AT&T Driving the STEM Bus in Upstate

Michael J. Wyant Jr., Chief Technical Officer of Tech Geekery, Inc. and writer at Upstate Interactive.

Our incredible supporter, AT&T, is back with us for Hack Upstate IX! As much as we’d like to think they’ve just taken a real liking to us over the past few years, this partnership is more nuanced than that.

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Beyond our hackathon, we work with AT&T to support the growth and success of technology and innovation in the greater Upstate New York tech community. They, like us, strive to facilitate increased collaboration amongst these groups.

Because of this, we’ve crafted a huge network of technology partners. With that pool of knowledge and resources, we’re able to drive forward our goal of bringing these skilled individuals into contact with our partners and entities.

Personally, I think it’s pretty neat to see this level of collaboration amongst Upstate New York people and a Fortune 500 company. In many ways, they’re driving all of us forward into the next era of technology development.

AT&T obviously doesn’t stop with our hackathon. The amount of time and focus they put into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) events, their self-organized AT&T Civic App Challenges (another hackathon that focus on technology resolutions for civic problems), and even their long term commitment to engineering internships is praiseworthy on its own. However, it’s the consistent commitment to Upstate tech that really stands out.

One of the STEM events that they ran last year was the CNY STEM Hub Summer Camp for Young Women. It was an event focused on fostering interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics amongst young women. Specifically, they brought these young women together to expose them to the fun side of engineering and tech. One of the pictures from the event that stands out is of two women next to a small rocket. It’s propulsion mechanism appears to be a series of PVC pipes and, at the end of said pipe, an empty 2-liter bottle has been attached. One of the women is staring at a rocket in her hands, the other one is about two feet off the ground and about to teach that bottle a lesson in science!

It’s pretty awesome. But it goes far beyond getting folks to launch Styrofoam rockets. They dug into robotics, coding, and more. I’m really looking forward to a follow up in a year or two to see how this affected the attendees because most of them look like they’re enjoying the crap out of themselves. I mean, in another picture it looks like they’re doing something to make a propellant out of dish soap and… I don’t know what!

Okay, I may be a little jealous of them at this exact moment. I mean, they got to create their own robot cars.

Take a look at more of the pictures here, care of Syracuse.com.

AT&T has even begun opening up these experiences to younger children and teenagers, from ages 8–16. This past August, the AT&T Youth Coding Project kicked off and Hack Upstate was thrilled to join in. Similar to the CNY STEM Summer Camp for Young Women, the AT&T Youth Coding Project was created to expand coding opportunities for the youth of CNY. It’s an amazing program and we’d urge you to take a look.

There’s even something here for Open Source aficionados: the Syracuse Open Data Challenge. AT&T worked with the City of Syracuse, Syracuse University, and other tech organizations (including us) to provide and develop tools that assist in resolving infrastructure issues within the city. The best part is that the city made all their source material available on GitHub afterwards. You can pore over the data here. Go flex your civic muscles!

Despite the events looking like they were a blast, the end question is: why? Why spend the time, effort, and money on this type of work? What’s the benefit?

Well, it turns out that’s an easy question to answer and it’s one that AT&T has been working on for years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs — specifically “Computer occupations” — are set to rise between 2014 and 2024 by 12.5 percent, which is over half a million jobs. Beyond that, “engineering occupations” are slated to gain 65,000 new jobs, which is also kind of nuts.

The issue with a projected employment need like that, especially when it requires skilled labor, is the development of that workforce. By investing the time on the development of young women and men now, then ideally AT&T solves what could be a labor shortage before it becomes a problem. Likewise, by partnering with folks like us over here at Hack Upstate, AT&T helps to keep hackers and programmers moving forward in the field.

It really does look like an aggressive push to develop a mentor/mentee structure for technology and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Without mentors, none of us who currently or formerly staffed the field would be where we are; we certainly wouldn’t have made it through the age of Apps or gotten a grasp on Cloud Computing. By setting up this framework, it very strategically sets up a sustainable employment model for AT&T and other companies for decades to come.

It’s kind of spectacular, actually.

Let’s bring it back to Hack Upstate. Through this partnership, we strive to connect talent with talent-seekers. We’re at the very beginning of this projected STEM occupation boom and we strongly believe it’s our civic duty to get talented people into the right places so they can become that next round of mentors. If they happen to create awesome products or life-changing programs along the way, then that’s a risk we’re willing to take.

I mean, we’re all on this STEM bus together, after all. It might as well be a fun ride.

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