At first glance, Lance Lucas does not quite fit the bill of the head of a technology firm. Neither does he resemble the typical definition of a social activist. However, the 35-year-old Coppin State University graduate has worked in both arenas and is not bashful about his success. The founder and CEO of Digit All Systems, a non-profit information technology company that trains low-income Baltimore area residents for jobs in information technology through various technical certifications, says that his work is a labor of love. “Technology saved my life. It helped me elevate to another level so that I can create stability for myself,” said Lucas as he sat down with the AFRO after a meeting with the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce where he currently serves as vice president. “We are the Habitat for Humanity of technology. Our program changes lives.”

Students attend classes at Digit All’s headquarters at 200 E. Lexington Street, free of cost. Additionally, the material students are trained with for various industry certifications is reduced from a daunting 500 page textbook on average, to about a 10-page document. “We have a 100 percent retention rate and an 82 percent certification rate. Most for-profit schools can’t put up those kinds of numbers,” said Lucas. “What these schools won’t admit is that education has changed and we found a way to upgrade the education side of it. We do certification rates, not money. Money is wood with ink on it. So I basically figured out a way to get people the information they need at no cost, in a way that they can understand it.”

AFRO: How did come up with the concept for Digit All Systems?
Lance Lucas: “I started out selling computers at Staples. While I was working there I became the best salesman in the city and then the state and then the east coast. I went to sell a computer to a private school and ended up teaching a media literacy class and got into teaching. I also started teaching computer classes to a small group of students at Aunt Hattie’s Place which eventually grew to a class of about 30 students. When I lost my job at the private school, I got hired at a software company. And within 5 months I convinced the technicians to quit and come work with me out of a little private school in a classroom that I bargained with the principal for. We set up phone lines and fax machines and started this company with about $1500. Since then I have ”

AFRO: Why did you decide to start a non-profit instead of a for-profit business in a field as profitable as technology?
LL: “I went to all the computer schools and I saw how crappy they were and I saw how they really didn’t care, they read the books and all they wanted was a check. That got me thinking that most people don’t stand a chance. If you do this to people working at the post office or MTA trying to get a better life and take their three or four thousand dollars in a for-profit school and the certification rate is 5 percent, they don’t have hope of getting into the computer industry. That’s not going to work for us.

AFRO: Who are your students/clients?
LL: “People come to us from all walks of life. We serve ex-offenders that are trying to integrate themselves back into society, people that are on social services, people that are referred through Housing. We have people that used to be in gangs now working at the NSA, the Navy, Hopkins and the University of Maryland. Right now we are also training a group of parents that come in on Saturdays to get the same certifications that their kids are getting.”

AFRO: What are some of the classes that you offer?
LL: We offer certification classes in Comp TIA, Microsoft, Adobe, A+ and C++ for entry level IT positions. High school students are now able to earn 1 college credit when they become certified as Microsoft Office Specialists. In the very near future we should also have the ability to provide the physical side of CISCO Systems training and we are also a Certiport Authorized Mobile Testing Center. All of our certifications are recognized by Microsoft, CompTIA and the American Council on Education.

AFRO: What’s next for Digit All Systems?
LL: “We plan to actively pursue some additional grants I 2011. We’ve only gotten a $10,000 grant from Verizon so far. We also have our first fundraiser coming up in June. But long-term DC is next. There’s nothing like Digital All Systems there and I’m going to bring it to them.”

Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO