A group of people sit hunched over computers on the second floor of the BankNote building in Hunts Point. They are all young – most under 30 – and are working on everything from coding to education grants. Their dedication is as striking as the office’s lime green walls.
This is The Knowledge House, a tech education non-profit launched by Jerelyn Rodriguez and Joe Carrano in 2014. When they met working in the area four years ago, they agreed that the lack of engaging tech education in their neighborhood was a missed opportunity.
“The Bronx is so creative, and innovative, and gritty,” said Rodriguez, 28, co-founder and CEO. “I wanted to make sure that the young people where I am from have access to the tech world.”
The Knowledge House is one of a handful of tech organizations in the borough, like Per Scholas, an education non-profit, Metabronx, an accelerator, and startups like 718 Digital and Mass Ideation. All are trying to bring the promise of technology—jobs that will grow 15 to 30 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Many tech jobs don’t require an undergraduate degree in tech. Instead, employees need hard tech skills.
This is where The Knowledge House comes in said Carrano, 28, co-founder and CTO. Over 300 students have taken classes in everything from intro tech to advanced coding since 2014. What makes The Knowledge House unique is that its classes encourage students to solve community problems with tech.
Many create solutions that are not in the mainstream consciousness, like an app that translates homework into Spanish, or locates the nearest Bodega. These projects help students hone skills and build portfolios.
Jermaine Pinckney, 26, started taking classes at The Knowledge House while studying graphic design at Queens College. In college, he became more interested in tech and felt out of place. He wants to become a developer.
A big draw at The Knowledge House is that classes are free, through grants from places like the Pinkerton Foundation and Susan Crown Exchange.
“I would not have given these classes a second thought if I had to pay for it,” Pinckney said. Today, he interns at Duro UAS, an eco-drone manufacturer in the Bronx. He also teaches at The Knowledge House, along with many former students.
Other former students are working in the South Bronx and at big name tech companies. One local company, 718 Digital, was started by Carrano, who hires exclusively from The Knowledge House. Many freelance, like Jose Ortiz, 21, who works for Portion.io. One alum, Stephon Nixon, got a job as a Technical Data Analyst at Viacom without having a college degree.
When a student gets a job, “It feels dope,” Carrano said. “That’s the whole goal, getting money in their pockets.”
Next year, The Knowledge House hopes to launch a one-year job readiness curriculum to place more students in jobs.
“We are trying to prove a concept that young people who are gritty and lack college degrees can be successful in these high paying jobs,” Rodriguez said, adding, “We have had many early successes but we still have a long way to go. I feel hopeful that we are on the right track and I’m very proud of my students.”