Making a positive impact on the lives of women and non-binary adults
Michelle Glauser is the founder and CEO of Techtonica, a nonprofit that provides training, living stipends and job placement services for underserved populations in Northern California. Here, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks to Michelle about her vision to impact the technology workforce.
Tell us who you are and what it is you do.
I’m Michelle Glauser and I am the founder and CEO of Techtonica, which is a nonprofit that provides free tech training with living stipends and job placement to Bay Area women and non-binary adults of low incomes through company partnerships. Non-binary means a person does not identify as either man or woman.
What inspired you to provide free tech training to women and non-binary adults?
I joined the tech industry in 2012. I was working in a startup and could barely afford my own rent despite working full-time. I looked to the people who had technical skills and think, "They are making so much more than I am, and it seems like what they’re doing is pretty interesting."
So I Googled "how to build a website", and found an intensive training program. After finishing the program, I had a new job within a couple of weeks and tripled my income. I found it so empowering that I wanted to help other underrepresented people make it into — and stay — in the tech field, especially because technical roles specifically have such a shortage of women, minorities and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
I kept thinking that there was a larger need for an organization that was very welcoming to parents and people who are most underrepresented in tech, sponsor their training and make sure they have living stipends while [enrolled] in training. And I knew it was important to follow up their education with placement that gives them that first step into tech, and finally to find a more successful pathway through life.
Eventually I started putting together workshops at computer labs, which everyone loved. I found some sponsors and put together a six-month full-time training program that currently has eight apprentices.
I have also seen the high levels of income disparity in the Bay Area and thought, "We’re all complaining about the rising cost of living but bringing in new people is exacerbating that problem. Why don’t we just train the people who are here?"
Could you share why including non-binary adults as a population you wanted to serve was so important to you?
As someone who has done training, specifically for women, I realized how powerful it is to welcome a specific population, especially when it’s a skill that this population hasn’t really seen a lot of representation in; they aren’t really sure it’s for them. If you specifically say, "This workshop is for you," it’s extra welcoming. They want to come and feel like "Maybe that is something I can do."
I realized I hadn’t seen trainings that specifically mention people who don’t feel like they are on the gender spectrum. I wanted to be extra inclusive.
We started doing the workshops at St. Anthony’s Foundation at their $2 million dollar tech lab. We have had so many people come up and say, "We’ve never seen such an inclusive workshop like this and we’ve never seen words like genderqueer and non-binary. This is so great." Wording the workshops this way helps people realize this is something they can do and help them realize that we’re going to provide a very safe environment for them.
How is Techtonica funded?
I talk to every tech company I can find and ask, "Would you like to build more diversity on your engineering teams? Are you supported by female engineers?" I ask about their diversity numbers and what they’re looking for and then I say "We have this training program with a rigorous application process so we can pick the best of the best people for you. We just need sponsors for them."
The sponsor companies are involved; they send volunteers. During the fifth month we match up the apprentices with the companies and they interview each other. By the final month, the apprentices know where they'll be working and prepare themselves to onboard at that company.
What kind of training does Techtonica provide?
Software engineering. We take a pretty general approach; it’s full stack software engineering. Participants can write code for the frontend or backend. Our curriculum is fully open source and developed by industry professionals. They spent hours and hours with us putting it together, which I think is very valuable because they know exactly what they’re going to need once our apprentices get into the workplace.
The companies we work with agree to place the apprentices for at least three months of full-time work, which is about 500 hours and the work they do needs to be applicable to their training. Then they can bring them on as an intern or a contractor or regular employee — whatever works for them.
Where do you see your organization going from here?
I think we can definitely grow in the Bay Area. Right now, we are open to anyone in the Bay Area but we’ve mostly been in San Francisco and in Oakland. During my research, I found that every city in the U.S. that has a high number of tech jobs also has high levels of income disparity. I would love to see Techtonica expand into other cities.
What does Techtonica need to make this a reality?
More than anything else, we need corporate sponsors. Right now, we don’t have enough sponsors to place all of the apprentices that we currently have. I’m trying my very hardest to make sure all of them have placement because that’s so important for someone who doesn’t already have that tech network.
I think because we are fairly new, companies are hesitant sometimes, but if they take a chance on us, we’re going to make this work out to script.
What else would you like readers to know?
The thing that convinced me that I could start Techtonica was that in my — I think it was the fourth year of software engineering — I ended up organizing and spearheading this whole spontaneous crowdfunding campaign for #ILookLikeAnEngineer.
We put up ads of underrepresented engineers all around the Bay Area to inspire people and show them that they should be inclusive. It was a very grassroots effort. We pulled together a whole bunch of people and it was the first time I’d ever done fundraising. It was a whirlwind, really.
At the end of it, I thought, "Wow. That was really stressful and super difficult and I learned all these things I’d never done before. But it felt amazing to be working on something I was so passionate about." I thought, "I want to actually help people be empowered and not just inspire them."
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Working as an engineer since 2012, Michelle Glauser has strived to create a more diverse software industry. Techtonica is her vision to help tech companies and people who need more opportunities thrive together by offering underserved, diverse populations an opportunity to be involved in a long-term, tuition free, full-time program that prepares and places apprentices in the software engineering field without worrying about financial instability or the strain of education costs.