Jonathan Spooner, Founder at Stacks + Joules
“Instead of focusing on all the suburbs, what about the ur-ban pocket of digital natives who are hungry & would love to work? Instead of looking for “A” students, we focus on the C+/B-’s, gems who can be engaged & given direction.”
Meet Jonathan Spooner. Jonathan is a passionately curious technologist who launched his tech career at the tender age of eleven as a QA working for Infocom, then a pioneer in the gaming space. Jon went on to launch the Internet’s first global DJ mix show – netmix.com – his technology and DJing careers taking him around the world and back. In the course of his entrepreneurial startups, he has taken on the roles of photographer, DJ, musician, writer, animator, coder, hardware developer, and graphic designer. Most recently, he worked at Intersection (Alphabet) as a thought leader behind LinkNYC and retail technology innovations. Two and a half years ago, Jonathan founded Stacks+Joules, a nonprofit workforce education program that teaches urban high school seniors IOT, HVAC, lighting control and professional soft skills towards jobs in the burgeoning Building Automation field. You can connect with Jonathan via LinkedIn or follow him via Twitter.
How Did He Get Into His Work?
“I was an only child growing up in nowhere farmland around us. Coming from rural America, I was always dreaming of a city.”
Jonathan grew up just out of Boston in Concord, MA (most well-known for Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, his treatise on solitude and self-sufficiency). From an early age, his father instilled civic involvement in his family. “He wasn’t political, but he was a participant in all town things – from sponsored cleanups to parades.” Jonathan met his lifelong best friend Mike Conway, whose family owned the nearby farm. “I would go to his house for action and fun. He’d come for solace and unbroken toys. It was an equal exchange of sorts.”
While Jonathan went into technology and Mike pursued a career in teaching, they reunited a few years ago on Get UR Green – a project which leverages hip hop with teaching the STEM skills needed to fuel the green economy. Here’s a music video the students at High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul, MN cut to spark engagement.
It was Mike’s brother, a building automation engineer, who opened their eyes to the opportunities in that space. Thanks to the Internet of Things, wireless networks, both Jonathan and Mike were convinced that the space would become huge. Further sleuthing of the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s job stats showed them that there are some 200,000 jobs available in the growing space and are considered difficult to fill.
Even as this idea was germinating, Jonathan was working on LinkNYC and that work was a further spark to launching his current project:
“We did some initial user interviews to ask a diverse population around the five boroughs how free internet would affect their lives. One mother and son in East New York stood out as she told me that there was no high-speed Internet available at her house or near her house and her son had a stack of Metrocards he used daily to take the subway downtown to the Burger King lounge for the free Wifi so that he could upload his 5th grade homework every night. I realized that a “rising tide will raise all boats” doesn’t apply if someone doesn’t live near the water.
Additionally, witnessing the creativity and genius in these communities through my own volunteer work, (Jonathan was a team leader for the New York City Housing Authority’s Hurricane Sandy recovery effort) I knew that there needed to be a way to honor this genius and bring diversity to the new collar jobs for the betterment of society. With Stacks + Joules, we developed a pathway into the innovation economy for youth to go from high school to a family-supporting career.”
What Project Is He Working On?
As the co-founder (and East coast presence of) Stacks+Joules, Jonathan is training urban high school seniors in the Building Automation field. That said, the program is broader in scope: “Having a discrete point as the goal is really helpful in making that [linked learning] pathway effective and useful. Along the way something else might strike your fancy – database design, for example – not just building automation.”
Stacks + Joules is working on organizing new cohorts for the fall. It works closely with the Urban Assembly Maker Academy (the “UA Maker” high school for short) downtown on Pearl Street – where it will have four cohorts for the upcoming school year — and has a relationship with the Lower East Side Girl’s Club, in its effort to get more young women in the trades.
The nonprofit also recognizes that seniors often lose their mentors after graduation from high school and maintains a close texting and e-mall connection with its students.
A recent win: Stacks + Joules recently placed two of its interns in permanent jobs in the energy industry, at Boston’s Albireo Energy. Jonathan reports that they were interviewed and hired on the spot. “We are currently looking for workforce development innovators who are looking to make a real impact.”
How Did He Come To Civic Hall?
“I learned about Civic Hall from Scott Anderson (Partner & CSO of Control Group – the parent company of Intersection).
What is He Reading/Watching/Listening To?
“Well selfishly enough: I’ve been inspired to create #manbeatsrobot and write about those times when a man has beaten a Robot in a form of competition. A lot of tech suffers from “Stunt Tech.” I mean, there’s a shirt-folding robot, but it takes 10 hours!”
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
Offer: Jonathan will be offering a novel Lunch & Learn this fall: An interactive talk where participants can expect to have a literal lightbulb moment. Look for a Save the Date.
- “Real work. We are seeking folks who work in real estate, manage buildings, HVAC and lighting control projects for “hands-on” projects, building automation retrofits, energy audits. [Editor: Perhaps Civic Hall @ Union Square?]
- Jonathan is currently looking to raise a total of $7,200 to fund Kristian and Darius’ 6-week HVAC Controls (otherwise unpaid) internship so that they are paid $15/hour. The deadline has recently been extended. If you can pitch in, please go here!
- Stacks + Joules is presently looking to work with a high school in the South Bronx, Jonathan is keen for any Civic Hall member leads.