On the first day of Newark Tech Week in October, Daniel Adeyanju, director of partnerships & external affairs at The Knowledge House (Newark), took the stage at the Newark Tech Summit to discuss his organization’s work with CITI Medina, the founder of =SPACE, a Newark-based incubator/workspace dedicated to black/brown and LGBTQ founders.
Medina reenergized Newark Tech Week in 2015 after taking it over from Emily Manz, who founded it in 2013. Since then, the event has grown exponentially, and it’s now backed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA).
This year Newark Tech Week featured in-person events all over the city, including talks by investors, discussions on new technology, a hackathon and demonstrations of innovations. There were plenty of opportunities to network, as well. The Newark Tech Summit took place at The Junction at Gateway Center, in the recently reimagined two-story Jewel Box public event space.
In a fireside chat, Adeyanju explained The Knowledge House’s mission to Medina: “The Knowledge House is a tech-training nonprofit connecting underestimated communities to family-sustaining tech careers. A lot of people ask me what that means. I think all the words are there — but, ultimately, a career should be able to support a family.”
He continued, “We’re a poverty-fighting organization that runs like a tech startup. We leverage technology and empower our fellows, both high school students in their junior and senior years looking for an entry into technology and individuals 18 and older making under $50,000 annually.”
The Knowledge House was founded in the Bronx in 2014 by Jerelyn Rodriguez, a native of that borough and a Columbia University graduate, and by Joe Carrano, who also launched BXL Bronx Business Incubator. Adeyanju noted that “they saw an opportunity to bring tech knowledge to communities like the Bronx, and they believed that if they could do it there, they could do it anywhere. So we’re so excited to have been invited by the BRICK/South Ward Promise Neighborhood network to do this work. And Mayor Baraka has been extremely supportive of what we’ve been doing, and we really enjoy being a part of the community here.”
The Knowledge House works with local high schools, like North Star Academy, to help youngsters get a foot in the door. Adeyanju noted that the program for adults includes a year-long sequence involving training in web development, user experience, data science and cybersecurity — training that will lead to real jobs.
The students get two semesters of fundamentals and in-depth knowledge, complete a capstone project and then, “in the last phase, they are working on applying for roles, potential internships and certifications,” said Adeyanju. “Our Newark fellows, in particular, are in class from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday, for an entire year, often working full-time or part-time roles, taking care of kids, going to school and looking to make a difference.
“We focus on developing a problem-solving mindset so that people who come to a company understand the technical and business problems and can make a difference at the organization they join.”
Medina pointed out that students must get mentorship and networking opportunities to develop their careers. He asked Adeyanju to discuss this, adding, “I think that’s a unique offering that really makes the difference.”
The Knowledge House has volunteer tutors, speakers and mock interviewers from the community and partnering companies; and they become the students’ “friends in tech,” not just people they know casually. These volunteers are committed to smoothing the way for the participants. “That’s how we get our fellows to feel like they belong,” said Adeyanju. The work done by the students during the last portion of the program shows them how to “own their power” in the workplace.
Adeyanju praised the volunteers from the Parsippany offices of Barclays, a global investment banking firm, who have helped program participants identify the skills and experiences they can bring to the workplace. In fact, the “friends in tech” always remind the participants of their capabilities, and this boosts their self-confidence.
Finally, Medina asked Adeyanju what he found most rewarding in his job. His answer: “The transformation in our fellows’ lives and what it can do to further their families. And it’s also the ecosystem that we build. So, connecting with folks from companies who want to make a difference, do good work and invest in their communities is super rewarding.”