Chasing the tech dream – for the social good
When most people thing of the dot-com gold rush years of the late 1990s they are reminded painfully of the bubble economy and ensuing tech crash. For me it is a time I remember fondly, because it is a time of miracles that still reverberate to this day.
It was in 1999 that I made the decision not to take the plunge like so many of my peers into the world of hi-tech startups. Instead I decided to leverage technology in a different way by helping to start a nonprofit organization called Street Tech – dedicated to training low income and underserved youth for careers in IT. Looking back I recall feeling conflicted upon seeing many I knew striking it rich with stock options while I was chasing crumbs to get the organization off the ground. Although struggling, Street Tech still stands today while many of the companies I momentarily dreamed of working for have long since disappeared.
More importantly, Street Tech has now trained over 500 disadvantaged individuals, many of whom have gone to work in successful careers as computer technicians. Many of Street Tech’s graduates have gone on to get additional training and a college-level education. The organization has even started its own business, called ReliaTech.org, that puts graduates to work directly as technicians in a community-based computer repair and refurbishment operation.
Two of my Street Tech co-founders were themselves perfect examples of what can be achieved through positive life and professional skills training, mentoring, and a viable career pathway. Both are former gang-active youth that now have successful careers in IT. One just had his second child and the other is completing his bachelor’s in computer science, and both work full time while they give back to their community in many ways.
Over the last five years I have been fortunate enough to witness numerous amazing feats. I have seen formerly incarcerated individuals thrive in an environment where they were cared for, held to high standards, and trained for living wage jobs.
I have seen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts lift themselves out of addiction and pledge to begin life anew as part of a community of hope and possibility. One woman, a great grandmother and former addict who had never turned on a computer before coming to Street Tech, eventually became a highly skilled computer technician – passing several extremely challenging certification tests in the process. Her tearful words at a graduation event, with many of her children and grandchildren present, still echo in my ears…”If only my drugee friends could see me now!”
I remember thinking to myself then “if only my dot-com friends could see me now” as a tear rolled down my own cheek. And at that moment it became crystal clear I had indeed made the right choice by trading stock options for life options.
So I look back on those heady dot-com days, not as a time of disappointment, but as a time of personal salvation. And as I watch yet another wave of technology-driven opportunity unfold, this time in the form of Web 2.0, I just have to smile. I hear the siren call of technology once again, only this time there is no question of which path to take.
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