San Antonio's tech industry home to a growing variety of companies offering, in some cases, high-paying jobs and room for growth. But to make sure those career opportunities can be extended to local residents, employers say they need people with the specific skills necessary to fill unique positions. That's just one of the reasons schools and businesses are working together to build potential pipeline for the workforce.
In this episode of Commerce Street, a podcast from KENS 5, we're highlighting two companies in San Antonio that are investing in the next generation through internships -- and talking with students at one San Antonio high school about their experiences.
The students we spoke to attend CAST Tech High School, which prepares students in coding, IT, gaming, cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, business and user experience. It's an area standout for building business partnerships and pathways to STEM and STEAM careers.
Chapter one: The Companies
Shaun Edwards, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Office for Plus One Robotics, works with his colleagues to sponsor interns through a partnership with CAST Tech. Plus One Robotics is a homegrown success, offering a unique service: the company modifies industrial robots to be able to work in different ways.
"We take industrial robots you might see, like at a car factory, like at Toyota, south of town. We add brains and eyes to them and give them the ability to work in a much more dynamic environment," Edwards said. "That enabling technology is something new and cutting edge. It’s not something traditionally done, and it’s something happening right here in San Antonio."
Edwards said the company has had college interns in the past and were surprised to see the interns from CAST Tech working at a similar level, despite still being in high school.
"CAST Tech interns are equivalent to what we expected out of college, so they were able to provide tremendous value, very early on and worked with minimal oversight, so we are happy with that," Edwards said. "The students at CAST Tech are the ones that are going to go on to be engineers. For a lot of people in SA, when they want to be engineers, they don’t know they have an option to stay in San Antonio necessarily. There’s fewer engineering jobs here. And by engaging them early, we can convince them that 'hey, there’s opportunities here in San Antonio'."
Another company CAST Tech is working with is San Antonio-based DOCUmation, a technology solutions company offering IT, print and software services.
Arica Espinoza, Director of Marketing for DOCUmation, agrees with the high level of work coming from the CAST Tech interns.
"It’s so important to us to reach out to our young peers. CAST Tech is a phenomenal school and matches our values as well," Espinoza said. "So when they reached out to say hey we have some internship opportunities and wanted to see if you were interested, we jumped on it right away because we knew the students at CAST Tech were just top-notch. So it was fantastic going through that process and finding Timiera."
Chapter two: The Students
Timiera Jackson is a marketing intern at DOCUmation. She shared that her classes and experiences at CAST Tech prepared her for a hands-on internship.
"At CAST Tech there wasn’t, 'you have to do this thing'. They have career readiness but they also have college readiness, so it was really, 'what do you want to do with your life?' There was never pressure to do one thing. They opened my eyes to so many different options," Jackson said. "I had never seen myself as a marketing intern cause I didn’t think I was qualified for any type of position like that."
She says the school encourages the students to aim as high as possible.
"They want us to have our own businesses. They don't want us to just work at a business, they want us to realize we can create out own businesses. They were really focuses on entreprenuership. Like 'hey, you can have your own business. It doesn't have to be a super serious business, you can make an app or toys for kids or something," Jackson said.
"It’s definitely going to help me. I know with my generation everyone assumes we’re tech savvy, but when I went to CAST Tech I was like 'I don't know what I’m doing'. But it helped me, having that little knowledge, even though I don't really remember computer science, but it's in my brain," Jackson said. "I'm not sure how I know, and I probably wouldn't be able to write it down, but somehow, it's just wired in my brain."
Meanwhile, at Plus One Robotics, Timiera's fellow CAST Tech student, Thomas Gossman, is also interning. He told us some of the work he does for the company, and by the sounds of it, he is definitely getting some valuable experience.
"Originally I started doing a lot in AI and data, so I did a lot of data tagging. Around early August, late July, I switched departments and now I do QA [quality assurance] so I do a lot of regression testing, a lot of API request writing, and then I’ve also done some scripting," Gossman said.
Gossman says his level of work and experience was a combination of both the classes at CAST Tech and his internship.
"A lot of my experience with knowing how things work as far as scripts went, came from our Redhat Academy. When that was new there, was a lot of troubleshooting, so I got used to working with containers and virtual machines to work properly. The rest was Plus One training, so there were still a lot of things I needed to know, like what’s the QA process? How do we streamline the process so its as efficient as possible?"
Gossman wisely acknowledged that the value of the internship at Plus One Robotics extended beyond just the technical skills he's learning.
"I will say that a lot of the internship, what you learn, you learn your soft skills as much as your hard skills," Gossman said. "There are a lot of things you can learn in theory that aren’t necessarily applied until you get into the workforce. If you’re not keeping that up through your college experience or it’s not in the front of your mind, you can have hard skill knowledge but not know how to navigate in a company or with other people in an office environment."
Chapter three: Bridging the Gap
We have seen the many benefits the experience brings to the student interns, but the companies have seen solid benefits as well. Both Shaun and Arica believe connecting with the younger generation is valuable to the company and the fellow employees.
"I am constantly amazed every time I talk to a student...the things they know, the tech is so new but they’re up to date. They really do come in with a good base," Shaun Edwards said. "But, when they do come in there’s a lot of mentorship that has to go on. Thomas has been able to work with one of our QA engineers. There’s kind of the theory of coding and then certainly what actually happens in the business. I think that’s incredibly important so when Thomas graduates high school and goes to college and graduates from college he has an understanding of theory and practice."
"This kind of partnership with CAST Tech has been very valuable and I’d encourage others to consider doing the same thing. The one caveat is you get out what you invest. One of the reasons Thomas has worked out so well is that we’ve invested in mentorship from our end, we’ve invested management partnerships with CAST Tech- if you want to go down this road and leverage local talent, you do have to do your part and put in effort," Edwards said.
"Preparing our students for professional development is so important and I think every company should look into it," Arica Espinoza said. "I think it’s super important for us to be connected with the younger demographic so we know their needs. I’m far removed from high school so what I think I may know may be far removed so having this connection and working with Timiera has opened my mind to this demographic and their needs and wants."