Growing up in the South Bronx during the New York City borough's infamous Fort Apache period in the late 1970s, Angel Pineiro Jr.'s lone brush with technology growing up was acting as his father's human TV remote control and adjustable aerial. Pineiro Jr. was ordered to stand by the struggling family's aging RCA and change the channel on Senior's command or be ordered to wiggle the clothes hanger antenna to stabilize the picture. When he graduated high school, the newly-married Pineiro initially studied auto collision repair, but his wife suggested taking some inexpensive computer courses at a Manhattan vocational school.
Even though he constantly had to hide the hole in his sneakers, lacked math skills and couldn't afford a pricey four-year school – even if he had the grades to get into one, Pineiro rose from this humble start and is now senior vice president for technology services at Agilant Solutions.
Pineiro's message is simple: anyone with similar struggling inner-city origins can follow his successful technology career path. And Pineiro has transformed this message into action, founding Tech4All, a series of free events "to support my vision of sharing the good news to underserved and at-risk communities of the wonderful opportunity that exist in the world of technology."
More than 400 parents, teachers, students and recent high school graduates from around Gotham gathered at the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) HQ in the Bronx at the inaugural Tech4All event.
All the Tech4All sponsors and exhibitors – the New York City Department of Education promoting its CTE (Career & Educational Training) vocational program, the UFT, and more than a dozen local and national tech companies including CompTIA – echoed Pineiro's mantra: "to let the people know, especially young men and women of color, that technology careers are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, black, brown, white, straight, gay, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, poor or of a certain class, high school or college grad. The only requirement is that you have an interest in tech."
Achieving Success from Unequal Opportunities
Pineiro's all-inclusive message was echoed by Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA. Thibodeaux related his own rocky but ultimately successful high-tech career path, overcoming a similar lack of educational and economic resources as Pineiro's. He left high school for a "career" in welding but realized that was no career at all. Like Pineiro, Thibodeaux' own long and winding tech career road informed his work at CompTIA to make tech careers more accessible.
"We need to break the monopoly on college and university degrees being the only pathway to high tech jobs," Thibodeaux asserted. "How can we create a system that's going to allow people to quickly acquire the skills they need to get jobs in the job market? Today in the tech industry in the U.S., there are 800,000 open tech jobs. 800,000 – put that in perspective. There are about 12 million people who work in tech. So almost 7 to 8 percent of the entire workforce is open right now. And employers are saying 'we can't find people.' They talk about this skills gap. We need to find a different mechanism that allows people to get those skills."
One way to break the college monopoly is to shatter the pervasive myths associated with – and often blocking – achieving a career in tech, including the myth that mad math skills is also a pre-req.
"There are very few people who use advanced math in technology," insisted Charles Eaton, CEO of Creating IT Futures and author of the book "How To Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent's Guide to the T in STEM Education." Sixty percent of high-tech jobs have nothing to do with that. They're in cybersecurity. They're business analysts helping one part of the business translate what they need into the tech world. They're doing project management. They're doing networks and supporting the technology in a business."
Many of the Tech4All speakers advised that employers are looking for not only hard technical skills, but, equally important, so-called "soft" skills. "Can they show up every single day? Can they work as a team? Can they get along with other people?" Eaton rhetorically asked. "Can they communicate and can they get through any struggles they might have? Overcome barriers and problem solve? That's really, at the end of the day, what employers are looking for. You put all that with some tech skills, and you've got a pretty fully-formed person there."
Proof-of-Concept CTE Success Stories
Replacing math wizardry and a pricey four-year degree is the 21st century version of vocational training, such as New York City Department of Education's CTE program. Like old-fashioned vocational training, CTE supplements standard high school academics with career-based high-tech training that includes hands-on, skill- and worked-based learning, internships and apprenticeships to gain real-world experience, networking with industry professionals to open employment doors, and earning certification and licenses.
"New York City's graduation rate for a high school students is 76 percent," reported UFT president Michael Mulgrew. "Our 70,000 students in career and tech ed programs have a graduation rate of 83 percent, and that's pulling the rest of the school system up. You can then get into a job that you can make your life's work, that's fun for you, then you're going to have a pretty damn good life."
Tech4All presented living examples of Pineiro's no-4-year-college, CTE philosophy as a path to a fulfilling high tech career in the form of testimony from corporate executives from a diverse collection of companies including Verizon Enterprise Sales, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, cybersecurity firm Friedman CyZen, MorganStanley, and the National September 11th Memorial & Museum, along with a team from the Brooklyn STEAM Center who demonstrated their 3D printing innovations, and the independent WebGuyz immersive learning education program.
"With more than a million open positions and salaries double the national average wage, a career in tech is a great opportunity," Pineiro said. "And the best part is, as a skills-based industry, a college degree is no longer the only path to many of these jobs."