The learn to code movement is picking up incredible steam. Opportunities in technology continue to grow and there’s more demand for technical talent of all kinds than ever. Various companies have popped up in the last several years, bridging a widening gap and providing a much needed service to train more folks eager to dive into the tech world head first.
The learn to code movement at this scale is pretty new, though, which begs the question: Where is this all going?
The truth is, there isn’t one simple answer. There are a lot of answers — none necessarily right or wrong.
To me, this is and has to be about a lot more than just teaching people to code. If we want our impact to be bigger, our mission has to be bigger. At Tech Talent South (TTS), our motto isn’t just Learn to Code. It’s Learn to Code and Do Something BIG.
Simply learning to code in itself is certainly something to get jazzed about. Get a good job, have stability, make a good living. Sounds pretty good, right? But there has got to be more.
Our mission at Tech Talent South is to put the Southeast on the map as the next big tech hub and to empower creative thinkers with the skills they need to drive innovation. Accomplishing that goal takes more than just teaching people to code. Here in Atlanta, we love our Coca-Cola. In Raleigh, we love Red Hat. In Charlotte, we love Bank of America. But simply providing more developers for these companies isn’t going to accomplish our mission.
You Should Start Something
If filling a job is good, creating jobs is great. If training someone to be a developer is cool, empowering someone to start a company, build a solution or make the world a better place through technology is awesome.
To have the biggest impact possible, what we do also has to be about entrepreneurship.
It has to be about starting something, doing something BIG. And that doesn’t mean we’re looking for a TTS student to create the next Facebook. How about creating something that does good in your local community?
Roberto Rivera, one of our first graduates, helped build an app that offers Puerto Ricans better visibility into criminal activity and stats in their communities — valuable insight to families and local organizations looking to create a safer environment.
Or how about Amy Jo Beaver, who founded My Chef’s Table, a new startup that can bring your favorite chef right into your home for that most special occasion?
After completing our program in Asheville, NC, former US diplomat Annika Schauer launched her own tech startup around the database-driven website generator Hotwax. In a small town like Asheville, a new business taking root can have great impact.
Of course, it’s always thrilling to see students move on to developer positions at great companies. But even more exciting are the aspiring entrepreneurs that really give us that “umphh” to get out of bed in the morning.
So, can you really teach entrepreneurship? That’s a tricky one. In my opinion, no, you probably can’t. Even the phrase “teaching entrepreneurship” might be an oxymoron in itself, I’m not sure.
But you can foster it. You can encourage it. You can nurture it.
Surround Yourself With Resources
Resourcefulness is crucial to successful entrepreneurship. Seek out resources that enable insight and offer networking support. That’s why such a big part of the experience we try to provide at TTS is about what happens outside of the classroom.
Sure, what you learn in a class or in an accelerator is meat and potatoes. But it also means drawing inspiration from others. Budding entrepreneurs need to see local companies and speak to business leaders in their city making it happen.
For us, that might mean touring a larger company like MailChimp in Atlanta or dropping in on a smaller startup like My Classic Garage in Charlotte. Or perhaps it means attending talks, and taking the initiative to pick someone like Jeff Hilimire’s or Berman Painter’s brain about starting a business in Atlanta or being a tech pioneer in Charlotte.
Learn From People Who’ve Done It Themselves
One of the great things about alternative education programs is that classes aren’t taught by academics. They’re taught by folks that are living and breathing this stuff — pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into building something.
In addition to teaching classes with TTS in Atlanta, TJ Muehleman also runs his own startup (We&Co) and his own web development shop (Standard Code). So, when TJ says “here’s how I would do it” or “this was one of my biggest challenges getting my company off the ground,” he speaks from applicable experience time and time again.
An entrepreneur’s education happens when they seek out mentors who not only love tech and coding, but also have experience starting companies, building things, failing, starting over and reaching success. Just as many conversations I have with students start with “What do you think of this idea?” as they do with “Can you help me fix this bug?” — I love that.
Work In Entrepreneurial Spaces
Whether it’s technically defined as an incubator or a coworking space, entrepreneurial spaces have one main purpose: to bring startups together and foster innovative self-starters.
One great thing about programs like ours is that we’ve managed to plop ourselves right in the center of the entrepreneurial action. In Atlanta, we host our classes at ATDC. In Charlotte, out of Packard Place. In Raleigh, out of HQ Raleigh. In Asheville, out of Mojo Coworking. Naturally, that’s exactly where you want to be — rubbing shoulders with folks actually doing this stuff.
Beyond just opportunities for exposure and networking, each of these spaces also provides educational content above and beyond a coding class on its own.
So, are we all going to create the next WhatsApp and cash out for zillions? Probably not. Put simply, startups are hard and, the path the success is riddled with folks that have tried and failed.
But, we have to try because at the end of the day, that is what is going to have the biggest impact in the communities we serve. Not just filling jobs, but creating them. Not just training developers but empowering smart, driven, hungry people to build things and make the world a better place through technology.
This article is a guest post by Richard Simms, co-founder of Tech Talent South. It has been edited for clarity. The author is responsible for the content.