Techtonica With Michelle Glauser

Posted on Tuesday, May 7, 2024
This week we change gears a little bit to chat with Michelle Glauser, Founder and CEO of Techtonica, about starting and running an organization that helps underrepresented folks train for and obtain jobs in technology.


Mandi Walls: Welcome to Page It to The Limit, a podcast where we explore what it takes to run software in production successfully. We cover leading practices used in the software industry to improve the system reliability and the lives of the people supporting those systems. I’m your host, Mandi Walls. Find me at LNXCHK on Twitter.

Mandi Walls: Alright. Welcome back folks. I a different kind of guest with me this week With me is Michelle Glosser. She is the founder of Tectonic and she’s going to tell us all about that. Michelle, welcome to the show.

Michelle Glauser: Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here. I’m Michelle Glaser. I’m the founder and CEO of Tectonica. It’s a nonprofit. I started eight years ago on Sunday.

Mandi Walls: Oh my goodness. Happy anniversary.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, right. I can’t believe it. Yeah. Basically what we do is we offer tech training with stipends and laptops and mentors and job placement or job search support to women and non-binary adults with low incomes. And the whole reason I started it is because I made the transition into software engineering and it was so empowering and I then saw that there was a huge lack of diversity in software engineering, and I just said, I want to pay forward this empowerment that I have experienced too, people who are missing.

Mandi Walls: That’s amazing. How do you find people, do you have community outreach programs or,

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, I mean we started out even before the anniversary on Sunday, I was offering free workshops in the Tenderloin in San Francisco and I was wanting to help people learn those skills and as we did that we found more people who were like, oh, a full-time program would be amazing. And so that’s when I officially started, we’re fiscally sponsored, so that’s when we became fiscally sponsored.

Mandi Walls: Okay. How did the funding model work? A couple of these programs that have sort of come and gone. When I worked at Chef, we worked with the ADA folks in Seattle.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, ADA’s probably the most similar to Techtonica, until recently anyway, our sponsorship or our whole business model has basically been finding companies who want to hire our graduates and having them sponsor them through the program. So that has worked quite nicely in the past, but the last few years there have been so many layoffs and people have hiring freezes. People are only focused on hiring senior engineers. It’s been a lot harder. So we’ve kind of been trying to diversify where we’re getting revenue from.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, no, I mean we’ve heard that too. It’s been hard for junior folks to find work. It’s harder for folks who they have less experience and they have a narrower view or a sort of narrower experience with tech in general, so it’s harder for

Michelle Glauser: Them to find out work. They getting laid off too. Yeah,

Mandi Walls: Absolutely.

Michelle Glauser: We’ve had a lot of graduate face layoffs or they weren’t able to be converted after their placements, and as a result we started a seeker program for people who are looking for jobs and when you’re looking for a job and it’s just so terrible and long and you have no motivation or accountability to anyone, we were like, let’s basically have them be checking in with each other and give them a schedule of things that they should be reviewing and just try to provide some kind of infrastructure for that terrible experience.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, yeah, it’s definitely hard and it does feel, I think for a lot of folks, very lonely.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, exactly.

Mandi Walls: It’s hard when you get laid off to not take it personally, even if it wasn’t right, if your whole team was let go, it’s not you. Right. But yeah, so much of that has been impacting folks the past couple of years. So talk to us about the program. What do you offer? How does it work for folks who are looking for this kind of opportunity?

Michelle Glauser: Where do I even start? It’s a six month program.

Mandi Walls: Oh, that’s amazing. Okay.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, the application process is kind of ridiculously long, but we just really want to make sure people are ready and we’ve always tried to make sure that we are still beginner friendly. So there’s a lot of workshops and study groups that go into that to make sure that people are up to speed. And then once they’re in, we get them a mentor. They have daily check-ins, and then they have code challenges and buddies to work with and they’re introduced to our community of 800 technical people who are happy to answer questions and they start building projects. And then on Fridays we have project review where they show the product they built that week. Yeah, it’s really fun actually. We all cheer each other on both verbally and in the Zoom chat and then they just basically build on those skills until they can build a final project. And then we have interviews with any companies that have sponsored and we match them and say, you’re going to this company hooray. And then the last month is prep for either whichever placements they got or their job search. And after that we do weekly check-ins with them and they either have started that placement and they’re supposed to do that for a thousand hours, so another six months. So overall it’s a year transition into the role.

