In a Nutshell: Pursuing a career in the tech industry means acquiring the knowledge and experience necessary for success — a tall order for those making a career change. But LaunchCode is shifting that dynamic with free courses and placement opportunities for those trying to enter the growing field at any stage of their lives. After completing their training, graduates can move on to paid apprenticeship roles with partner companies — which often lead to full-time employment. As the tech sector continues to expand, LaunchCode graduates are poised to fill emerging positions in the market, and achieve brighter financial and professional futures.
David had dedicated his entire life to music. He held multiple degrees in the discipline and had even worked as a music teacher to foster interest and enthusiasm in the next generation. But when David and his wife decided to start a family, he realized he needed to pursue a career with a higher salary and more potential for growth.
He took the initiative to obtain a two-year degree in computer science, but even with that in hand, he couldn’t get a job in the tech industry. His résumé wasn’t what hiring managers were looking for in a coder. So David turned to LaunchCode, which not only helped him get an education but also a paid apprenticeship at Boeing. That opportunity allowed David to advance both his career and personal life.
“LaunchCode opens pathways to tech careers for individuals who are often shut out due to multiple barriers,” said Leah Freeman, Director of Public Relations at LaunchCode. “We serve a lot of individuals who are career changers. They may have had a career in a completely different field, but are looking to enter the tech industry without an easy path. Those are the individuals we focus on.”
LaunchCode offers computer programming courses for those seeking to break into the tech field but who lack the background necessary or who can’t obtain a two- or four-year degree in a technical discipline. It offers courses in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Tampa Bay in Florida as well as in Kansas City, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee.
Beyond training, LaunchCode provides professional development and job placement services at companies that need skilled technical workers. Employers that hire LaunchCode graduates pay a fee, but graduates never pay anything — no hidden charges and no strings attached.
“It is completely free to them at all times. They do not pay us — ever,” Freeman said. “We believe putting the cost on the company is the most effective way to solve the massive tech skills gap in America.”
Intensive Courses Prepare Learners for Entry into the Booming Tech Industry
LaunchCode offers three distinct courses to aspiring tech workers. And each course takes a different approach to technical education.
LC101 is LaunchCode’s primary offering. It is a 20-week, part-time course that typically includes about 150 students who attend morning or evening classes twice a week. They spend six hours per week in class and another 10 to 20 completing online coursework. That flexible schedule allows students to learn while still managing their careers and family lives.
“We found that the hybrid method of teaching in classrooms and then supporting it with online coursework really works, especially for learners in underserved communities,” Freeman said.
The CoderGirl program offers the same content as LC101, but it meets only once per week. As the name suggests, it is dedicated exclusively to female education. It provides access to those who may be excluded from other tech education opportunities.
“Traditional education programs, including four-year computer science degrees, are not graduating even a fraction of this scale of female technologists,” Freeman said. “There’s interest from companies that want to hire more diverse technologists, but can’t find them because they’re using traditional hiring pools.”
Finally, LaunchCode offers CodeCamp, which is a full-time, intensive course. Small groups of students attend class Monday through Friday over 14 weeks. That allows them more one-on-one engagement with instructors. After completing CodeCamp — or any of the other course offerings — graduates are prepared to move directly into the workforce via LaunchCode’s apprenticeship program.
Apprenticeships Can Lead to More Professional Success
While LaunchCode provides individuals with a comprehensive education, that is only half of the organization’s mission.
“We can graduate all these people, but we need to have jobs waiting for them. That’s a huge piece of it,” Freeman said. “We have a company relations team here in St. Louis. Their job is to seek out open tech jobs, make connections with companies, and match them with a LaunchCoder who has the appropriate skill set for the job”
LaunchCode places its learners in entry-level positions at companies seeking talented workers in areas including computer programming, software development, and web development.
“We set up the interview, ensure candidates have a good résumé in hand, and that they’re prepared for questions,” Freeman said. “We’re hands-on, both in securing those interviews for the candidates and preparing them for the interview.”
