28 Oct, 2021
Tech Exchange’s humble beginning started 25 years ago as a project in the basement of Oakland Technical High School, where founder Bruce Buckelew volunteered working with students to learn to refurbish old computers donated by IBM. Bucklew had the foresight that technology would revolutionize, but simultaneously widen gaps in education. Technology has continued to advance exponentially faster than the community’s access to it. He and a team of student interns saw the opportunity to create access to technology by recommissioning computers and giving them a second life after the corporate world. These second lives, whether as a computer in the first ever computer lab at Oakland Technical High School or as a machine that students could take home, have played essential roles in bridging the digital divide that has afflicted Oakland’s students and families.
Tech Exchange has since morphed into a robust organization driven to create a digitally literate and proficient community with access to technology. This means that all community members have access to a computer, internet, and the technology skills necessary to advance and enhance their lives. Tech Exchange’s services improve the accessibility of online education, health, financial, and civic services to the community.
Staying true to its roots, the organization continues to offer the internship program, providing students with hands-on experience in problem-solving, tech support, and building and refurbishing computer hardware. Tech Exchange’s events, Tech Nights, and Tech Fairs have become staples to the community. At these events, Tech Exchange offers digital skills workshops, free computers, and technical support, as well as support with signing up for affordable internet.
Tech Exchange’s agility in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is incredible. When Oakland students shifted to distance learning, the realities of the digital divide became glaringly undeniable. Working relentlessly in partnership with OUSD, the City of Oakland, the Oakland Public Education Fund, and Oakland Promise, Tech Exchange sprang into action to form like Voltron to defend digital access with the #OaklandUndivided project – a coalition working to ensure every Oakland public school student has the tools necessary to support online learning in their home. Together they provided access to computers, reliable internet connection, and ongoing tech support to Oakland students and their families. #OaklandUndivided has distributed over 34,000 computers since the beginning of the pandemic, and through the Tech Check Survey, have confirmed that 98% of Oakland public school students now have a device and internet access – a drastic increase from 12% before the pandemic.
When asked about the best part of working at Tech Exchange, Director of Development Amy Himes says “We’re on the frontline making sure people have the tools they need, and we work with a team of passionate talented people. It feels like there are tons of possibilities with Tech Exchange.” Executive Director Seth Hubbert agreed that the Tech Exchange team is not only talented, but also reflective of the community they work in. “We have our internship and workforce development program where we get folks plugged into this work to build their skills, and then we hire from that group as well. The elegance of this operation sets itself up so that we bring in people who are passionate, dedicated, diverse, speak a variety of languages, and understand the impact that we can have with a small but mighty crew.”
If Tech Exchange could have 3 wishes granted today, Hubbert and Himes said the organization would wish:
As Tech Exchange looks to the future, the organization will continue to support #OaklandUndivided in Phase II of their plan. This second phase focuses on digital sustainability, providing devices to students who are new to Oakland, and tech support and repairs to devices for existing students. Himes and Hubbert are excited about the organization’s rapid growth, the chance to build new partnerships and systems, and expand to support digital needs in new locations in the Bay Area. Recently Tech Exchange partnered with Closing The Divide (CTD), an organization created by high school students in San Jose, providing them with 10 high quality refurbished computers to give to local students, and receiving computers donated to CTD during a tech drive. Himes says of the partnership, “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with this bright new organization as we work together to close the digital divide, throughout the Bay Area.”
To learn more about Tech Exchange’s work over the past year, check out the 2020 Impact Report. Interested in supporting Tech Exchange and their mission? Tech Exchange accepts financial and tech donations. Individuals can drop off items at the Tech Hub, located at 2530 International Blvd. in Oakland, CA. Tech Exchange will also pick up donations of 20+ items, and provide donation receipts if you request a pickup.
Written and edited by Bonnie Look and Kate Ray.