Mandi Walls: Are your programs focused on a particular tech stack or this is kind of more self-motivated? How do you help? Yeah,

Michelle Glauser: We are full stack JavaScript and we honestly thought a lot about how passive education traditionally is in America. And we’re like, yeah, we don’t want that. Especially because when you get into the workplace, no one’s going to say That’s not how works. We’re moving our code stuck to React. So let me give you a lecture on React, like no one’s going to do that. So what we tried to do, if you look at our GitHub curriculum is make resources available and an outline of objective that, and then they have the projects where they put that new knowledge to use, but we try not to do straight up lecturing.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, I can imagine for adults, adult education is hard. It’s harder than especially younger kids, but even middle school, high school, and I taught undergrad for a while and just like, yeah, you’re paying to be here man, but I’m not here to motivate you. You have to receive this. But it’s a different model for adult education for folks. You want them to be motivated and kind of self-driving,

Michelle Glauser: Right? So that’s one of the things we’re looking for during the application process. But I will say also as an adult, often our participants have had other careers and they already have a lot going on in their lives. They have kids or they just got out of the military or they need to move soon. And so there’s a lot going on with our target population and so we try to introduce them to teams that actually care and managers who actually check in on you, which is a little off putting for a lot of people at first because they’re like, why are you asking me this? How honest should I be? And we just try to help them understand, tech is not going to be easy after you graduate from this program and you’re going to need to build those relationships to be successful. We do a lot of emotional intelligence things too.

Mandi Walls: It seems super important I think especially now after the pandemic where we’ve got a lot of folks who are out of practice for how to

Michelle Glauser: Get along.

Mandi Walls: And as I talked to other folks who work with younger kids, and I see this even in some of the community stuff that I do, they’ve been home alone for so long during the pandemic need a little bit more instruction on first jobs and norms.

Michelle Glauser: If you’re making a career transition from a blue collar thing to white collar, it’s so different. You are expecting your manager to be the dictator and they’re going to tell you everything and you just have to do that exact thing and you can’t complain and you can’t give any feedback. And so we’re like, here’s how you give feedback. If there is an issue you should probably talk to someone about. And it’s okay to say, huh, what if we did this instead? So those are all things that were hard for me when I transitioned into the industry and I was like, you got to cover all of this.

Mandi Walls: Oh yeah, totally. Especially for folks who are coming in from other places. I think one of our interns or originally at Chef from Ada had maybe been, she owned an ice cream parlor or something was coming in from far tangential really, and it was kind an amazing transition there. As you’ve worked with folks over the years, do you have favorite success stories of people that you’ve led to tech into great things?

Michelle Glauser: Yeah. One that to mind is we had one participant who just really was struggling, but as is quite normal for people, didn’t really tell anyone at first and we kind of were like, Hey, what’s going on? And we found out that she was facing some domestic abuse and needed to go to a shelter and was trying to take care of her kids during the program and it was just a lot going on in the middle of also trying to make this huge career transition. So we tried to support the best we could and she ended up graduating with flying colors and going to a company and staying there for several years and then she became a board member and an employee eventually. I just love her story because I think she went through so much and was just the most resilient person I’ve ever seen. Oh

Mandi Walls: Yeah.

Michelle Glauser: And we have people with similar stories, with various versions. We had one person who at the beginning just really, really lacked confidence and we always talk about imposter syndrome of course, but I don’t even know what made the difference for her. But over the space of those six months, she just blossomed and got to this point where I was like, yeah, she’s going to go far. I just love hearing from our graduates. Actually, we had an org wide meeting this week and I was just very happy to see people I hadn’t seen for a while.

Mandi Walls: Speaking of seeing people then, are you still physically focused on the Bay Area or do you get branch out?

