Opening Doors for Detroit’s Underserved To Thrive With Tech Careers
Lenovo’s Tim Bates is making a difference for young people in Michigan
“I’m a lifetime learner,” explains Tim Bates, Chief Technology Officer for Lenovo’s Global Accounts and Latin America organizations.
The definition of technologist, Bates fashioned an impressive resume even before embarking on a successful IT career that’s spanned more than two decades. As a teen, he was a white hat hacker for the government, before putting his tech skills to use in the U.S. Marine Corps, including service in the Desert Storm operation in 1991.
A proud son of Detroit, MI, Bates joined Lenovo in December 2021 after almost 20 years in corporate leadership with General Motors. As CTO, Bates is passionate about working with Lenovo clients to identify the best solutions to meet customers’ IT needs, including security solutions, application development, virtual adoption, and infrastructure requirements.
Bates’ affinity for technology and lifetime learning feeds another passion: giving back to the community. He’s volunteered for years with organizations like Wounded Warrior Homes, MTRAC Innovation Hub for Advanced Computing Tech, and in his capacity as an IT executive served as a special advisor to tech companies including AMD, NVIDIA, and Epic Games.
The Beginning: Unreal Basecamp Pilot, from Concept to Reality
In 2021, Bates’ passion for technology and service intersected, when he was inspired to create a program to benefit underserved students in the greater Detroit region. The objective was simple – provide a pathway for young people to pursue IT careers. In many cases, these students lack the means or inclination to attend college, but Bates saw opportunity in IT that even they might not have imagined. The need – and opportunity – is clear: Brookings Institute research indicates that Black and Hispanic workers are significantly underrepresented in the tech industry, respectively comprising only 8 and 7 percent of the IT workforce.
Bates envisioned a program where participants would learn to design applications through Epic Games’ Unreal engine and position themselves for careers in IT. He recruited like-minded Detroit area business contacts to the cause, most notably Dan Garrison, Sr. Managing Director for Accenture and Edward Kim, a Detroit-area entrepreneur. Together, they created a concept for a program – called Unreal Basecamp – and brought it to life, even serving as initial faculty members. Bates also secured support from Lenovo and NVIDIA. Lenovo, for example, provided its Legion gaming model laptops for participants to use during the pilot.
The inaugural Unreal Basecamp launched a year ago, in January 2022, and included 10 Detroit-area high school students and their parents. Some participants came from very difficult backgrounds, including living in homeless shelters among other challenging circumstances.
Unreal Basecamp was held at the site of the former Marygrove College, a historic setting in Detroit that adds greater meaning for Bates personally.
“It’s right in the middle of Detroit, where you have some of the brightest kids you could ever imagine, but who don’t all have access to technology,” he states. “One of those kids who used to live in the neighborhood was myself.” The home he was raised in is just a few blocks away.
Over 6 months, Bates, Garrison and Kim taught them low-code no-code programming, a skillset that can open doors to entry-level IT positions, and the potential to dramatically change program participants’ lives.
Bates explains, “Many of the jobs today that young people who do not have a college degree take are going away. Automation in fast food and other service-type roles, for example, further limits those type opportunities long term. Information Technology, on the other hand, is in demand, and we hope that by teaching low-code, no-code, our students will help meet that demand, better themselves and be prepared for the jobs of the future.”
In conjunction with the training Bates led, students also had the opportunity to take on internships at corporate supporters including Accenture, GM and Lenovo.
The program culminated with a fun “Shark Tank” like competition in June where teams presented the applications they’d designed to their instructors and other Detroit-area IT professionals.
Bates expresses pride in the success of Unreal Basecamp year one, and gratitude for Lenovo’s support. “Lenovo’s latest leading-edge technology was key, and the important point is this partnership isn’t so much about looking at the now, but rather, the future of development jobs,” he says. “It was crucial from our perspective also to show the community we care about their future by aligning them with what’s next in technology.”
Bates and team are optimistic about the next phase of Unreal Basecamp. Key objectives include growing partnerships with governments, nonprofits and other corporations. The state of Michigan has expressed interest in partnering. Opportunities being explored include expanding to places like Chicago, Las Vegas and North Carolina.
In addition to growing Unreal Basecamp, Bates has also taken a leadership position within Lenovo’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program. His dedication to customers, community and the ideals of DEI are notable, states Kevin Nelson, Lenovo Global Accounts vice president.
“It is so very impressive how Tim has leveraged his expertise in technology to create meaningful opportunities for others that in turn will make our industry stronger,” notes Nelson.
Bates is philosophical about how programs like Unreal Basecamp can make a difference.
“We talk about ‘it takes a village’ to move forward,” Bates states. “I believe it takes a village to be strong enough to connect with other villages to become a community. What I’m trying to do is connect communities – villages – together like they’ve never been connected before. If we can all achieve to work together, we can do amazing things.”