Tech startup will call Port Morris home

Doran Jones' co-CEO Keith Klain at the company's soon-to-open Port Morris headquarters.

Doran Jones’ co-CEO Keith Klain at the company’s soon-to-open Port Morris headquarters.

Doran Jones set to hire 150 workers in next 18 months

Keith Klain remembers the spring day two years ago when he took a lunch break from his job at an international bank in Manhattan, to travel to Port Morris and talk to adult students about his work as a software tester.

“The room was packed with people,” Klain said. “There was a real energy.”

Klain had come to Per Scholas, a Port Morris nonprofit that has offered free IT training courses for almost 20 years. Although Per Scholas didn’t have a software training program at the time, Klain saw real potential in the local students. He had spent years traveling the world, helping companies outsource testing jobs as the director of Barclays Global Test Center. But now he saw an opportunity to bring those jobs back to New York City to be done by Per Scholas grads, many of whom had been living below the poverty line.

So he approached Per Scholas with a proposal:

“I’d love to teach your students how to test software, I’d hire them,” Klain remembered saying.

Soon after, Klain quit his job at Barclays and teamed up with Doran Jones, a technology consulting company that believed in his idea to bring software testing jobs to the South Bronx.

Two years and a $1.5 million construction project later, the Urban Development Center is set to open in May, bringing 150 tech jobs to Port Morris. The center was built as a partnership between Per Scholas, which will train the workforce, and Doran Jones, which has agreed to hire 80% of their alumni. It’s the kind of educator-employer match Mayor Bill de Blasio has been calling for: tech is the city’s fastest growing industry, but employees with the necessary skills are scarce.

The area of the city most poised to benefit from the new job center is the South Bronx, said Angie Kamath, executive director of Per Scholas. A third of those who enroll in the institute are unemployed and the average annual income is $7,000, she said. Although trainees come from all over the city, 40 percent are from the Bronx.

“I think it’s an incredibly important example to show to the rest of the city and to other tech firms that that kind of talent exists here in the Bronx and this can be replicated,” Kamath said.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the jobs new local tech startups like Per Scholas and Doran Jones are offering are a shot in the arm for the local economy.

“We have youngsters who want to be at the forefront of developing the technology we use and who are just looking for an opportunity to do what they do best,” Diaz wrote in an email.

Many of Per Scholas’ students come from jobs as security guards, beauticians or in retail, and have no formal technology training when they enroll, Kamath said. The software testing program teaches them to find errors and “bugs” in new software and locate potential security risks. After completing the eight-week course, which Klain helped develop, grads will be ready to apply for entry-level jobs with Doran Jones and other companies.

Tristan Delgado, a former student at Per Scholas, was excited to be one of the first alumni to be hired by Doran Jones.

Tristan Delgado, a graduate of Per Scholas, was excited to be among Doran Jones’ first hires.

Tristan Delgado, one of the first Per Scholas graduates to be hired by Doran Jones, said he struggled to find a career path after childhood asthma ended his dreams of joining the Air Force and he dropped out of high school.

“I never liked school,” Delgado said.

But the Brooklyn native has always loved tinkering with computers, and he went back to school to get his GED and graduate from Per Scholas. He pointed out that the program is more hands-on than the typical classroom.

“This is what you need to literally dive in and start working in this field,” he said.

Klain has been a mentor for him since they first met in a Per Scholas classroom, he said. Before he came to the program, he took jobs as a security guard or a technician, but the low pay made it difficult to make ends meet.

“As soon as I got into this field, I was able to actually start affording – you know – living. These are livable wages,” Delgado said. “Before I came into software testing, I looked forward to a 25 cent raise in my check. That’s how gritty it was.”

Matt Doran, who founded Doran Jones in 2010 as a technology consulting company before bringing Klain on as co-CEO to launch the software testing arm last year, said they can offer higher wages to software testers here because rising wages and travel costs have made outsourcing the job overseas more expensive for companies. Moreover, having workers in another country makes it difficult to oversee quality.

“This isn’t just about getting people out of poverty, but it’s giving them meaningful careers,” Doran said.

Klain, a Chicago native, said he is excited that the partnership could also spur new development in Port Morris. He said he’s felt welcomed by the borough and hopes to open the office up to local tech meetups, trainings and hackathons. The Urban Development Center will have the capacity to expand and bring on a total of 450 new jobs in the coming years, he said.

“We really want to use this as a community center,” Klain said.

He also hopes to see food trucks and coffee shops springing up in the neighborhood to feed the new Doran Jones staff and create even more jobs.

“It’s this really rich community here that’s very, very vibrant, and I really want to make sure we include that as part of all this,” Klain said.

The story was updated on April 4.