Tech Elevator’s newest campus is launching in Detroit in summer 2019 in the heart of the city’s tech startup scene. CEO and founder Anthony Hughes tells us why Detroit is a great place for Tech Elevator, which enterprise and startup companies are seeking developers, and his hope for the Detroit community as it experiences a “renaissance” of technology and innovation. Plus learn about some great meetups to help you break into the Detroit tech scene!
Tell us about your background and your role at Tech Elevator.
I entered the technology field through software consulting, specifically in business development for a custom applications company. I got to know the software developers who were deploying the projects. I admired the work they were doing and how they were changing businesses.
I then worked for Jumpstart and built an entrepreneurial development program in partnership with MIT. We helped up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Cleveland area through mentorship, supporting them as they built their teams, and getting product-market fit. This is when I recognized the severe shortages of tech talent across the region. It was throttling the growth of the startup ecosystem, and some of the larger companies in the area decided to open development centers in other cities because they were frustrated at the lack of tech talent.
I saw an opportunity to close the skills gap and transform the workforce. I got into the coding bootcamp industry and founded Tech Elevator.
Tech Elevator already has campuses in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Why is Tech Elevator opening a campus in Detroit?
When we open a new location, we primarily look at the supply-demand mismatch. There were 20,500 software developer positions advertised in Southeast Michigan in 2018 and the institutions in the area only produced about 1,100 computer science bachelor students. We saw an opportunity to help drive digital literacy in the region, build an exciting business, and solve a major problem in the community.
Additionally, the Rust Belt region has been a focus for our business. We believe in the power of human potential, the ability for communities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit to reinvent themselves in the modern economy with these new workforce skills. It’s an exciting opportunity to be able to expand in the region and help these communities realize their potential in the digital economy.
Finally, we noticed a good amount of interest from the Detroit market and students have even relocated to Cleveland to attend the bootcamp. Some graduates have stayed in Cleveland and some have boomeranged back so it’ll be nice to see some familiar faces!
Describe the Detroit tech scene – how has it changed in recent years?
You may have an idea of what Detroit’s like based on some of the recent media narratives – a bankrupt, declining city. But what we’re actually seeing is an incredible renaissance of a city that has such a rich history of innovation. There are automobile companies that have been there for over a century, and recently there have been more patents filed in Michigan around mobility, than anywhere else in the country. Lots of interesting companies are springing up in this area, there’s a drive to digitization plus a network of established companies increasingly reliant on technology to drive their business.
There’s a great ecosystem and community evolving – like meetups and networking opportunities – and there’s a growing sense of the possibility of Detroit. Quicken Loans relocated their headquarters to downtown Detroit and went from 1,700 to 17,000 workers. There’s just an incredible energy and rebirth of downtown Detroit, and it’s spreading throughout the region. It’s a huge tech scene with an incredible upside.
How is Tech Elevator able to continue expanding? What will make Tech Elevator stand out in Detroit?
There’s definitely room for more than one bootcamp in Detroit given the supply-demand mismatch mentioned above. We have also validated the Tech Elevator model as a workforce catalyst in four other markets. We’ve never been the first bootcamp in any market we’ve entered, but we’ve constantly emerged as the premiere player. We’re a big believer in job outcomes and transparency – we have a 93% graduation rate and a 91% job placement rate within 180 days of graduating. Those numbers are validated by CIRR, are audited by a third party.
This all comes down to execution and a focus on quality in everything we do. We bring the right students into the mix, we focus on the quality of the instructors and the experience they bring to the table, and our career development and readiness program has earned us a top spot in placement performance at the national level.
- For the students, we don’t want to accept money from someone if we don’t believe they can be successful in the program so we do aptitude testing and behavioral interviewing. We’re committed to seeing anyone accepted into the program get into a role in technology. If someone isn’t ready, we might suggest they do some self-study and come back in six months. We want to give our students the best possible outcomes.
- We recruit instructors with 20 years of industry experience, which is a major differentiator for us. We want them to connect the theory of computer science with the practical application of the workplace. Our instructors have created systems for Nike, KeyBank, and the US government, and some have graduated from the top of their class at Carnegie Mellon.
- Our Pathway Program prepares students for jobs, and plugs them into the hiring networks surrounding our campuses. Our graduates transition from jobs they weren’t passionate about to change their careers and their lives. People don’t want to just learn code, they want career transformation and we’re the conduit to doing that.
What will the Detroit campus be like? Where is it and what sort of amenities will be available for students?
The campus will be located in Midtown, just minutes from downtown with great public transportation access. The area has a great history of innovation – the first Model T Ford rolled off the production line just two blocks from us. It’s a part of Detroit that’s enjoying a great renaissance. There are a number of startups in the area and tech companies are relocating to enjoy the energy.
Our classrooms and office space will be located in an organization called TechTown – an entrepreneurial tech hub with five floors and hundreds of startups. Students will have 24/7 access to the facility, there’s free parking and coffee, and there are great meeting and event spaces. We can also host career or community events. Students can plug directly into the tech community and be a part of the ecosystem that’s developing in Detroit.
