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VOL. 133 | NO. 177 | Thursday, September 6, 2018

Microsoft Executives Host ‘Fireside Chat’ on Tech Careers

By Bill Dries

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The local workforce readiness effort often has focused on manufacturing, logistics and maintenance jobs that require certification to operate equipment or two-year associate degrees that can lead directly to the workplace.

Microsoft executives in Memphis this week met with high school and college students about tech workforce readiness in a “fireside chat” session.

“The idea behind it all is to have an informal way of reaching the greater Memphis community to provide awareness around technology and Microsoft specifically,” said Microsoft principal security manager Alexia Clayborne, who was among those participating in the Thursday, Sept. 6, session at Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Timothy Davis (center) and other students from the Memphis Business Academy listen as Microsoft and the city of Memphis conduct a panel discussion at the Cook Convention Center on September 6, 2018 to encourage women and African-Americans to pursue careers in technology. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

The session, open to the public, included an emphasis on women and minorities who have historically faced barriers to entry into the tech industry.

“We want a hand-in-glove effect,” said city Youth Services director Ike Griffith. “We want to create a roadmap if they have an interest in technology to kind of help them navigate one of the high-tech companies.”

That roadmap can lead to the same destination of a job after getting a certificate or an associate degree with credits earned in high school.

Tecia Marshall of the Memphis chapter of Black Girls Code is instructional facilitator at Booker T. Washington High School, where she started as a technology teacher.

“They now know that they have options,” Marshall said of BTW students she sees and has taught. “I’m an advocate for higher education. I’m in my doctoral program. But I know lots of people who make more, who are in technology because they have that skill.

“I know the population that I serve, where I am in Memphis. I have students who wrestle with some hard stuff we as adults probably haven’t tackled. And they are smart. They just need ways to express it and they need ways to do it in-house or externally.”

Alexia Clayborne (center), a Memphis native who is principal security program manager with Microsoft, talks about opportunities in tech during a panel discussion as Microsoft and the city of Memphis gather Memphis area students for a rally at the Cook Convention Center on September 6, 2018 to encourage women and African-Americans to pursue careers in technology. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

In some cases, Marshall has had students who had industry certifications she didn’t have. She estimates “at least 60 percent” of juniors and seniors at the high school are interested in some kind of tech career. Of girls 7-17 that she has worked with at the school and through Black Girls Code, Marshall said when asked what they wanted to do, “There was always a buy-in to the technology.”

Griffith said the partnership between the city and Microsoft is “just taking baby steps to develop a partnership in the years to come.”

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