Staying True to the Goal of Changing Lives | Byte Back

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Staying True to the Goal of Changing Lives

Author: Yvette Scorse
Published: June 13, 2016

A Visit with Byte Back’s Founders 19 Years Later

By Yvette Scorse, Communications Manager

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Barbara Altman and Glenn Stein shared the memories of the organization they started 19 years ago while touring the Byte Back’s headquarters.

“We have to do this. DC needs you and this.”

These were the words from Barbara Altman that fueled the collaboration with her friend Glenn Stein. This is what led to Byte Back opening in 1997.

Barbara and Glenn shared the story of Byte Back’s founding and their thoughts on the organization’s present and future during a recent visit to the original and present headquarters – 815 Monroe Street NE. This is how Byte Back got started all those years ago.

An Accidental Start in IT

Glenn started his career as a community organizer for nonprofits in the Jewish community and fell into a role as the “guy in charge of computers.” This led him to pursue a career in IT, and he became successful working on Wall Street as a computer programmer.

As he started earning more money than ever, he started thinking, “I don’t really deserve it all.”

At the same time, Glenn realized that the computer industry was different than any other. As an IT professional, you didn’t need a degree, you just had to prove that you could fix a computer. “I learned it by myself,” he said, “and I thought if I could do it, anybody could do it.”

Birth of Byte Back

One day Glenn met up with his friend Barbara, who was an elementary school teacher at the time. They had coffee in Adams Morgan, and that’s where the seedlings of this idea sprouted.

Glenn’s original plan was to open a computer and career training center in Honduras. But, as they shared that cup of coffee, Barbara convinced Glenn that there was a huge need and an opportunity to affect change right here in Washington, DC.

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Today’s staff members, a board member, and an AmeriCorps volunteer gather in front of Byte Back Headquarters with Glenn Stein and Barbara Altman, cofounders.

At the time, in the early and mid-1990s, welfare and affirmative action were being threatened and eliminated, there was a crack epidemic, people were really struggling in DC, and at the same time the tech industry was booming, Barbara describes.

“I didn’t want to sit back and watch,” she says. “I wanted to do something.”

This was the beginning of a great collaboration, Barbara bringing the vision and Glenn adding the structure that would become Byte Back. It’s also what led to the pair serving as co-directors.

What remained key as they formed and carried out their vision, Barbara says, was “creating opportunities for people who were suffering.”

“It was all about hope,” Barbara says. Today, 19 years later, as students graduate from Byte Back and earn their certifications, the feeling remains – they are overwhelmed with hope for the future and the feeling of new opportunity.

Staying True to the Goal of Changing Lives

“We did change some lives during my time,” Glenn says, looking nostalgic and proud.

So many years after changing those first lives, he sees that lives are still being changed today. “We have to be very true to the goal of changing lives,” he says.

The idea was that “we could bridge not only the digital divide but communities in DC, could give people voices, opportunities, and resources to help their families,” Barbara says.

When asked what his hope was 19 years ago when this all began, Glenn speaks slowly, his eyes beginning to tear up, “My vision and hope is this.” He looks around at the room of the organization he built, a place where so many lives are still changing for the better. “It’s very gratifying that you have the spirit of change,” he says, “and are aligned in the right direction.”

“I’m grateful that you’re here,” Glenn says.

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