Tech is back in demand and at a height not seen since the dot-com bubble burst at the beginning of the millennium. The IT sector has about half a million unfilled job openings across the country, accounting for about 12% of all open positions. To help meet the demand, President Obama announced TechHire, a multi-sector initiative to train people via traditional methods such as college courses, as well as non-traditional ones such as coding boot camps. The goal? To land one of those open, well-paying jobs.
One organization contributing to TechHire's effort is LaunchCode which we wrote about last year. It has several programs, including organizing a series of coding classes to help would-be programmers learn the ropes. LaunchCode doesn't do the actual hiring, but it works with employers to place people in the right spots. [Disclaimer: I am recruiting potential employers located outside St. Louis to consider LaunchCode-vetted candidates for open positions.]
Over the past year, LaunchCode expanded its efforts resulting in 166 people getting jobs in various tech fields, including programmers, systems analysts, and technical documentation writers. Almost half of these people were unemployed, and more than 80% had no computer science degree. After working with LaunchCode, graduates' average annual salary went from $17,000 to $50,000. Last fall, the organization opened an office in Miami, and have plans to expand to other cities around the country. They have more than 300 companies who are interested in hiring people who have been through its program.
One LaunchCode graduate is Pablo Philipps. Armed with a philosophy degree, but no programming experience, Philipps is now a junior developer at a marketing firm. To ease the transition, LaunchCode's programmers continued to mentor him for a period of time. “I feel very fortunate to have had this experience," he said. "It really helped jumpstart my programming career."
Other local efforts that help train, mentor and place tech talent include Code Oregon which is a partnership between Worksystems and Treehouse, one of the nation's leading online interactive education platforms. There is also Code Louisville in Kentucky and Grand Circus in Detroit. Services are free, and hiring companies have pledged interest in their students. ”Learning with them got me the search engine marketing job I have today and gave me fundamental knowledge I use on a daily basis,” said one Treehouse graduate.
Grand Circus can claim 80 graduates and over one hundred kids that have learned to code since the program started last year. Applicants take a logic test, and sit for an interview before being selected for a 2-month long programming bootcamp, 18 students to each class. Afterwards, the Detroit operation helps match each graduate with a hiring company. That seems to be the key: most of these efforts have evolved into full-service entities that take someone with little or no technical skill, and help them get training that will be useful to a potential employer.
Lots of upside, some growing pains
There is still room for a variety of approaches. Online technical education is thriving and there will be winners and losers as various local efforts supplement and complement a growing ecosystem of online and in-person programming classes. START-UP.NY, for example, has experienced growing pains, creating only 78 jobs despite spending more than $50 million in its high-profile ad campaigns and other administrative expenses.
If you are looking for a job change, try the following:
Check out TechHire for fact sheets, open jobs, and inspirational personal stories. Review the local partner's offerings and how to acquire new skills and be evaluated as part of their program.
Understand what type of class works best for you: a self-paced instruction or scheduled lectures, online or held in a traditional classroom. Next, what kind of evaluation will be done of your skills once the class is complete and whether or not it has a certificate that employers will recognize.
See what in-person support is available. Some classes come with or are popular enough to have generated in-person meetups in particular cities to help foster support and to be used as a resource in case you can't finish your problem sets or code sample. NorthEast Coding Newbs is one meetup in the UK that has a more formal six-week course to teach the fundamentals of programming, taught by a local developer who works at a startup.
This in-person support is critical. The ideal situation is to combine an online lecture with homework assignments, extra readings, hands-on labs, discussion forums, and other supporting materials, just like you would have in an actual classroom situation. This provides both the motivation to continue the class as well as seeing how others approach some of the problem sets.
Whether TechHire will succeed or just draw attention to the LaunchCodes, the Code Oregons and the Grand Circuses is hard to predict right now. But clearly many hundreds of determined folks can learn programming and other technical skills and have already gotten good-paying jobs.