With companies like Google, Uber, and Amazon opening offices in Pittsburgh, Tech Elevator has added their newest campus to this growing tech scene. The campus is led by Justin Driscoll, who brings 15 years of experience with the Pittsburgh Technology Council and a wealth of connections in the tech industry to his role as Tech Elevator’s Pittsburgh Campus Director. Justin tells us about Pittsburgh’s “third renaissance” as it becomes a tech-focused city, which technologies Pittsburgh students are learning, and which companies are hiring junior developers from Tech Elevator.
Tell us about your background and how you got involved with Tech Elevator.
I got to know Tech Elevator in my previous role as the Head of Talent Acquisition and Talent Development at the Pittsburgh Technology Council. I spent almost 15 years at the Technology Council working with the Pittsburgh technology community and helping companies large and small with their workforce and talents needs. I met the CEO of Tech Elevator, Anthony Hughes, in that role. I spent some time chatting with him and others on the Tech Elevator team and it was really a natural evolution to move into this role as the Campus Director for the Pittsburgh campus.
As Campus Director, my role is to represent Tech Elevator in the Pittsburgh tech community and ensure that we have a healthy employer network so that our students get the jobs they’re looking for after graduation. I spend time bringing employers into the Tech Elevator network, and also inviting employers to come in as volunteer mentors, speak on panel discussions, and do mock interviews with our students.
Tech Elevator already has established campuses in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Why is Pittsburgh is a great place for Tech Elevator's latest campus?
Like the other Ohio campuses, Pittsburgh has a large need for software developers. According to Burning Glass in 2017, there were over 6,500 computer science and IT-related positions posted in the Pittsburgh market. But there are only 600 to 700 computer science graduates coming out of regional universities like the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon.
So with this great need for software developers, companies are looking at alternative education options and avenues to find qualified talent. And Tech Elevator provides that. Tech Elevator focuses on markets in areas where there's a great disparity between the number of available jobs and computer science graduates.
Our first Java class starts May 29th and we are excited!
I'm interested to hear more about the tech scene in Pittsburgh. What types of tech companies are operating there?
Pittsburgh has historically been known for its heavy manufacturing presence; steel, glass, plastics, etc. Today we're known for things like self-driving cars, robotics, big data and artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. Pittsburgh is going through its “third renaissance” as we would say here. As that renaissance continues in tech and information jobs, we're seeing a great need in the tech sector from companies of all backgrounds.
There’s a huge financial services market in Pittsburgh. Large institutions like PNC Bank, Bank New York Mellon, Federated Investors, and many others have huge IT teams here and are all adopting software and big data to give more technology options to their customers. They need programmers to do that.
Healthcare is another area which needs tech workers. Two large healthcare systems, the University Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark, are both incredibly tech-driven and hire a lot of developers.
Then, of course, the big name tech firms are here like Google, Uber, and Amazon. Amazon has a team of 150 people, Google has around 500 to 600, Uber has 500 to 600, and those teams are growing. Pittsburgh's tech scene is really exciting and continues to evolve.
I didn't realize there were so many big names there. Why do you think that shift towards tech has happened? Why are all these big tech companies coming to Pittsburgh?
There are a number of reasons. We have great access to talent here in Pittsburgh. We have 40 regional universities around southwest Pennsylvania, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, which both have great reputations around the world.
The other reason is the low cost of living in Pittsburgh, compared to the East and West Coasts. If you look at the price of a home in San Francisco or New York compared to Pittsburgh, the numbers are just staggering. Pittsburgh is made up of small neighborhoods, and people enjoy the characteristics that each different neighborhood has. You can live in one part of Pittsburgh and feel like you're in a totally different place.
The low cost of living, the access to talent, the ecosystem that is being built here, and the small town feel in a large city is really hard to beat. When you work in the tech sector, you really get to know everyone. It's a great way to network and build a great community.
There's at least one other coding bootcamp in Pittsburgh – what will make Tech Elevator stand out amongst the competition?
Tech Elevator prides itself on a number of things.
We will have three full-time instructors in Pittsburgh, who come straight out of industry and have been coding right up until the day they come to teach at Tech Elevator. We average around 20 years of experience for all of our instructors across all four campuses. It’s really invaluable for our students to learn from people with such a wealth of real-world experience, and to get an understanding of what they will be doing day-to-day on the job.
Secondly, we'll have a full-time Pathway Program Director here in Pittsburgh. You can think of Tech Elevator as a two-sided coin: one side is the technical training that students receive from our instructors; the other side is the Pathway Program which involves access to employers in the tech sector, practice interviews, resume writing, and polishing up LinkedIn profiles. We spend a lot of time, often one-on-one, with students, preparing them and making sure that when they leave Tech Elevator, they are code ready and career ready. We were just named the number one bootcamp in the country for job placement at 89% and we intend to exceed that over the coming months and years.
What neighborhood is the campus in and why did you choose that area?
We are in the Manchester section of the Northside. We looked at a lot of different office spaces around town and we found a great building called the House of Metal. It has a lot of character, it's easy to get to, has free parking, and easy access. There are a lot of really exciting things happening in tech on the Northside. We wanted to stay close to downtown and be in the urban center. That allows staff, students, and employers to have easy access to the campus and to be part of the tech community.
Tech Elevator will call Pittsburgh’s House of Metal home, including large classrooms, common collaborative space and impressive views on the rooftop deck.
