Training students in rural California to be the technology leaders of tomorrow

While working in technology education, Jacob Martinez saw rural Latinx communities excluded from competitive job opportunities, lacking basic access to Wi-Fi, and getting pushed out of their neighborhoods as a result of the booming tech economy. Martinez, who grew up in rural communities, understands the need to build a stronger education-to-work pipeline for the Latinx community and people of color throughout the tech industry.

That’s why in 2014, Martinez launched Digital NEST. The program provides technology access, career exploration, and paid on-the-job training to more than 2,000 teens and young adults from working-class, mostly immigrant families in Watsonville and Salinas.

At Digital NEST, students can reimagine what’s possible for their futures. As members, they gain access to free computers, software, equipment, and communal working space. Digital NEST prepares students for the technology workforce, primarily through career development and an on-the-job training program called bizzNEST. Students in the program provide web design, video, graphic design, and photography services to local businesses while gaining work experience. They are paid at least $15 an hour for their consulting work. Program graduates are placed in local jobs and increase their annual incomes by an average of $24,000.

“There are youth in forgotten communities across this state that have the heart, skills, and talents needed to drive California’s future. We just need to invest in them and give them equal access to the opportunities needed to thrive.”

Last year, Martinez launched a partnership with a local school district and community college to integrate technology curricula for K-12 and higher education institutions. This program allows students to receive both high school and college credits for specific technology classes. Martinez’s ultimate goal is to work with businesses to create job opportunities that enable students to stay and drive economic development at home.

Forty years from now, there will be a DigitalNEST in every rural community in California.
Jacob Martinez

Martinez projects that by 2028, Digital NEST will have physical locations in 16 regions and will have placed 480 students in jobs, internships, and/or college, creating $12 million in local impact. Martinez envisions Digital NEST as a twenty-first-century workforce development center.