Michelle Glauser: No, we’re nationwide now. Yeah, we went remote for the pandemic of course, and after we had figured out how to make that work, we were like, well, no reason to go back now. Especially because our team is remote now too. We have people who aren’t even in the Bay Area, so we kind of kept pushing out a new deadline to discuss if we wanted to stay remote and eventually we’re like, foreseeable future, let’s stick with this. So it’s been great actually. It obviously has been a bit of a shift, but it’s been really fun to see people from random states and being like, how did you find out about that?

Mandi Walls: Yeah, how do they find out about you then?

Michelle Glauser: All over? Often it’s through friends though. A friend of a friend who works in tech heard of someone who went to Techtonica or something, but yeah, people have said social media occasionally we’ve posted in a Latinx newspaper or something and they’ve heard of it there or from podcasts, so lots of different ways.

Mandi Walls: That’s excellent. So then the companies that you partner with, what do you think they’re looking for when they come to you to do a sponsorship or find some interns or employees?

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, I think they mostly care about building more diverse teams. I mean obviously every team and company is a little bit different, but they generally do care about equity and inclusion and want to do more than just have a more diverse team. But they recognize that they can’t build a whole Techtonica program themselves and it would be easier just to partner with a program that’s already doing the work. So yeah, they often want to know about our demographics ahead of time and what exactly will they be covering. And when we tell them, well during the last month, they’ll be covering whatever you want them to. They like that a lot because if they have a different tech stack, they’re like, oh, great. So they will still get a chance to learn Python for four weeks before they join us

Mandi Walls: The last month. That’s kind of interesting. So you have a prescribed curriculum for the first five months and then the last month is with the companies that you’re partnering with, do they help you put that together or prescribe what they want?

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, we require they fill out this whole doc of what they want people to review and things that they want them to learn in that time. We have occasionally had companies be like, don’t do anything, just relax. We’ll train you when you get here. But we always say people feel better if they know what they’re about to get into, so it would at least be nice if you listed the things they could read up on them or something.

Mandi Walls: Now does that include languages and tooling? Are you helping folks get into modern tooling and version control systems and all that kind of stuff too?

Michelle Glauser: Oh, definitely. Yeah. They all are well versed in Git. Of course, they’re going to run into messy situations later anyway, but you try to make sure that they’re as prepared as possible. And then during the prep month, we try to find someone who’s in the community who’s already familiar with whichever tech stack they’re going into, and we kind them together. Sometimes there’s already a whole channel for that. We have a Java channel because a lot of people have moved into Java roles and sometimes it’s something no one’s ever touched before, and that’s a great adventure.

Mandi Walls: I have been surprised by the sort of reemergence of Java as a thing that people are doing. I guess it never really totally faded away, but it seems like it has.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, the first time we placed someone into a Java role, I was like, wait, really? That seemed like such an old school giant corporation language to me. And I just was like, okay. But yeah, I think it was always there. You were saying it was just kind of in the background, not super cool, but definitely still there. And interview prep books were always kind of in Java, right?

Mandi Walls: I think they kind of lean that way for a very long time.

Michelle Glauser: So I feel like even if you never formally learn Java, you need to be able to recognize things for stuff like that.

Mandi Walls: Absolutely. It’s there somewhere, are the organizations that you work with, do they tend to be smaller or larger or do you have a sort of a generic

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, we usually have had companies that are over 200 people. We’ve had some that are global and huge. It just kind of depends. We have had one that was, I think it was around 75 people. We only went into that comfortably because we talked to them about what that would look like. You’re not just hiring a junior cause you can’t afford anyone. You’re actually going to provide them with support, right?

Mandi Walls: Yes.

Michelle Glauser: And they work great. So we kind of just try to see who might be interested and then figure out who the decision makers are and talk to them and try to get them on board and go from there.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, no, that’s excellent. These programs are so interesting. I came up this sort of basic, I have an undergraduate degree in computer science, so I came up sort of the more traditional

Michelle Glauser: Traditional route,

Mandi Walls: Although I feel like I talked to more people in tech that have English degrees than people that have computer science degrees, but

Michelle Glauser: You’re speaking to one. Okay.

