New York On Tech Launching Techies of Tomorrow

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BOTThe inspiring mission of a non-profit in New York called New York On Tech (NYOT) is to inspire the next generation of tech leaders out of Brooklyn. Founded by Jessica Santana and Evin Robinson, the organization offers a yearlong program to high schoolers from Brooklyn to teach them both programming and other professional skills.

“We are Brooklynites, born and raised in the borough and products of the NYC Department of Education public school system. To our family members and neighborhood friends, we were the ‘lucky ones.’ We grew up in neighborhoods like East New York and Bushwick, but were still able to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees from a top university, intern for prestigious companies like HBO, Ernst and Young and JPMorgan Chase and start our careers at global consultancies like Deloitte and Accenture,” explains Santana. “However, we understand this is not a common story, but recognize that if it were not for the generations of people who have come before us, community organizations that provided equal access opportunities and mentors that helped us believe we could attain high levels of success, our small achievements would not have been possible. Hence, it was a natural instinct for us to want to launch NYOT.”

Santana and Robinson have been interested and inquired by the tech world since teenagers. “When we think back to our adolescence, we were always interested in technology. When Myspace.com came out, we were teaching ourselves how to code HTML / CSS / Javascript and use web design tools, but we didn’t necessarily see ourselves as being future tech professionals back then,” recalls Santana. “A lot of the programs that we participated in while in high school pushed us to go into business careers. We obtained degrees in accounting and economics and we ultimately found that we weren’t in careers that we really enjoyed. We decided to turn down offers to some top companies and get our master’s degrees in information technology. After going into tech and working in the field, we saw all the changes going on in Brooklyn as a result of technology moving into the borough and it really pushed us to start something in a community that we’ve been part of our entire lives.”

This combined love of technology and their community led to the creation of NYOT. “Our program launched September 2014 at Etsy Labs in DUMBO, Brooklyn. However, we had been working on the idea since 2013. During this time, we conducted market research on how non-profits operated, studied non-profit best practices and gained a keen understanding of the organizations operating in our sector. This was critical when crafting our competitive advantage and business road map. We are now excited to welcome our second cohort of 40 students in the fall of 2015,” explains Santana.

The organization reaches out to young people in the area, trying to encourage involvement in the tech sector. “Our flagship program is the Tech Flex Leaders Program, a selective year-long immersive experience for juniors and seniors enrolled in a New York City high school. By participating in weekly workshops, presentations, company visits and case studies, students learn about the endless academic and career opportunities available to them in the technology industry,” says Santana. “Our cohort of students are also paired with dedicated mentors in the technology industry who serve a role models and career advocates as they progress through the program. Essentially, our students leave with about 160 hours of technical training, 40 hours of professional development and 40 hours of professional coaching.”

Through their efforts, NYOT can have an impact on diversity in tech, and Santana says she feels more people are trying to tackle this issue. “Yes, there is a lot of attention being paid to the lack of diversity in the tech industry. Many corporations have pledged large sums of capital and resources in the name of diversity and inclusion efforts. However, we would like to see companies work towards more strategic partnerships with organizations that have comprehensive approaches to addressing the pipeline issues from K-12, college to career and career to leadership systemically. Also, programs should partner with each other instead of dividing efforts when many are trying to help the same communities,” she says.

The diversity gap, no question, is a difficult one. In fact, according to a recent article in Mother Jones, the combined Black workforces of Google, Facebook, and Twitter could fit on just one jumbo jet–with room to spare.

The solution is multifaceted. “It depends on the need you are trying to address, but in general strategic partnerships with diversity-focused programs and platforms is the first step to closing this gap. By taking this approach, it demystifies the myth that there are not enough diverse candidates qualified to matriculate into college / university programs and hire for employment once they graduate,” notes Santana.

In fact, the diversity dilemma has been a challenge NYOT has been trying to get others to understand. “Our biggest challenge is getting audiences to understand that tackling diversity in technology is not something that will be achieved overnight and to scale our programming at the expense of quality delivery to our students is not in the best interest of building an effective pipeline. In technology, people think about scalability everyday, but people are not products. One way we have been overcoming this obstacle is by referring literature around self efficacy and career theories. Information is key, so we leverage data and existing publications to back our statements and we are confident that we are approaching our programming correctly,” explains Santana.

For this year, NYOT is looking to enhance its current courses. “Our main goal is to provide the best quality experience for our incoming class of students and mentors, continue to build more infrastructure around our business model and programming initiatives and further secure partnerships and sponsorships that make the work we do possible,” offers Santana. And looking ahead, BOT wants to “become the premiere technology immersive experience for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. We believe that our unique approach allows us to not only build technologists, but pave the way for leaders who will leave an impact in the industry in the years to come,” says Santana.