Giving Baltimore youth the opportunity to learn how to code while completing real-world projects
Jenny Thompson is the CEO of Code It Here, digital agency in Baltimore, MD that incorporates mentoring into every project. Compelled by a desire to foster the next generation of developers and give back to the community, the staff at Code It Here make it their mission to provide hands-on training and paychecks to kids interested in coding while accomplishing real work for clients. Services provided by Code It Here include website design, mobile app development, online marketing, and business consulting.
Jenny Thompson spoke with citybizlist founder Edwin Warfield for this interview sdponsored by Offit Kurman Attorneys At Law.
EDWIN WARFIELD: You mentioned you have virtually no experience in coding. So how did you decide to make it the mission of your company?
JENNY THOMPSON: I would say I didn’t pick coding, coding actually picked me. The idea was just about coding. It’s shocking to learn that the average programmer in the United States makes $85,000 a year, with or without a college degree, and it’s something that’s very objective. It’s not like in my job at Agora: if you can’t succeed at copywriting, it’s hard to quantify. Coding is very easy to quantify: I did this and it worked, I did this and it didn’t work, I better find out why it didn’t work and fix it. There are people who don’t necessarily have literature skills or the ability to be journalists, but they can sit down and get the keystrokes in the right order and then they’re able to see their work come to life. It’s also immediately rewarding. I joke about typing a line that says, “hello world,” but when you do that and you see it come to life on your computer in the right colors and the right shapes, it’s immediate affirmation that you’ve done it correctly. I think that’s something that’s very empowering for the kids.
Tell us about what the company provides for clients.
The way that we’ve built the agency is that we’re focusing on website development and mobile apps. Every project team is made up of a senior developer who is end-to-end a full stack developer and capable of overseeing the entire project. Then we also work with junior developers who are kids who have graduated from coding in schools or have a background in code now, or have been to some of the other boot camps, or in the long term will have come out of our program. They have the opportunity to continue learning skills from the senior developers if they don’t have the opportunity to further their formal education. And then we bring in a group of kids we call our coding cadets. Right now all of our kids are 12-13 years old and they’re working on live projects through emergent learning. As we’re working on a project, they’re sitting with the developers, they’re working on code, and the developers are watching what they’re doing. I liken it to the driver’s school model—one monitor and two keyboards. The kids are learning from the senior and junior developers. The junior developers are continuing to hone their skills from the senior developers. The emergent-based learning is so much more effective with these kids than an eight-week certificate based program. The other thing that we say is that we don’t just teach kids how to code—we teach them how to have a job. They have deadlines, they have a schedule, and they have a commitment to do the part of the job that they’ve signed up for. When they do those things they get rewarded: a percentage of every job that we bill out goes directly to the kids, and they also get rewards based on different milestones they reach in the program.
Compared to other learning programs, what makes Code It Here unique?
Code It Here is differentiated from a lot of the non-profits and boot camps and other programs in the way that we work with the kids. I think everybody’s doing great work. It’s important work that everyone’s doing, but rather than having an 8- or 12-week boot camp where they get a certificate of completion at the end, we have kids working on live projects. Every coder I know personally and whom I’ve worked with taught themselves. They unpacked it, they figured it out, and they did it. I think that’s the most effective way to learn this skill, so that’s how we work with the kids. It’s also an infinite amount of time. If they want to stay with us all through high school and eventually get hired by us, we have that opportunity for them. As I say, we don’t just teach kids to code; we make sure they get their first paycheck and we teach them how to have a job. So we’re continuing the workforce development loop. The very first reward the kids got is a set of business cards when they’re with us for a month. If you’ve ever seen a 13-year-old get their first set of business cards, it’s incredibly reinforcing and they feel a very strong commitment to the company and the people they’re working with. It all seems to start there, when they feel like they’re really part of what we’re doing.
I think that the difference between what we’re doing and what all the other groups are doing is we’re not just teaching kids to code. We’re teaching them how to have a job, how to be professionals. We’re giving them their first paycheck. So instead of this finite program, when they’re there for 8–12 weeks, we’re doing the school year and we have a curriculum that every kid is following the same way. We’re working with the kids individually at different skill levels depending on what they need and then, as they grow, they’ll move on to developers with different languages, different levels of talent, so they keep learning, they keep growing, and they keep being prepared for work. Then, as soon as they’re ready for work, if there’s not a company out there who is going to hire them because they don’t have the appropriate certification or they don’t have the right background or—let’s be honest—we’re just not seeing a career pipeline for kids who are disadvantaged and coming from the inner city, we have jobs for them. We will continue to teach them, we will continue to develop them. And then, when the other companies are ready to hire them, we’ll be happy to recruit them out.
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