Diversity in Infosec and How to Connect More Kids to IT Careers

By Gretchen Koch

As a teenager, Christopher Brito was on an idle track. He didn’t care about school, had few plans for the future and was enrolled in a stopgap program that does its best to keep dropouts in school until graduation. There, at the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy in Washington, D.C., he met a mentor who introduced him to technology.

Information technology (IT) teacher Abner Soto taught Brito about computers. Brito learned how to troubleshoot technology problems, mount servers and network hardware and software. In just one year, he learned the basics of technology, engaged in a hands-on internship and earned certifications that helped him land his first career-based job. Now, he’s a certified computer technician working in Texas, helping support his family and happy to have a career based in technology.

Learning about technology made him interested in school, computers and even current events. “I started reading. I started looking stuff up on the internet. I started watching the news. I couldn’t stop,” Brito said. “I still can’t stop.”

At Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s main tech charity, we hear success stories like Brito’s all the time: “I didn’t know what I wanted, but then I found technology and realized I could have a career.”

Technology gives students a new outlook on their careers, and hope for the future. Brito’s also a great example of the kind of person we want to join the industry. He’s creative, curious and willing to learn. Technology can be challenging, but it’s easy to dig in and get started.

So how do we get more kids like Brito interested in a tech career? Creating IT Futures has been diving deep for the past five years to answer that question.

In our 2015 Survey of Teen Views on Tech Careers, we researched how low- to middle-income urban African American and Hispanic teens, as well as parents, regard IT jobs, college and future careers. Three types of jobs in IT – software programmer, computer technician and computer design engineer – ranked in the top ten of teens’ career interests from among 60 career categories, from business and law to music and sports. The teens surveyed also believed that with hard work and/or innate talent, they could be successful in IT careers. [File: 1 - Teen survey stats]

Following up on that research, we then partnered with global design firm IDEO and sent researchers to several cities to speak with kids, parents, guidance counselors and teachers. Over the course of their interviews, researchers found trends similar to the results of the original 2015 survey and drilled down to five key lessons:

  1. The college dream is powerful.

  2. High school is viewed by most students and teachers as college prep.

  3. There is no silver bullet, no single source of information, no website that will draw kids to tech.

  4. Kids have bought into the “follow your passion” message.

  5. Role models are highly persuasive.

Through innovative collaborations and partnerships amongst academia, government, nonprofits and industry, we can dismantle the lack of diversity in the IT workforce and get more teens interested in IT careers. Most of the larger IT firms can cherry-pick the best and brightest computer science majors from the nation’s elite universities. But that does not gain them the diversity they need because those elite universities are not diverse enough.

Resume inflation is also rampant in the industry, yet the vast majority of IT jobs do not require advanced degrees. Often an associate’s degree or industry credential is all that is necessary. IT companies should look to academic institutions and programs where there is a diverse student body.

For example, IBM’s P-Tech internship program works with high schoolers in urban areas as they progress toward not only a high school degree but also an associate’s degree at a local city college, all while gaining valuable business experience. Cisco is developing a sustained internship program in urban areas where the same students are hired as interns for the company throughout their high school and college years, giving them experience much like an apprenticeship program. For those already out of high school, Creating IT Futures’ IT-Ready program works with underserved populations and trains and certifies them in eight weeks for entry-level IT positions, and then connects those graduates to local employers.

Employers have an active role to play in solving the tech workforce issue. Students need access to internships. Most companies target their internships at college students, but to truly get more students invested in a tech career, the industry needs to work with students long before they’ve embarked on a college education.

To give that opportunity to more high school students, schools and employers can build upon the 4Ps of internships:

  • Project for the student to work on that's both challenging and valued

  • Place for the student to work on the project

  • Personnel who will care about and supervise the intern

  • Payment, preferably in monetary value, to the students for the work they do

Employers and schools can collaborate to innovate the internship model so that it works for both the student and the employer.

Employers and schools can collaborate to innovate the internship model so that it works for both the student and the employer.

Employers, schools and community organizations can collaborate to innovate the internship model so that it works for both the student and the employer. We’ve developed models for four types of internships that employers can implement to create student internships:

1. Traditional Model: Employers provide all 4Ps of the internship at their workplace.

2. Share Managed Model: Not all employers can facilitate an internship on-site. The shared managed model allows for part of the internship to be handled virtually in cooperation with the employer's remote offices. In most internships, the project and/or supervision can be done virtually.

Teens can get valuable work experience during summer internships.

Teens can get valuable work experience during summer internships.

3. Partner Model: Some large corporations can't supervise an intern on location, but they can coordinate with their local channel partners to offer student internships. The sponsor helps to fund the internship, but the daily oversight is managed by the local partner.

4. Consultant Model: Smaller businesses often are too small to have enough room or workload for an intern, but they can aggregate their projects with other small businesses through a school/district or other organization like a Chamber of Commerce. The school can host and supervise the interns while they work on projects like an outside consultant.

Teens in Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools not only get mentoring on what a tech career is like, but also hands-on education.

Teens in Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools not only get mentoring on what a tech career is like, but also hands-on education.

We’ve been putting those models into practice the past two summers through our work with Chicago Public Schools’ Early College STEM Schools. More than 100 students from seven Chicago Public Schools gain paid, skills-based STEM internships this past summer. Working as an intermediary, CompTIA and Creating IT Futures connected 38 local employers with the students, vetting both sides and helping to structure rewarding internships. To help you better envision how the 4Ps of internships work, check out our infographic or view the video on the program.

In Chicago, Creating IT Futures connects teens to the IT industry through work-based learning programs.

In Chicago, Creating IT Futures connects teens to the IT industry through work-based learning programs.


About Gretchen Koch

Gretchen Koch is responsible for Creating IT Futures’ workforce development and education initiatives. She joined the foundation in 2014 after 11 years of developing national workforce initiatives for CompTIA, where she parlayed her knowledge of industry and educational systems to become a nationally known change agent for IT workforce development.

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