Tech is big business, but many New Yorkers don't have the necessary skills to snag jobs that come with high starting salaries.
But, a selective city program trains locals to break into the industry quicker than going to college for a degree.
Last Sunday, as the rest of New York City relished in the sunshine and spring heat, Jayana Johnson was inside the Flatiron School’s Brooklyn campus, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge with enticing views of the Manhattan skyline.
Slippers were tucked under desks, with toothbrushes, granola, coffee cans and other essentials left on desktops throughout the room. Johnson said her class of 32 students just wrapped up an app building project, and her team built an app called Rackit using Ruby on Rails to help users locate and decide which bike rack is best, taking into account crime rates.
“It’s like trying to learn Chinese in five months,” Johnson said of learning the different web languages. “A year ago, no one could ever tell me this is where i would be right now … I always wanted to be in tech, but i never thought it would be a possibility.”
Johnson, 27, a native New Yorker who grew up in the Bronx and now lives in Brooklyn, was selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants for the NYC Web Development Fellowship.
The city program partners with the Flatiron School, which offers full and part time web classes, for a rigorous five month training course, followed by a 12-week paid internship at companies such as Buzzfeed, Kickstarter and Microsoft. The fellowship provides the $15,000 training free to participants, and of the 88 people to go through the program so far, 96 percent have secured jobs at top tech companies. The median income is $70,000, according to the city.
A self-described geek, Avengers fan and her family’s go-to IT person growing up, Johnson was working as an executive assistant and event coordinator for a PR agency before starting the program. She knew she was ready for a change, and after trying to transition within the company, decided to apply for the city fellowship.
“I was starting to dive into a career already, I have bills, I already had loans I needed to start paying back,” said Johnson, who started but did not complete a degree in electronic media from Long Island University. “It’s really hard to just take a break from life and for such a long time that I would need to do with higher education. i could do this in an expedient amount of time and still get the same quality.”
Kristen Titus, founding director of the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, said the program is open to 18-26 year olds -- the tech-savviest generation -- who do not have a four-year degree, and who have not worked as a web developer or earn more than $50,000 a year.
“What we hear from our partners is that they need talent,” Titus said. “With 300,000 jobs in New York today and 30 billion in annual wages, we see this as a real opportunity.”
“This is a massive leap,” said Adam Enbar, founder of the Flatiron School. “You’re taking people with no college degrees and preparing them for these incredibly high paying roles and putting them on an incredible career trajectory.”
Enbar said the advantage of the fellowship, other than access to high-paying jobs, is the diversity that companies are looking for.
“The reason they value diversity is not this arbitrary idea of gender or ethnic or racial diversity, it’s the idea that people from diverse backgrounds have diverse perspectives.”
As for Johnson, who plans to pursue a tech career in the non-profit world, diversifying the field is important.
“A little less than half our class is female, and to know that we’re going to be out there, and be a face for that, I feel the responsibility to go out there and represent us.”
The deadline to apply for the next Web Development Fellowship is June 1.
More information on tech training programs across New York City here.