Scholars in the inaugural Byte Back-STRIVE class at their concluding capstone presentation
June 6, 2023 — Samaritan Ministry and Byte Back were so pleased with the results of the pilot IT career fundamentals course that they created and offered together earlier this year that they launched a new class on June 5th and plan to hold at least four joint classes per year going forward.
The first cohort of five students who completed both the morning training in technical IT “hard” skills given by Andrew Quilpa, Byte Back’s Site Director, and the evening instruction in “soft” job skills, such as negotiation and conflict resolution, taught by Antoine Johnson, Samaritan’s STRIVE Trainer, all passed their certification tests on their very first try, unlike some students who had opted to only receive technical training.
“I feel like it’s not a coincidence. The STRIVE portion seems to build a lot of resilience,” Quilpa says, adding that he hates to call the skills it teaches “soft” because they’re also “crucial,” and the students who learned them “really, really kept at it.”
“It’s the collaborative nature of what we did in the evening that spilled over,” agrees Johnson, noting that in future, students in the joint Samaritan/Byte Back classes will be required to attend both the STRIVE and Byte Back sessions.
Learning to work as a team over the eight-week session also helped the students achieve exceptional success with their final capstone project, a business model that the five worked together to develop and pitch to a “Shark Tank”-style panel of potential “investors” that include Byte Back CEO Joe Paul and Samaritan Executive Director David Wolf.
The original plan for the course was to have the scholars, as Byte Back refers to their students, complete their own independent capstone projects. But during the important exploration of personal goals and ambitions that the STRIVE training begins with, the scholars all shared that they wanted to be entrepreneurs.
To tailor the curriculum to their interests, Johnson created new entirely new course content on developing the soft skills needed to become great entrepreneurs and employers of other people, and taught it in addition to the regular STRIVE instruction in how to become great employees. Johnson also encouraged the scholars to collaborate on a deep dive into developing an IT business pitch together, and set up the Shark Tank to evaluate their success.
Byte Back-STRIVE Collaborators, from left: Andrew Quilpa, Sam Tanner, and Antoine Johnson
The scholars dreamed up an app called E-Manager, which could be used to handle all of a small business or nonprofit organization’s human resource functions, and their presentation was so compelling that the sharks all found it hard to resist. As a graduation gift, Samaritan sent them each home with a new Microsoft Surface Pro hybrid laptop/tablet.
Probably the best evidence of the new course’s success is that as soon as the inaugural class was over in late March, one of the STRIVE-Byte Back students, Sam Tanner, was hired on by Byte Back as a project coordinator/coach. Shortly thereafter, another alum from the class was tapped by a suburban DMV county government as an IT specialist, and other students from the class chose to continue their IT studies with higher-level classes.
DC-based Byte Back, whose name is a play on the empowerment rallying cry “fight back,” has been taking on the digital divide with free, high-quality tech classes for almost as long as Samaritan has been using intensive personal casework and other support to empower local residents to overcome homelessness, unemployment, ill health and other barriers to leading fulfilling, purposeful lives. But since partnering with the equity-driven career trainer STRIVE and becoming STRIVE’s exclusive DC provider in 2016, Samaritan has been seeking to step up its collaborations with hard-skills educators like Byte Back.
“I would call it a holistic approach to career readiness,” says Samaritan Program Director Jennifer Seager-Valentine, referring to the STRIVE-Byte Back joint offering. “The tech skills are great, but if the participants can’t do well in an interview, that’s a problem. The two [parts of the curriculum] really do complement each other.”
Early on the morning of June 5th, 10 young adults showed up at Byte Back’s brightly colored, modern offices on North Capitol St. NE for the first day of the newest Byte Back/STRIVE class. Some of them looked nervous, but still glad to be there. Classes will run from 9am to 5pm Monday through Thursday. Those who stick with it and pass their exams will have their certificate in IT basics after just six weeks.
The next Byte Back/STRIVE class begins on July 31st. Unemployed or underemployed people interested in applying should contact Cameron Boulden at Byte Back. — Sarah Wood