By JULIA MILLER
From cell phones, to tablets, to smart watches, technology never seems to be out of reach. As it permeates every aspect of life, businesses are quickly following to improve customer experience and satisfaction, and with that, coding jobs are being posted nonstop.
Today, more than 1,000 coding jobs remain unfilled in Mississippi. Innovate Mississippi has partnered with the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Community College Board to combat this staggering statistic with its tuition-free Mississippi Coding Academies.
“There’s a huge demand for coders around the state and country, and that demand is growing,” Janet Parker, business development director at Innovate, said.
Rich Sun, executive director of the Coding Academy, said they are equipping their students with a vocation in a quickly growing job market. Starting jobs can pay $50,000, with the potential of an increase upwards of $100,000 after they are established.
“Every business will need coders for essential functions,” Sun said.
The academies are based on a similar program in Water Valley called Base Camp. The original goal was to help them expand. They weren’t interested in that but have been helpful getting Innovate’s program launched last fall, both in Jackson and Columbus.
The academy focuses on a hands-on curriculum, with 80 to 90 percent time of the classroom time spent writing code rather than listening to lectures. Instructors work with the students on an individual basis as specific problems arise. This model helps prepare coders to hit the ground running at a new job upon graduation.
“That’s why we think the traditional academic model hasn’t turned out coders in the amount the industry needs it,” Sun said.
MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough Jr. identified critical success factors as rigorous student recruitment, engagement with employers, a simulated work environment, veteran classroom teachers, motivated students and collaboration with research universities, public school and community colleges.
Currently, the program leaders are working with the Community College Board to develop either a certification for the program or the potential for college credit. The difficulty lies in creating a program that keeps up with quick technological advances. However, Sun said most coders are hired based on portfolios, or previously created code posted on websites like GitHub. The program not only supplies students with plenty of code to use as a portfolio, but it also connects students directly with potential employers.
“We have to connect them to employment opportunity to make this a legitimate program,” Parker said.
With a little effort, Parker does not anticipate that to be an issue. Although Mississippi Coding Academies are in the midst of its first year, Base Camp, the program the Academies are based on, has all 11 graduates from last year currently employed.
Sun isn’t just looking to meet a demand in this industry but sees this program as an avenue to improve the state’s economy economy.
“As more coders are in Mississippi, more jobs will be available,” he said. “You don’t have to build a factory; it’s a very rapid form of economic development.”
McCullough said MDA took a similar stance on the program.
“Computer coding positions exist within the majority of Mississippi companies,” he said. “Their positions are often outsourced because the state doesn’t have enough skilled individuals to fill these positions. Programs like Base Camp and the Coding Academies will change this. By meeting an important workforce need, the academies also will help attract new companies to Mississippi.”
Right now, the classes each have a capacity of 20, but Sun said they are going to have two classes in Jackson next year and are currently evaluating other potential locations. The W. K. Kellogg Foundation has already committed to $1 million toward the expansion of the program.
Parker said they are always looking for people to help, whether its financially or providing lunch for students. They are also eager to hear input from employers to help hone their curriculum. For anyone looking to help, they can contact Parker at 601-960-3611.
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