How TechHire Oakland Helps Underserved Residents of Color Break Into Tech
by Kirsten Lundgren
How much longer must we read the same headlines about diversity in tech? Last week, Reveal released The Clearest Picture of Silicon Valley’s Diversity Yet. The sub-line reads, “It’s bad. But some companies are doing less bad.” TechHire Oakland won’t settle for Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s status quo. Our network of training, employer, and community partners are working with talent of color like Abel Regalado, to create a new alternative.
Raised in Fruitvale by a single working mom, Abel learned about opportunities in tech from a supportive public school teacher. Over the course of three years, he enrolled in over six after-school exposure programs, rotated across three community college campuses, and juggled part-time work to fulfill his goal of enrolling in Hack Reactor’s Immersive Bootcamp on full scholarship this summer.
This is the path a resilient young person designed on his own. How might we we improve it? Exposure to tech shouldn’t rely on the luck of a good teacher. That’s why TechHire Oakland builds structured, supportive pathways into tech. We’re the only East Bay coalition focused on pathways into high-demand, well-paying tech careers, with a focus on talent from non-traditional backgrounds (those without four year-college computer science degrees).
Here’s how we do it.
1) TRAINING REFERRALS
Many lucrative tech jobs require relatively long training pathways. TechHire Oakland has an incredible network of 20+ training partners working on the daily to upskill local talent. For Abel and his peers with limited resources, determining which training programs to invest in can be daunting. Free exposure programs abound while affordable programs that lead to advanced skill mastery are scarce. It’s easy to feel stuck without a clear path forward.
TechHire Oakland makes local training more navigable. With a bird’s eye view of the training ecosystem, we’re able to make more effective referrals into comprehensive sequences of trainings (instead of individual programs). There’s no “right” path, but chances of success are better with a roadmap. You can browse trainings across our five emerging tech pathways online at www.techhireoakland.org.
Imagine having the right skills for tech, but not knowing the right people to help you break in. Who you know matters. 78% of recruiters find candidates through referrals. And 35% of tech employees obtain jobs through them. Abel and his peers often interact with current employees in one-off company and classroom visits. In these sessions, they do not see black and brown talent meaningfully represented. In the words of Mark Luckie, there’s something “unnerving” about not seeing people who look like you in a workspace.
For this reason, TechHire Oakland seeks foster connection with mentors from shared backgrounds with shared lived experiences. We’re excited to partner with Our Collective, a coalition of inspiring, underrepresented tech professionals committed to creating a more inclusive workforce. Stay tuned for more as we develop these supportive networks and be sure to sign up for updates.
3) EMPLOYER WORKSHOPS AND APPRENTICESHIPS
Work-based learning increases skill mastery and hiring opportunities. These opportunities must extend to overlooked communities. For example, as economic pressures increase the number of racial minorities enrolled in community college as well as bootcamps, TechHire Oakland sees an urgent need for companies to engage these non-traditional sources of talent. Only one of fifteen tech companies who have invested in Oakland currently works with community college talent like Abel. We’re out to change this.
TechHire Oakland offers employer-led skill building workshops for community college, bootcamp, and other underserved students of color. In them, participants build tangible skills and tools that elevate their portfolio of experiences. We prioritize collaboration with companies who offer skill-based (vs. degree-based) hiring opportunities such as apprenticeships. Recent employer partners include Airbnb, Twilio, LinkedIn, Square, GitHub, and IDEO CoLabs.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Are you or someone you know an East Bay resident of color interested in breaking into tech? Or an employee/employer wanting to level the playing field? Get connected now at www.techhireoakland.org. Our new site includes a wealth of central resources, including a directory of our tech training partners, a comprehensive guide to paid Bay Area apprenticeships, a first-ever job board tracking East Bay, tech-specific job openings.
We’re excited to activate inclusive tech done right, not tech done “less bad” here in Oakland and the East Bay. Abel is too. Join us.