When Bruce Huang joined UCLA Extension in December 2016 as the director of the digital technology department, he knew he wanted to offer students experiences that took them beyond the classroom.

While many UCLA Extension courses include site visits and guest lectures from industry experts, Huang, a longtime IBM software executive who more recently founded an early-childhood education company, felt the need to create something more: the opportunity for students to gain actual work experience. 

“We have a huge number of students who are currently employed in another industry and want to change careers — people who might have been doing something else, but want to learn coding or cybersecurity,” Huang said. “But a lot of the time, people in the industry who are looking at resumes are asking, ‘Do you have practical experience?’” 

Working with his colleagues, and drawing on his many contacts in tech industries in Los Angeles and around the country, Huang created the Silicon Beach Innovation Lab. The program, which seeks to bridge that gap between students and the high-tech firms where they want to work, is open to those enrolled in certificate programs in the digital technology department, and all graduates of those programs. 

“It’s critical for UCLA Extension to connect its students with industries in Los Angeles that are on the cutting edge,” said Wayne Smutz, dean of UCLA Extension. “The SBi-Lab is an innovative partnership that will drive economic development in the city and county.”

The SBi-Lab will host industry events, mentoring sessions and offer programs and internships that can help people get the skills they need to be part of the tech industry, whether in software, entrepreneurship, data science or cybersecurity.

“SBi-Lab is a collaborative ecosystem under the expertise and guidance of successful leaders in technology,” Huang said. “By working with us, those companies can help us to define what kind of experience they need from employees.” 

The board members of SBi-Lab, who will also help shape the learning experience for students, come from diverse high-tech backgrounds in both the public and private sectors.

The SBi-Lab launched July 31, hosting a TEDxUCLASalon on the theme of “Struggles to Success.” The event, held at UCLA Extension’s Gayley Center in Westwood, highlighted another aspect of SBi-Lab’s mission: increasing the diversity of the workforce in high-tech industries.

“We’re developing experiential learning programs that will encourage women and underrepresented minorities to explore career opportunities in digital technology, promote software entrepreneurship, and enable students to gain access to experience and guidance from the tech community on practical relevant hands-on projects,” Huang said.

On Nov. 3, SBi-Lab will host an all-day cybersecurity conference featuring an IBM vice president as the keynote speaker, with several tutorial and knowledge-sharing sessions conducted by senior leaders and professionals in the cybersecurity industry. The event will also raise funds for a women-in-technology scholarship SBi-Lab has created.