Teaching technology, enhanced lives and building local economies

There is a wonderful undercurrent of technology training specifically designed to enhance the lives and standard of living of those attending their classes, while simultaneously helping build local economies and providing a trained workforce to local companies in dire need of a technically trained workforce. LaunchCode is an example of this wonderful technology trend.

I had the true pleasure of meeting Ryan Neal, the Director of Targeted Training at LaunchCode, a different kind of training company that helps people enhance their lives by teaching them programming skills and then assisting them find employment through paid apprenticeships, direct job placement, company-sponsored training programs and other related activities.

They began in St. Louis, MO, but now operate in various cities that have a combination of underemployed, an abundance of low wage workers, high unemployment and a shortage of technology job applicants.  The applicants they select for their foundational programming classes in Java, Python, C Sharp and other leading technologies is based on the applicant’s true desire to improve themselves and an aptitude for logical and algorithmic thought.  While transferable skills are a plus, they are not required.

Matching students with learning opportunities…and careers

I was asked to teach my five-day “Soft Skills for Agile Product Owners” class for LaunchCode through the training company LearnQuest, who I’ve teamed up with on various training deals over the years.  LearnQuest is an impressive company with global reach, providing technical training to our country’s technology industry icons, like IBM and Apple.  They told me this client, however, was different and very special.  Through LearnQuest, I was given this opportunity as part of a larger Agile program, taught at LaunchCode’s St. Louis location.  Because this program was request of a specific company, all the students had jobs waiting for them when the program ended.

The people in my class were of various backgrounds, education levels, ages, ethnicities and work experience.  They all, however, had a strong desire to learn, were extraordinary individuals and were a pleasure to instruct.  While at LaunchCode’s training facility, I also had the opportunity to observe one of their public programming classes and the graduation ceremony of one of their cohorts.  Wow, all I can say is wow, it was inspiring to watch.

Upon completion of the class I was teaching, I asked them what I could do to further their cause of providing technology training as way to help people enhance their lives, increase local economic development, and assist companies in finding the local talent they need to grow their local presents and corporate profitability.  It was this conversation that led me to write this post on their behalf.

During a phone discussion with Ryan, I asked him for a couple of examples of people who graduated from their programs.  I was interested in knowing their stories.  Ryan told me about Mike, Jose, Yuan and Ben.

Mike, Jose, Yuan and Ben

Mike was working in a technology retail store as a part-time salesperson.  He applied and was accepted into LaunchCode’s public training program where he learned Java, Python and web development.  After completing LaunchCode’s foundational programming course, Mike was hired by a government agency, then attended a 13-week program at LaunchCode on Geospatial DevOps where he learned AWS, PostGIS, Elasticsearch, Docker, and core concepts such as test-driven development and continuous integration and deployment. He told Ryan that when we arrived, he was able to “Hit the ground running.”

Jose had no previous technology experience. He, he was a dance instructor and restaurant worker in his late 20’s. His first child was due and was ready for a career change into a higher paying profession, so he could provide a better future.  From the first day of class, Jose shined. He was consistently ahead and taught other students in his free-time.  Before the class was even over, Jose was hired full-time as a consultant for a major company.

Yuan was one of the students in my class.  In China, she started a company that introduced foreign English teachers to China.  When she came to the United States five years ago, her mother took over her company and still runs it today. Once in the United States, Yuan came to LaunchCode because she was struggling to make the “correct” career choice, she was very worried about making the wrong decision. Her husband said she will never know what the “correct” career choice is, she should just make an educated guess and give something a try. She decided to try technology, and LaunchCode provided her the perfect opportunity.  She found it very hard at first and wasn’t sure if it was the right career choice, but as her technical knowledge and skills increased, she really began to like it.  She then heard about the Agile Product Owner class from her LaunchCode mentor.  This opportunity allowed her to combine her new-found programming skills with our love of working with people and is now working as an Agile Product Owner at the company that originally sponsored the program. 

Ben had a background in music and theater.  He was a self-taught programmer with no formal programming credentials.  Coincidently, a company in one of the cities were LaunchCode had a presence, asked them if they could run a class in mainframe technologies because they were in dire need of z/OS mainframe programmers.  Ben was accepted to this company-sponsored curriculum, was hired by the company upon completion, and is now gainfully employed with a very bright future as an IT professional.

If I hadn’t personally spent a week teaching at LaunchCode and listening to stories just like this, I would have thought that these accounts were just hype or exceptions to the rule.  Every student I was instructing had a similar story.

In fact, I was talking to one of the students in my class during lunch who first went through their public training program, began working a programmer and was later accepted into the Scrum Master training class to further his career. He told me that he truly believed he was unemployable before beginning his LaunchCode journey. He had graduated college with a general business degree right in the middle of the recession and couldn’t find a job. Four years later when the economy improved, he found himself competing with new college graduates with more updated skills.  As a 26-year-old intelligent motivated young man, he had felt that professional success was slowly passing him by.  Upon the completion of the LaunchCode program, he would be beginning a job as a fully trained Agile Product Owner. Each of my students had their own story, equally as transforming.

The numbers speak for themselves

I then asked Ryan if he kept any general statistics about their student population and he told me the following:

  • LaunchCode has been responsible for more than 1,400 individuals landing a new career in technology
  • 40% of these individuals identified themselves as people of color
  • 51% of these individuals were unemployed prior to taking LaunchCode training
  • The average graduate more than doubled their previous salary in their new role

I’ve been writing for CIO.com just over a year.  Prior to that, I wrote the “Your IT Career” column for ITworld for about four years.  In all the time I have been writing in this area, I’ve never written a column singing the praises of a single organization.  In this case, however, I thought it was appropriate to do so. 

As IT leaders, in the top roles of our profession, we should support these types of organizations.  They are good for our nation because they increase the skill set of our country.  They are good for our communities, because they add to the economic base of our neighborhoods.  They are life events for those who attend this type of life-changing training.  Lastly, they are good for us, as CIOs, because they expand the talent pool needed to sustain our ever-growing technical talent requirements.

LaunchCode can be reached at info@LaunchCode.org.

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