Parish Jefferson (he/him) is the Regional Director, University Partnerships of Fullstack Academy. A trailblazer in bootcamp education, Fullstack Academy prepares students for fulfilling careers in tech through its NYC campus, women-focused Grace Hopper Program, online learning, and more than a dozen university partnerships (and counting). Fullstack Academy employs over 500 employees in New York. In this episode of Including You, Jefferson explains the benefits of nontraditional education pathways.
#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Parish Jefferson
Interview Transcript[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger. My guest today is Parish Jefferson. He’s the regional director of university partnerships and the board chairman of the One Full Stack ERG with Full Stack Academy prepares students for fulfilling careers in tech through their New York City campus.
[00:01:05] Amy: Women-focused Grace Hopper Program online learning and more than a dozen university partnerships and counting full stack employs 250 to 500 people depending on the time of the year, and I’m so excited Parish, to have you on the show, welcome.
[00:01:20] Parish: Thank you Amy. I’m excited to be here.
[00:01:23] Amy: So, tell us a little bit about why is inclusion so important to Full Stack Academy?
[00:01:29] Parish: Absolutely. So Full Stack was founded on really some, inclusion and diversity principles. Our two original founders were really specific in kind of the way they built the company itself. They really put a lot of values around the company that included inclusion and diversity, and they really wanted the community itself to be representative of what’s in society today.
[00:01:51] Parish: And one of the things also that was important to them was getting more women and minorities involved in tech. So that was always a foundation of what Full Stack was built on.
[00:02:03] Amy: This is so important because I hear all the time from companies there are two things that they say. One is there just isn’t a good talent pipeline.
[00:02:12] Amy: For historically excluded talent. They don’t use those words, I’m using those words. They use the word, no talent pipeline. There aren’t enough women, there aren’t enough people of color, there aren’t enough black developers, there aren’t enough, whatever, which I think is not true. I think it’s demonstrably untrue.
[00:02:27] Amy: The question is not where are they? It’s, why aren’t they attracted to you? , which is a much different problem. Yes. But the other piece of that is that these environments have been very exclusive historically. I was a developer coming out of college way many years ago, right? I remember being told I remember one colleague in particular who said, wow, you’re really analytical for a girl.
[00:02:50] Amy: And I, and that was like the least, that was the least of the horrible things that was said that were said to me, during my internship and then, moving into my career, and so when we talk about bringing more diverse talent into the industry, and diversity can be very broadly defined in tech because it has been such a boys club for so long, didn’t start out that way, but it’s certainly become that, right? How are you marrying this notion of people don’t feel included, so they don’t wanna come in versus then on the company side and saying we really don’t see enough people.
[00:03:25] Amy: You’re sandwiching between those two attitudes.
[00:03:29] Parish: Yeah, a hundred percent. So, I think one of the things that we’ve done a little differently is, first of all, we’re obviously a non-traditional education path, right? So, we’re able to attract students that maybe not are.
[00:03:38] Parish: Some of them do have already have four-year degrees, but not everyone is looking to get a four-year degree. Some of ’em are just looking to come and get a certificate and going into coding, so that allows us to really target a unique set of individuals. At the same time, we have programs, like you mentioned, the gray shopper program, which allows us to increase our women population, and we do have other programs as well, or other things we do that target individuals.
[00:03:59] Parish: What I see across the board for us is when you look at our classrooms and you look at our instructional staff and everybody that we have in our environment, it’s a wide pool of applicants. It’s completely diverse. We’re finding people from all walks of life. I think when you make it easier or maybe make the door open the door and allow people to walk through and see what’s there in a non-traditional environment, it does increase, I guess I’ll just say minority representation, females, all different types of individuals cuz they see, hey, I can come here at full stack, get me a certificate in coding, web dev, data analytics, whatever it may be, cyber security in six to eight months.
[00:04:38] Parish: And I can go into that field as opposed to going through, for. You’re sometimes five, whatever it may take, right? To get your degree and get into that field. So, I think that is one of the things that we’ve seen that has increased as well as, like I said our focus even with us, the new, which we’ll talk about a little bit, the employee resource group.
[00:04:55] Parish: We are trying to focus on how are we recruiting students? Where are we recruiting them from? and making sure that we are looking at certain universities or certain parts of society that we can target and get more minorities, get more females, get more people involved in coding.
[00:05:15] Amy: And so, you’ve obviously been very successful in that.
