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Microsoft

When you think of places where technology rules, does rural eastern Kentucky come to mind?

When I think tech, I think Silicon Valley — an area that's such a tech bubble (and occasionally a parody of itself), there's even a TV show about it. And then you have other obvious hubs: the New Yorks, L.A.s and Tokyos of the world. The tech world loves cities.

GIF via "Silicon Valley"/HBO.


But a push to create a high-tech ecosystem is happening in an area you'd least expect: the heart of coal country.

In a new initiative called TechHire Eastern Kentucky (TEKY), students are getting paid to learn to code, with the hope of launching the area onto the tech map.

Yep, getting paid to learn to code. How unheard of is that?

The program is equipping local residents with the skills they need to turn their deeply struggling economy around with technology jobs. And with the support of local governments, Congressional leaders, tech businesses, schools, and community leaders, it just might work.

All images via Interapt, used with permission.

TEKY works like this: Eastern Kentucky residents apply to the program. If selected, they are paid to learn to code at a local community college in a rigorous 16-week program. Upon successful completion of class and a 16-week paid internship that follows, students are offered full-time employment at the technology company Interapt, which is expanding from Louisville into eastern Kentucky.

The program hopes to answer the question: Can you train a tech workforce and build a tech ecosystem where one doesn't exist?

It's hard enough to build a tech business in a major city, let alone in the remote region of eastern Kentucky, a part of the country that's known for getting left behind.

What was once an area booming with the coal industry, eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia continue to deeply struggle as that industry fades out. Poverty rates and percentages of working poor are higher there than the rest of the country. And wages, employment rates, and education continue to lag behind.

But Ankur Gopal, a fellow Kentuckian and the CEO of Interapt, thinks coding might be the way to bring jobs back into the area — and keep them there.

When Gopal first entertained the idea of expanding his tech businesses into eastern Kentucky, he knew it was the opposite direction a tech company would normally take. But he was impressed by the hardworking, loyal, and passionate people who loved their communities there, and he wanted to give it a shot.

"That’s the beauty of technology and the opportunity it brings," Gopal said after the program launch. "If you have connectivity and the skillset, you can work wherever you want and make a very good living. We intend to make that a reality."

Removing barriers is critical to making that reality a success — and one of the most obvious barriers is the cost of education. The fact that students get paid to learn through TEKY, instead of the other way around, shows an incredibly thoughtful approach.

"You can’t learn something hard if you’re worrying about where your family’s next meal is coming from," Gopal says.

When the program's first class started in August 2016, almost 1,000 candidates applied for the 50 open spots. The second round of the program is expected to start in 2017, and they aim to continue the program until at least 400 jobs have been filled.

Coding skills aren't only helpful for tech jobs. They help lay a foundation for the ability to learn quickly and constantly — and that can be applied anywhere.

But just like any profession, coding isn't for everyone. For those students that decide it isn't right for them, TEKY has resources to guide them down other career paths through local partnerships they've developed.

That may be the biggest accomplishment of all of this: everyone working together. A community that's willing to address the problem of an economically deteriorating region — and coming together to find solutions for it. That's how you get things done.

Gopal hopes this initiative will spark interest with other tech companies and industries, helping local economies to grow and prosper. It's an endeavor that's rewarding from all angles. As he puts it:

"If you give people an opportunity, you’d be surprised at how well they shine."

Images provided by Pacifico

Making waves in the best way

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At last, summer is here. And for many people, that means it's time for heading to the beach and maybe even catching some waves. Surfing is a quintessential summertime activity for those who live in coastal communities—it’s not only really fun and challenging, it’s also a great way to celebrate Mother Nature’s beauty. Even after a wipeout, the cool water mixed with warm sunshine offers a certain kind of euphoria. Or, you know, just hanging back on the sand is plenty fun too. Simply being outdoors near the ocean is its own reward.

pacifico quiksilver beach cleanupLet’s protect the places where outdoor adventure happensAll photos provided by Pacifico

However, it's well known that our beautiful beaches are suffering the consequences of overcrowding, pollution and littering. What was once a way of playing in nature is now slowly destroying it. And of course, this affects beachgoers everywhere. The sad truth is—without taking action to preserve all the natural joys the earth provides, we will eventually lose them.

But there is hope. Two popular brands that both have roots in surf culture have teamed up to help make trips to the beach a more sustainable pastime. The best part? You don’t have to know how to hang ten in order to participate.

Pacifico®, a pilsner-style lager originally brought to the U.S. by surfers, and Quiksilver, an iconic apparel company loved by both surfers and beach goers alike, have created a brand-new range of clothing and accessories with sustainability in mind.

Take a look below. These threads are great for all kinds of fun in the sun, without compromising the environment.

pacifico quicksilver beach cleanupsReady to make some waves

The collection launches on July 5 and includes tees and woven shirts, boardshorts, hats, flip-flops and a special beach towel and tote bag. The unique collaboration features the vibrant, colorful designs that are the hallmark of Quiksilver combined with Pacifico elements, created to make a positive impact.

Each item has been thoughtfully curated to minimize an environmental footprint and protect the outdoors. The hats, for example, are made from NetPlus® by Bureo®, a raw material created from South American recycled fishing nets. Additionally, the board shorts are made from recycled plastic bottles, and tees are made with 100% organic cotton. Pretty rad stuff, to put it in surfer lingo.

The prices on these pieces are equally rad, ranging from $28 flip-flops to $60 boardshorts.

In keeping with the sustainable ethos and protecting the places we play, Pacifico and Quiksilver will celebrate the products’ launch by hosting two beach cleanups. The first is on July 5 at Sunset Point in Malibu, California, from 4-5:30pm, and the second is on July 9th at Deerfield Beach in Florida from 8:30 – 10:30am.

pacifico quicksilver clothing lineCleaning up and looking good while doing it

Theses beach cleanups are open to anyone over the age of 21 who’s ready to have some fun while taking care of nature’s playground.

Those who can’t make it to the beach (bummer, dude) don’t have to miss out on all the fun. The new collection will be available on July 5th at www.quiksilver.com/mens-collab-pacifico. And even if you don’t surf, never plan to surf, have no desire to even be near a surfboard, rest assured, the apparel is still cool. Plus sustainable choices are always good fashion.

Our planet provides us with an endless supply of beauty and adventure. But without more mindful actions from humanity, its natural wonders will eventually diminish. Fortunately Pacifico and Quiksilver are making it easier than ever for people to enjoy the great outdoors without jeopardizing it. That’s a wave worth riding.

This article originally appeared on 09.06.17


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