TECH CORPS Discusses Growing the Region Into a Larger Tech Hub, the Tech Gap, and Getting Kids Involved in Technology
Lisa Chambers - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree
National Executive Director
Founder and President
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BK: So, let’s get started. My first question, Lisa – um, what kinds of things do you feel the local market needs to take to the next level in becoming a larger tech hub?
LC: Great question, Kaiser. Um, so, you know, our focus at TECH CORPS is on K12, so we're, we're thinking about generating kind of that, that, helping that technology pipeline fill. And fill so that, you know, across the country, folks are talking about the skills gap when it comes to IT, and that’s certainly, uh, relevant in this Central Ohio market. And I think part of it is that we're not engaging our full community in the way that, that we can in, in this tech space. So, what I hope to see and what I've been very pleased about with the companies here is their commitment to community. Um, whether it's having their folks go out into schools or, um, after school programs or rec centers and, and working with kids. So, really giving kids kind of those, those role models that they need, so that they can get on this technology pathway.
Um, because, you know, here in the Central Ohio market, our technology is really hidden. It's hidden behind insurance, it's hidden behind banking, um, behind government. And so, we don't have a, a Google or a Facebook that kids know and can kind of see that as a pathway. So, as adults, we've got to do a better job of making sure that we are introducing these pathways and these opportunities to our kids. Um, so that we, as a region, are not struggling with finding the talent that we need, um, to, to support the business that we already have and also to continue to attract more tech businesses here.
BK: Absolutely. That's a really good point. And, and you, you bring up this tech gap. There's, there's this growing number of jobs and opportunities in the technology space and there seems to be not enough people, uh, to fill those jobs. What do you think is the biggest constraint? Or a few of the biggest constraints holding that back?
LC: Yeah, I think we wait too long to talk to kids about these career pathways. Um, we know from the research that students as early as third and fourth grades start to move away from technology pathways. And that's especially true for girls and students of color, which I think, if by fourth grade I've already decided that I'm not what it, you know, what I need to be to become a software developer, then I'm not even thinking about that as I, as I moved throughout my educational career.
So, if we can give kids more experiences to help them see themselves in these roles, I think that's definitely one of the ways. Because, right now, we're tapping into a very small population and that's where we're looking at for our, for our talent. Um, so we have to be more intentional about having those conversations with kids. I can't tell you how many tech folks that I talk to who will say, “Well, my dad worked in that space,” or, you know, “My mom would talk to me about that,” you know. So, so they had someone in their family that was in this field. So, if you don't have that and you don't have any introduction, then how would you get to know that it's something that you actually might like and, and, and excel in?
BK: I couldn't agree with you more. And, you know, the technology space is so broad, and I think kids think technology is programming and software development, and that's such a small component of that now. Where do you see the other, the other areas where we can get kids involved?
LC: Yeah, so, I think one of the things I love about TECH CORPS and the programs that we develop is, it's not just about the tech, right? It's about, um, it's about creative thinking. It's about problem solving. It's about working on teams. So, students who come through our programs, they will learn a particular skill. So, it may be something around cyber or coding or robotics. But the whole point of it is for them to develop a project, and for them to really allow their imaginations, their experiences to define what that project is. Why was it needed?
We had a little boy in one of our camps, I went to see his final presentation, and this was five days, right? And he developed this very sophisticated robot that would carry around trash cans. And when he was doing his presentation, you know, part of his presentation was, “Why did you develop this robot?” And he said, “Because my mom is always telling me to clean up my room. And I thought, if I had a robot that carried a trashcan around behind me, I'd be more likely to do it.” You know? I mean, so here in his fourth grade mind, that made perfect sense, you know, to him. And that's the type of creativity, you know, that we want our kids to have and have those opportunities.
BK: Oh my gosh, I love that story. Thanks for sharing that. That's great. So, so, uh, professionally, what makes you the most happy?
LC: Oh, um, I love this gig. This, you know…I, I feel so incredibly blessed, uh, to do something I love. Um, and I think I love, um, you know, the volunteers and, and my team and the excitement that they have for the work that we're doing, the differences that we're making in kids' lives and communities. Um, and I think too, just those kids, right? That we see, when we see that that light bulb go off. And also, um, that feeling of finding a place where they're accepted for the things that they're excited about is extremely rewarding.
BK: That's really good. Um, so how do you fuel innovation efforts on your team?
LC: Yeah, so we have, um, a great board of directors. Um, and, you know, it's a blended group of folks who are from industry and a, so a number of CIOs, uh, government education organizations, and I'm always listening to them about, um, where their needs are as organizations. Um, so, you know, for a number of years, uh, one of our board members who was the CIO at an energy company, you know, probably four or five years ago, kept talking about cybersecurity, cybersecurity. And so, in my head I was thinking, so how do I introduce a fifth grader or ninth grader to cybersecurity? And, you know, took that back to our team and you know, and we, we massaged that and worked that and worked with some of our industry friends and, you know, rolled out a camp, um, around cybersecurity. Which now, actually, kids who go through this camp can earn college credit, um, from one of our local universities if they pass all their assessments.
Um, you know, blockchain is a new thing for us. So, we are in the process now of meeting with our corporate friends, our folks in higher education who are doing work in this space. And again, beginning to think about, okay, how do we start talking about block chain to our kids? So that, you know, as they move on and, and develop this is, this is part of their vocabulary already, right? They're not just entering college and starting to think about these things – that they have been hearing about it in a way that makes sense for them in a way that's age appropriate. But again, getting it out there in front of them. And I don't think that anyone is too young to start learning about these topics. It's just all the way that we present it to them.
BK: I agree. I love what you guys are doing at TECH CORPS. This sounds really exciting. Cybersecurity, blockchain, data analytics, these are all things that we're just scratching the surface on right now, and in 10 years are going to be even bigger than they are today, and to start getting people involved at a young age and understanding that? It's huge. So, way to go. Love what you guys are doing. Thank you for your time today, Lisa. Uh, this is Bryan Kaiser and Lisa Chambers. Uh, to learn more about us, visit comspark.tech. And goodbye, until next time.
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