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Jon Chan: Including LGBTQ+ Youth in the Future of Tech

Jon Chan: Including LGBTQ+ Youth in the Future of Tech

Entrepreneur Jon Chan next to Spiffy the Interplanetary Journalist

Howdy, I’m Spiffy, an Interplanetary Journalist and entrepreneur enthusiast. I’m talking to Jon Chan from Out in Tech U. The Tech industry has always been competitive and often exclusionary especially in times like this. That’s why Out in Tech U is here to create a bridge for LGBTQ+ people starting their careers.

SPIFFY: Hi Jon! I’m excited to talk, I spoke with an Out in Tech board member Toby Hervey earlier. Tell me – What does Out in Tech U do?

Jon: Hi Spiffy! We're working at Out in Tech U to create a new generation of LGBTQ+ professionals and leaders in tech. We think the best way to do that is to help LGBTQ+ youth build relationships with people who work in technology now and show them what their futures can look like. By connecting queer people across different generations, we can help make sure LGBTQ+ voices are heard as technology transforms the world.

SPIFFY: Ohh you’re creating a bridge to include youth in the tech world. What about your experience motivated you to do this?

Jon: I'm someone who got into tech without a lot of help: I'm a self-taught developer and I didn't get a degree or go to school to learn how to code. Being in tech has completely changed my life. I was lucky that I had the right opportunities to learn on my own when I was in my early teens, but not everyone else gets those opportunities, especially queer youth. My work with Out in Tech U is about making that opportunity a bit easier to get – like I wish I had when I was younger.

SPIFFY: Of course! Young people can only change the world if they’re afforded the opportunity. And how exactly will inclusion make a more equitable world?

Jon: Technology is completely transforming the way the world works at a rapid pace. With that change comes a lot of opportunity: new careers, exciting innovations, and big challenges. Historically, marginalized people and minorities are left behind when big changes in the world happen. By connecting existing queer technologists with aspiring ones today, we can ensure queer folks can better access these opportunities and help shape a better world with tech.

SPIFFY: What milestones have you reached in the process of achieving this mission?

Jon: Last year, we had our largest class ever: over 200 LGBTQ+ youth and tech professionals in our mentorship program spread over a dozen cities. This past season marks the third year that Out in Tech U has operated, and we've organized over 75 events during that time. This is all thanks to the incredible volunteer team that we've put together, many of whom were previous mentors or mentees of our program.

SPIFFY: That’s a big impact! And I’m sure your alums will pass on the torch as well. What is a failure you’ve faced in your founding journey? What did you learn from it?

Jon: As Out in Tech U grew rapidly, trying to scale our efforts as a completely volunteer-led organization was hard. People are passionate about our mission, but it's hard work that takes a lot of energy. As people came in and out of volunteering because they moved, took on a new job, or simply needed a break, people started burning out and we struggled to keep going. Getting teams the right support, tools, and rest they need is absolutely essential - and it's essential they're equipped early. 

SPIFFY: Wise words – speaking of wise words, what is something unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently?

Jon: Last week I had a conversation with a friend who convinced me we basically eat dessert for breakfast in America: pancakes, waffles, cereal, so on. It explains why I wasn't a big fan of breakfast as a kid - I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I've since started exploring with different breakfasts and my favorite is Japan's: miso soup, salted salmon, and rice with a warm egg!

SPIFFY: Yummmm. My favorite breakfast is the Bolo-Bolo fruits on planet Fanoolu!

Jon is an Engineering Manager at Stack Overflow, the world's largest online community of developers. He is also the founder of Out in Tech U, which has connected over 700 LGBTQ+ youth with tech professionals in its mentorship program over the last three years.