Author: Tay Nishimura (Co-founder)
How do people improve?
At this very moment, our nation is at the intersection of many distinct inflection points. A medical crisis, economic volatility, and call for introspection of our racial and socioeconomic history have set the stage for drastic societal reform. As we anticipate and debate the systems that govern America tomorrow, I argue that education can no longer be overlooked, even in the context of criminal justice.
While incoming personnel undergo months of specialized training, there is often little attention and priority given to helping service members transition out. By increasing accessibility of education within prisons, our veterans will reenter society with marketable skills, enabling us to reduce recidivism which is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. Service members are already exposed to the distributed yet robust nature of communication protocols from military training. We lower the barrier to learning this complex and deep subject by adopting familiar methods such as verbal reinforcement, training missions, competitive team games, and terrain modeling.
I had the opportunity to run a training mission at Rutledge State Prison in which we applied the first three layers of the OSI model to lay out a network in Fort Hood, Texas. We had bandwidth and redundancy requirements as well as specific budget constraints. Our cohort of 20, handpicked by prison staff, included four inmates with computer networking experience from their time in service. Every student was eager to participate and ask questions both in group and individual settings. They are not afraid to suggest improvements to our teaching model, point out inconsistencies, and embrace modules covering character and professionalism. Throughout my career, I have not witnessed a more focused and collaborative team.
I’ve met plenty of ambitious and highly successful individuals at Google, Amazon, Bloomberg, and CBRE, but here I am speaking about the grit it takes to double down on cards stacked against you. I am speaking about the veteran who dedicates his time to teaching others while serving a life sentence. I am speaking about rushing to aid the peers with shorter sentences to set them up for success. I saw them form a special camaraderie around the mission of creating a curriculum for cohorts to come.
A Culture of Growth
One challenge my co-founder (see his story here) and I faced early on in choosing to teach computer networking is the restrictions placed on internet access in prisons. Portions of the Network+ certification require mastery of basic system administration techniques which can only be demonstrated on live networks. Many students respond well to live demos, so we designed an interactive tool that visualizes and emulates a network. This summer, I will be building out this tool (GitHub) in a team of 4 engineers.
On top of giving back, I started the networks curriculum out of a desire to transition into Site Reliability Engineering. My visual learning style as well as exposure to paramilitary communities allowed me to tailor the content for veterans. It is our priority to find the overlap between a team member’s personal career goals and our mission; to be a steward towards the actualization of both.
Whether the subject is ethics, technology, or process, I seek teammates who question my ideas and provide their own because the impact we want to have is complex and requires many different perspectives.
Once the coursework is solidified and reviewed by industry professionals, we will open-source the entire program so that any service member from the 5 branches, active duty, reserves, or prior service can benefit for free. Working in tech can sometimes feel like a choice between profit and philanthropy, but it doesn’t need to be that way.
My belief that society would be remiss to overlook the potential of incarcerated veterans is only one example of how I express my larger belief that when we fully invest in others, they grow and reinvest.
Tay Nishimura is an aspiring Site Reliability Engineer in New York City with 5 years of industry experience as a software engineer at cutting-edge technology firms. A believer in grassroots efforts, Tay also serves as an officer for NYPD Auxiliary unit and a mentor for American Corporate Partners.