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Wednesday November 22, 2017 4:39 pm

Technology Access Foundation Students Visit Capital One to Talk Tech Careers

Shortly after arriving at Capital One’s downtown Seattle offices, the TAF students were led on a workspace tour by local associates including Mike Bailey (foreground), Natalie Griffin (fourth from right), Perris Davis (third from right) and Alison Wyllie (second from right.)

As I waited in the lobby at Capital One in Seattle, a group of well-dressed, inquisitive 13-year-olds arrived - joking, laughing, all while keeping their voices down in order to mind their manners. I eavesdropped a bit to get a sense for what they were feeling, and it was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. They were here at Capital One to learn about what it takes to succeed in a career in the fast-growing world of tech.

I met with Steven Thorpe, a Capital One PR representative, who explained the company’s position - Capital One believes that tech is not only the future for business in general, but it considers itself a technology company first. This may be a surprise to those who traditionally think of Capital One as a financial-services company, but it makes sense. Between keeping customer data safe from prying eyes on the web, to the development of new products with a mobile-first mentality, to the machine learning future that is fast approaching - Capital One is ready to face it all head on even with the competitive landscape of securing talent. There are more jobs in tech, especially here in the Seattle area, than can be filled.

And this takes us back to the kids - a group visiting from Seattle’s Technology Access Foundation. TAF aims to equip students of color for success in college and in life through focusing on STEM education and supportive relationships. This particular group of kids came equipped with questions and a willingness to learn everything they could over the course of the three-hour experience.

We took the elevator up to SeaLab – one of Capital One’s tech innovation spaces within the office - where everything was happening, and it was immediately apparent that this wasn’t a hastily thrown together day as far as Capital One was concerned. I’ve experienced plenty of similar events, and have appeared on stage to speak to students about tech many times as an invited guest - and many times very little thought was put into what will appeal to the age group of the visitors. Here, it was the complete opposite.

During a Capital One associate panel discussion with the TAF student’s Capital One’s Zoe Yang tells the students that success requires having “a mindset about getting things done and solving problems.” At left is Tony Wilson, and on the right are Michael Walker and Sunjay Pandey.

After a brief snack and introduction session, the group was taken on a tour of the different workspaces. As I followed the group, I enjoyed the friendliness of the staff towards the TAF students - it was an environment where they felt not just encouraged to ask any questions that were on their mind, but welcome to do so as well. The kids were intrigued by the SCRUM board and methodology, they asked about working in groups vs. working alone, they wondered aloud about when you’d meet in a conference room and when you’d meet in one of the open group areas - and Capital One was there with answers so that they could understand every step of the way.

After the tour, the kids sat together to hear from Capital One’s VP of Digital Product Sunjay Pandey and local team members Tony Wilson, Zoe Yang, and Michael Walker. They described their roles within the company, discussed where the future of the tech career landscape may go, and encouraged the students to set ambitious goals and work hard to achieve them. They told the kids about work ethic, caring for customers, the importance of not taking shortcuts, and the value of education.

Capital One’s Tony Wilson (foreground, in grey shirt) and Nagkumar Arkalagud were among the Seattle associates who discussed their roles at Capital One and hosted TAF students, each 13-years-old, during a TAF onsite visit to Capital One’s downtown Seattle offices Oct. 26. With Tony and Nagkumar are, from left, Looche’ Brown and Caesar Brown.

The panel was followed by an interactive scavenger-hunt like game, which the TAF students enjoyed. During a game consisting of coding and logic to unlock a large metal safe, the students were required to use teamwork, discussion, and thinking outside of the box to win the game. The kids broke up into small teams in order to try and solve the challenge before the other groups, with the Capital One crew splitting up and joining the teams as well to help the kids work out the various questions.

Once a winner was chosen, the true team spirit came out, as one student who figured out the last puzzle wanted to make sure everyone knew that his teammate helped him get to that point - a great moment for sure. 

TAF students Loohche’ Brown and Caesar Vaughn participate in a scavenger-hunt-like game, led by Capital One Seattle associates. In the game, these and the other visiting TAF students had to use coding and logic to solve clues necessary to unlock a large metal safe.

The kids then mingled a bit more with each other and with Capital One representatives over a meal. While everyone enjoyed sandwiches and other snacks, I asked Caesar Vaughn, one of the TAF students, what his favorite part of the day was - he looked at two of his friends, and they simultaneously exclaimed “Everything!” 

There’s no doubt that the TAF students had an afternoon where they found learning to be fun, and where they were able to dream of the possibilities of a future in the tech industry. This is what the Technology Access Foundation is all about, and for this group of kids, it was mission accomplished.

Capital One Seattle Site Lead Sunjay Pandey offers advice and encouragement to TAF students during a visit to Capital One’s downtown Seattle offices Oct. 26.

I want to thank Capital One for inviting me along to observe this process and to learn more about what TAF is doing for kids here in the Seattle area. Every student should have an equal chance to learn the skills of the future, and it was refreshing to see it firsthand. Capital One sponsored my appearance at this event, but all thoughts and opinions above are my own - this was a job well done.

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