What's the actual classroom like?
We have our own space with two classrooms, a big kitchen area, and a big common area. Instructors will have an instruction room with lots of whiteboards. We try to create a great environment for students to learn, but also to have collision moments where they can meet with other students, employers, and instructors. We put a lot of time and thought into making sure the space is very accommodating to students and their learning styles.
The Pittsburgh campus will actually be very similar to the Cleveland campus, which is really the Tech Elevator flagship campus. We're using that as a model to make the Pittsburgh campus and other campuses stand out from a design standpoint.
How many students can you accommodate and what is the student:instructor ratio?
Our model is designed to be 12:1 student to instructor ratio. For our first cohort we will have just 14 students – from experience, we know that limiting the first cohort to 14 gives those students a great experience as our local instructors ramp up. We want to make sure we do it right.
At full capacity, we'll have 36 students starting the bootcamp every 14 weeks. Two lead teaching instructors plus another instructor who will work with both classes and do one-on-one mentoring. We bring in employers who act as our mentors as well – we really try to engage our employer network to volunteer and work with our students throughout the cohort.
At the Ohio campuses, Tech Elevator students can choose between learning Java or .NET. Will you be teaching the exact same curricula in Pittsburgh?
For the first cohort, we’ll launch with the Java curriculum. By Fall 2018, we'll teach both Java and .NET.
For the first cohort, the curriculum will be identical to the other markets. In-between every cohort, the instructors from all the Tech Elevator campuses work with our Chief Academic Officer, David Wintrich, in Cleveland to give feedback. We get feedback from our employers to make sure we're making tweaks to the curriculum as needed – it’s very employer driven and never stays stagnant.
Who is the ideal student for Tech Elevator Pittsburgh?
Students come to Tech Elevator with many different backgrounds and many different career goals, and use Tech Elevator as a bridge to get to a new season of life. In their first career, they might have hit a roadblock or never really reached their career goals after college or technical training. When they hit that roadblock and say, "Now, what do I do?" Tech Elevator is that "now what." It's that bridge to help them get to a second or third career and they really use us to land a job very quickly after graduation.
We talked about the sort of tech companies that are in Pittsburgh, but what types of companies are actually looking to hire junior developers?
Already we have seen a huge demand for junior developers from companies like FedEx, PNC Bank, Defense Contractors, consulting firms, and health care – which really justifies our decision to come to Pittsburgh. In fact, two of our Pittsburgh employers are already going to our Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati campuses to hire graduates because they couldn't wait until August 31st when the first Pittsburgh class graduates – which really is a good sign!
We have a two-day matchmaking event that takes place towards the end of the 14 weeks where we invite employers to interview our students for jobs.
For complete coding beginners in Pittsburgh, what kind of meetups or events would you recommend?
Tech Elevator holds free coding workshops and meetups as well as monthly Open Houses for people to learn about the program, see the space and meet the team. Throughout the application process, we spend a lot of time talking with students and walking them through that process to make sure Tech Elevator makes sense for them. It’s a big commitment, so we want to make sure it’s the right time in their lives. Our website techelevator.com is loaded with information as well.
Outside of the 14-week coding bootcamp, Tech Elevator hosts free workshops for students to get a feel for basic programming concepts.
How did the first cohort go?
The first cohort at our Pittsburgh campus went very well with 13 students graduating in August 2018. It was awesome to see the transformation these students made over 14 weeks. Many of them came in underemployed or unemployed but they all left with a new career trajectory and far greater prospects for future employment.
All 13 students found jobs in software development. We saw students land jobs at companies like Dick's Sporting Goods, BNY Mellon, and PNC with titles like Associate Software Developer, Lead Developer, Junior Software Developer, DevOps Engineer, and Application Developer.
Graduates from Tech Elevator Pittsburgh's first cohort who all landed jobs.
How have the students and the campus been received by the local Pittsburgh community? Are businesses excited to hire the grads?
We have seen overwhelmingly positive acceptance by the business community in the area. We have over 40 companies interested in or currently engaged with our hiring network, and that number continues to grow each day. We’ve also been able to collaborate with and support local organizations like the Pittsburgh Tech Council, GirlDevelopIT, and Google.
What is demand looking like for future cohorts? And is there more demand for Java or .NET or both?
The demand is strong for both languages and we expect the demand to continue to grow as more and more of our grads enter the workforce. We will continue to work with local hiring companies to ensure we are producing graduates with the types of skills they’re seeking in the workforce.
Is there anything else you want to add about the Pittsburgh campus?
I’d love to recognize my campus team here at our Pittsburgh campus. Our three instructors deeply care about the success of our students and are invested in their growth as software developers. And on the career development side, our Pathway Program Director has worked closely with all students ensuring they left feeling confident and ready for their new careers.
It's a really exciting time to be in Pittsburgh right now. We're at the epicenter of this tech renaissance and it's just beginning. When I started working in the tech sector in 2002, the conversation was very different. It’s staggering to watch the evolution of the tech sector in Pittsburgh over the past 15 years.
Tech Elevator is really excited to be part of this and to be able to fulfill the needs of the Pittsburgh workforce. Not only can students land their first job after Tech Elevator, but we will hopefully set them up for a career in Pittsburgh. I couldn’t be more excited about the future of our campus and the impact our graduates will have on the Pittsburgh tech market.