Jukay Hsu was student body president at New York’s Stuyvesant High School — six blocks from the World Trade Center — when the twin towers fell on 9/11. From there, the road would take him to Harvard, where he graduated with a degree in economics, and the Reserve Officers Training Corps, where a year-long tour in Iraq involved both combat and economic development efforts. Hsu had the education and experience to pursue almost anything.
A typical job in tech was not in the cards, at least not for him. Struck by the hard truth that well-paying tech jobs don’t reach everyone in the U.S. — furthering income inequality and increasing the economic divide — he started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that would aim to change just that.
The percentage of Pursuit participants that are black or Latino
Started as the civic-tech venture Coalition for Queens and now called Pursuit, the nonprofit provides intensive tech training for adults with the most need and potential to get their first jobs in the profession. Through outreach at public housing complexes and libraries, Hsu and his team look for applicants with problem-solving skills and perseverance. They must be at least 18 years old and make less than $40,000 a year. More than half of the program’s participants are on some kind of public assistance, nearly half are women, and 60 percent are black or Latino.
The nearly four-year program begins with 10 months of immersive tech training in programming and web development, followed by three years of mentorship. It’s technically free, funded in part by family foundations and companies such as Google, Salesforce and Walmart. Through a bond type of financial mechanism, however, students agree to pay 12 percent of their salary back to investors over the course of three years — but only if their jobs pay at least $60,000.
Rarely is that a problem: Participants’ average salaries increase from $18,000 a year before the program to $85,000 afterward. And about 85 percent of its 300 graduates to date have found tech jobs that pay well within one year, at companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Kickstarter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.