With the pandemic freeing up time at home for many, there’s been extra incentive to learn new skills. Factor in an economic downturn, and that adds to the number of folks who are likely to be in search of education to not just pick up a new hobby, but change careers.
Frequently, tech training rises to the top of this conversation. Coding bootcamps and other programs formed in recent years recognized that jobs are in demand, and the education necessary to enter the field typically doesn’t require a college degree. Even in a tough economy, software and IT roles continue to be some of the most sought for employers to fill. After all, we’re online and using digital tools more than ever.
So it’s worth taking a look at where to get this kind of training in Baltimore. Here’s how programs have adapted in the pandemic and where they see their roles in an economic downturn:
Betamore is working to bring all of its previous in-person programming to an online platform. It built out a Moodle-based learning management system, which is administered by incubation member company eThink Education, and is curating content. The plan is to offer self-paced learning as well as live, virtual classes one to three times per week.
The courses are seen as a “first step” into tech, Andrulonis said.
“When faced with economic uncertainty, many turn to education for learning new skills to boost their knowledge base as well as to fine-tune their existing skills to increase their employability. This wild year that is 2020 is no exception,” she said. “People are searching for ways to become more tech savvy and the role of software developers has never been so important in a world that is demanding more from technology than ever before.”
The inclusive tech training nonprofit launched in Baltimore last year, and has since gotten classes up and running that are aimed at preparing adults for living wage careers that use technology. Offering free classes for students, Byte Back starts with computer foundations that offers training for folks with little to no experience using a computer. Students can then move onto certifications. For instance, graduates of CompTIA A+ have gone on to work as IT specialists and in help desk positions.
With the pandemic, Byte Back moved its Baltimore classes to virtual. Along with shifting the venue to Zoom, this also meant ensuring that the folks taking courses had a home internet connection and device to work on. Currently, Byte Back Baltimore has two classes of 14 students, and is registering for three upcoming courses.
“In today’s world, computer skills are essential for everyday tasks, healthcare, and especially for living-wage careers,” Communications Director Yvette Scorse said. “If more adults in Baltimore’s workforce have the chance to increase their skill level, we will see a faster and longer lasting economic recovery.”
The Baltimore-based company frequently catches notice with its predictive analytics-based approach to bringing on tech talent based on software engineering potential and aptitude, rather than resume and education. But another key part of its work to train new software engineers from disparate backgrounds is its training program. It’s offered for free, and developers commit to working for the company for two years.
“Unlike a bootcamp, Catalyte teaches more than how to code in a specific language,” said Catalyte VP of Technical Development Eliot Pearson. “Our curriculum is designed to teach concepts applicable across all tech stacks. Additionally, we teach the technical and interpersonal skills that allow software engineering trainees to succeed as part of a development team. So, our developers are experienced with industry-standard languages like React, Java Spring, Postgres as well as tools like Git, Jira, Scrum and ready to hit the ground running on day one.”
Taking the programming remote in the pandemic, Catalyte continues to fill new training programs to capacity, with 20 to 30 people starting every four to six weeks. It’s now in six cities, including Baltimore.
In an economic downturn, there’s unemployment and job insecurity. At the same time, Pearson said, businesses already went into the crisis with a lack of qualified technical candidates. Such programs can provide retraining to folks in the workforce, and also provide a direct path to employment.
The crisis can also be a time to prepare for the future. Pearson said he sees businesses, civic orgs and government agencies coming together to act. The cost of doing nothing? Here’s how he laid it out:
- “Even more unprepared for the changes in consumer behaviors that favor digital over physical interactions
- With a greater skills gap as companies and government agencies find that the skilled workforce they need doesn’t exist
- With increased economic inequality as those with technical/digital skills are compensated more while those who were working in service economy jobs are left with fewer options”
Market demands are frequently changing, so the partnership with 2U allows the school to adjust, said Khusro Kidwai, associate dean for lifelong learning at the engineering school.
“Our partnership with 2U allows us to leverage their tech and market analytics expertise to regularly assess workforce data and make improvements to our program to meet these demands,” Kidwai said. “By calibrating the curriculum with extensive market research — as well as the constant feedback loop 2U has established with tech recruiters at hundreds of companies — JHU is ensuring our graduates learn the most up-to-date, in-demand programming languages that employers want and need.”
