German Martinez was 14 years old when he moved to the Boston area from El Salvador, a country in Central America he described as being ruled by “gangs and poverty.”
“It was hard to get used to a new culture, a different language,” Martinez said, and the challenges didn’t stop there.
Due to issues with his immigration status, Martinez said he wasn’t able to enroll at Bunker Hill Community College until the issues were resolved four years after completing high school. And then — after completing community college and enrolling at the University of Massachusetts Boston for a Bachelor’s in information systems management — Martinez applied for internships at more than 50 companies and only got callbacks with two. None of them ended up hiring him.
But then one of Martinez’s professors suggested he look into Hack.Diversity, a new program that aims to help black and Latino students develop their careers and find internships at big-name tech and healthcare companies in Boston. After getting accepted into the program, Martinez and 15 other students went through a series of sessions aimed at sharpening job interview and resume-building skills, among other things. By the end of it, Martinez ended up with an internship at Wayfair, one of Boston’s hottest consumer tech companies, which eventually led to even more good news: a full-time job.
“All this preparation and support from Hack.Diversity helped me tremendously, which is one of the reasons I got offered a full-time offer at the end of my internship,” he said.
“Diversity shouldn’t’ be just a nice thing to say, it should be an essential ingredient to our success.”
Going into its second year, the organizers of Hack.Diversity, a finalist in BostInno’s 50 on Fire this year, want to replicate and expand upon the success they have seen with people like Martinez, those who are underrepresented in the tech industry. Many tech companies are still struggling with diversity — the most recent reports from Apple, Amazon and other tech giants show that black and Hispanic workers make up less than 10 percent of their respective workforces — but it remains a top issue for tech leaders nevertheless.
It’s for those reasons that Hack.Diversity, a nonprofit program run by the New England Venture Capital Association, aims to raise $500,000 in donations by 2020.
Besides Martinez and other students who enroll in Hack.Diversity, another essential ingredient of the program are the companies who agree to provide internships that eventually turn into full-time jobs. Among the crop of companies in Hack.Diversity’s 2018 program is DraftKings, a Boston fantasy sports company that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors.
At a Hack.Diversity event in October where Martinez shared his story, DraftKings CEO and co-founder Jason Robins said diversity, at its core, is about a diversity of viewpoints and a diversity of experiences, which tech companies need.
“I think that anybody would agree that having a homogenous company, a homogenous culture — with the same ideas recycled over and over again, the same perspectives are brought to the table every day, nothing new, nothing different — that’s not going to drive a lot of innovation,” Robins said.
And it’s not just about giving lip service either. “Diversity shouldn’t be just a nice thing to say, it should be an essential ingredient to our success,” Robins added, “and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to not just say that and buy into it.”
Joining DraftKings for Hack.Diversity’s 2018 host companies are Liberty Mutual, Carbonite, Vertex and HubSpot. The latter three participated in the program’s first year while two others from 2017, Wayfair and DataXu, have yet to commit to a second year. A Wayfair spokesman told BostInno that the company is still evaluating its plans for 2018 while a DataXu spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Jody Rose, one of Hack.Diversity’s co-founders and executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association, told BostInno that the program is still in discussions with more potential host companies. While the program hopes to have 10 host companies next year, Rose said they may have to dial it back to seven.
“The biggest barrier for companies is the cost involved,” Rose said, adding that it costs companies each $50,000 to participate.
The program has also changed its expectations with how many students it expects to help in the next year and how much money it seeks for fundraising. At an event earlier this year, Rose said Hack.Diversity’s goal was to raise $1 million by the end of this year and to reach 100 job placements for participating students by the end of 2018.
With Hack.Diversity now aiming to raise $500,000 in two years, Rose said the fundraising goal changed based on projections in the program’s business model and not because there were not enough people making donations.
“We are creating a sustainable model, and all we’ll need is $500,000 to get us there,” she said.
The program will also not meet its original 2018 target of 100 job placements because it only plans to double the number of students it supports next year to 32. Rose said they scaled back that goal because it was too aggressive for the current size of the organization.
“That was us thinking we would scale and go from five companies in year one to close 30 companies in year two, and we realized we didn’t have the people resources to take on that, so we scaled that back,” Rose said. However, she added, “we do want over the next five years to get close to 500 people through Hack.Diversity.”
“There are 1,200 community colleges across the nation and any one of them would take the idea of Hack.Diversity and run with it.”
What has also changed is that not all of the 18 students from Hack.Diversity’s inaugural program have received full-time offers from where they had internships, which was part of the original plan. While five of the students have decided to pursue advanced degrees, another five received full-time offers and three have extended their internships.
Rose said helping students make full-time placements is still Hack.Diversity’s goal, but “there were some companies where there were some shifts in budgets,” resulting in a few of the students having their internships extended as a result.
While Hack.Diversity has had to adjust some of its expectations, Boston tech, civic and education leaders made it clear that the program is an important way to make a more equitable economy and prepare the future workforce. Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, said Hack.Diversity should serve as a national model.
“We need to take this show on the road,” Eddinger said. “There are 1,200 community colleges across the nation and any one of them would take the idea of Hack.Diversity and run with it.”