The following content is created in partnership with TD Bank and Byte Back—a nonprofit recipient of the bank’s TD Ready Challenge grant. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Washington's editorial staff. Click here to learn more about Byte Back.
It seems everyone is on their devices all day long, texting, booking a share car, completing a spreadsheet, creating an online portfolio, lining up a date for the weekend . . .
Rarely do we consider, though, the thousands of people in the local community who don’t have internet access, a computer, or the skills to use it. For them, even applying for low-wage jobs can be daunting when applications live entirely online.
Then there are those who have mastered P.C. basics and want to pursue tech careers, but education from organizations like community colleges and tech bootcamps may be too expensive or require more advanced tech skills to even start.
The Washington- and Baltimore-based organization Byte Back works to help such people get the skills they need to make a living in tech fields and keep up with society.
In honor of Black History Month, we profile three African Americans who’ve studied with Byte Back and are using new skills to thrive in the digital world.
Essential Computer Skills Student: Manouchka Bolden
Soon after graduating from high school, life took over for Manouchka Bolden. She became a mom, going on to have six children, currently between ages 12 and 16. “I wanted to further my education but couldn’t really do it then,” says Bolden, now 37. “You struggle when you don’t have the education to get you where you want to go. And it’s difficult to get education and pay for it when you have children you’re trying to feed and clothe. It became a struggle every day to make ends meet.”
Now, she continues, “My kids are getting older and I talk to them about the importance of education. I had a desire to make a change in my life for the sake of my children and I wanted to set a high standard for them. I had to take a big leap.”
At the time, Bolden lacked some basic computer skills. “In this day and age, without a computer, you can’t do anything. Technology is involved in everything you do in life.”
Since enrolling in Byte Back’s Computer Foundations course, she’s learned, among other things, how to attach her résumé to an email, use hardware like flash drives, and has gained skills in Microsoft Office, Google Suites, Slack, and Zoom. She wants to move up in future courses to master Word and Excel: “If I really knew Excel, I’d be able to work on finances. By the time I leave Byte Back, I’ll have that foundation.” Currently still studying at Byte Back, Bolden is also working as a program assistant at a D.C. nonprofit, inputting information into a database. She aims to pursue a career in business administration and later use these essential computer skills in a career as an advocate for women and children. “My future looks brighter and better each day,” she says.
Administrative Skills Graduate: Demika Alston
A wife and mother of three, D.C. native Demika Alston parted ways with the restaurant job she had for 15 years. Even there, Alston was starting to feel technology encroaching. The eatery was implementing iPads and ushering in online ordering. “I found myself lost because I didn’t know or have the digital skills to market myself,” she says. “I also felt left behind when I found I was lacking the computer skills to apply for the administrative job I really wanted,” she says.
In fact, the skills she needed to move forward included basics such as copying, pasting, navigating email, scheduling on a calendar, and creating spreadsheets. Most of all, she says, she needed to become certified in Microsoft Office software.
“I realized I wanted an opportunity to find a new career for my next chapter—working for the government or a nonprofit,” she recalls. Enrolling in Byte Back allowed Alston to become certified as a Microsoft Office Specialist in Excel and Outlook. She even got her first refurbished laptop through Byte Back in 2016, allowing her to stay current with her computer skills, such as SharePoint, Salesforce, Slack, UberConference, Asana, and more. Since then, she’s actually become a Byte Back employee, working as an administrative assistant. Now in her 40s, “My future looks amazing,” she says. “After getting a job, I was able to gain benefits. This year, I took my family on our first family vacation to Myrtle Beach. If I didn’t reinvent myself, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
IT Professional: Edmund Price
Edmund Price had been enrolled in a Virginia community college when he realized, “Conventional schooling didn’t click with me,” he recalls. Plus, it was too expensive. So, Price took a break from formal education, looking to find his calling.
Price was already tech literate, having owned a computer since childhood. During his break, he says, “I came to learn my first bit about hardware and software through my friends—they loved computers as well.”
From there, Price realized he wanted to dive further into technology, picturing himself as a future IT professional. “I realized getting that kind of position would require a lot more than a rudimentary knowledge of hardware and software.” Specifically, Price says, he needed skills ranging from how to remove a hard drive to setting up a virtual machine.
Looking to pursue his tech career—and not feeling comfortable with conventional higher education—Price went to Byte Back. “I didn’t have many resources,” says Price, now 22. “Byte Back not only gave me the means to succeed, they also supported me. When I couldn’t make it to class because of monetary issues, Byte Back had me covered.”
With his Byte Back courses, Price learned to become a computer technician, how to optimize his résumé, and even how to network (the human kind of networking—as in, with other business professionals).
Price is now about to start his first tech job: a federal government IT position. “Hopefully I’ll be moving into some more classes soon,” he says. “My long-term goal is to become certified in Security+, which will come after the next certification I’m aiming for: Network+. With that, I want to land a stable career in tech so I can have my own house and live a quiet life.”
A proponent of diversity, Byte Back looks to break the cycle of poverty, providing tech training that leads to living-wage careers. For that reason, TD Bank has awarded the organization with its grant, the TD Ready Challenge. A component of the bank's corporate citizenship platform—the TD Ready Commitment—the grant targets $1 billion (Canadian) to create a more inclusive and sustainable future for all. Click here to learn more about the nonprofit organization.