The Election and The Opportunity Gap

I grew up in Michigan, along with my Handshake co-founders Scott and Ben. We all met in college at Michigan Tech on the beautiful — and remote — Upper Peninsula. In fact, all of our early team members also grew up in Michigan or Wisconsin, two key states that turned from blue to red in the presidential election.

Along with a diverse team of 40 people, we now live and work in San Francisco, one of the world’s most vibrant economic regions. It wasn’t easy for us to get here.

Though I was a computer science major, I never thought about working in Silicon Valley — it was completely foreign to me. And big tech companies weren’t coming to find me and my classmates, which isn’t a surprise: Michigan Tech is an 8-hour drive from Chicago or Detroit and spends months of the year under 200 inches of snow.

I got a little lucky — a professor made a referral that opened my eyes to new career possibilities and changed my life forever. I took advantage of that opportunity and hustled nonstop to get a Silicon Valley internship, spending my savings on flights to niche tech conferences and writing handwritten notes to every recruiter I could find. After landing in the Valley, I took matters into my own hands and started personally brokering intros for my classmates to Bay Area companies. I earned $60k in referral bonuses and paid my way through college. And, most importantly, I helped some amazing engineers access opportunities they didn’t have access to before.

It worked out for me and some of my friends, but it shouldn’t have to be that hard.

The Bay Area often feels a world away from where we grew up, but the lessons from Michigan and Wisconsin remain. The election was about many things to many people, but clearly many voters were crying out for change. Tens of millions of people throughout the country haven’t benefited nearly as much from economic growth as those of us who work in technology, or who live in San Francisco or other affluent, urban centers. Thousands of towns and communities have been decimated by decades of economic dislocation.

Many of our friends and families are scared and worried about their future. Even those who excelled in high school and college feel discouraged. They don’t have access to the same opportunities as students who live in wealthier areas, have access to better schools, or live closer to economic hubs like the Bay Area.

This is why we started Handshake. Fundamentally, we believe that talent is spread equally, but opportunity is not.

The mission of Handshake is to democratize opportunity. We want to ensure every student can build a great career, no matter where they go to school, what they’re majoring in, what they look like, who they know, or how much money they have.

It’s an ambitious mission, and we’re working hard to make it a reality. The results of this presidential election, and the potential economic and social implications, make our mission more relevant — and urgent — than ever before. While I was lucky enough to get the right introduction at the right time, the current system leaves too many talented people on the sidelines, subject to the whims of chance. Our country, our economy, and our businesses will be stronger, fairer and more robust when we value and elevate everyone’s potential.

In a time when tech has been criticized for serving our own needs, I believe we have the responsibility to positively impact the lives of all. Handshake is early in our mission, but we’re making a difference already. With 3 million college students on the platform and more than 100,000 employers, we’re making it easier every day for students to realize their potential. I remain incredibly hopeful about the future and the role that we can play in it.