Creating Opportunities for a Diverse Workforce in Tech

Posted on August 11th, 2020 by Cathy Evans

Krista PeryerKrista Peryer is passionate about helping women, people of color, and anyone who is underrepresented to find a way into the tech industry. Krista says, “The great thing about it is the tech industry will never tap out on jobs. There will always be new jobs and new resources and that is why the tech industry is so fascinating to me is that it’s not just workforce development and economic development, but it’s personal development as well, because there’s endless opportunities to learn new things and to make yourself more valuable and to earn more money.”

That’s why five years ago, she co-founded The Geek Foundation, Inc. and for the first four years, Geek concentrated on partnering with the library and other community organizations to put on programs to expose children to tech in ways that helped them explore future job opportunities in the industry. She herself had hit the “gatekeeper mentality” in tech when she tried to enter the field. The white males working in it discouraged her, advising that unless you’d spent your life in tech, it would be too difficult.

Krista refused to believe that. She loves tech and was a mathlete as a child. Also, every tech company needs employees. They are constantly hiring and there aren’t enough people to fill the jobs. She sought a traditional degree, but found that for what she wanted to do, she would need to go to school another six years. Then she talked to the people who hired for the tech companies. They said that as long as the applicant could pass their technical exam, they didn’t need a 4-year degree. Krista arrived at the conclusion that college degrees are great for some things, but certain positions in tech, like front-end developers and IT positions, are thought of as a skilled trade, rather than a college-bound profession.

The Geek Foundation Wins Its First Grant

In 2019, The Geek Foundation partnered with The Northwest Project, Drew Lewis Foundation and Pitt Technology Group and won the Collective Impact Grant from The Community Foundation of the Ozarks– $24,000 to develop a curriculum for a three to five month program to result in useful and relevant IT certifications to help place more low-income women into second-tier information service positions. Krista said when COVID hit, they refused to let it slow them down, so instead of having spring and fall classes, they put on two classes in June: one in online web development and a second in IT. Krista said announcements were sent out through organizations like SingleMomzRock (http://www.singlemomzrock.com/) and Minorities in Business. Both classes were full in two weeks. And half the students were women. Krista is really excited to see what happens when they open the classes up to the public. And the larger goal is to expand into more communities, across the nation and around the world.

The Impact of Working in Tech on Low Income Neighborhoods

Krista is a big picture thinker. She imagines that giving women and other under-represented people access to tech can transform individual lives, neighborhoods, cities and the world. She runs through the issue. Suppose someone is making the federal poverty level of $17,000 a year. Average starting pay in tech jobs is $40,000 to $60,000 a year, with health benefits. Imagine how that can transform a family and the neighborhood they live in. A larger tech workforce in the community would attract more tech companies to the city and that would create a greater need for a skilled workforce. Individual quality of life improves with well-paid jobs and economic prosperity is shared by the larger community.

The Future of Tech

Listen to this conversation for more about how Krista sees the future for tech, the maker industries including robotics, wearable technologies like Google glasses and other possible branches for positions. Dr. Nancy and Krista also discuss what stops women from going into STEM fields and why it’s all nonsense. Krista says that with social media we have more ways to change our perspective and get over artificial hurdles for women in tech. Check out The Geek Foundation website and sign up for their newsletter to receive notices of new programs when they happen. For specific questions, e-mail info@thegeekfoundation.org.

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