Moments of Inspiration, Momentum & Gratitude: CEO Elizabeth Lindsey Shares Her Journey at Byte Back
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Lindsey will be stepping down from her position as CEO of Byte Back on April 2, 2021. Our staff and board are so grateful for her leadership over the past five years. Please see more on the transition here.
By Elizabeth Lindsey
At one of the very first events I attended as Byte Back executive director, an alumna came up to me and said, “Byte Back saved my life.” She had struggled to build a career that she loved and that would enable her to live a comfortable life. After graduating from Byte Back, she started a career in IT, a career in which she’s been incredibly successful.
I knew at that moment Byte Back was the place for me – an organization that supported people like her, people like my parents and me. Byte Back graduates were not only gaining skills but also conceptualizing and realizing fulfilling personal and professional lives.
Having a career is one of life’s great privileges, and one that is taken for granted too often. Merriam-Webster defines a career as “a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.” I love this definition – it’s not just a job, it’s profession that you’ve trained for, that you’ve worked hard to enter. And it’s not just what you do from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s your calling, your avocation, your passion.
The absolute highlight of my career thus far has been the opportunity to lead Byte Back since 2015.
Since I was very young, I knew my calling was to support others in gaining economic mobility and opportunity. As a first-generation college student, I saw firsthand the financial and emotional impact on my parents of having to work and struggle at jobs to make ends meet. And because of their belief in education, I was able to go to college and start my own career – to live my calling.
When I started at Byte Back in 2015, the organization was housed in four different locations across three different DC neighborhoods. The Byte Back headquarters was in a rowhome in Brookland in Northeast DC, so generously bought for the organization by its founder Glenn Stein 20 years before.
Our space wasn’t fancy, but hundreds of DC residents flocked to us every year to learn how to use computers for the first time, to gain skills to move into the middle class, and for the amazing sense of community that the Byte Back staff built across the organization.
In 2017, with the support of long-term and new staff and board leaders, Byte Back began to expand and flourish even more. We received our first funding to lean into expansion into Prince George’s County, Maryland, piloting our first programming outside of DC proper.
I delivered the 60-second pitch that won us the first Scale WeWork Creator Award, not only raising $360,000 to support our growth, but also putting us on the national stage as a leader in digital inclusion and workforce development.
And we sold that rowhome with so many memories to open up a state-of-the art headquarters and training center in central DC.
Behind the scenes, the staff continued to work hard to give the best to Byte Back students. We innovated in our training, offering more opportunities for career track students. Our Byte Back graduations continued to be a highlight for anyone who attended, seeing the thrill of adults of all ages reaching their goals and determined to do more.
The staff and I were also thinking about the future and hearing from people across the country who wanted “a Byte Back” in their city. How could we bring the life-changing impact of digital skills training to more people beyond DC?
One of the things I’m most proud of during my time at Byte Back is that in 2019, we opened our first site outside of DC in Baltimore, Maryland. After winning $1 million CAD in the TD Ready Challenge, we put the planning we’d done for expansion into practice, hiring the first-ever Baltimore Site Director Chrissie Powell (now executive director). We’ve since trained hundreds of people in Baltimore and that site is growing every year.
My second proudest achievement during my tenure at Byte Back is that we made it through 2020 without skipping a beat – the Byte Back team switched from an all in-person model to a 100% virtual model overnight. We trained over 300 people in DC and Baltimore in 2020, supported dozens in moving into living-wage careers during one of the worst economic downturns in American history, and did not have to lay off one person.
What I’m most grateful for, however, is the absolute honor to work with the dozens of Byte Back staff, volunteers, board members, donors and students who make the organization what it is. I have never in my life met a group of people so committed to changing the world, so committed to increasing opportunity for themselves and their communities and families, and so committed to each other.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully grasp how much I’ve learned from them and how much my life has been changed by their generosity and brilliance and creativity.
The privilege of my career, and the privilege to meet and know the Byte Back team, are things that I will never take for granted.