How Think|Stack and Year Up are cultivating local tech talent - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Sep. 25, 2017 9:34 am

How Think|Stack and Year Up are cultivating local tech talent

The tech firm and the nonprofit have been working together to close the opportunity gap since 2010.

A Think|Stack Innovation Session at Year Up.

(Courtesy photo)

When the help desk phone rings at Think|Stack’s office in Fells Point, TJ Williams is at the ready, guiding clients through issue resolution.

“So far, what I’ve done is small stuff, because I’m still getting my feet wet,” says Williams, who started working as a Think|Stack help desk technician this past August. “I do simple computer work, but I’m getting there.”

Williams is one of the newest members of the tech firm’s 20-plus person team, but he has a history with the company that stretches beyond his recent start date. His first introduction to the company was through Year Up, a nonprofit that aims to close the opportunity divide by educating and helping place young people in jobs with partner companies.

Think|Stack has been one of Year Up’s longest-tenured partner companies in Baltimore, helping achieve the company’s mission to foster local tech talent.

In fact, Think|Stack has been on a mission to improve the industry for nearly eight years. Rewind to 2010, when the company’s CEO Chris Sachse and his soon-to-be cofounders were at dinner, commiserating over the difficulties of buying and selling IT services. They began talking about how they could make the industry better for everyone.

“Technology is complex and confusing, it is difficult to buy and difficult to sell because it is difficult to understand and is often removed from the business need,” says Sachse. “We knew that if we could present technology in an easy to consume manner and relate the technology to the journeys that it supported, we would have something special. So, we designed our new process and quit our jobs.”

Think|Stack was born three days later.

Fast-forward three months. Sachse ran into an old high school friend who happened to be working with Year Up, a nonprofit founded in Boston that had just arrived in Baltimore. The organization, based out of Baltimore City Community College, was looking for corporate partners to host interns. With only a few employees and very little revenue, Think|Stack got creative, offering to help with teaching and overflow internships.

“That was our third month in business and it happened to be their first month,” says Sachse. “It’s been a special relationship, because we have both grown together.

Think|Stack initially provided some informal tech training and resume writing workshops, but quickly learned it could offer Year Up students much more. As companies become more reliant on technology, they have to incorporate empathy and user needs into their infrastructure.

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In July 2017, Think|Stack changed its name from Horsetail Technologies to better reflect the focus on empathy and design thinking.

In today’s world, new technologies are unveiled every day. Cloud technologies like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud allow small companies to have much more robust and agile IT environments at lower costs. With all the new choices, focusing on the people and their processes provides a consistent method to evaluate and select the best technology. It also allows a company to be agile and adapt to new technologies, while maintaining the experience they desire for their employees and customers.

The company is passing on that knowledge to the next generation of IT professionals, by offering Year Up students Innovation Workshops, where they learn the science of communicating technology in business. The impact isn’t going unnoticed.

“Think|Stack has been a true supporter and champion as demonstrated by their willingness to pilot and conduct their Innovation Workshops with our students over the past 18 months,” says Year Up Baltimore Executive Director Roland Selby. “We have received nothing but glowing praise from our students regarding the quality and impact of the training.”

Think|Stack has also gone a step further to foster young talent, recruiting interns through the program and hiring several Year Up graduates as full-time employees. The training Think|Stack provides, not only benefits the students, but the companies they go on to work for and the industry as a whole.

“There is a real opportunity for IT to be a path out of the educational challenges we’re having in Baltimore,” says Sachse. “We thought, if there’s a way to make an impact, that’s great. It’s also hard to find good talent, and Year Up helps solve that problem, too. It really works for everyone involved.”

Williams is living proof. Sachse says Williams was a clear standout during the interview process. Since then, he’s made a place for himself on the team, meeting the needs of clients and thriving within the company culture.

“I would say this has been one of those programs that are life-changing,” Williams says. “It gave me an opportunity to be better than I was before.”

Want to learn more about Think|Stack and how the firm wants to help build the story of Baltimore innovation in the future? RSVP for their Baltimore Innovation Week event, happening Wednesday, Oct. 4, below.

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LeAnne Matlach

LeAnne Matlach is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. After more than five years bouncing around Delaware and Maryland as a TV and radio reporter, Matlach moved to Baltimore in 2014 and jumped headfirst into the Baltimore tech community. She's originally from New York but has shunned her "Lawn Guyland" accent.

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