One man’s plan to turn Detroit students into a driving force in the tech industry

Jul 28, 2016

The Next Idea

Over and over again, we've heard that tech jobs in Michigan are going unfilled.

We've heard that there just aren't enough students graduating with the tech know-how employers want, and that students in Detroit just don't get many of the same opportunities as kids from other school districts.

Thomas Phillips thinks he's hit on a way to help solve these problems, and he's calling it the Aspire Tech Bus.

Here's how he explained the idea:

“I wanted to convert an old school bus into a tech lab ... and I want to drive around to different locations in the city and teach web development or other advanced STEM programming concepts to kids in Detroit.”

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"If you graduate from high school, I don't think you're qualified to do very much of anything right now."

Phillips told us that high school just doesn't prepare kids for steady, well-paying jobs the way it used to.

“If you graduate from high school, I don’t think you’re qualified to do very much of anything right now, and I really want to change that," he said.

He told us he wants to help students fresh out of high school develop the skills they need to pursue careers in the tech industry, whether that means working toward a degree from a college or university, jumping straight into work at a tech company, or joining the ranks of young entrepreneurs.

Phillips' curriculum includes two 16-week courses, through which he plans to teach students the ins and outs of front- and back-end web development.

"I wanted to go out and get the skills that I needed so that I could bring them back to Detroit."

“At the end of the course, they’ll have the skills to build a website from scratch, they’ll be able to build a server from scratch, and they’ll have the hardware on which their websites will be hosted," he said.

The Aspire Tech Bus is still in the planning stages, but Phillips says he was offered a lot of financial and planning support when he presented his idea at the Hack the Central District Cultural Innovation Conference in Seattle last month. He's also preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help get the project off the ground.

Watch Phillips' presentation below:

There's a lot of conversation in Michigan about the "brain drain," about people graduating from universities in Michigan and moving elsewhere to find work.

Aspire logo
Credit Courtesy of Thomas Phillips

After graduating from Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Phillips moved to Seattle to work as for Amazon. But he always planned on coming home.

“I wanted to go out and get the skills that I needed so that I could bring them back to Detroit," he said.

Phillips hopes that the program will eventually grow to include several such mobile tech labs, become self-sustaining, and expand to other struggling communities and school districts throughout the state. 


Thomas Phillips is a Detroit native currently working as a Quality Assurance engineer at Amazon.

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