(Photo by Flickr user UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences, used under a Creative Commons license)
We’re being told that the golden age of millennials in D.C. is over. But from my high perch as a local technology reporter, who also happens to be a member of this generation, let me tell you this: we’re not done with this city.
Time and again, I’ve chatted to young tech event attendees who had similar stories to relate. Some fell into tech almost by accident. Others left politics or the nonprofit world deliberately, because they wanted to see the results of their work materialize before them. Some seek to channel their do-gooder attitudes in a more results-driven field. And others joined the #dctech world in a very D.C. way: through personal networks.
1. Kaitlynn Hendricks
“I wouldn’t say I was planning to get into coding, maybe not until last year,” said Kaitlynn Hendricks, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 2009 with an economics degree. “I wasn’t the most sought-after employee.”
Hendricks hustled her way into coding, freelancing for various small businesses and nonprofits until she took a General Assembly front-end developer class.
When she landed her first official coding job in March, she could really say her career had taken off: Hendricks, 31, is now a developer at NASA.
“Now,” she said, “I am that sought-after employee.”
2. Chris Breene
“I came to D.C. with $700 in my pocket, no job, and a place to stay with [friends of a friend] in Tenleytown ’til I got on my feet,” he said in an email.
He moved to Los Angeles to work as a digital community organizer for NationBuilder. After moving back to D.C. in 2014, he capped off a campaign management gig in the office of Councilmember Charles Allen with the creation of his own marketing firm: Millennial Might.
I never expected to be in tech but tech found me, somehow,” said Breene, 25. And he knows he’s not alone. “Go to a tech company here and try to find someone without at least a political volunteering background or a passion for education reform or something of the sort,” he said. “It’s influenced by the broken political structure around us,” he added.
3. Kelsey Woodard
“Political science here just puts you in a niche market,” said Kelsey Woodard, who worked at the International Monetary Fund for two years as a project assistant. “I realized that I didn’t really know what my career path or my career trajectory was.”
But she soon realized where she didn’t want it to go. “Working for an international organization and experiencing really slow technology and a lot of inefficiencies,” she said. “I saw programming as the solution to a lot of the challenges I was facing at work.”
So Woodard started taking classes on the side. In 2013, she signed up for a programming course on Coursera. She eventually left her job to study at General Assembly’s three-month back-end web development immersive program.
Woodard, 27, now works as an app developer at Optoro. It’s a change of pace, she said. “[A startup] has to be efficient, it has to adapt quickly.”
There’s also more transparency in a startup, she finds. As opposed to the IMF where “people worked in silos,” she said, Optoro employees work more as a team. “It’s just the nature of a tech startup,” she said. “There’s a lot more transparency.”
4. James Jalandoni
In college, James Jalandoni found politics. And tech.
While serving as director of the University of Maryland’s student government association, he pioneered an online voter registration system that increased student participation in the polls. “I saw first hand how technology could completely disrupt the status quo,” he said in an email.
After climbing the ranks in student government, he decided to give political work a rest, electing instead to become a programmer. “I started to become disillusioned with slow bureaucratic process of the government,” said Jalandoni, who graduated in 2013. “I decided to dive head first into programming as a way to drive social change.” Now, Jalandoni is a full-stack developer at ECMC Lab, the innovation team led by Abigail Seldin since her college cost-comparison startup, College Abacus, got acquired last year.
Jalandoni believes he’s at the perfect confluence of two worlds. “I think that both the government and the tech sector benefit greatly from the ability to work so closely together,” he said.
5. Melissa Springer
Springer had made the rounds of the usual D.C. jobs: She interned at a lobbying firm and in the Senate, then worked at Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It was through her GW network that she learned about “small businesses in the D.C. area and the tech world.” Springer, who went through the same MBA program as Social Driver cofounder Anthony Shop, learned about a new opening a the company “by happenstance,” she said. “I met Anthony at our mutual friends’ wedding in Puerto Rico.” Eventually, that friend made the connection, and she is now the company’s VP of client strategy.
Springer, 33, had considered branching out with her own consulting firm, but is glad she joined a tech startup instead. The field attracts “interesting and diverse” people, she said.
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