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The professional life and aspirations of Lance Lucas exemplify the adage that it is not where you start from that matters, but where you end up.
Lucas is founder and CEO of Baltimore’s Digit All Systems (DAS). While accurate, it is coldly-clinical to simply describe Digit All System as “a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to bridging the digital divide and bringing the benefits of expanding technology to everyone.”
Lucas created DAS, http://www.digitallsystems.org, in 1998 to transform the future of overlooked, underappreciated, and often at-risk minority youth in Baltimore. He provides them with the opportunity to learn programing languages and trains them to earn programming certification for entry into high-demand well-paid 21st Century information technology jobs in public, private, and nonprofit organizations.
Those steps says Lucas transform the teens and young men and women into role models whose presence bolsters communities and influences their contemporaries.
Digit All Systems trained more than 10,000 and certified more than 500 clients most of whom are black or Hispanic, and half of whom are women. In 2009. DAS took overr the rights to Maryland’s largest computerized testing center from CompUSA after that company went out of business.
DAS provides courses daily, evenings, and on weekends in Comp TIA Certification, Adobe Certification, HTML Programming, A+ computer technicians, C++ Language, Microsoft Certification, and basic computing. Courses are taught at Digit All’s Baltimore headquarters and other locations.
In Baltimore, DAS centers are located at 200 Lexington Street and 210 East Lexington Street. In 2014, DAS will open a certification training center in the Veterans Enterprise Service and Training Group in Washington D.C.
Fall and Rise
When Lucas tells his personal story to his youthful clients, he gains the credibility to show them that being poor or making mistakes does not derail success as an adult
Long story short, during high school Lucas was a budding entrepreneur with the right drive and the wrong idea. He was caught creating and selling fake concert and event tickets to his classmates, and expelled from high school.
In response, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve at 17 and attended night school to get his high school diploma. At Coppin State, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Science, Lucas says he became interested in information technology. Soon he was fixing and building computers, and told Coppin’s Chairperson of Social Sciences, Dr. John L. Hudgins, someday he wanted to share what he learned with young people. His teacher told him “don’t wait, just do it.”
The proof is in the testing and jobs
Today DAS has many success stories. In 2010 Lucas met and enrolled twin brothers Tracy and Trayvon Leonard and their friend, Destiny Thompson, all of whom were living in a homeless shelter.
The trio completed a DAS three-month training program and gained A+ Certification. The Computing Technology Industry Association, (CompTIA), which developed and sponsors A+ Certification, is a global association of IT industry companies sharing the goal of standardized qualifications for IT pros. A+ is a vendor-neutral certification that certifies the competency of computer industry service professionals and a must for those who wants an internationally recognized credential.
In 2014, Trayvon, now 22-years-old, whose first job was teaching A+ in high school and building computers, works at the Digital Harbor Foundation. Tracy is an instructor at DAS, and Thompson is a senior technician at a local Staples.
Lucas says graduates of the Digit All program belong to “untapped populations” with a tremendous upside. At least 85 percent of each class of Digit All’s trainees receive A+ Certification, despite the fact that many enter the program with a reading level of between fourth and eighth grade. By contrast, he says the A+ Certification rate of graduates for-profit IT schools and community college programs is 20 percent.
Certified IT personnel are in demand in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Some IT leaders call the tristate area the Silicon Valley of Cybersecurity, with Cyber Command and the NSA at Fort Meade, plus a host of federal agencies and contractors.
DAS succeeds because it brings IT education to potential students on their level. It has created a simplified, but comprehensive curriculum, focused on job creation, economic development, and entrepreneurship, that Lucas says has the potential to “propel the organic growth of a professional population in local neighborhoods.”
A continuous proselytizer, last summer, Lucas told children attending the Black Engineer Technology Awareness Program at Morgan State University, about education and job opportunities in STEM. His presentation is in sync with DAS work with 60 Baltimore schools and placement of computer labs in every Baltimore public housing project.
DAS is getting noticed. In a November 2013 article on Technical.ly.com, Daniel Atzmon, a policy analyst with Baltimore’s Mayor’s Office of Information Technology said that initially DAS “certification numbers really seemed too good to be true.” But, “Once I started meeting the teachers he [Lucas] works with, I became a believer.”
