Code talkers: Through events like HackCincy, the Tri-State tries to stress its tech-centered future

Businesses, schools reflect need for skills

CINCINNATI -- The proof of the 24-hour marathon hacking that's just taken place throughout Union Hall, Cincinnati's startup hub located in Over-the-Rhine, lies in the rows of beer cans, candy wrappers, soda bottles and chip bags scattered across tables in the building's second-floor Beer Hall.

HackCincy, which attracted some 48 coders Aug. 19-20, is the latest in a growing number of hackathons and coding events taking place throughout Greater Cincinnati.

The prime goal, says HackCincy organizer and front-end engineering instructor Jake Boyles, is to help people who may not have resources to pay for coding classes to gain access to affordable events that provide the development training they need.

The HackCincy team

"I really believe that Cincinnati is one of the best places to launch a software career," Boyles said, speaking after the HackCincy pitches. "We have one of the best communities around and true to Midwestern fashion, everyone is immensely friendly and willing to help."

Boyles is part of a growing network of Greater Cincinnati entrepreneurs, startup co-founders and tech leaders building and designing innovative programs to make coding and software development education accessible, affordable and available to all Cincinnatians no matter their age, career path, economic class or race.

These coding educators understand that for Greater Cincinnati to continue growing as a Midwest tech hub, a future workforce of coders and software developers is essential.

Basically, if Greater Cincinnati is unable to deliver the tech workforce companies need to be successful, these business will likely look elsewhere.

On the flip side, there are Cincinnati-area workers in need of a career shift and desperate to increase their earnings. Learning to code offers workers a chance to rise to a higher income bracket. The secret is to complement online coding classes with offline support via meet-ups, hackathons and workshops.

Tara Z. Manicsic is founder and director of Cincy Women Who Code and co-director of Nodeschool Cincy.

"There are a ton of resources online to help people get into programming, but that can only take you so far," said Tara Z. Manicsic, founder and director of Cincy Women Who Code and co-director of Nodeschool Cincy. "When you're learning and even when you're an experienced developer, one of the best resources you can have is someone to talk through coding problems with."

For Manicsic, Women Who Code, which offers monthly coding workshops, and tech meet-ups like Girls Develop It (GDI), NodeSchool Cincy and CincyPy are just some of the free opportunities to learn with fellow developers.

Plus, as Greater Cincinnati's coding ecosystem grows in diversity and capacity, experienced programmers like Manicsic gain new opportunities to give back to the tech community as well test their skills via design sprints.

Area software leaders like Chris Ridenour, chief technical officer at tech startup Casamatic and one of the HackCincy organizers; Na'Shawnda Peterson, president of the Cincinnati chapter of Black Data Processing Associates; and Girl Develop It Cincinnati chapter leaders Amy Howes and Becky Blank continue to look for breakthroughs in coding education and training and tech staffing development, as well as HR recruitment.

"The next steps in making Cincinnati a hub for coding is really creating more partnerships between several of the nonprofit, technical organizations, companies here locally and startups," added Peterson. "I believe we are just scratching the surface of this kind of synergy. Developing and helping each other would be beneficial to all, especially having the ability to draw more talent to the area."

Of course, some resources remain unavailable, which speaks to the arrival of new coding enterprises like Tech Elevator.

Anthony Hughes (left) and David Wintrich are co-founders of Tech Elevator.

Tech Elevator, a provider of 14-week coding education boot camps, continues prep at the HCDC Business Center near Xavier University, to establish a 14-week education camp to provide career-ready, software developers to startups and mid-sized companies, as well as big corporations.

Tech Elevator Co-founders Anthony Hughes and David Wintrich are fine-tuning a software education model as agile, lean and rapid as the companies they're partnering with to provide developers.

"In today's economy, almost every company relies on technology to operate, grow and sustain its business no matter what the shape or size," Hughes said, speaking at Tech Elevator's new HCDC classrooms. "If you've ever paid a bill after hours, taken money out of an ATM or swiped a card instead of given cash at your neighborhood grocery store, all businesses today rely on transactions that run across technology infrastructures. So, we need to look at the entire ecosystem of technology and programming that support every type of company and organization that are a community's backbone, and make sure they have quality talent to be successful."

New arrivals to Cincinnati's tech ecosystem like Hughes and Wintrich and longtime coding champions, like Dave Dziak of MAX Technical Training and Cincy Code IT in Mason, want to help Cincinnati business owners who are having a hard time finding coders and developers to fill their IT vacancies.

They look to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who recently delivered a call to action for better training of Ohio's labor force for new technology jobs after Foxconn chose Wisconsin for its first American manufacturing plant.

It's a significant challenge because Greater Cincinnati businesses need a growing network of coding and software educators and staff suppliers in order to achieve their capacity and scale goals.

Corporate anchors like Fifth Third Bank and Kroger maintain a consistent demand for coding talent. Area educational institutions like Miami University are introducing coding as part of their curriculum. The startup ecosystem has growing tech companies like Ahalogy, Astronomer and Losant looking to skilled developers. Governmental agencies from REDI to Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber look to coding leaders to help provide the resources necessary for tech training.

"I'm excited to see our universities create programs for students to pursue development outside of computer science," said Ridenour. "In the same way a mechanical engineer doesn't necessarily know how to weld, computer science teaches theory and the why -- but it takes time and motivation to learn how to develop well. Groups like StartupUC and INKUBATOR get students to work on their own ideas, from the business and technical side, and create people who know how to get things done -- which is exactly what our city needs."

For a future workforce of coders to ignite in Greater Cincinnati, there new benchmarks and next steps still need to happen.

"We need to continue to leverage the things that are already happening," added Dziak. "Columbus was just announced the best city in the country for tech jobs. I spent three years recruiting IT in both Columbus and Cincinnati and I believe that Cincinnati is hands-down a better development market."

The ultimate goal is to make Cincinnati a hub for coding education. More boot camps, classes, meetings and workshops result in a better chance at building a future workforce of coders and developers.

Come October, when Tech Elevator welcomes its first boot camp class and expands Greater Cincinnati's coding ecosystem, we'll learn if the software talent gap is closer to being closed.

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