White House TechHire Initiative: Calling All Coders - InformationWeek
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3/9/2015
08:26 PM
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White House TechHire Initiative: Calling All Coders

The White House TechHire Initiative looks to local code schools as models for tech skills development.

15 Hot Skill Sets For IT Pros In 2015
15 Hot Skill Sets For IT Pros In 2015
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The US of 2015 needs software developers the way the US of 1958 needed assembly line workers. Turning young people, veterans, and displaced workers into programmers is the goal of the TechHire initiative, announced by President Barack Obama in remarks given at the National League of Cities on Monday.

In a fact sheet distributed by the White House, TechHire is described as:

... a bold multi-sector effort and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need, through universities and community colleges but also nontraditional approaches like "coding boot camps," and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers for a well-paying job, often in just a few months.

In order to empower those Americans, TechHire will work with existing community-based programs rather than build a new Federal training program from the ground up.

One of the programs TechHire will include is Code Louisville in Louisville, Ken. Michael Gritton is executive director of KentuckianaWorks, the Workforce Investment Board for the Greater Louisville region. He oversees programs based on, and making use of, many different federal and private grants. Gritton said that the attention stemming from an announcement like the President's can be very useful when building support for technical programs. "It's always a fantastic thing when the President highlights what you're doing. Our local leaders like to know that the President is paying attention," Gritton said in an interview with InformationWeek.

In addition, Gritton pointed to other significant benefits TechHire can bring to programs like Code Louisville. "[The White House is] creating a learning community of places who are trying to figure this out. We can learn from one another and steal the best ideas, just as other places are stealing from us," he said. As evidence of the opportunities presented by the "learning community," Gritton spoke of meeting representatives from Dev Bootcamp at a White House event. The attention provided by the initiative gave the Louisville organization substantially more credibility when talking with the Dev Bootcamp representatives about the possibility of working together.

[ Is the IT industry ready for code-school graduates? Read Code Schools: Right Path For Professional Programmers? ]

That collaboration is important because Dev Bootcamp has built programs for educating coders without requiring a four-year college education. "Not everyone is cut out or able to go to a traditional college, and the TechHire initiative highlights the fact that there are alternatives to developing those skills," said Hilary Wells, senior director of marketing for Dev Bootcamp. "Now, there's a national lens on the needs of people with specific technical skills developed in a relatively short period of time."

Rapid skills development is an explicit part of the structure and goals of the initiative. While agreeing that the university path is not for everyone, both Wells and Gritton are careful neither to downplay the importance of traditional four-year programs nor imply that code schools create substandard technical employees. "I don't think the two paths are mutually exclusive. I think it depends on the role the person wants to play and the company," Wells said. "We see a lot of people with an undergraduate degree, but it might not have been in computer science. They might be looking to change careers or augment the skills they learned in college with technical skills."

According to Gritton, "This is not a second-class citizen sort of effort at all. We're trying to fill the need for entry-level coders because companies need those levels. Once [the coders] get into the companies, the sky's the limit because the good people will rise." That's the theory, at least. Like so much in the "New Economy," TechHire is a mix of hope and experience.

(Image: StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay)

(Image: StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay)

"It's not clear that the boot camp efforts will scale. We don't know if we're going to educate and place enough people through this program, but it's our best theory," Gritton said. "Company leaders tell us that they need people with these skills at this skill level."

Wells agreed that the White House TechHire initiative represents an encouraging work in progress. "I don't think we know, yet, the long-term consequences of the choice between a traditional university program and a coding school," she said. Still, she cited the same need for hands-on skills mentioned by both Gritton and the White House as she looked forward. "No one's trying to say that the things you learn in a coding school are the same as you learn in a computer science program," said Wells. "But there are practical skills you learn in coding school that you might not learn in a computer science program."

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is executive editor for technical content at InformationWeek. In this role he oversees product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he acts as executive producer for InformationWeek Radio and Interop Radio where he works with ... View Full Bio
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Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/15/2015 | 4:47:05 PM
Re: not mutually exclusive

@Whoopty   I agree.  It ( as with success in general) depends on the individual however there are those ( in this case could easily number in the hundreds of thousands ) who will always ruin a good thing.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/15/2015 | 3:56:05 PM
Re: not mutually exclusive

Hi Susan   I agree no one size fits all,  but how then do you instill professionalism ?

I think the extra seasoning gained by enduring a college education does contribute to a professionalism that is required of the IT industry or service based industry.

I am all for someone getting a chance, but how the industry wants to be perceived ( Cost Center vs.Revenue creator ) depends in some part to the amount of professionalism brought to the table. 

I am not sure this approach helps the perception of the industry as whole.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/15/2015 | 3:42:24 PM
Re: Times have changed

@TerryB     I totally agree with your frustration.  You make a great point that I had not considered.  This preception that everyone can code is harmful to the industry as a whole.

As an MIS grad, in one of the first graduating classes for the newly minted degree, I can certainly relate to having your degree watered down by those who don't even understand what technology (or business for that matter) is really about. 

While my initial thoughts were encouraging I was looking at it from the perspective of those with a similiar background.

I do agree that this push to make IT a trade is insulting.  Too many unskilled people on both sides of this isssue.

