Coding boot camps are helping to fill open computer jobs in Cleveland

Daniel Wintrich worked in retail for 15 years, a career that ranged from customer service to merchandising to training his fellow employees. But what really interested Wintrich was programming, even if at 34 he felt too old to take a run at a four-year computer science degree.

However, Wintrich found a quicker way to enter the IT labor force – projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to have 1.4 million unfilled jobs by 2020. The Mayfield Heights resident's ticket was Tech Elevator, an accelerated boot camp-style program that teaches fundamental coding competencies.

Wintrich completed the course in December, started interviewing with companies shortly thereafter, and was hired by Progressive Insurance in January as a junior level application programmer associate.

"For someone in my position, going back to college was a barrier," says Wintrich. "The boot camp model gave me hard coding skills I'm ready to use now."

Short-term software programs present an enormous opportunity for candidates willing and able to fill Northeast Ohio's widening tech talent vacuum, supporters say. The demand has allowed several such offerings to spring up locally, with big-ticket companies like Progressive, Sherwin-Williams  and others searching for coders outside of the traditional four-year computer science school.

Since 2014, Cuyahoga County employers have advertised more than 6,000 open software development jobs, while Cleveland area universities graduate only about 400 computer science majors annually.

"The skill sets of people coming out of college are not aligning with workforce needs," says Tech Elevator founder and CEO Anthony Hughes. "Our grads are equipped to add to the workforce from day one."

The jobs are out there

The 14-week Tech Elevator course teaches Java and .Net to students with no previous professional coding experience, although they should arrive with at least some programming knowledge, notes Hughes. Following completion, course graduates receive job placement assistance, thanks to the venture's partnership with area businesses including Hyland, creator of OnBase and OEConnection.

<span class="content-image-text">Hyland OnBase</span>Hyland OnBase

"Any company that hires tech workers is going to want a relationship with us," says Hughes, who promises to refund the course's $12,000 tuition should a student not find work within 120 days after graduation.

Crunch the numbers and it's evident why boot camps and other time-intensive coding programs are needed, Hughes says: The U.S. is adding 136,620 jobs per year in computing, according to a job report from the BLS covering the years 2010 to 2012. Meanwhile, a 2012 Microsoft Corporation report stated that only about 40,000 Americans graduate with a computer science degree each year, creating a gap of roughly 100,000 jobs.

Though these studies have detractors who claim that computer-related occupations don't only go to individuals with tech degrees, supporters like Hughes say software development jobs can be found at non-tech companies as well.

About 67 percent of software development jobs nationwide are with these non-tech types of businesses, according to a 2011 Georgetown University workforce report on science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) employment in the U.S.

"These people can work in healthcare or manufacturing developing software and maintaining systems," says Hughes. "There's a transfer of skill no matter what the industry."

A lucrative career option

A software developer's average salary is about $80,000, reports, a group trying to expand computer science education in schools.

We Can Code IT holds coding boot camps aimed at getting women and minorities careers in high-paying IT fields. The group runs a 12- to 24-week program out of its offices at StartMart, teaching students programming languages and database design, as well as "soft skills" like resume writing and how to prepare for a job interview.

Since launching last March, the state-certified course has a 100 percent job placement record for its grads, says founder and CEO Mel McGee. Students have landed at local businesses including OEConnection, American Greetings, Dakota Software and TMW Systems.

"Companies are in need of diverse teams," says McGee. "Diversity helps employers gain new markets."

Starting salaries for We Can Code IT participants range from $50,000 to $60,000 – lower than the national average, but still lucrative for people seeking new professional pathways, says McGee.  With Cleveland steadily reinventing itself as a technology hub, programs like We Can Code IT will be there to meet the demand.

"It can be a challenge getting people to understand our students are skilled and ready to work," she says. "It's not a huge hurdle, because there are many thriving companies that get what we're doing."

Only getting bigger

Cuyahoga Community College has an entire suite of fast-track tech programs through its IT Center of Excellence, notes executive director Monique Wilson. Industry certification can be gained via professional development classes in data analytics or software development training. In addition, Tri-C's Cisco training institute, teaches its charges how to troubleshoot medium-sized routed and wired networks.

<span class="content-image-text">CISCO Technical Training Institute</span>CISCO Technical Training Institute

In March, Tri-C will get on the boot-camp track with Cleveland Codes, a six-month course with hands-on software training and a 12-week paid internship. New certificate programs in cloud computing and data center management were rolled out in fall 2015 along with a graduate certificate in cyber security analytics.

"These students aren't gurus or senior developers, but they will be prepared to go into corporations and be a productive member of their team," says Wilson.

Though Tri-C doesn't have statistics regarding how many certificate holders move on to area companies, Wilson guesses those numbers follow closely to the school's overall 86 percent rate of graduates who find jobs in Northeast Ohio.

"We're talking about IT development and increasing the pipeline," says Wilson. "Rather than importing talent, we're training the existing talent pool."

Hyland, one of Tri-C's corporate partners, offers OnBase certification training hosted at Tri-C. Led by company professionals, the three-week course teaches candidates how to build the company's popular enterprise content management software product, says Matt Discenzo, Hyland's director of education services.

While trainees are generally not hired by Hyland, many are connected to jobs with the hundreds of regional businesses and organizations that use OnBase, Discenzo notes.

Hyland is projected to train 100 potential new software developers in 2016. Discenzo says he expects the course to eventually mature beyond entry-level needs and into areas like project management.

"This isn't near our final vision for the program," he says. "It's exciting to see people redirect their careers in organizations that are rapidly growing through our product."

"Growth" is the key word for local tech boot camps trying to keep up with a market that needs workers, says Hughes of Tech Elevator. He forecasts 120 new program grads by year's end, with a total of 1,500 entering the workforce by 2020.

"Cleveland can be a tech town similar to Austin or Portland," Hughes says. "Our goal should be to create a foundation of workers so companies will want to move here." 

This story was made possible in part by a partnership with Cuyahoga Community College.

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.