These apprenticeships — which are paid positions and come with benefits — are an effective way for companies to onboard new employees who lack a tech-heavy background. Apprentices can continue learning on the job with support from senior mentors at the company. According to LaunchCode, 90% of apprentices it places are offered full-time professional positions.
“Most of our students — about 99% — do not have a computer science degree, and most of them have traditional educational backgrounds, but in a different subject,” Freeman said. “Some of them do not have a college degree, and others may have worked for many years and exited the workforce to become a stay-at-home parent. Most of our students have what we call a nontraditional learning and work experience background. The apprenticeship model allows us to get our student in the door at the company.”
Part of the placement process involves teaching job candidates the soft skills they’ll need to succeed in the workplace. That includes résumé coaching, mock interviews, and helping students develop a project that demonstrates their technical proficiency. And LaunchCode makes those services available to all aspiring tech workers regardless of whether they complete its educational courses.
“When you put a student in front of a company, especially a student who does not have a computer science degree, those companies want to see a project,” Freeman said. “They want to see an app or a website they built to see their skills tangibly.”
Applicants Start with a 30-Minute Assessment
Prospective enrollees must first demonstrate their drive and motivation to learn and enter the tech industry to gain a coveted seat in a LaunchCode course. They accomplish that through a 30-minute assessment that includes some light math and a short-answer segment. Applicants don’t need any prior knowledge or experience. The assessment is designed to evaluate their problem-solving skills as well as their passion for succeeding in learning.
“In St. Louis, where we’re based, we typically get about 1,000 to 1,200 applications for 150 open seats,” Freeman said. “We cannot keep up with the demand for this program. The people left at the end are people we’re proud to put in front of company partners.”
LaunchCode students come from a wide range of other industries. Many of them share a broad background in an unlikely quarter: creative areas including music and art. Though they may not possess technical knowledge, they often have a mindset that enables them to succeed in such tasks.
“I never thought of coding as a creative skill set, but it is,” Freeman said. “We find creative people have the aptitude to do a lot in coding as well. It’s problem-solving, but it’s problem-solving to create something on the front end that is visually pleasing and user-friendly.”
Individuals with military backgrounds also find success through LaunchCode, whether they’re former active service members or reservists. Several skills they develop during their military careers apply to the technical field, including leadership, problem-solving, taking orders, and delegating tasks.
“Those are all the soft skills companies look for,” Freeman said. “When you equip these people with the tech skills, they’re the full package.”
Education Helps People Achieve Career Dreams while Meeting Market Needs
David’s job at Boeing provided him with the income he needed to feel confident in providing for his family. And on the same day that he was placed at the company, he and his wife discovered they would soon be the proud parents of twins. David’s new tech career gave the couple the financial stability they needed for his wife to stay at home to raise their daughters.
“It’s life-changing, not only for the learners and the job candidates but also for their families. It has a huge ripple effect on the individuals that we’re serving, their families, and their communities,” Freeman said. “It’s not just about the financial gain or the upwardly mobile career path that they’re on. It’s showing their kids and their families that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
According to Freeman, the average LaunchCode graduate’s new tech job more than doubles his or her previous salary. In St. Louis, for example, the average starting income for tech workers is $55,000. And LaunchCoders fill the need for skilled tech employees in many sectors moving toward automation. While this evolution will eliminate existing jobs, it will also create new opportunities for people who design, maintain, and support these automated systems.
“It’s really about breaking down barriers to move those low-skill tech jobs into middle- and high-skill tech jobs. We believe that is the solution to fears about automation and the future of work,” Freeman said. “It has to be done at a large scale, and it has to be accessible and affordable.”
It has begun work in Washington, D.C. and will offer courses in Philadelphia in 2020. The organization is also in the process of implementing a new targeted training program that caters to companies that have identified skill sets that they require but cannot obtain through traditional hiring. LaunchCode already works with several companies to create custom training programs to satisfy those needs.
LaunchCode provides multiple pathways for learners with a drive and basic aptitude to pursue — and succeed in — a technical career. Not only can these individuals improve their professional and financial standing, but they can also take pride in helping to bolster the economy as it transitions into the next phase of innovation.