‘Master-Apprentice’ Coding Boot Camp, Higher Ed Join Forces to Address Skills Gap

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    That Rachel McGalliard was recently named by a publication in Louisville as one of “20 People to Know in Education and Workforce Development” is more of a factoid than a headline for most of us. But what got her there is pretty cool: her work at a software coding boot camp.

    McGalliard is vice president of operations at the Software Guild, a coding boot camp provider in Louisville that offers intensive 12-week programs on the ground, and is fast expanding online. In an interview last week, she shared the backstory of the operation, beginning with an overview of the individuals the Software Guild targets for enrollment in these boot camps:

    We really want to attract anyone who has an interest in becoming a software developer. They may come from any number of backgrounds — we have high school graduates to Ph.D.s and M.D.s. They have an interest in coding, they may have tried to teach themselves how to code. Very often, they’re career changers, who maybe aren’t happy in their jobs, or want to go to the next level at their job. So we really serve a large swath of people coming from very different backgrounds.

    McGalliard noted that the Software Guild is especially eager to attract those who are underrepresented in the technology field:

    Beginning in January 2017, we will be offering a yet-to-be determined number of scholarships for women and minorities. It’s important for us to make sure that gap is addressed in the tech industry. We address it ourselves — we have three fantastic female lead instructors. It’s important to us that they’re taking it forward, inspiring women who want to go into tech, who want to learn from leaders in the industry.

    Another way we’re addressing this is we recently won a grant through the White House TechHire initiative. Part of that is to address not only the skills gap the United States is facing, but to attract underrepresented groups. So the grant we won through LaGuardia Community College is to teach, over the next year, 50 students who are underrepresented minorities.

    The Software Guild currently offers programs in .Net and Java, and will launch mobile tracks — iOS and Android — in 2017. McGalliard explained the initial focus on .Net and Java this way:

    I think if you were to look at an online poll of the most widely used languages, you’re also going to find in there Ruby, JavaScript, and PHP, and probably Python is going to be in that mix, as well. But the reason we focused on .Net and Java is just because they’re not typically the languages of the startups that boot camps really focused on when they started. Yet they are the languages of a lot of Fortune 500 companies, so the job demand is definitely there.

    The Software Guild was acquired last year by the Learning House, a Louisville-based organization that helps colleges and universities create and manage online degree programs and courses.  McGalliard explained how the Software Guild has changed since that acquisition.

    First of all, we’ve been able to leverage Learning House’s expertise in the higher ed industry, to enable us to partner without being a disruption to the higher ed landscape. We’re partnering with higher education institutions to help them address this skills gap, as well — that’s been a big plus. Secondly, part of Learning House’s core competency is curriculum development. So they were able to take what the Software Guild was doing really well on the ground, and translate it into an online format, which we now offer for all the people who would love to take our program, but just can’t come to one of our immersive programs. Those are the two really big places where we’ve been able to partner, and expand the mission of the Software Guild.

    So who are the instructors? McGalliard said the Software Guild has about a dozen instructors, who are “masters” in their craft:

    Because we use a German apprenticeship model of master teaching apprentice — a ‘master’ being defined as someone who has over 10,000 hours of experience in their trade or craft — we have masters as our lead instructors. So that’s our criteria. There’s also that undefinable thing that you just can’t put on a job description — they need to have the passion for teaching and mentoring. They’re people who, at their jobs, love to take new up-and-comers who are onboarding, and mentor and shepherd them through the job — they just love sharing that knowledge. It has to be an intrinsic passion for teaching.

    The Software Guild has on-the-ground locations in Louisville, Minneapolis, and Akron, and has expanded into New York City in partnership with LaGuardia Community College. McGalliard wrapped up the conversation by noting that the expansion is ongoing:

    We have signed partnerships with Kent State University, Baker University in Kansas City, and most recently, Oregon State University. These will be online students to begin with; Kent State is unique, in that they’re going to be leveraging their proximity to our ground location in Akron — it’ll probably be a combination of online and ground. That’s what the partnerships that are yet to come will look like — we start online, and see what the region demands. We are hoping that we can continue to expand our mission to regions where there’s a need for software developers, and offer our programs through well-known, quality institutions in those regions so we can continue to address the skills gap.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.



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