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Code Louisville Aims to Expand the Region's Available Tech Talent

Aaron Wyatt wanted to learn how to develop computer software so fiercely that he almost went to San Francisco to spend $18,000 on a six-month program.  But then, a similar program was offered in Louisville."It kept me home," he said.Plus, it was free and took nearly half the time.Code Louisville is a cost-free initiative organized by KentuckianaWorks that aims to create a pool of capable workers who can code, program and develop computer systems. It's a bid to attract innovative technology companies to Louisville.Wyatt and 19 others were part of Code Louisville's first class—two of them have gotten jobs, though KentuckianaWorks officials said the idea isn't necessarily to place participants immediately in jobs that require coding skills.The learning meet-ups convene once a week for a few hours and instructors are volunteers from various tech companies in and around Louisville, said Rider Rodriguez, deputy director of KentuckianaWorks.Louisville is “a bit behind a lot of our competitor cities” when it comes to a workforce with coding and programming skills, Rodriguez said. In collaboration with Treehouse, an online learning platform offered by the Louisville Free Public Library, students have access to entire curricula that aim to prepare them for entry level positions."It's an amazing opportunity," Wyatt said.  "You're not just going to get the textbook approach, you're going to get an idea of what is actually happening."After graduating from Code Louisville, Wyatt, 31, was hired on as a support specialist at Kwantek, a privately business in Louisville that specializes in providing companies with hiring solutions.Louisville's technology sector has at any given time 500 to 1,000 vacancies, said Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks.The program began in November. With just a couple of participants landing in the technology job market, is this program effectively creating a competent, technology-centered workforce?“That’s the big open question,” Gritton said.  “What we don’t know is if they have demonstrated enough skill to get an entry level job with somebody around software coding and development.  It’s possible the answer is no, it’s possible that this program just isn’t giving you enough and we need you to know more.  If that answer turns out to be yes, we can tell people companies are waiting, they’re hungry for these skills and we know it will work.”But Gritton said the program isn’t focused on filling every vacant job opening right away. “Part of what we’re trying to do is just build a deeper bench of people that have these skills and build a whole ecosystem of companies and people that have those skills,” he said. “We’re trying to help people build the skills and demonstrate those skills that are in demand right now.”The program isn't about building an information technology sector—instead, it's about helping existing companies be competitive in a tech-driven world, Rodriguez said.Gritton said companies won't stick around Louisville when they discover they have no opportunity for growth in Louisville.Rodriguez said program graduates will be able to design websites, mobile apps and proper applications of certain technologies.Wyatt said the social connections he made during the program were key for his success.The 18 Code Louisville graduates of the program who have not yet landed jobs will attend a reverse job-fair, where they can share their portfolios and skills with potential employers.So far, 11 businesses have signed on to attend the event on Thursday at the Nucleus building in downtown Louisville.For more information about Code Louisville, or to find out how to get involved, click here.(Image via Shutterstock)

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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