Tech Elevator’s sixth campus is in Philadelphia, PA, where the team is hoping to help solve the shortage of software developers in the area. We chatted with Caitie Zajko, Tech Elevator’s Pathway Program Director, to find out what students can expect to learn at the new campus, how the coding bootcamp will help Philly grow its tech industry, and what sort of jobs Tech Elevator Philadelphia grads will be able to land in the City of Brotherly Love. Find out which big companies the team is planning to partner with!
What’s your background and what led you to join Tech Elevator?
I am originally from the greater Philadelphia area. I moved to Pittsburgh, which is where I currently reside, about 10 years ago to attend school. I was a dual major in English and in Education with hopes of becoming a teacher. I graduated from Duquesne University and I pursued a career in teaching at Pittsburgh Public Schools for a few months. I loved working with students but I realized that I didn’t want to be teaching. I transitioned into admissions and then into recruiting. The majority of my career has turned out to be recruiting technology and healthcare professionals which are both huge industries here in Pittsburgh.
I learned about Tech Elevator through a former coworker of mine. Up until this point in my career, I had done various jobs, but never felt like I really loved what I did and never really felt like I had a career. I found Tech Elevator, and I fell in love with this job immediately. I don’t really feel that my job is a job because I love it so much. I am lucky enough to come to work each day and work with our students to help them transition into software developers, I also love seeing the positive changes and growth in each student that take place over the 14-week bootcamp.
What is your role at Tech Elevator?
I often joke that my role has many different titles as I work very closely with students every day to hone their behavioral skills and offer coaching, support, mentoring and lots of hugs along the way. I build meaningful relationships with our students and hiring partners, and ultimately teach the students skills that will allow them to not only seek employment after graduation, but also teach them skills they can use later in their lives. I also help students write their story; why they chose to transition into a career in technology and what their goals are once they graduate from the program. The relationships that I build with the students are very strong; they’re built on trust, honesty, and an occasional laugh, we often refer to our cohorts as the “Tech Elevator Family.” After they graduate, I remain in contact with many of the students, because I really care about them, not just as professionals but as people too.
Tech Elevator already has several campuses, including one in Pittsburgh. Why did the team decide to open a new campus in Philadelphia?
We are continuing to expand our footprint across the region because we want to not only help support the demand for software developers across the country, but also support the local shortages that exist within the cities where we are currently located. According to Indeed, last year there were 22,500 development-related jobs posted in Philadelphia and there were approximately 1,500 computer science grads available to enter the market to help satisfy those roles that were posted. There’s a large gap present, and we are confident that we can help fill that gap.
We decided to open our next campus in the City of Brotherly Love because we know there is opportunity here to close the skills gap. We also know that we can positively impact the employers in Philadelphia by building partnerships and serving as a proven source of talent. Our official launch date for our Philadelphia campus is January 27, 2020.
What will make Tech Elevator stand out amongst other coding bootcamp options in Pittsburgh?
We have a proven model that helps people jumpstart a career in technology. People come to us because they want to learn the skills necessary to become a software developer. But they also come to us because they want to elevate themselves professionally, they want to find a job. Most of the students who come through our program are quitting their jobs and are placing their lives on hold to pursue this opportunity so that they can fully invest in themselves and make a career change.
Our model is different from others because it includes both the technical portion and the Pathway Program. Our process starts with enrollment. Applicants complete two aptitude tests and an in-person interview to determine if they are the right fit for our program. Once they're accepted, the students immerse themselves in an intense technical curriculum taught by very dedicated and technically competent instructors with 20-plus years of experience in the field of software development. They also participate in the Pathway Program, which is our nationally recognized career-readiness program that focuses on learning the skills necessary for landing a job in the software development industry. We want to help students not only learn the right skills, but help them earn a fulfilling role in the field. That comes back to our mission of elevating people, companies, and communities.
We voluntarily report our results to The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting. We have a 95% graduation rate and a 94% job placement rate. We are proud of those outcomes. We are transparent about our outcomes because we want people to be fully aware in order to determine if this is the right program for them.
So you’re moving home to Philly to open the new campus! How will Tech Elevator fit into the Philadelphia community and ecosystem?
Yeah! I left the Allentown area, which is about 60 minutes outside of the city of Philadelphia, to go to college in Pittsburgh and stayed after I graduated. I have a lot of fond memories in the Philadelphia area during my childhood, and more recently over the last few years – going to Phillies games, eating Cheesesteaks at D’Allesandro’s, visiting the Liberty Bell, eating my way through the Reading Terminal Market, and running the Philadelphia marathon. It excites me to see so much growth and so much potential in the Greater Philadelphia area; bringing our model to this market is special to me. I really truly believe in what we do – it works, and I’m confident in our ability to help the Philadelphia community and ecosystem. I've also never had my family and my career in the same place!