[00:05:17] Amy: Full stack has grown very rapidly. You’re very well respected in the industry. Grace Hopper is one of the biggest events of the year. The Grace Hopper Conference is one of the biggest events of the year in tech. This is a huge a huge splash you’re making in the tech industry, you mentioned ERGs, but what do you think is fueling your success?
[00:05:36] Amy: What are you doing that’s working in this space?
[00:05:39] Parish: I think, what we’re I it feels to me that there is this attraction to the non-traditional education. I really feel that’s a change we’ve seen recently. I just know in my own circle I have kids that are sophomore, starting their sophomore year in college.
[00:05:55] Parish: But when you look at, I look at their friends and I look at their community. There’s a lot of kids that aren’t going the four year path. There’s a lot that are taking junior colleges and there are a lot that are going through certificate programs. So, I do feel that the newer generation aren’t just looking at one way to get into to their career.
[00:06:12] Parish: So, I think that’s what’s made us successful. The second thing I think is our expansion of the offerings we have. We started just doing coding, but we now have cyber security. We have data analytics, we have DevOps, we have product management. So, it gives individuals different paths, different ways to go into their field, their hopefully their career field, and really get started.
[00:06:32] Parish: So that’s what I’ve seen, I think has really made us successful.
[00:06:36] Amy: And you mentioned ERGs and you were talking about students, are your students involved in ERGs as well? Or your ERGs for faculty?
[00:06:43] Parish: Yeah. Our ERGs themselves are for, I’ll say employees but we have our, all of our faculties, whether they’re part-time or full-time, or involved or eligible to be involved, as well as any employee at Full Stack.
[00:06:56] Amy: Okay and then how does that translate into how you serve your students?
[00:06:59] Parish: Yeah, so that’s a great point. We actually are doing what we have, we, it’s called a Visibility Matters sections we just started. Our first one’s gonna be the 31st, which is coming up which all students are invited. Previous students and current students will be involved, so that’s gonna be their first exposure to the full stack erg.
[00:07:17] Parish: But we’re gonna have actually, she’s actually one of our instructors. She’s a former Marine and she’s gonna come and talk about her. She’s a transgender instructor. She’s gonna come and talk about her experience being a transgender, going through the Marine Corps, and she’s gonna speak about how she’s able to transition into the full stack environment, how she became an instructor, what that looks like, and really help people see that there’s a path for everyone to get into tech.
[00:07:40] Parish: And her story is incredible. So, I think this will be the first time our students are exposed to some of the work that ERG is doing. But we do plan to expand that going into the future. We’ll start offering some more trainings and presentations like this that allow our students to really see some of the work that Full Stack is doing.
[00:07:58] Amy: I think this is so important because you probably don’t know this. I used to do a program, I used to do a podcast series called See It to Be It, where I interviewed people about how do you get in your career, what do you do? What surprises you about the work that you didn’t know coming in? All of these things, because my, I have this notion that because I grew up this way, right?
[00:08:20] Amy: I didn’t know people who had professional careers, right? I didn’t, I assumed that the bank tellers at the local bank, majored in finance in college, I assumed that the people at the grocery store that did the checkout much, they majored in business because they handled cash all day. Like I really had a disconnect between what the, how the world worked and what I saw every day because of where I grew up.
[00:08:40] Amy: And I do think it’s so important for people to see all kinds of role models in all kinds of roles in all different industries to just open up what’s possible for them and to see someone who is a military veteran who is now teaching tech, presumably for industry, right? For private sector, right?
[00:09:05] Amy: That’s four steps away from. Probably where that individual started out, right? Thinking I’m gonna be a Marine. Now you add in, there’s obviously some intersectionality there around, gender difference and gender discrimination, transgender identity, right?
[00:09:23] Amy: Being part of the LGBTQIA plus community and then you add like those levels of difference in, or those levels of challenge or those levels of becoming, and so I would imagine for a lot of your students, not only are they becoming tech savvy, not only are they becoming developers, they’re also becoming adults, becoming professionals, becoming versions of themselves that they never imagined, becoming people who will be industry leaders in a few years.
[00:09:54] Amy: And so seeing all of that wrapped up through the lens of an erg, certainly, but also just from the professional lens of, here’s what’s possible for all different kinds of people. That has to be very impactful for your students.
[00:10:07] Parish: It really is. You touched on a couple things that are interesting.
[00:10:10] Parish: Just literally, I think yesterday or the day before, it’s very recent, I was actually speaking to a very close friend of mine who actually, he’s an African American in tech in Silicone Valley, and we were talking about growing up where we grew up in, in the East Bay at the time, back in the mid-eighties, thinking back.
