Jake Hsu

“My dad, who is an engineer, came here as an immigrant from Taiwan in 1973. He went to college to earn his master's degree in economics and was trying to be an economist when he graduated from his program in 1974, but he couldn't get a job.

He had a family here, my mom and I, so he needed a job. At the time, the country wasn't hiring economists with funny accents from overseas. 

He was looking everywhere for a job and ended up landing his first job at Ford Motor Company in Detroit. The funny story is they didn't hire him into any business field, they hired him into IT as a system operator. 

He was hired to feed punch cards on the machine and learn how to program. The amazing thing is Ford ended up training him to become an engineer. 

He then moved on to become a project manager in Ford’s satellite division, which brought our family to Silicon Valley.

My dad left after thirteen years and went to IBM. He became a VP and worked his way up to be an executive. The reason I bring up my dad’s story is that if you look at my dad's background, there's nothing about where he grew up, where he went to school, where he worked before, none of those things would have predicted that he could be an engineer. 

The biggest thing that changed his life was Ford giving him that first shot and hiring him for a job he was not qualified to do yet. They were able to take somebody who was an immigrant and turn him into an American success story. 

Now, think about the second order effects of that. I grew up in Silicon Valley, the son of an engineer and today his son is a tech executive who is hiring and creating more engineers. 

If you think about just the generational effects of that one opportunity and what that can do, and just how much economic potential that provides for the country, it’s powerful. 

What spoke to me about Catalyte, when I came here, is every person I met who was coming through the program reminded me of my dad.

Every person who's going through this amazing, life changing transformation at Catalyte is on that same journey. It doesn't matter where they come from or if anyone in their family has been to college before. They may be coming from some real hardship and generational poverty, but in a few years their life is going to be changed. They’re going to go from where they are, to making a six-figure salary in just a few years. 

Then, think about what's going to happen to their kids and families. That, for me, is the real personal touchstone of what makes Catalyte so special.

Within a decade, I've seen thousands of people who have, because of the first job opportunity, ended up creating amazing pathways for themselves.

Baltimore is an important part of Cataylte’s DNA. Mike Rosenbaum, the founder of Catalyte, grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and wanted to locate the company in a post-industrial city.

He was looking for a city that had a lot of traditional industry that had left, and Baltimore, which at one point had a thriving steel mill, auto and shipping industries, fit that vision.

He also wanted to put the company in Baltimore because he was looking to hire people who may have been working in a steel factory, shipping, logistics or the food and retail industries.

We don't really advertise this on our website, but we are a mission-oriented company. When you look at how we point our technology and what we do, it's extremely focused on economic mobility. 

The average person who comes to join Catalyte isn't a college graduate or a young person, the average person who comes here is about 31 years old and was earning $12 an hour for their last job. These are people coming from all walks of life who are looking for a second career or a career change. 

We wanted to prove that we could find and source local Baltimoreans who have incredible potential and aptitude and be able to rapidly retrain them and upskill them into software engineers. 

A key part of what we're looking at behind the scenes is how do we continually discover talent that didn't get these opportunities, that are locked out of the current job market, who don't have the resume, pedigree, or professional experience to even have a seat at the table to get an interview. 

This isn't a job training program, this mission is centered around creating the next generation of engineering leaders by creating the next generation of CIOs and CTOs.

Many companies haven’t adopted this method of hiring due to organizational inertia. Most people are hired to run a process that was already established, so the hardest thing is figuring out how to change the system from within.

This past year has been a big year where we, as a society, are starting to wake up to the systemic problems. Whether you look at racism, income inequalities, or the opportunity gap--- these are systemic issues. 

Catalyte’s mission is to change or redesign that system from within, which takes a handful of early adopters, people who really champion this mission, to amplify its success by proving it repeatedly.

I believe you can learn something from everyone. One of the things I’ve consistently done for the last fifteen years, is to try to meet one new person every week. 

I've had lots of interesting conversations with Uber drivers or people I randomly bump into. I always learn something by putting myself in someone else's shoes and listening to their story. 

I think that mindset, taking the initiative to learn, is very relevant for Catalyte’s upskilling idea. Many people have the misconception that people are either naturally brilliant, or they're not. They're either geniuses or they're not. They're smart, or they're not.

It's not those things, it's a mindset that you take that affects your pace of learning.

We're putting people through software engineering training that is faster than you'd have to go through for a college degree and to do that, it takes incredible drive, motivation and will. 

One of the secrets of why we are able to find talent where other people don't, is that there are many times, for one reason or another, a person just wakes up, and is ready to make a change. 

And if they’re ready to change their mindset, they're ready to change their life.”

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