A new internship program aimed at helping workers in marginalized communities land gainful employment in the technology sector is preparing to graduate its first group of participants.
The Technical Awareness Pathway Program, created through a partnership between Soter Technologies, the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center, and the Suffolk County Labor Department, seeks to give adult students paid training and the chance to work in the tech field. The program began in late June with five participants and will end its inaugural internship Oct. 7.
“It’s a pathway for people in underrepresented communities to have a chance to gain employment and technical skills that allows them to have a sustainable life on Long Island,” said Derek Peterson, chief executive and founder of Ronkonkoma-based Soter Technologies.
Soter, a software and hardware developer known for its anti-vaping sensors for schools, was the host company of the five participants this summer. Peterson said he hopes to recruit other tech companies to participate.
Peterson said the tech sector on Long Island and beyond often lacks racial diversity, especially in leadership roles, and that the TAPP program is aimed at “trying to give equal representation to people of color.”
The participants worked full-time as interns at Soter for three months, making $25 an hour, with $15 coming from a grant from Suffolk’s Labor Department, $5 from the Bridgehampton center and $5 coming from Soter.
D’Aja Mitchner, 26, said up until 2020, she had no plans to pursue a career in computer science. Now, after finishing her three-month internship, the Riverhead resident has been offered a job at Soter.
“I was trying to get my foot in the door in this field,” she said. “It can be a little difficult when you just have a boot camp certification and you don’t have that computer science degree.”
Mitchner, like the other participants in the program, came to Soter after taking courses at Nebula Academy, a Syosset-based software coding boot camp and computer science training company. Their courses there were covered by a partnership between the Bridgehampton center and We Connect the Dots, a STEM education nonprofit in Cold Spring Harbor.
“I’m definitely grateful,” said Mitchner. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do something that they like to do.”
After losing his bank job at Washington Mutual to layoffs during the 2008 recession, Daniel De La Cruz, 41, spent years working as a screen-printing artist selling his art on the street. But about seven years ago, he moved out to Long Island from Brooklyn to be with his family.
“I needed to figure out how I was going to take care of myself,” said De La Cruz, a South Jamesport resident. “I was very interested in web development and coding for a long time, but when I was an artist, I just didn’t have the time to learn something like that.”
Before finding Bridgehampton and the Nebula Academy, De La Cruz said he was working as a manager at an ice cream shop but was looking for a higher-paying career.
Now, with coding training and practical experience working on team projects at a tech firm, he said he feels more confident entering the tech job market.
“I definitely feel like I can contribute to any team right away,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot to learn … but being here definitely helps me build that confidence.”