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With most coding bootcamps charging upwards of $10,000, this popular path can be financially off limits to some students. Antonio Rowry, founder of Code Chicago, wants to change this trend. He writes about the misconceptions in pricing, the decision to lower financial barriers, and what Code Chicago seeks in students. 

 

The Code Chicago initiative exists to provide pathways toward solid careers for students that might not otherwise be able to pull together the financial resources required for traditional “higher” tech education.  Rather than simply laying the blame on economic woes, we’ve pieced together a network of various classes and Bootcamps designed to directly introduce beginner-students to various relevant coding skills.  Whether you’re planning on pursuing college, aiming to change your career, or want to try to forge a path on your own, our unique learning opportunities will prepare you for the road ahead by imparting tangible skills with real-world value. 

This is really about lowering financial barriers for students, though. We’re providing bright individuals, from all walks of life, with accessibly priced opportunities to compete in an increasingly competitive world.  Today’s students need relevant, in-person, web and mobile development training -- and that’s exactly what we’re offering. 

For example, many tend to think that:

1) Lower prices = lower quality of instruction

2) Participating students will have more “skin in the game” and are more likely to fully commit if the students pay a higher price

3) High tuition costs are due to high overhead expenses

In reality, none of these beliefs are entirely accurate. The fact is, you can still find excellent training opportunities at lower prices; it all depends on the ethics, model, and motivations of the organization supplying the program(s). Above all else, Code Chicago is concerned with helping individuals make forward progress in their lives and endeavors.  Likewise, many Bootcamps are $6K+ for 12 weeks, we’re $2K with tuition discounts available for women and minorities as we aim to increase diversity in the tech industry.  

Another focus is that our program continues to grow and perform this vital service for areas that are in need of assistance.   We hope this will enlarge the market of people that can affect change and solve problems in our communities.  From our experience, it’s not wise to make sweeping generalizations that claim to indicate what underrepresented groups will or won’t do, particularly in the tech industry.  Students are people - dynamic and sometimes unpredictable, but always willing to commit if they have any interest at all in a subject, and can comprehend it on a basic level.     

It’s all about the skills…

At the end of the day, it’s about developing relevant coding skills (while at the same time) lowering financial barriers for those wanting hands-on instruction.  In addition to providing talented individuals with technical guidance at BLUE1647 (The City of Chicago Technology & Innovation Center), we’re also seeking to help build communities in and around the Chicago area from the ground up.  Think of it as a sort of grass-roots initiative meant to empower generations before they actually enter the workforce, or accelerate those already within it.  Naturally, we have high expectations for positive change within participating areas; but at the same time, seeing cool apps being created that solve everyday problems is also a distinct possibility. For instance, a graduate of our first mobile development cohort soft launched www.leftforgood.com, while a student currently enrolled in our Ruby on Rails course founded www.ugolanguage.com.  

Youth Bootcamp, The 21st Century Youth Project

We’re beginner-focused and don't view each "class" as being an isolated class. This is why we offer classes in sequences as students advance, the hope being that students from our Code Chicago program will continue to receive instruction, as well as work with our students in our free program for youth, the 21st Century Youth Project.  In truth, it is this burgeoning model which helps us to continue to provide free classes through 21st CYP (since 2011). 

What our “Bootcamp” offers students:

Certainly there’s value in many other coding Bootcamps worldwide (particularly those that are full-time, expensive, and based on total immersion experiences), however we meet a different need. We're a part-time accelerated series - where students are still able to have jobs and maintain their familial relationships while attending class.   This is really about gaining the skills and tools necessary for the development industry. Our vision is to empower students to bring their own dreams to life through coding.

How exactly are we able to lower financial barriers & enroll smart, dedicated students, you ask? 

Our specialized approach to education. Some coding Bootcamps require students to teach themselves how to program with only skeletal supplemental materials available at hand.  They might use the instructors as little more than guides to help students when they're stuck or have questions.  Conversely, we have a great mix of teachers pulled directly from industry, who are able to lend support and impart hands-on experience.  In short, we’re able to achieve the same goals as other groups, only in a much shorter amount of time. Annual workshop-style coding meet-ups on class topics at the space we operate, BLUE1647, have also become a staple. 

Example: OAuth and OmniAuth training with Rails connecting to various popular social media sites that support OAuth (such as Twitter) after class for students to meet & learn directly from developers. Project-based learning and smaller class sizes means the students tend to become immediately immersed in the material.  Likewise, collaborating with others in problem-solving exercises that can be applied to the real world is also of particular importance. 

We operate within our own space at BLUE 1647.  Our innovation center was founded on one basic realization: there are simply too many people that are underemployed, yet with the appropriate training and pipeline for opportunity, many can achieve great things. BLUE1647 focuses on three important phases:

Phase 1: People Development

Phase 2: Workforce Development

Phase 3: Business Acceleration

We keep our overhead costs low, while continuing to work with passionate teachers that truly believe in our mission. Students receive free co-working space and access to our events during their enrollment, additional help from our members that are entrepreneurs and developers, get to participate in “Hackathons,” develop personal relationships with our partner organizations, and get direct interaction from on-site instructors.

 

The 3 things we look for in a student:

1) We want students who possess a passion for learning and might even have specific goals / aims regarding coding.  Students must have a strong desire when it comes to problem solving. 

2) Students who are all eager to show the world "what they're made of!".

3) We want students to have a basic aptitude with technology.

 

Even though we’re “Part-time” we highly recommend that students have the time to invest in their training.  After the 12-week series is complete, each student will have a digital portfolio containing a web or mobile app. While we’re not principally focused on getting students a job placement at tech firms or companies, our goal is to empower individuals with tangible, transferable skills to help them craft their own dreams and reality (through coding). Nevertheless, we can provide job placement exposure (and additional opportunities via various events, in certain circumstances). 

Need proof of our success?  Here you go…

We have worked with over:

- 850 youth (facilitating Bootcamps in Illinois in partnership with state representatives, students received internships, apprenticeship offers from development firms, and currently attending universities)

- 12,000 youth, adults, organizations and veterans in total, through Blue 1647

- Our space where we operate Code Chicago continues to be known as the largest minority incubator in the country, with over 135 members comprised of 9 veteran organizations, as well as 57 small businesses and organizations.

- We hosted the White House National Day of Civic Hacking (in partnership with the Smart Chicago Collaborative), and were also included in the first-ever City of Chicago Technology Plan. In partnership with Echo Nest, we have also hosted the first-ever “music hack day” in Chicago, and we're one of three spaces hosting “Big Data Week 2014” (this May).

With a purpose and motivation that extends beyond profitability into achieving significant social value, Code Chicago’s proceeds are poured back into further enhancing the overall quality of all our programs, which in turn benefits everyone involved.  Beginners, and advancing students learn the importance collaboration plays in technical development, and will be confronted by certain challenges, which push them towards further developing their “strategic vision”.  Upon successful completion of the program, students also become part of an Alumni Network, providing further mentorship, and job opportunities along with on-going support.  In other words, the hope is that students will use some of their acquired transferable skills, and future successes to help build up the areas which they originated from.   

 

For more information about Code Chicago, see their website, check out their School Page, follow on Twitter @Codechicago @Blue1647, or visit facebook.com/BLUE1647.

Special thanks to Antonio Rowry for this post. Antonio is the COO of BLUE1647, an impactful innovation center in Chicago, IL. Cofounder of Code Chicago and the 21st Century Youth Project. He’s passionate about building organizations that make the world a better place, and initiatives that enhance the diversity of thought in tech & entrepreneurship.