Mandi Walls: You and a bunch of my coworkers definitely. It’s just such a different experience. A lot of us went through, it feels like it would be a big challenge, but also very empowering I think for a lot of folks who are coming from a non-traditional background or like you said earlier, changing into tech or coming, especially for folks who are returning out of the military or out of incarceration, just trying to restart their lives in a different direction.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, it is. But I also kind of love that more and more people have accepted the non-traditional route. It feels like it is really making the opportunity more available for people, which actually is kind of another reason I started Techtonica. I’m not someone who wants to reinvent the wheel, and there were already so many programs, but I talked to many of them and I was like, what scholarships do you have? How are you making this available to people of color? I asked all these questions and no one was really breaking down all of those barriers. So eventually I was like, well, I guess I’ll do it.

Mandi Walls: So glad that you did. Yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately, so many of the code school bootcamp programs have been sort of clad in controversy, I guess we could say, especially some here. I live on the East coast and some here in the New York area have been particularly not good over the years, and that’s been a real challenge I think for folks who depended on that or feel like they got, I don’t know if swindled is the right word, but certainly not what they were expecting.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, I will say one question we get asked sometimes is, what is Techtonica’s growth plan? How are you going to quickly expand to serve more people? And honestly, we haven’t prioritized that. And I think a big part of it is seeing those other programs fail because I have seen multiple organizations, some that seemed a little more caring about the cause than others implode when they tried to go too fast. And I just was like, I think we need to focus on this and making it as amazing as possible first, and then we can see about that. So we’ve stayed relatively small and occasionally when we talk to people they’re like, how come we’ve never heard of you? And I’m like, because we’re like 2000 software engineers who know nothing about marketing. We dunno what we’re doing. But yeah, it’s kind of built this grassroots feel in the community and that’s really nice to feel like people can be involved and really be making a difference.

Mandi Walls: Absolutely. And that seems really nice actually, to have not only your cohort or whatever the folks that were helping you through the program, but then have the rest of this community that’s very tied tightly together if you have that many, I’ll say my undergrad institution did not have 800 computer science graduates in our network for sure. So it was a tiny school. So better off there. Absolutely. What is the future? I know things are hard right now. We’ve watched another couple DEI focus programs have been collapsing or imploding or dissolving into drama. I’m not even really sure where some of these are headed. We’ve got some bad news the past couple of weeks out of a couple of them. What’s in the future for Techtonica?

Michelle Glauser: It’s such a hard time. I absolutely recognize that the industry and kind of, just society in general go through these cycles of really caring and then being like, I have other things to do. And so I think we’re just at that part of the cycle where companies are like, yeah, yeah, we’ll get to that later. Right now we’re trying to survive. We just had three layoffs and we’re trying to make sure there’s some amount of revenue or something. And so they’re not prioritizing DEI. And we definitely have felt that, in fact, it wasn’t until a year and a few months ago that we had our first cohort where we weren’t able to place everyone. And that was really hard because even though we always say placements are not guaranteed, there were some people who were really disappointed. So we have felt that for sure. It’s not surprising that people haven’t made it.

Michelle Glauser: It’s been a struggle for several years, partly because we have remained small. We’ve been able to slowly hack our way through it. And what has most recently happened is we didn’t have any new funding for eight months, and we set a specific date for the team to talk about what that meant for Techtonica longterm. And that date was last week, April 17th. So we got together and we had just finally had some funding come in and basically I said, I think we can do this. It’s not enough to get us through the whole next cohort, but I think we can manage that if we want to offer another cohort or not. Do you plan for? And the team really rallied and said, let’s do it. How about we offer a shorter cohort this time? And then we came up with ideas for how else we could raise money, which I just love. It feels like such a growth mindset and that flexibility and pivoting of the team. I love that. So we are going to be offering some paid workshops. We just came up with a plan to charge tuition for the people who can’t afford it. We wouldn’t normally be eligible for our program. And we have a few things in the works that we’re hoping will help us at least get past that finish and then we can assess again if we’re going to make it. So yeah.

Mandi Walls: Have you thought about riding the AI wave and teaching folks to be prompt engineers or any of that stuff?

Michelle Glauser: I mean, we have expanded that part of the curriculum a little bit, I think. But as far as specialization, we haven’t done that yet. We’ve talked about it a few times. Maybe we should. It’s such a popular thing for everyone to focus on right now, right?