The key, says Lucas, “is that kids want to do something positive but there are no pure paths to something positive. It is our responsibility to help them find the way. It is literally a dynamic shift to present them with hard and soft skills using a holistic perspective.”
On average, a total of 50-to-55 students are instructed annually in the DAS classrooms, and about 52 are taught in the Baltimore Public School system. The 85 percent certification rate comprises both DAS and public students.
Generally, students coming to the Digit All system offices are enrolled in a two-month program. In the public schools, the program takes from one semester to a year to complete as it cannot be taught all day every day for eight weeks. Instructing older non-high school students means there are also no behavior management issues.
Digit All has three full-time and 21 part-time instructors. Lucas says that DAS once hired outside techs as trainers, but after he had a critical mass of certified graduates they were hired as instructors. DAS pays instructors between $20 and $25 an hour.
When fundraising is completed, Lucas intends to start a cloud computing certification program for 15 to 20 students using servers donated by the federal government. According to Wanted Analytics, a business intelligence company, the average salary range for cloud computing jobs is $90,650 to $110,800.
In 2013, Analyst firm IDC reported that “public and private spending in cloud computing will increase exponentially over the next few years, resulting in an available jobs boost of nearly 14 million positions worldwide.”
Another Digit All program is Tech Mentors. It introduces Chief Information Officers, Chief Executive Officers, and Digit All graduates working in IT to each new class of students.
Technology and content mesh
Content may become obsolete, but certification never will be. Lucas says there is a symbiotic relationship between technicians and content creators. As DAS trains techs, they will increase the number of individuals who will create digital apps, programs, and companies.
That is why DAS also runs an Adobe certification testing center and teaches Linux. Lucas says, “We want people who are actually working in the industry. Learning code is the start. A tech needs a minimum of three years of intense training before programming.”
DAS operates nationally recognized, industry-specific certifications and is the only public testing facility in Baltimore City, and uses seven testing platforms including Certiport, Thompson Prometric, Castle Worldwide, PAN, Pearson Vue, the Electronic Technicians Association, and Comira.
DAS A+ certification grads have a variety of jobs. They include a 15-year-old paid intern at cyber security firm Cyber Point, a 17-year-old in the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, and four in their early 20s with IT tech or tech instructor jobs at Boeing, Constellation Energy, and Lockheed Martin.
DAS places, says Lucas, 96 percent of its certification holders in jobs, and 82 percent of them work in information technology or computing-related sectors.
Running Digit All is good for the soul, but won’t pay the mortgage or make Lucas rich. He earns $7,500 annually from the nonprofit, but makes his living with DAS Chief Operating Officer, Joseph Sutton III, operating Locus Technology which provides industry specific software for remote access support to oil, welding, and drilling companies.
At least 95 percent of DAS is funded by service delivery says Lucas “we earn our money.” DAS supporters, partners, and sponsors include Lockheed Martin, Verizon, the Abell Foundation, BAE Systems, T. Rowe Price, Keller Professional Services, Urban Video Game Academy, and BGivecorps, which is a funding source for charities.
DAS also recently entered into a partnership with Life Journey, a Baltimore firm trying to spark youth interest in science, technology, engineering, and math-related skills and careers.
Lucas is rarely off-the-clock. Besides Digit All Systems, he is a Maryland governor appointed member of the Maryland Offshore Wind Development Business Development Advisory Committee, and president of both the State of Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce.
Ever the innovator, Lucas has novel ideas to attract attention to IT education. Last summer, he launched a Baltimore program, Guns for Laptops, to try to make city streets safer and broaden educational opportunities. More than 200 news outlets covered the exchange, and 57 guns were traded for laptops. He will try it again in 2014.
What’s next for DAS and Lucas? He dreams of replicating what began in Baltimore in other areas including the state of Mississippi, and Chicago. Lucas is not naïve however about the difficulty of taking a local success into new territory. He says the key is moving carefully and strategically using DAS Baltimore as his model and guide.
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