Meet the Latina Founder Bridging the Gap Between Underprivileged Communities and Tech Education
By 2026 there will be about a million jobs that will go unfilled in the tech industry because there aren't enough people with the credentials to actually fill those roles. There isn't a major company that is not going digital, on the web or mobile. While technology is ever-evolving, the evolution should be accompanied by the development of workers who can create and understand these advances. Sadly that's not the case.
At the same time, less than 15 percent of the technology workforce is black or Latinx. And less than 26 percent is made up of women.
Thus Jessica Santana has a clear mission as a co-founder of New York on Tech: to prepare high school students to be future innovators by creating pathways toward careers in technology, something Santana wishes she had access to in her youth.
Created with best friend Evin Robinson in 2014, the initiative helps students, schools, community organizations, and companies learn the fundamentals of web development — and has made a major impact in their community by advocating for more tech education.
Santana identifies herself as a Brooklyn boricua, emphasizing the fact that there is a cultural difference between Puerto Ricans born in the States and on the island. Her parents moved to the city circa the 1950s hoping for the generations that came after to have the opportunities they didn't — so far it's been accomplished. Jessica was the first person in her family to graduate from college, get a master's degree and land a job in corporate America. Santana shared with CHICA, “I have a tremendous love for my culture and my heritage. I'm very proud to be able to represent that every single day.”
Growing up in the MySpace era, she quickly learned the ropes of coding and website building. When she went off to college to study accounting, it became a side hustle. Her passion for technology grew, and she soon realized that it was her true calling. It was after she graduated with a master's degree in technology that her career started.
“I realized later in my college career that I actually could go into tech.” Santana says. “And I said, if someone would have told me in high school or younger in my trajectory that this is something I could get into, I would have. I didn't have anyone in my community or an afterschool program to tell me.”
The lack of information available to her while growing up is partly why she started the non-profit, along with the fact that when she found herself making triple her parents income, she didn't see people of color in her position and industry. She was often the only woman or person of color on the team. “I started asking myself questions: Well, how's it possible that I know so many people from the community that are not here with me?”
With automation, the most basic tech jobs will be serviced by robots or AI. Thus more advanced technical skills are required. Santana believes that Latinx representation is extremely important, specifically in the tech industry, because of the economic opportunities available. But it's impossible if the schools in their communities lack resources.
“A lot of times people don't have the skills to actually build the product. It's different when you are a content creator on a platform then for you to actually build Instagram or for you to actually build a website from scratch, that requires a certain level of skills that right now Latinos are not being positioned for because the schools are not teaching computer science and technology education.” Santana adds. “Often the after-school or weekend programs are charging thousands of dollars. If I'm a low-income Latino family, I'm not going to give you $1,000 for you to teach my kid to programs in coding because one, I don't have the money, and I'm choosing between actually feeding my family and then also investing in my child.”
When she first decided to take on the nonprofit role full-time, many people thought it was crazy. Her parents couldn't make sense out of it either. They didn't understand why she would leave a career in corporate America, considering that is what her family fought for — their kids' financial success by way of educational opportunities and stability. Adding doubt to her decision, she didn't know any other Latina founders at the time, this caused a lot of self-doubts.
Her co-founder Evin Robinson, has been an ally and confidant for years. The two techies had no idea they were from the same area and bonded over that experience. They were still working full-time when launched New York on Tech.
After receiving encouragement from an affiliate of the Camelback Educational Fellowship, they applied for a $50,000 grant. To their surprise, they earned the grant. From its launch in September 2014 to the moment they received the grant money in January 2015, they sacrificed many hours of sleep as work days were long. They used Google Hangout and met late at night, not leaving corporate America until they received funding.
Now Jessica is changing lives.
The organization started teaching 20 students in Brooklyn and now has more than 1,000 students on an annual basis across New York City's five boroughs. All of the courses and programs happen either within corporate headquarters, like Google's, or community-based organizations in the city. The courses are created for students who are sophomores and juniors in higher poverty public and charter high schools in NYC.
Though the initial goal was to be a New York-based organization, over the next couple of months, NYOT is going through a strategic expansion plan and identifying cities where it can expand to. By the end of 2019, they will have established headquarters serving students in these cities.
When asked whether or not the name will remain, Santana answered, “So we won't be New York on Tech for too much longer. Um, the name is still to be determined because we're going through the process of figuring out what that is right now.”
Considering the thousands Santana is helping, it's clear she has taken the opportunity her parents gave her and used it to provide opportunities for an entire generation. We're sure Mom and Dad are proud.”
More information on New York on Tech can be found at http://www.newyorkontech.org/