JimC
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JimC,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2015 | 2:49:58 AM
Re: Times have changed
TerryB: Let's step 40 years into the time tunnel.  In 1975 (and into the early '80s), large insurance companies were taking people off the streets and training them to be COBOL programmers.  There were no Computer Science degrees back then and a 4-year Bachelor's degree wasn't required, nor was a 2-year Associate's degree -- just a high school diploma and passing the company's (like John Hancock Insurance's) computer programming aptitude test.  When I started as a COBOL programmer (not at an insurance company), my colleagues and I were a mix of university grads (English, Sociololgy, Music, Biology, Engineering, Business, etc.) down to college dropouts and ex-secretaries.  Getting the job was easy; keeping it was tough.  The hours were long, the stress was brutal and some of us went to night school to master structured programming, improve our COBOL skills, learn Assembler and take Math courses.     
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/14/2015 | 4:14:13 PM
Re: White House TechHire Initiative: Calling All Coders
"....I'm staying positive. It helps me sleep at night."

 

@zerox203    I couldn't think of any better advice.   For the sake of budding coders and their prospects of getting a job or for anything else for that matter !
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2015 | 6:25:26 AM
Re: Times have changed
TerryB, you made a great point. I feel that there is an unknown amount of hours, at which point a professional could be considered an expert coder vs. a business user that is modifying OS code to enable some real world functionality. Malcolm Gladwell coined the phrase that it takes 10,000 hours to turn an amateur into an expert -- the coding world might be very different but, this phrase provides a good frame of reference.

Generally, the impression that I get is that a business user that is modifying code is first thinking about adding functionality and second, thinking about security. However, an expert coder is first thinking about security and then, thinking about functionality.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
3/10/2015 | 6:01:27 PM
Re: White House TechHire Initiative: Calling All Coders
Thanks for this writeup, Curt. As the gentleman from Kentucky suggested, programs like these have existed all around the country for some time now, but it seems they've yet to reach critical mass. Nobody I know has obtained a job through one of these programs, and it seems like the response from potential employers has been lukewarm at best. That's not to speak to a lack of confidence in them on my part - I think they're great, and would even err on the side of calling them more productive for programmers than four-year degrees. Coding is more like a trade or an art than it is like a science.  Let's hope the public awareness boost from the White House initiative really boosts this idea into the collective consciousness.

With just a few giants like Facebook, Twitter, or Valve backing this up with real hires, more are likely to follow suit. That's been the case for everything else they've done. That's really the crux of the issue here, isn't it?  Mr. Gritton said he's not sure if the efforts will scale. What he means is, we're not sure this will actually help place get jobs. Ultimately, they only have so much control over that process, but if it doesn't translate to some real opportunities, the wind will fly out of their sails very quickly. It's worth mentioning, of course, that there are lots of opportunities these days for software developers to fly solo with contract work, or even to go fully independent and sell their own software or make their own startup. These programs can definitely help with that, but again, we're not sure where saturation for that market lies and if there's room for everyone. I'm staying positive. It helps me sleep at night.


TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
3/10/2015 | 1:25:02 PM
Times have changed
I get two distinct thoughts from this article/initiative. First, somewhat insulting the idea that "anyone can code", just need limited training. Is Computer Science that devalued now? So all the time I spent in college on things like Comparitive Languages, Real Time Design and creating an o/s in Assembler was wasted money/time?

The more difficult thought I'm struggling with is this: In this age of exploding technology and security problems, it's now this easy to just jump in and write code? When I got my 4 year BS in Comp Sci, not that much technology even existed. There was no internet, no Windows, TCP was just getting foothold on Token Ring/Novell. Programming consisted of a handful of languages. Now look at the world today. Java, Python, Ruby. PHP, .NET and all these new ones I never even heard of yet. A Comparitive Languages class probably a heck of lot more necessary than it was back then.

Then you have all the different form factors. Desktop, browser, Touch tablet, Touch phone. All I had to be taught was writing for 24x80 green screens. And I didn't have to worrry about SQL injection, cross site scripting, SOAP/REST web services, HTTP servers, application servers, etc.

Point is, I would think education needs to be more extensive, not a few courses in Tech school and then cut them loose to go crank out code. And we wonder why everything gets hacked?

The last thought is, how many of you see entry level jobs in coding these days? Even back in mid 80's when I started, getting that first job was very difficult. Where do these people start?
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/10/2015 | 10:30:06 AM
Re: not mutually exclusive
It's an interesting one, as I'm not classically trained in my fields, but picked up most of it on the job. Often that means some jobs are simply not open to me.

In many instances that's totally justified, but I do wonder if we rely too much on the old reliance on university to provide the highest qualified applicants. In the position of an employer, I'd be much more interested in the initiative shown by someone that skipped university but learned the requisite skills themselves at home. 
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
3/10/2015 | 3:08:48 AM
Re: not mutually exclusive
Great question @Susan. I feel that at the end of the day, the hiring managers that are great will take into account that not everyone had the capital resources to invest $100k on a four years degree but, they had time resources on their side to build skills that are in demand in an ever changing market place.

Some jobs will require traditional skills while, others will require newer skills. And, such a shift has happened many times for instance, iron tools were better than, bronze tools but, iron works required a newer skillset (and a higher specialized skillset) in the workforce before the economy could benefit at the maximum.
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