Coding Education Programs Expand In U.S. As IT Jobs Market Flourishes

Unemployment in the U.S. is declining, as demand for new jobs picks up across the country, and nowhere is the need more acutely felt than in tech industry.

With its heady mix of Horatio Alger rags-to-riches success stories, its emphasis on individualism and privileging hard work and education, no industry is a better poster child for post-industrial American capitalism than the startup world of coders, marketers, and salesman. But underneath the headline-grabbing startup economy and its Silicon Valley billionaires are thousands of programming jobs at companies ranging from Avis to Winn-Dixie.

It’s those jobs that are the backbone of the tech economy, and they need to be filled. That’s why hundreds of continuing education programs — startup bootcamps, general assemblies and codecademies — have cropped up across the country to train (or in some cases re-train) workers whose jobs had either been innovated or rationalized out of existence during the recession in 2008.

For Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Square, the need to train new programmers dove-tailed with what he saw as an opportunity for economic empowerment among the disenfranchised, so the St. Louis native formed LaunchCode in his hometown.

“It’s an on-ramp for people who want access to all of these fantastic jobs,” McKelvey says.
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Unlike the for-profit training programs that are making their own push for businesses to view their graduates as viable candidates for employment, LaunchCode is entirely non-profit. In the first thirteen months of the program’s existence it has managed to place 115 candidates in companies with the possibility of full-time employment.

McKelvey’s program, which relies on training and apprenticeships, addresses what he sees as two obstacles to employment in information technology departments. “Most companies have a reluctance to hire people who do not have two years of experience. There’s a good reason for that and it’s because programmers that don’t have experience can do damage,” he says.

In October, LaunchCode partnered with the educational technology company PluralSight , to give the non-profit’s trainees free access to the full complement of PluralSight’s online training courses. “What’s super important to us is that we have good, non-predatory education for people,” says McKelvey. “There are a lot of people who advertise good educations, but the reality is many of these paths are dead ends.”The Farmington, Utah-based education company offers specific training modules for particular programming languages and can tailor a curriculum to the demands of particular companies, according to McKelvey.

PluralSight’s free training modules offer LaunchCode participants opportunities to hone their skills, without worrying about being preyed on.

zach simsAcross the country, programming training courses and education providers are looking to create closer ties to build better training modules for would-be coders and software developers. Earlier in November, Codecademy launched ReSkillUSA along with Thinkful, to reach out to the same community of under-employed workers. With the tagline “Make the skills gap end with you,” ReSkillUSA falls in line with the LaunchCode mission, if not its exact methods.

Still, both are no-cost or low-cost options for getting an education in programming, and taken together with a new credentialing program that General Assembly has launched in concert with a number of large technology and industrial companies, the new initiatives could be promising for future employment. Especially since the General Assembly credentialing tests are open to anyone.

“By setting standards that are recognized by some of the world’s largest and most prestigious companies, we are more clearly defining what skills are valuable and how they translate to future employment opportunities,” said General Assembly co-founder and chief executive, Jake Schwartz in a statement at the time of the program’s launch in mid-October.

The problem of finding adequate programming talent has been getting worse every year, says McKelvey, but he acknowledges it doesn’t have to be that way. “[Programming] is a trade that more people than you would expect can learn.”