With the wars winding down, civilians forget that we owe vets a lot,” says Craigslist founder and philanthropist Craig Newmark, who works with organizations such as Vets in Tech to help veterans find civilian career paths.
SAN FRANCISCO—Craig Newmark the web pioneer and philanthropist best known as the founder of Craigslist, describes himself as an “old-school nerd” in the truest sense. I grew up in the 1950s, not long after Dr. Seuss invented the word,” he said. “I was literally wearing a plastic pocket protector at that time, with real taped-together glasses.”
Coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he said, helped to shape the work he now pursues through his foundation, Craigconnects, which he describes as a long-term program to “act in the here and now,” he said.
“I remember vividly in the late ’60s and early ’70s seeing vets being treated really shabbily and I thought this wasn’t fair,” he said.
Decades later, that translated into support for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years ago, Newmark said, he was at lunch with a volunteer from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and discovered that the work that the organization was doing “really resonated with me,” he said. He wound up joining the board, and soon after began working closely with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Now, Newmark, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $400 million, focuses his energies on the Vets in Tech initiative.
The program assists veterans in job training and placement in the tech sector. “The deal is simply: With the wars winding down, civilians forget that we owe vets a lot, and we’ve never been told that the families of the vets serve along with them,” Newmark said. “It’s national, but its focus is strongest here.”
The program aims to connect veterans with the technology ecosystem, with no coding skills required: Founded in 2012 by Silicon Valley veteran Katherine Webster, Vets in Tech focuses on education, employment and entrepreneurship.
“About 48 percent of veterans would prefer to start their own business,” said Katherine Webster, founder of Vets in Tech. “They’re not as risk-averse. They’ve faced risks before, and they bring a very unique perspective.”
Well beyond coding, veterans’ skills translate well into a broad range of in-demand roles in the tech industry, Webster said, including business development, marketing and product management.
Teaming up with about a dozen tech companies across the Bay Area — including giants such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce and others — Vets in Tech sponsors hackathons and training cohorts that can help demystify tech for veterans who haven’t worked in the space before.
It also provides networking and pathways to a rewarding new career, both financially and personally.
“First and foremost, we’re a community,” Webster said.
For Newmark, a former IBM programmer who in 1995 started a classifieds newsletter that would become one of the most iconic and most-used websites, supporting Vets in Tech was a natural fit.
But his philanthropic efforts — he sits on eight nonprofit boards in addition to “a dozen or so” advisory boards — is also diverse.
True to his nature as a tech entrepreneur, Newmark is active in social media and blogging in support of the organizations he’s involved with.
Rather than reinventing the wheel through Craigconnects, Newmark prefers to identify, support and promote high-quality nonprofits working on worthy causes.
“I find people who are already effective at supporting (causes I believe in), and then I help them with my meager resources,” he said. “I know when to get out of the way.”
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Craigslist founder’s new code: Philanthropy Annie Gaus
Reporter San Francisco Business Times