It’s been just two years since MetLife opened its global technology and operations offices in Cary, North Carolina, a Raleigh suburb that is part of the famed research Triangle area and now boasts a $125 million campus. But the company’s employees, from infrastructure engineers and software scientists to programmers, project managers and administrators, have already made their “geek” presence known by giving back to the local community.
Last weekend, about 250 MetLife volunteers took part in the campus’s second-annual “Geek-A-Thon,” which is a partnership with the Kramden Institute, a local nonprofit that provides technology tools and training to thousands of North Carolina schoolchildren without access to computer technology in their homes. The tech-expert employee volunteers refurbished a record-breaking 400 computers in one weekend — one-quarter of which were immediately given to North Carolina students, whose “new” desktops were loaded with an Ubermix operating system and the latest educational software. The rest of the computers went to the Kramden Institute to be donated as needed.
The volunteers enjoy Geek-A-Thon “immensely,” says Geoff Lang, VP & General manager of global technology & operations at MetLife in Cary, North Carolina, who adds that the event grew out of a volunteer effort one employee began with Kramden in 2013. “So much of what goes on in technology is extremely specific — it’s hard to see the end result of doing something,” he explains. “With this, they are in it from start to finish, so they get to see something completed. That is particularly rewarding since very disadvantaged children get the benefit.”
The MetLife Foundation supports the Geek-A-Thon with a $25,000 grant and the event is hosted on-site at MetLife’s new Global Technology Campus. Area teachers nominate the students they believe would benefit the most — in fact, half of the students who received the refurbished computers are children of veterans and active service members in North Carolina.
The Geek-A-Thon runs like an assembly line, Lang explains, so that employees with every sort of technology position and technical skill can participate efficiently. “There’s something for everybody,” he says. “We have some volunteers that clean the equipment, others that take apart the hard drive. Software engineers upload free operating systems and then we have the people doing the testing. It’s like building a car.”
Once the computers are refurbished, however, it’s all about some fun and games. Rather than simply receiving a computer delivery, families that come to collect their new computers on the MetLife campus’s Great Lawn are greeted by games — including sack races — as well as a deejay and even Snoopy. They also get hands-on training from a MetLife employee as well as a chance to try out a variety of new educational software choices.
Those good times are purposefully meant for more than just the child receiving the new computer. “We try to make it more than just about the individual getting the PC,” says Lang. “After all, if one child is getting something, we don’t want their siblings or cousins that come along to be left out. This way, one person is getting something but everyone gets to have fun.”
MetLife plans to continue the Geek-A-Thon as part of an overall commitment to give back to the Triangle community, Lang adds. It is, in fact, just one of several technology-focused activities that the Cary campus is engaged with, including mentoring high-school students through NC First Robotics, an organization created to inspire youth in North Carolina to pursue further studies and careers in science and technology.
“It’s phenomenal to let our associates come together to work in teams towards sharing their skills with community children — it’s incredibly rewarding,” says Lang. “The Raleigh and Cary Chambers of Commerce are excited about our willingness to get engaged.”
That doesn’t mean the MetLife volunteers have “geek” superpowers, however. While volunteers refurbished more computers at this year’s Geek-A-Thon than last year, and they plan to break their own record next year, there are limits, says Lang: “You start to ask yourself, ‘Why don’t we do 1000?’ — but the logistics get really hard.”
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