On a recent Thursday, 10 students hunched over laptops, installing an open source control system while sitting in a co-working space with bright orange couches, neon green accents and modern lighting with the rumble of the Bruckner Expressway in the near distance.
This evening class is part of The Knowledge House’s advanced web development course at the Bronx Business Incubator. The organization, which founders say is the only workforce development organization that specifically focuses on computer science jobs in the Bronx, offers several three month training courses to students interested in coding from the Bronx and Harlem.
“A handful of them have some tech training in IT, so we thought there isn’t another program that offers computer science [in the Bronx]. And until they actually learn how to produce with technology, they won’t get those high paying jobs," said Rodriguez, 26.
The program emphasizes projects, Rodriguez said, because many of the students are in the middle of a two or four year college program. The projects in their portfolio help them compete against students at top-tier schools who might have a prestigious degree but less projects.
Rodriguez said projects have included a virtual map and delivery service for a local farmers market, a database of sneaker customizers and an online platform showing wait times at local fast food restaurants.
“I don’t really have much to really brag about now, all I know is I love developing and that gateway escape from reality,” said Jose Ortiz, 19, from the South Bronx, who has taught himself and learned how to develop websites, apps and games, and is working on an operating system.
Right now, Ortiz is working on a game on which the user taps the screen to jump over obstacles.
“I hope people are playing it on the subway soon instead of subway surfer and Candy Crush,” Ortiz said.
Rodriguez said The Knowledge House stresses students to be entrepreneurial, which has led to at least one student turning down a $60,000 job offer.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Rodriguez said, adding The Knowledge House is very much committed to partnering with larger companies to match their students with internships.
Non-traditional job aspirations are common for millennials, said Alex Abelin, CEO and co-founder of Liquid Talent, a website that connects designers and developers with open positions.
“In less than three years, we’ve seen the gig economy push upstream to white collar work … and talent can dictate their own reality and their own future,” Abelin said.
Abelin, who is hosting the Bronx Future of Work Summit this Thursday, said companies who are working toward a more diverse workforce will do so when they recognize and tap into markets such as the Bronx.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the Bronx already has a wonderful culture for “techies” and that organizations such as Doran Jones is hiring Bronxites to test technology for financial firms.
“What we want is Port Morris, Hunts Point to be the Silicon Valley of New York City, we have the space there, an economic development corporation, resources for companies to come in and feel welcome,” Diaz said. “What people don’t understand is the intellectual capital and tech minds in the Bronx, and what we need is the financial industry to make a good investment.”
Rodriguez, from The Knowledge House, says there has been about a tech summit a month since the spring, and just because there’s excitement, doesn’t mean the Bronx is already a tech hub.
“People in the Bronx know what’s going on, and I think outsiders have just started to pay attention because there’s a lot of development going on,” Rodriguez said. “People are starting to see the Bronx as the next place where it’s very convenient to build a tech ecosystem. Our role is to make sure whatever tech movement emerges stays authentic.”