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Nonprofit bootcamp LaunchCode is expanding to Philly

The St. Louis-based org offering free training in web development basics and job placement with local tech companies plans to launch mid-2021.

LaunchCoder learners. (Courtesy photo)

Joining the ranks of coding bootcamps such as Resilient Coders and Tech Elevator that have entered the local market in the past few years, St. Louis, Missouri-based tech education nonprofit LaunchCode is expanding to Philadelphia in 2021.

LaunchCode’s goals are to make tech careers accessible to people of all backgrounds and help employers reexamine how they view hiring. Its self-guided Discovery course teaches the basics of computer programming within two months, and its LC101 course starts with JavaScript. Courses are free to students; LaunchCode is funded by donations, grants and companies paying for students’ apprenticeships and hires post-graduation.

Since launching in 2013, LaunchCode — founded by Square cofounder and St. Louis native Jim McKelvey — has trained over 5,000 aspiring technologists, as well as nearly 800 in Kansas City since entering that market in 2016, the org said. LaunchCode also works with companies across the U.S. on customized training and skilling solutions.

LaunchCode Assistant VP Keighan Gunther will lead the Philly campus. He told he had been aware of the org for a few years and wanted to be part of its local work helping new technologists find jobs.

“How do you connect students and education to amazing employment opportunities?” said Gunther, who previously worked in post-secondary opportunities and supportive services at Philly nonprofit JEVS Human Services. “I’ve seen so many different programs pop up that were doing entry-level digital literacy work or not making the connection between employer needs and people coming from program.”

Keighan Gunther. (Courtesy photo)

Only 4.4% of the local economy in 2019 accounted for tech jobs, making Philadelphia’s tech economy ripe for development.

“We view Philly as a unique opportunity as a city that has untapped human capital and employers who have employees we want to keep,” Gunther said. “We can work with employers to upskill employees, give skills to people who want to be in tech and provide employers with new job candidates. It’s a virtuous combo of circumstances.”

LaunchCode Executive Director Jeff Mazur noted that the tech workforce’s demographics look the way they do — primarily white and male — because of the lack of access people from marginalized communities have to jobs and opportunities in the tech sector. Many people can’t afford the costs of attending college or investing $13,000 or more into attending a bootcamp. Mazur asserted that with free programming, LaunchCode can be more accessible to people dealing with financial constraints. In addition, he said, attendees who may have to take care of their families or handle other responsibilities can work with LaunchCode around their schedules.

“As Philadelphians, we have a grit like Gritty does,” said Gunther, a Philly native. “We are perfectly positioned to be a tech hub to keep people here in tech jobs. From the 18-year-old jailbreaking their friend’s iPhone to someone that’s a career changer, we want to help them learn how they can apply that to the tech space.”

COVID-19 forced LaunchCode to delay its local expansion and now plans to launch mid-2021. The org will eventually have a physical location in Philadelphia and hold in-person classes once it’s safe to do so, and plans to deliver its first course completely remote.

As it prepares, LaunchCode is also in the process of creating a board of advisors comprised of local community leaders, business executives, workforce strategists and equity advocates. With their help, the org hopes to support their own mission, boost the number of local training opportunities and create greater economic impact in the market.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: LaunchCode

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