Meeting Tomorrow’s Tech Workforce Where They Are
by Dewand Neely, former COO of Eleven Fifty Academy
It’s not enough to open our doors and expect everybody to be able to meet us where we are.
That’s a mantra I keep close to my heart in my role as Chief Operating Officer of Eleven Fifty Academy, and it’s something I consider whenever making decisions about how we operate on every level. I first came to the school because of my experience combatting cyber threats as the Chief Information Officer for the State of Indiana. I endured sleepless nights knowing that just one successful attack could take down systems vital to the operations of our entire state. I felt then, as I do now, that we are not moving fast enough to develop the supply of cybersecurity talent needed to keep sensitive systems and data safe.
My tenure at Eleven Fifty Academy has only broadened my perspective on the severe talent shortage in tech—and that’s not just the tech industry. There’s no organization, public or private, that doesn’t depend on skilled tech professionals. Talent is needed in every tech specialty, from programming to cybersecurity to good user interface design.
I joined Scott Jones and the rest of the team at Eleven Fifty because I share their values. The talent gap will only be bridged by making tech education accessible to people from diverse backgrounds—something the tech industry at large has long struggled to do. And even as we work towards breaking down barriers with our bootcamps, I keep coming back to that mantra: It’s not enough to open our doors (even if our doors have become largely virtual). We need to meet people where they are.
For an example of what that notion looks like in practice, there’s the new initiative we’re hard at work on with a deep bench of community partners: Advancing Tech in 46218. By taking a holistic approach to opening the world of tech to people looking for opportunities in one specific zip code in Indianapolis, we’re developing an entirely novel approach to the important work of skilling people up to meet the demands of employers. And importantly, we’re providing those individuals the chance to transform their own lives with high-paying jobs in tech.
A Look at Martindale-Brightwood
The neighborhood known as Martindale-Brightwood, the core of the 46218 zip code, lies at the northeast of downtown Indianapolis, straddling I-70. There are 26,757 people living there, and the neighborhood is 74% Black. Unemployment there is 17.3%, compared to 3.5% throughout the rest of Marion County. And the median household income in Martindale-Brightwood is less than $24,000.
This is a neighborhood in need of new opportunity—the exact kind of opportunity I believe tech promises to people from all walks of life.
That’s not to say that the area isn’t already well-served by community organizations dedicated to supporting the local population. Martin University is located there, and over half of their student population is Black and female. Nearby, Eastern Star Church is a true community hub. Rooted School offers local children a world-class education. Goodwill’s Excel Center offers training in critical skills like IT.
On their own, each of these organizations is putting in the hard work to transform lives and empower people towards good jobs and a vibrant life. Together, they’ve created a viable network with the promise of increasing opportunities for an entire community.
That’s where Eleven Fifty Academy comes in.
Building a Tech Hub with Community Partners
Together with Martin University and these other community partners, we worked to seek out a major grant from Lilly Endowment to lay down roots in the 46218 and bring our practical and flexible curriculum to the neighborhood. Those dollars can help us cover tuition costs, but they also empower our partners to each play a vital role in establishing a new tech hub centered at Martin University.
The University will host our bootcamp courses and offer exciting opportunities for students in our program to earn additional certificates or even translate our coursework into credits to pursue a degree. Eastern Star Church will spread the word and offer childcare services that engage children in tech literacy programming while their parents are in the classroom—and Goodwill’s Excel Centers will join in that effort. The Rooted School will help introduce families to a career path in tech with our offering as a great entry point. For our part, we will offer the same bootcamp curriculum at the University that we currently do online and in our own classrooms.
A Call To Collaborate
I’m proud of the bootcamp courses we offer for a variety of reasons. Full-time courses can get people ready for a new tech career in just three months of hard work, and part-time courses make it possible for those with jobs and other responsibilities to complete the same curriculum in just six months. But that doesn’t mean our coursework is accessible to everybody—transportation to our Downtown and Fishers locations can be a challenge, and even in a world where we’ve gone virtual with our classes, a reliable internet connection can be hard to come by in underserved communities like Martindale-Brightwood. Throw in the demands of raising a family, and the prospect of throwing yourself headfirst into an intensive bootcamp might be a tall order.
To really break down barriers, we have to consider the context of our courses in the lives of students who might want to enroll. This is what meeting people where they are looks like to me. It takes more than good curriculum—it takes cooperation with other organizations that can open doors and tear down walls. Even as Eleven Fifty Academy continues its work through this initiative, I’m encouraged by other community partnerships we’re fostering to increase tech industry access for women, minorities, veterans, and rural populations throughout Indiana and beyond.
Do you represent such an organization, public or private? One that’s working to bring equality and new opportunity to people who have been passed over historically by opportunities in technology? Tell us where you’re working. We’d love to meet you there.