When most people think of the dot-com gold rush years of the late 1990s they are reminded somewhat painfully of the tech crash. For me it is a time I remember fondly… a time of miracles which reverberate to this day.
It was in 1999 that I made the decision not to take the IT start-up plunge like so many of my peers. Instead I chose to leverage technology in a different way by helping to start a nonprofit organization called Street Tech (now the Stride Center) – dedicated to training low income and underserved individuals for careers in IT. Looking back I recall feeling conflicted about friends striking it rich through stock options while I was chasing crumbs to get the organization off the ground. Fast forward to the present and, amazingly, the Stride Center still stands while many of the companies I dreamed of mimicking have long since disappeared.
More importantly, the Stride Center has now trained nearly 2,000 disadvantaged individuals, the majority of whom have moved into successful careers as computer technicians. Many of Stride’s graduates have gone on to get additional training and some even a college-level education. The organization has started its own chain of businesses, branded ReliaTech, which put students to work directly as technicians in community-based computer repair, network support, and computer refurbishment operations.
Two of my Stride co-founders are themselves perfect examples of what can be achieved through programs like Stride. Both are former gang-active youth that now have successful careers in IT. One just completed his bachelor’s in computer science, and both work full time while they give back to their community in many ways.
Over the last five years I have been fortunate enough to witness numerous miracles. I have seen formerly incarcerated individuals and recovering addicts thrive in an environment where they were encouraged, held to high standards, and trained for living wage jobs.
One woman, a great grandmother and former addict who had never turned on a computer before coming to Stride, eventually became a highly skilled computer technician – passing several extremely challenging certification tests. Her tearful words during a graduation speech, with many of her children and grandchildren present, still echo in my ears…“If only my drugee friends could see me now!”
I remember thinking to myself then “if only my dot-com friends could see me now” as a tear rolled down my own cheek. And at that moment it became clear I had indeed made the right choice by trading stock options for life options.
So I look back on those heady dot-com days, not as a time of disappointment, but as a time of salvation. Watching yet another wave of technology-driven opportunity unfold I just have to smile. I hear the siren call of technology once again, only this time there is no question of which path to take.