes, dedicated mentors, and a strong alumnae network all help shape this community. “The space that’s created when it’s all women tends to be nurturing, friendly, and supportive” said Paria Rajai, who works in marketing for Hackbright. “That just happens naturally.” And alumnae, like Jane, attest to this: “It’s a no-question-is-stupid kind of environment.”
Part of Paria’s job at Hackbright is to attract potential students by dispelling myths about learning computer science that discourage women from entering the field. “One is you have to be good at math,” Paria said and listed off others: that you need have been coding since you were young, that you’re introverted, that you’re the white guy in a dark corner at his computer all day. For many women, such perceptions are a deterrent from even considering a career as a software engineer.
These perceptions run deep in our culture, yet many women are shrugging them off altogether to make their way to Hackbright and other coding programs. Students range from recent college graduates seeking more employable skills than what their majors offered, mid-career women looking for a change or mothers hoping to re-enter the workforce with a new kind of expertise.
And employers are hiring from these programs. Hackbright has alumnae at Facebook, Pinterest, Indiegogo and Eventbrite. These companies are not only dedicated to hiring more women on their engineering teams, but are also devoting resources to continued training and mentorship, recognizing that graduates from accelerated coding schools--and any computer science program, for that matter--still have much to learn. Even so, Jane acknowledges she would not have been qualified for her new job without the skills she attained at Hackbright.
Woman by woman, Hackbright’s graduates are part of a movement to tilt the scale of gender equality in tech nationwide. It’s programs like this one that are lowering the barriers to entry, changing perceptions and empowering women with the skills necessary to be contributors and eventually, leaders in technology.
You can also read this post on Medium.
The fact that not enough women work in tech is a serious problem that has been well documented. But this predicament is meaningful well beyond our industry. If women and other underrepresented minorities aren’t creating the technical tools that benefit our society writ large, then those tools simply won’t address the problems faced by those groups. And we will all suffer as a result.
The numbers are bleak: only three percent of startups are founded by women, and women represent fewer than 13 percent of employed engineers. Across the United States, women hold fewer than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs. In 2010 (the most recent year that data is available), only 17 percent of computer science graduates are female, down from 28 percent in 2000, according to the NSF.
It’s not just women, of course, but all underrepresented minorities. Last year there were eight states where zero Latino students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science, and 11 states where no black students took the test. In three states, not a single female student sat for the exam.
This is significant.
Many of today’s technology companies — whether they make hardware or software — provide tools to a broader society. Those tools might be a tablet or a smartphone; a health tracking app or a game; a word processing program or a document management tool. The majority of these projects are widely available to anyone who can afford them. And this is particularly true given the widespread adoption of smartphones, which, among other things, serve as a revolutionary way for developers to share their applications.
In the best instances, these products also solve problems. Many at least make life easier, some fundamentally change the world. Take GPS mapping apps and WiFi. Or apps that let users monitor their health information or compare prices for consumer goods. In many instances, one can see how technology developed by women might then be best suited to meet the needs of women.
This is not to say that every woman or underrepresented minority who works in tech will — or needs to — create technology that primarily benefits women or those minorities. But if we fail to give a real cross section of society the tools and the platform to make things, then they surely won’t. This is not even to mention, of course, the proven benefits of having a diverse workforce.
But even when women do work in the tech industry, it turns out they leave tech companies at twice the rate of men, according to the Center for Talent Innovation. They report being frustrated about their lack of advancement, the long hours and the lack of flexibility. These women report serious problems with their companies’ cultures.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that everyday we hear of new promising initiatives that will help fix the problem. Take Etsy’s developer program, organizations like Black Girls Code and university initiatives like one at Harvey Mudd. Each has come up with a creative approach to narrowing this gap.
There is more work to be done, of course. The so-called pipeline problem — not enough women and minorities getting the necessary education to work in tech (in both technical and non-technical jobs) is very real. Potentially even worse is the cultural problem, which shuts women and minorities out and continues to propagate itself.
Neither of those problems will get fixed without strong examples of how the community can raise itself up. Which is why we’re going to highlight those programs here as part of our Innovation for All series. Watch this space for inspiring stories of industry, government, and individuals coming together to fix this problem and make sure that everyone who is qualified has access to careers in the booming tech industry, no matter sex, race, or creed.