Diversity & Inclusion
Education / Hiring / Jobs / POC in Tech / Tech jobs

How 3 Byte Back graduates sell their experience in job interviews

In celebration of Black History Month, meet three Black graduates from the tech inclusion nonprofit and learn what they're up to now.

Brenda Shelman, taking a selfie during the 2017 Byte Back graduation. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is part of Technical.ly's Hiring Trends Month. D.C.'s NET/WORK tech jobs fair is March 24.

Since 1997, Byte Back has been offering free tech training and career preparation to adults left behind by advancing technology — many of whom are people of color.

The NoMa-based nonprofit hosts classes at its headquarters, partner locations throughout D.C. and in Baltimore. Byte Back students on the professional track receive hard and soft professional skills training and technical skills training weekly, with the ability to focus on either administrative skills or CompTIA IT fundamentals.

The nonprofit’s goal is for 85% of students to gain employment after graduation, Byte Back Chief Program Officer Melissa Stallings told Technical.ly. Byte Back students and alumni are connected to employers with talent needs during training and after graduation.

“Ultimately, the program gives graduates on-ramps into careers that use technology,” Stallings said. “When they begin classes, some students are underemployed, seeking better employment opportunities or a promotion with their current employer, and after training, they’re able to move up and get raises.”

Byte Back partners with companies in the D.C. tech community to place graduates into internships and careers. In 2018 alone, 50 graduates were hired and, on average, they started earning $27,599 more per year than before graduating from Byte Back, according to Stallings.

“We’re always eager to meet employers who are looking for diverse, talented, certified candidates to enrich their companies,” Stalling said. Past employers have included District of Columbia Public Schools, Geek Squad and the Department of Defense.

In celebration of Black History Month, meet these three Black technologists who graduated from Byte Back programs and built tech careers — and learn how they make sure hiring managers know they know their stuff:

Jasmine Isaac, 2019 graduate

Jasmine Isaac, a 2019 Byte Back graduate. (Courtesy photo)

Isaac was one of Byte Back’s youngest-ever CompTIA A+ graduates, achieving the certificate that proves her IT security skills at 21 years old. Isaac said she just joined the job market for tech last year, but she has been working with technology for her own company, Jifurbic, since she was 15. Since Isaac graduated from the tech inclusion nonprofit last year, she landed a job as an IT support technician for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Byte Back kickstarted my career,” Isaac said. “I earned a certification that signified to employers, ‘Hey, she knows what she’s doing,’ which helped me become a reputable candidate.”

Isaac said she landed her current job after a recruiter reached out to her on LinkedIn. Shortly after connecting with them, she spoke with three different managers before landing the job.

“I didn’t have to sit through the nerves of a call that may never come afterwards because I was hired on the spot,” Issac said.

When in interviews, Isaac said she likes to go with the flow and let the interviewer speak about themselves and the company culture.

“I’ve found that the more the interviewer talks about themselves and the company, [the more they begin] speaking as if I’m already hired,” she said. “This subconsciously allows the interviewer to imagine me working among them. I believe that connection sells itself.”

Brenda Shelman, 2017 graduate

Brenda Shelman, taking a selfie during the 2017 Byte Back graduation. (Courtesy photo)

Shelman is a Byte Back alumna who also worked for the tech inclusion nonprofit in an administrative role until she retired last May: She was a program associate at Byte Back, assisting with registration, supporting community outreach and reporting student data in Salesforce. Last month, Shelman as welcomed as a member of Byte Back’s board of directors.

“I received an email from [Executive Director] Elizabeth Lindsey asking about board member interest, and I was totally surprised and humbled. I checked out the board members on the website and saw all their professional accomplishments and thought, ‘Whoa, this is a reach for me’,” Shelman said. “But the more I thought about it, it’s like, why not? The mission is inclusion. And don’t I have a practical perspective to contribute?”

Prior to enrolling in Byte Back’s Computer Foundations courses, Shelman said she only had some knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel. From participating in Byte Back’s programs, she said she mastered more applications, such as Asana, Slack and Powerpoint.

“Taking the course at Byte Back, I was exposed to so many functions and capabilities,” she said.

When it comes to interviewing, Shelman said she always speaks on her ability to adapt and learn things quickly.

“My advice to Byte Back students, future job getters and alumni: Always research the company you are applying to and stay up on trends in the admin and tech fields, and you’ll be able to communicate intelligently and effectively. Most of all, believe in yourself and sell your confidence,” Shelman said.

Marcus Spurlock, 2014 graduate

Marcus Spurlock, a 2014 Byte Back graduate. (Courtesy photo)

Counting the classes and internship with Byte Back, Spurlock has been working in tech for about six years.

“My time with Byte Back enabled me to obtain my first set of IT certifications and start working in IT thanks to their connections with D.C. government,” Spurlock said. “Since then, I’ve had the ability to earn multiple jobs with contracts in both D.C. and federal government, and I’ve worked as both a contractor and as a full-time employee in the private sector.”

Until last month, Spurlock was working on a tech support contract with Virginia-based GTT Communications. Even though he’s in between jobs right now, Spurlock said he has a job offer to work on an IT contract with an agency based at the National Archives.

When it comes to interviews, Spurlock makes sure he lets employers know he’s a jack of all trades.

“During interviews I generally mention that I have honed my customer service skills in addition to having taken classes for the technical skills,” Spurlock said. “I try to sell myself as a well-rounded fit for the company, contract, agency, etc.”

Companies: Byte Back
Series: Hiring Trends Month 2020

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