Opening career pathways for youth of color in our booming tech economy

By Amanda Mancenido, Communities of Opportunity

The demand for skilled tech professionals continues to rise as companies like Amazon and Facebook are booming in Seattle and King County. But traditional pathways into the tech industry often exclude youth and young adults of color.

To help tech companies understand and address systemic barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from access to jobs and to introduce young people to tech training and employment opportunities, Communities of Opportunity (COO) partnered with WorkSource, King County YouthSource, Global to Local, and Partner in Employment to host a Diversity in Tech event for youth and young adults.DTech 001_small

“Tech employers are going all over the world to bring in talented people, so why not here?” said Dan Bernard, a COO King County staff member on the event’s planning team. “We have talent here in our own backyard. But the talent needs some support.”

Finding your why
One hundred people from across South King County gathered at SeaTac Community Center to hear directly from tech professionals and employers about working in the industry. The event began with an inspiring welcome by Shaunt’e Nance-Johnson, Career Readiness Program Manager at Technology Access Foundation, who shared the importance of “finding your why” and pursuing your passions.

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Shaunt’e Nance-Johnson shares her story in an inspiring welcome speech.

“Think visionary, think big,” she encouraged. “But hold steadfast to who you are because people aren’t going to connect with your job title, they’re going to connect with your why.”

In a discussion about thriving in the industry, Amazon’s Sydney Wong encouraged youth to get creative within tech, and Alaska Airlines’ Kara Burr shared the value of finding a “company that is going to grow you.”

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Tech professionals from Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Facebook, and Zillow share their experiences and advice on how to thrive in the tech industry.

Young tech professionals also shared their experiences as nontraditional members of the industry and cited online education, boot camps, workshops and even YouTube as big components of their path to tech.

Abdiaziz Omar, a former security guard at Amazon, shared how his curiosity and determination to learn helped him climb the career ladder to his current position as Support Engineer. “How much do you want to learn?” he asked. “At the end of the day, that’s up to you. If you can grind, if you can work, if you can make connections and ask questions, then you can do it.”

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A panel of young tech professional share how they got started in tech.

Getting connected to training opportunities
Working in tech requires a lot of skills and training. The good news is that several organizations in King County provide this training and strive to create a more diverse tech industry through tech inclusion programs. Youth and young adults hopped from table to table to network with representatives from non-profits like ChickTech Seattle, Greater Foundation and Year Up Puget Sound and also had the opportunity to enroll in free introductory workshops courtesy of King County, Skillspire, and General Assembly.

Impacting the larger tech system
These events provide youth and young adults in our area with information and access to resources for new pathways to employment. Participants shared their appreciation for the “informative and fun” and “very motivational” event, with many attendees saying the event made them more interested in applying for and pursuing tech career training. “I met a lot of great people,” said one attendee. “They all inspired me to keep pursuing my dreams.”

At the same time, by bringing employers together to dialogue, COO aims to bring attention to the systemic barriers that can impact people of color from accessing the support and resources they need. With opportunities to learn about free and affordable tech programs, youth and young adults of color were able to engage with that community support and begin exploring their careers in tech.

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Learn more about Communities of Opportunity and its growing network of community members and partners working together to create greater health, social, economic, and racial equity in King County.

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