When Luis Almendarez was a junior in high school, he wasn’t interested in technology—or much of anything else he encountered in the classroom. The way he remembers it, he went to class not because he was excited by what he might learn, but because it was expected of him. He was shy, he says, and unwilling to speak up.
He had come to California from Honduras as an undocumented immigrant. Under the DREAM Act, he earned the right to keep studying here in the U.S., and somewhere along the way, he developed vague notions of becoming a civil engineer. But as a student at Oakland High School in Northern California, he wasn’t all that motivated. “Where I came from,” he says, “a good education doesn’t matter very much.”
But then, in his junior year, he came face-to-face with a nonprofit organization called Genesys Works.
Genesys recruits high schoolers from groups underrepresented in the tech world, including low-income kids like Almendarez, and then it places them in paid internships with IT departments inside local companies. The hope is that exposure to both computers and corporate culture—with adult mentors providing guidance—will put these students on the path to a technology-related college career.
It worked with Luis Almendarez, who has become the first member of his family to go to college, enrolling at Diablo Valley Community College in Pleasant Hill, California, and though the Genesys program is still in the early stages, its founders believe they can reinvigorate the tech pipeline in at least small ways, bringing in not only more minorities but more women.
There’s certainly a need. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women account for only 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics each account for less than 10 percent of all college graduates, and each collect fewer than 10 percent of degrees in CS majors. According to a 2014 White House report, while half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by the age of 25, that’s true of just 1 in 10 people from low-income families.
Today, Genesys runs internship programs in myriad cities across the country, including Houston, Chicago, and Minneapolis. In 2013, the nonprofit opened up an office in the heart of the North California tech world, placing students at companies such as StubHub, Livefyre, and Salesforce.com, and last summer, it graduated its first class in the area—including Luis Almendarez.