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Ars Technica on Baltimore’s Lance Lucas, beyond his laptops-for-guns event

Entrepreneur at center of debate about technology education.

lance lucas

Digit All Systems CEO Lance Lucas wants to bring tech skills and wireless to disadvantaged communities.

Photo by: Fern Shen

In July, Baltimore tech entrepreneur Lance Lucas got local headlines and national media with his laptops-for-guns exchange event.

(The story also went viral with the pro-Second Amendment people, whose online trashing of Lucas’ “Stop Shooting, Start Coding” event accounted, as far as we can tell, for a huge spike in readership for our piece about it, as well as others.)

But Lucas is up to a lot more than that gun-focused project suggests, and now the technology news and information site Ars Technica has taken a lengthy look at Lucas, his big ideas and all that may stand in between them.

Bringing wireless to poor communities. Increasing tech ed in the schools. As CEO of the non-profit Digit All Systems, Lucas “wants to give members of the city’s most disadvantaged communities the technology and life skills needed to join the state’s booming IT economy.”

But so do plenty of people.

As author Sean Gallagher explains, Lucas’ practical-minded approach for reaching that goal is at odds with those in the local tech community who disagree with his emphasis on tech certification  programs.

He’s teaching them to be “tech butlers,” declares one local tech non-profit person, who tells Gallagher that Lucas would do better to aim higher and “teach them to program.”

Others, like this commenter on Gallagher’s piece published last night, disagree:

“Tell them I said to take their snobbery and f___ off!”

The article is lengthy, but that’s in part because it’s also a primer on hotly-debated issues in technology education that are highly relevant to cities such as Baltimore. It’s also a bit of a warts-and-all profile of the charismatic, fast-talking Lucas.

Even more interesting, Gallagher talks about the gap between the city’s burgeoning tech community and its old political and government class and suggests that someone (Lucas?) needs to bridge it.

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  • Jeff

    I agree with the commenter telling the anonymous “tech butler” commenter to fuck off. I’m a developer, and believe me, there is a dearth of good tech support and ops people out there. Moreover, those functions are just as critical to the success of a company as development. I guess if they ever ventured out of the “local tech non-profit” sector then they might know that.

    • ham_snadwich

      Seriously. Programming is a noble goal, but a better immediate goal is getting people job training.

  • trueheart4life

    I believe in you Lance Lucas … Keep fighting for our children and don’t let the negative get in the way!!!

  • Lance Lucas

    Wow..Just watched Lee Daniels ” The Butler”. I feel that one of the lessons of the movie was that even though a Person can be perceived as a servant from one perception,but he also took care of his family and lived a long rich life…this existence is a far cry from living in homeless shelters, and ending up at a cemetery at to early a age..Tech support, It analyst and PC technicians may be beneath some folks but its just fine for us 90% middle class

  • cwals99

    What we are not hearing here and what the tech snobs make be referring is that tech companies are writing the education reform we have today that privatizes and cheapen our democratic education. We hear from these tech industry people that children need to use computers in classrooms because that is where the jobs are…just as we are hearing from Lucas. The truth is that we do not want our children wired in schools to the detriment of good classroom instruction and if you do not see the danger of having children looking at some form of computer screen every waking moment….you will be reading about it soon.

    First, I’d like to say YES we want computer labs in underserved communities for children to access and learn computer skills and learning tech skills is a first step to higher skills development. My concern is this….is Lance doing this to train people for work that he will benefit from? My guess is YES. That is where education proponents jump in and voice concern because it does indeed channel youth into what are lower-paying jobs when they could pursue a higher-skilled route. I think this is where the tech snobs vs tech techs are at odds.

    We have an education reform that is trying to capture our classrooms with online classes given by hand-selected people with content selected by a few. This is truly autocratic and has a goal of ending democratic education in America. It is written by the tech industry and Wall Street and it is designed to create an education tech Wall Street bubble by filling public schools with all kinds of canned education programming and selling software and hardware. Just about all academics are shouting THIS IS VERY, VERY, VERY BAD!

    Now, Lance may indeed be trying to do a good thing for a good result but he is in an industry that is now predatory and taking great public wealth from education and classrooms with great profit. There is nothing wrong with some students becoming tech techs. The pay will become lower as the market floods with workers in just a few years so I hope that students taking this route are being helped to gain more skills in college. TECH TECHS WILL SEE THEIR WAGES FALL VERY SHORTLY TO POVERTY….IT WILL NOT BE MIDDLE-CLASS. PROGRAMMING WILL.

    • GXWalsh

      I think what you (and a lot of detractors) are missing is that these jobs can be an end *or* a stepping stone. It’s like the classic “mail room” that people used to start in…some moved up and some stayed put. It just depends on personal goals and motivation. I’ve worked at companies where plenty of people have moved up through the support chain to become managers.

      • cwals99

        GXWalsh….let’s look at higher education student financial aid and where it is going. Neo-liberals are trying hard to limit low-income students to the cheaper online and career colleges for instruction. This is what O’Malley has made his entire time as Governor about as regards education policy. It is like the GI Veterans education benefit….if these veterans are directed to spend their education benefits at online and career colleges…..AND THEY ARE…..they will spend all that they are eligible for on those low-paying education outlets. THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING TO LOW-INCOME STUDENTS AS WELL. So, if a student takes the money available to him/her and spends it on these formats rather than go to a 4 year college….there will be no second chance. This is what the tech snobs are trying to say.

        Gathering experience in after-school and community programs should eliminate the need for these career college/online job training classes. KIDS SHOULD BE GETTING THIS FOR FREE. Then, when the time comes to request financial aid for college…..we want these kids going for the 4 year degree!

        Again, what Lucas is doing is not bad…..it just has history of being self-serving. I hope he will see that is not the case here!

        • GXWalsh

          “Gathering experience in after-school and community programs should eliminate the need for these career college/online job training classes.” Right and (unless I missed something) I thought that’s what the non-profit is doing and I whole heartedly agree that 4 year schools are are the ultimate goal (full disclosure, I teach at one).

          I was unaware of any previous, self-serving actions on his part but I will defer to those more in the know.

        • River Mud

          I’m not sure if you’ve ever been inside a public school in an underprivileged area. The kind of place where students have to share textbooks, and a few students in every class probably didn’t sleep on a bed (or even couch) the night before. Students aren’t getting this type of training, and they aren’t going to (under the status quo), because when it comes down to it, there’s no political will to raise the revenue to make it happen, change the curriculum, train the teachers, etc. It’s hard to fight inertia, and when you fight it….you could even end up being wrong. Who knows if Mr. Lucas’ efforts will work for the communities he’s targeting? But it’s real. It’s an effort. It’s something where before there was close to nothing. I can’t see how it’s not commendable.

  • Lyndon Wesson

    Stay on point Lance. Everyone always has a better idea but no action. I support what you’re proposing. No matter what the technical level a person obtains….It a skill that can be developed in to an advance level.

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