Mandi Walls: Yeah, we hear it everywhere. So if folks wanted to reach out to learn more, recommend they talk to their HR department. If they’re interested in maybe having someone from Techtonica join their team in the future, how do they go about that process?

Michelle Glauser: Our website is Tech is like tech industry. So I would go check that out. There’s a page completely for sponsors about how that works, which we’re expanding a little bit right now. And they can download our sponsor info sheet there and share it with someone. They can fill out the form saying that they’re interested and we’ll reach out and set up a call with them. But honestly, the people who do that are our heroes. It is the warm contacts and the internal advocates who make these partnerships happen every time. And so when people are like, well, can you just reach out to more companies? We can, but cold outreach doesn’t really do much. We appreciate that so much. If people want to do that. And of course we’re on all the social media sites, but there’s even a volunteer form on the website if they would like to volunteer. And then they’ll receive an invitation to the select community if they want to be one of the people in our tech help channel offering answers to questions.

Mandi Walls: Perfect. We’ll put that in the show notes so folks can find that. I’m also looking at your main page right now. You’ve got, there’s mock interviews, there’s a JavaScript study group, there’s a lot of other stuff going on out there. Are they open to everyone?

Michelle Glauser: The study groups are for basically anyone. Usually it’s people who are interested in applying to the program. Sometimes grads join those, but it’s just a place for them to get together and do some studying. And then the mock interviews that we’re doing right now are specifically for people in our seeker program who are in need of interview practice. We do a lot of those just because it’s so easy to put off actually applying to things because you’re like, I don’t quite feel ready for interviewing yet, but if you’ve been committed to doing five mock interviews in a couple of weeks, it forces you into that mindset of like, alright, it’s always going to be terrible and I just need to do it.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, right. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I still dread the thought of a coding interview or any of that stuff. I’m like, there’s just no way.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah. Every time someone’s like, I don’t feel ready. I’m like, you never will.

Mandi Walls: You never will!

Michelle Glauser: Never. Sorry.

Mandi Walls: There’s always going to be something absolutely perfect. Well, this has been great. I love these kind of programs. I think they’re so special and they’re so powerful for reaching out to people who wouldn’t have thought they could be in technology or hadn’t sort of had the opportunity to pursue that earlier in their adult lives. So I think these programs are great and I’m so glad you’re doing this work and I hope our folks out there are, if you’re interested in applying or if you’ve got resources at work that could reach out and be a sponsor,

Michelle Glauser: Or if you want to donate yourself, donate a website too.

Mandi Walls: Perfect. If you’ve got your Benevity program or whatever your corporation, you get those matching dollars. Right. That’d be great to help everybody out. Well, Michelle, thank you. This has been an excellent, I love this conversation. So fun.

Michelle Glauser: Yeah, this was fun.

Mandi Walls: Thanks for joining us. We wish everybody else out there an uneventful week, and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Mandi Walls: That does it for another installment of Pager to the Limit. We’d like to thank our sponsor, PagerDuty for making this podcast possible. Remember to subscribe to this podcast. If you like what you’ve heard, you can find our show notes at page it to the, and you can reach us on Twitter at page it to the limit using the number two. Thank you so much for joining us, and remember, uneventful days are beautiful days.

Show Notes

Additional Resources


Michelle Glauser

Michelle Glauser (she/her)

Michelle Glauser is the founder and CEO of Techtonica, a nonprofit that offers tech training with stipends, laptops, mentors, and job placement or job search support to women and non-binary adults seeking economic empowerment. Michelle counts herself lucky to have transitioned into software engineering and cares greatly about helping underestimated people enjoy the same empowerment she experienced working in tech. She loves looking at old houses, reading, eating chocolate, and going on walks with her fluffy black dog, Maggie.


Mandi Walls

Mandi Walls (she/her)

Mandi Walls is a DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty. For PagerDuty, she helps organizations along their IT Modernization journey. Prior to PagerDuty, she worked at Chef Software and AOL. She is an international speaker on DevOps topics and the author of the whitepaper “Building A DevOps Culture”, published by O’Reilly.