As the CEO of Byte Back, she’s helping countless adult learners reimagine their career paths — and achieve long-term professional success
“I was the first in my family to go to college,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, Chief Executive Officer at Byte Back. “When I graduated I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next — but I knew I wanted to give back.” Landing a job as an executive assistant at Maternity Care Coalition, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, solidified that path. “I fell in love with the nonprofit sector. I was mentored by and shared experiences with an amazing team of women, and loved the idea of doing something differently every day.”
From there, Elizabeth says, her career path accelerated, with a clear-cut goal in mind: lead a dynamic nonprofit that connected with her passions and served its audience in a powerful way.
“I wanted to help people excel,” she explains. “I wanted others to have the same kinds of opportunities I’d been afforded — going to college, starting a career that was a real passion for me, having a comfortable life. For me, then, the next step was figuring out what, exactly, that looked like.”
Understanding the levers of power
For Elizabeth, that discovery meant taking a four-year “detour,” earning her Master of Public Administration in public affairs and urban and regional planning at Princeton. Here, she widened her view of the nonprofit sector, while building out her personal and professional network of fellow change makers and innovative leaders. After graduating, Elizabeth spent time working in government roles, at both the New Jersey State Department of Treasury and the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services.
“I got to see how the levers of power operate,” Elizabeth says. “That’s been helpful in my nonprofit career — knowing what’s happening on the government and regulatory side of things and how my teams can better tap into opportunities that exist.”
Realizing her nonprofit vision
Soon after, Elizabeth was approached about a unique nonprofit opportunity — one that aligned with her long-term vision. Former Princeton classmates approached Elizabeth about joining a then one-year-old nonprofit, Groundswell, which develops community solar projects and programs, with an eye on economic empowerment through clean energy. In 2011, she joined as Chief Operating Officer and, later, served as Interim Chief Executive Officer. Then, in 2015, Elizabeth came to Byte Back as Executive Director. In 2020, she was promoted to Chief Executive Officer. .
“Our work centers on teaching adult learners to use technology, so they can move into modern, in-demand careers,” Elizabeth says. “People come to us with varying levels of technology exposure and we support them in gaining the foundational skills they need.”
Byte Back’s audience, she adds, is age- and experience-diverse, with learners ranging from 16 to 70. Most, she adds, are underemployed and unemployed — and many lost their jobs during the pandemic. Ninety-five percent are people of color.
“We want students to transition into meaningful careers,” Elizabeth says. “Our program grows with them and prepares them for what comes next — so, for example, someone in our professional tracks is ready to move into a help desk role, or into an office administrator or manager position where these technology skills are critical to their success.”
Like most nonprofits, COVID-19 forced Byte Back to pivot their approach, shifting from 100% in-person learning to hybrid and virtual classes. This, Elizabeth says, introduced an added challenge: ensuring all students had the right technology and access to keep moving forward.
“Within two days, every student had a laptop and broadband access,” Elizabeth says. “We drove around DC and Baltimore handing out laptops and making sure no one was left out. We had greater demand than ever during the pandemic — people understand they need to come out of this and really accelerate, and that requires the right tech skills.” Now, she adds, Byte Back has a loaner laptop program, ensuring all learners can dive in and upskill.
Once students complete their coursework, Elizabeth and her team support them in finding jobs.
“Students get support from career service specialists who help them with everything from developing their resume to preparing for interviews to actually looking for jobs,” she says. “Then, when they’re ready to start their search, our business services team works with them on their actual applications — and we can tap into our own network of employer partners. These companies have consistently hired Byte Back graduates.”
What comes next…
Looking ahead, Byte Back is focused on launching their third location and expanding their presence beyond D.C. and Baltimore. Elizabeth and her team are also working to build new and deeper employer relationships, while getting ahead of labor market trends so they can best prepare students for what comes next.
Elizabeth is also helping support the next generation of nonprofit leaders gain their footing, encouraging them to hone their leadership skills and fund development experience as they go — skills always in-demand in any nonprofit role.
“I highly recommend people looking into the nonprofit sector as they’re thinking about what is next,” Elizabeth says. “The nonprofit sector offers so many opportunities for a dynamic career. If you’re a numbers person, there’s finance. If you want to be with people, there’s direct services. I love to communicate and to write and I get to do that a lot.”
She also appreciates the diversity and inclusion in the sector.
“Nonprofits are diverse — and nonprofit leadership is diverse. I’m rarely the only Black person or woman or queer person at the table — and I would never give that up.”