Quality is something that drives all of us (our instructors, our campus directors, admissions coordinators, and our staff) and that is what we're passionate about. We come to work every day to help our students transform their lives. Every member of our team cares about our students, not just as students, but as people. We want to see them succeed just as much as they want to succeed. We're entering a market that needs this – we want to help minimize that skills gap in Philadelphia. This needs to happen in order for the city and the region to continue to grow.
The fact that we are really helping people motivates us. We're not only changing students’ lives, we're changing their families' lives and their kids' lives. It's amazing to see our students' families at graduation – grandparents, wives, husbands, kids, and friends who come out to support them. To see that complete transformation from where they were 14 weeks ago to where they are now, is amazing.
Where in Philadelphia is the Tech Elevator campus going to be?
We are currently in the process of finalizing our location, but we will be in Center City, Philadelphia. There are a lot of tech companies in the Center City area and we want to be able to support those companies. All of these companies are looking for developers.
What is the student to instructor ratio at the new campus? How are you recruiting new instructors?
The student to instructor ratio for all of our campuses is 12:1. We will have that ratio in Philadelphia as well.
Our instructors are the backbone of our program. They are the heart and soul of our campuses because they are with the students every step of the way. They teach our students in the classroom, and they are mentors who offer advice. We look for people who have worked in the field – we are seeking out people with real-world, practical experience who will help our students be job ready on day one. We require 10 years of experience, but our average is over 20 years of experience across all of our campuses.
What languages will Tech Elevator be offering at the Philadelphia campus?
We will be continuing to teach the same programs that we teach at our other campuses which is Java and C#.NET. For the first cohort we will be teaching just Java. In all of our other markets, we've always started with one class. Philadelphia will follow that same model. The reason that we teach Java and C#.Net is because those are the most in-demand languages in the markets that we're in.
Who is the ideal student for the Tech Elevator Philadelphia campus?
Across all of our campuses, I believe passion is the most important quality we look for. We, as staff, bring passion, but the students also bring it. Some of the best students that we've had come through our program are people who are driven by working in technology. You can tell when a student is excited about technology. Their face lights up when they talk about it and the way it has impacted their lives.
You also have to be motivated. A bootcamp, by nature, is demanding. While our program is full time, our students often spend over 60 hours/week investing in their learning efforts. We look for people with that grit factor, who are motivated, determined, and want to work in the industry.
And finally, we look for lifelong learners. You have to be driven to learn new material to be successful in the program. These are attributes that will fuel them to be successful in the program – and after!
How will you adapt The Pathway Program to fit the Philadelphia tech scene and jobs market?
The Pathway Program is the same across all of our campuses. The Pathway Program won't necessarily change but it will continue to be one of the reasons people pick Tech Elevator because they want to elevate their careers. The Pathway Program will be the students' resource to help them get jobs with some of the top employers in the Philadelphia area. We do constantly tweak things within the Pathway curriculum, but we've seen a lot of success with the program and we know what works.
What sort of Philadelphia companies might be interested in hiring Tech Elevator grads?
Philadelphia will actually be our largest market across all of our campuses. Every company is a tech company whether they are large or small. The state of the tech industry in Philadelphia is growing. There are companies of all sizes here and we want to help as many as we can.
The notable jobs in this region will be in the realms of medical, finance, and telecommunications. A few specific companies are Comcast, Accenture, Siemens Healthcare, and JP Morgan Chase. JP Morgan Chase has already built a great relationship with students at our Columbus campus and we hope to cultivate that relationship here in the Philadelphia area as well.
Have any graduates from other Tech Elevator campuses found jobs in Philadelphia?
Yes! We currently have two alumni in the Philadelphia area. I recently caught up with one of them. He went through our Columbus bootcamp and then moved back to the Philadelphia area, where he was originally from. He is now a Risk Analyst for Citi Bank. There is already a network of Tech Elevator grads forming in the city. It will be good for our students to be able to hear perspectives from alumni.
What Meetups would you recommend for a beginner in Philadelphia who wants to learn about coding bootcamps and get an intro to coding?
We actually just hosted our first Learn to Code event this past Saturday in Philadelphia. It was an in-person workshop led by our Chief Academic Officer. If anyone is looking to learn the basics and get a taste of what it’s like in a Tech Elevator classroom, it’s a great starting point.
How much interest have you had from the community so far?
We are already interviewing students and are excited by the interest we have seen in event attendance and applications so far. We have Open Houses and Learn to Code events posted on the event page of our website. If interested in starting the process, you can take the first aptitude test . This aptitude test can be found on our website as well.
We have hiring partners who have hired our graduates from our other campuses who also have offices in the Philadelphia area who have expressed interest in the fact that we're launching in another city. JP Morgan Chase and PNC Bank have hired Tech Elevator graduates in the past and have offices in Philadelphia. We're also excited to build relationships with new hiring partners in the Philadelphia area.
I’d encourage anyone in the Philly area who is thinking about a career change into tech to check out our events or try the online aptitude test and take the next step!