[00:10:27] Parish: What I guess role models and examples we had in front of us, and he made a comment that I never saw, I never met any doctors, I never met any, lawyers. I never met any professionals. So there was no one really that taught me, Hey, this is what you can become, This is a path for you. So we were Kind of exploring, like how did we get where we are today?
[00:10:45] Parish: What is it that led us to believe, Hey, we can make it, we can get here. So, one of the things that he mentioned, and he was commenting to me that he was saying, hey, you exposing your kids to these different types of industries, different types of professionals, and letting them see that, hey, you can make this.
[00:11:01] Parish: This is what you can become. So, when I look at that, I think of the same thing for our students, right? We bring in our alumni, we bring in, like I said, our instructors who some of them went through our program and let them say, hey, Here I am today. I’m working at Google, or I’m working at Microsoft, or whatever company is I’m working at.
[00:11:18] Parish: I went through this program, I succeeded before I was doing this, and here I am now today. So, it does, you’re right, it shows students what they can become, what opportunities are out there, and I think that’s really important for the students. Really making that connection to say, okay, here I am today doing this job that I’m not happy in.
[00:11:38] Parish: Six to eight months from now, if I go through this program and I’m successful, I can be in this role, which will set up a different career for me, which I could be really, more happy or more proud about. So that’s really what we do, and I think that is really eye opening for students when they see that.
[00:11:56] Amy: I would imagine so, because not only are you talking about the economic opportunity that exists in, but you’re also talking about meaningful work and really affirming and fulfilling work that you can chart your own course once you have these skills, right? you can say, look, I wanna change the world in this way.
[00:12:10] Amy: And there’s a path to do that in technology, and so I would imagine that there’s not, it’s not just the economic returns, but it’s also that self-actualization return, right? That people are able to set up the kind of, set up the kind of life that they want, but also create the kind of world that they want through their work.
[00:12:27] Parish: Exactly, yeah. That’s a hundred percent I think we’ve, it’s interesting like I said, I think one of the things we’ve actually seen in some cases is students will start one program and they’ll, they may get they’ll be in a coding or they’ll be in cybersecurity and maybe get a little taste of coding and they’ll say, I think this is a better fit for me.
[00:12:45] Parish: So, they’ll look to transfer to a different program. We’ve seen that happen. But some of the, I’ll call ’em info sessions we’ve done where we’ve done some events where we’ve brought in people out in the industry and talked to our students. Sometimes they’ll say, oh look, this person is in, they’re working for the CIA in cyber security, or this person is working at Walmart in cyber security.
[00:13:06] Parish: So, they start really start seeing all these different ways that they can build their career in different directions they can go in. So yeah, it is, you do see those moments and students will comment that, I’m so glad that I was able to hear from this person because now I realize I can get into this field or I can go in this direction, or I didn’t realize there was a area nonprofit that I could go into.
[00:13:28] Parish: So, you’re right, it’s about exposing them to different opportunities and letting them realize themselves what direction they want to take this in.
[00:13:37] Amy: I am all for it. I think this is absolutely fantastic work that you’re doing. I’ve talked to people in different, different tech accelerator, career accelerator programs and everybody has their own unique spin, but I think having that exposure piece is just so important.
[00:13:51] Amy: and broad exposure. So people can find their right niche within the work and the right industry Parish, what do you hope to accomplish next in the work that you’re doing with full Stack?
[00:14:01] Parish: Wow, I think really where my passion lies is really in the diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging piece.
[00:14:07] Parish: That’s really where I see my future. I, we talked about briefly about the launch of the erg. Really, I want to take that to the next level. We’ve seen such a great response from our employees. People are really not just attending, but they’re really active in the participation.
[00:14:23] Parish: They’re giving us a lot of positive feedback and it’s clear that they want more. This is something they’ve been looking for. For me, I think it’s that work. Really trying to help solidify some of our values within our organization. My manager had said to me at one time that, Full Stack has done a great job of being, diverse and inclusion and being really deliberate about who they bring on and things of that nature.
[00:14:44] Parish: He goes, but at any time, someone who is in charge of that, so to speak, could leave, and if those cultures and those values aren’t really embedded within the organization, they may leave too. So, my goal is to make sure they are embedded, to make sure that we are really living up to our values, living up to the words behind our values, and that, if I or anybody else leaves the organization, that they are there, they’re grounded and full Stack continues on representing those values.
[00:15:12] Amy: Parish, that is a beautiful sentiment, and I wish you every success, thank you so much for being a guest on including you today.
[00:15:19] Parish: Thank you, Amy. I appreciate it.