Which tracks or coding languages will you be offering in Detroit?
We’ll be teaching .NET and Java like our other campuses because they’re the most in-demand programming languages throughout the Midwest and at our enterprise hiring partners, providing more job placement opportunities. The curriculum has gone through thousands of iterations and refinements as we receive feedback from our partners.
That said, our fundamental purpose at Tech Elevator is to teach you how to become a programmer – not necessarily to become a .NET or Java programmer. Some students go on to work in Python, Ruby, PHP, and many others. The biggest hump to getting into the field is learning the first language, and you can add to your list as you progress in your career.
What is the student:instructor ratio?
We aim for one instructor for 12 students. We value students’ access to instructors and the one-to-one attention, especially with the intensity of the learning experience. We hope to scale up to 200 Detroit students per year, but we’ll place extra attention on the first cohort, and ensure we make a good first impression with the hiring market.
When we founded Tech Elevator, we focused on bringing mentoring into the student experience. Our instructors have to be mentors at their core and want to take great personal interest in the success of their students. We also bring in folks from the industry and our hiring partners to participate in the program through mock interviews, both technical and behavioral, and talking about careers in software development on panels. We’ll have dozens of volunteer mentors from the community engaging in the bootcamp.
How will Tech Elevator’s Pathway Program be adapted to fit the Detroit tech scene?
The Pathway Program is an essential part of our bootcamp – it’s parallel to the technology curriculum, so from Day One we are working on career-readiness. That’s why 37% of our students have job offers on graduation day and 91% of them have a job within 180 days.
Getting a job isn’t just about having the skills to match job requirements, it’s about navigating the job hunt. Someone who is moving from a non-technical role to a junior-level software developer needs both the technical skills and the soft interviewing skills. The Pathway Program helps them define the narrative of themselves, what they did before, and how those valuable experiences plus their new tech skills all translate into a hirable individual. There are also resume workshops to help people to rebrand themselves.
The content for the Pathway Program is driven by insights from panelists, and we’ll have showcases where companies present career opportunities and buy students lunch. We’ve already been meeting with Detroit hiring partners who are interested in speaking, mentoring, or volunteering. For Tech Elevator, the Pathway Program and the technical curriculum are inseparable components of the program and the product, which is about getting people jobs in technology – we’re excited to bring that to Detroit.
Who is the ideal student for the Detroit Tech Elevator bootcamp?
We see a wide diversity of student backgrounds at Tech Elevator – some have high school diplomas, others have PhDs and MDs, and their ages range from 18 to 62. The sweet spot tends to be people aged 25 to 35 who are bright and aren’t feeling challenged in their jobs. They see opportunities to improve and want to make an impact but don’t have any current career paths to get them to where they want to be. Tech Elevator students love learning, working with others, and solving problems in business, government, and non-profit. They’re smart, they know they have more to benefit from in their careers, and they ultimately decide to get off the bus, make a commitment to invest in themselves, and then plug back in to these high-growth roles and opportunities in technology.
Which companies are hiring developers in Detroit?
The obvious Detroit companies are be the Big Three: GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler, and they are hiring bootcamp grads. We’re also seeing a growth of companies like Quicken Loans, which is hiring for tech roles and has been a big boon to the center of Detroit. Around that are a family network of companies like Detroit Labs, RocketFiber, StarkX, and Fatheads.
The Big Three also consume advertising and marketing services, so other tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are making commitments to the city. Bosch has a huge R&D department, Main Mobility focuses on autonomous driving, and Duo Security just became part of Cisco. It’s an exciting time in Detroit at both the startup and enterprise level, but all of these companies need developers to help fuel their growth. We’re excited to be in the ecosystem.
Are there any Detroit-based meetups you’d recommend for complete beginners who might want to get a taste of coding?
There is a healthy meetup ecosystem in Detroit and many cities because software development is a life-long learning process where the community supports each other.
Some meetups and resources include:
- The Great Lakes.net Group
- Tech Town
- Free online resources
- Free MOOC university courses
- Tech Elevator’s Learn to Code meetups including Detroit Learn to Code
What advice do you have for someone looking into Tech Elevator or other coding bootcamps?
Go out there and get a feel for it. See if you get excited, enjoy struggling through problems and challenges, and seeing your work on the screen. Also, consider how you have been interacting with your job over the past few years – what tools have you been drawn to? Are you looking at trying to do things more efficiently and effectively? The bootcamp is an intense, exhilarating experience, you’ll come out with a newfound respect of what you’re capable of, and you have to be ready for the process.
I’d encourage anyone to come and meet us and learn how we do things differently. We’re always excited to talk to people in any stage of discovery - whether you’re ready to enroll in our next cohort, attend an open house, or just want to ask some questions about investing in yourself and taking your career to the next level. We have a free online aptitude test that is an early indicator of the problem solving abilities needed to do well in the bootcamp.
For anyone comparing Tech Elevator against other educational options, I would encourage them to dig deep into all the factors that drive their decision making. Look at all the players, job outcomes, and understand what resonates most as they think about reinventing their careers.