Because bootcamps offer intensive training that are designed to prepare folks for jobs, but don’t require a college degree, they are an “especially great option for adult learners from all professional backgrounds to change careers, secure promotions, re-enter the workforce, improve employability, or diversify their skill sets — particularly amid a global recession,” Kidwai said.
“Beyond knowing how to code in whatever language you start with, employers want to know that you are a capable problem solver, that you are persistent and don’t easily give up and that you have communication and collaboration skills that allow you to be successful on a team,” said CEO Gretchen LeGrand.
The org shifted to virtual programming in the pandemic. It offers the following programs for folks in high school or recent grads at no cost to Baltimore city residents at no cost:
- The Prodigy program is a 14-week courses that take place in the fall and spring, focusing on beginner and advanced courses in the three tracks listed above.
- CodeWorks, the summer jobs program in partnership with the city’s YouthWorks, employs people ages 14 to 21 to take coding classes and partake in professional skills training.
- Grads2Careers Software Development Training Program, a pilot program from CITS and Catalyte, will be offered to recent graduates in Baltimore City Public Schools. Applications for this and Prodigy will open in November at the CITS website.
This fall, a new IT training course launched to offer skills for unemployed Marylanders. While this is focused on supporting and securing systems rather than building them, it’s another example of a program offering a path to tech jobs that doesn’t require a college degree.
The free courses are designed for participants to work toward certifications that are designed to provide the technical knowledge and skills that they can use on day one. One certification it provides is CompTIA A+, which provides skills needed for early-stage technical support careers. Another is Security+, which is focused on understanding securing systems, analyzing threats, risk mitigation and regulations.
The course filled up, and currently 50 students are taking part. Learn more about the program.
The technical talent pipeline company streams tech education. Founder and newly full-time CEO Aaron Brooks old Technical.ly Baltimore’s Donte Kirby about the free programming earlier this month:
What Mastermnd does in practice is run tech bootcamps and trainings virtually through Twitch and Youtube. At 7 p.m. every Monday-Thursday, Brooks does what he calls “edutainment” and teaches Python to close to 7K followers on Twitch.
“The goal is to make the process of becoming an engineer a very public one,” said Brooks. “So, they can understand it and see the ups and the downs.”
The training is focused around cloud computing, DevOps and software engineering. Based in Baltimore, the company is offering the training to anyone in the world.
Since expanding to Maryland with a mission to provide IT training for the city’s underserved residents in 2016, the nonprofit now has two sites in east and West Baltimore. Its tuition-free tech fundamentals program includes an intro to computer administration and support, providing instruction toward the CompTIA IT Fundamentals certification. In the pandemic, NPower adapted a new learning platform for this program, and is now holding classes virtually for the two locations.
The organization sees a continued demand for tech skills on a wider scale: In a survey of 75 CIOs, more than 90% of respondents said cloud support, IT support and cybersecurity will be important.
“The health crisis has significantly impacted companies around the world,” said Matt Horner, senior VP for global enterprise sales at World Wide Technology and NPower board vice chair, “but all signs point to a pick-up in hiring for technology positions in first half of 2021.”
The national coding bootcamp provider launched local classes in 2019 in Baltimore, with a mix of in-person classes on Saturday morning at Impact Hub Baltimore and online instruction. Operating on a part-time model, Nucamp’s 22-week program cost is $1,765. Now it’s all virtual, but CEO Ludo Fourrage said that the hybrid model that was already in place didn’t mean too drastic a shift.
The Columbia-based technical and professional training provider recently completed a software development program, which was based around Python.
“The goal was to take career changers or people with little or no programing background and get them up to speed in learning how to code,” said Tom Cain, program director for technology and computer science.
The 6.5-week program ran Monday-Thursdays in the evenings, costing $3,495, and it’ll run again this winter. Cain said the goal was to offer the fundamental and most used part of the language, then get up to speed in practical technologies. This included an intro to data engineering. The course also featured instruction in pulling public data sources like public APIs, and an intro to web app programming.
The course was online due to the pandemic. To keep things engaging, they used Zoom breakout rooms and also had three instructors on hand at all times. With experience working at local software firms including Columbia-based email infrastructure company Message Systems (now SparkPost) and Baltimore cybersecurity firm RedOwl, Cain also tapped former colleagues to deliver training and take part in a session on what it’s like to work in the field.
Cain said he wanted to be sure to communicate that learning to code lines up lots of opportunities for lots of different kinds of roles, like customer-facing positions, such as product management.