Coding 101: Tri-State job seekers find lessons in computer language in and out of the classroom

CINCINNATI - Fifteen out of 20 people entering Bob Nields’ office at Cincinnati State already have four-year college degrees--and not in IT.

They haven’t found jobs yet, so they’re aiming to enhance their degrees with expertise in languages that haven’t been around for very long: computer programming and coding.“All of the these liberal arts degrees are having a hard time finding jobs,” said Nields, who runs the school's Computer Software Development Department in the Center for Innovative Technologies . “They are coming back and getting degrees because there are better jobs.”

Theresa Le of West Chester is a student in Cincinnati State’s IT program. She decided to go back to school at the age of 32 to pursue a career in computer coding.

“I didn’t go to college before. I just tried to go back (to school) last year, last semester is my first semester and this is my second one,” Le said. “I’m getting into it and starting to like it more.”

She’s noticed that there aren’t many women in the programming field, but she looks at is as an advantage for her.

“I don’t see many women (in this job field) and I wanted to try it,” she said.

Although the coursework can be challenging, Le finds it fulfilling and hopes it will lead her on a path to a new career.

“I would like to work in an IT job,” Le said. “I would love to get hired.”

Le's prospects are good; in fact, there are more computer jobs than there are candidates. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the number of jobs in "computer and mathematical" fields would see growth of 18 percent by 2022. Only health care, construction, and "personal care services" have higher projected growth rates.

Although the IT job market has always been decent, when the dotcom bubble burst in the early 2000s many colleges started dropping technology programs. Now the continuous advent of new technologies means there are new jobs to fill.

“We have a lot of people coming to us now. They are coming to us because of that opportunity for jobs,” Nields explained. “We are seeing people getting their associate's degree to do it. We are seeing a lot of people with four-year degrees coming back to get a degree in this. They are coming in droves.”

Wanted: Coders with social skills

Around 700 people are currently in Cincinnati State’s technology program, although not all of them are sticking with the major.

“People understand the opportunity they are seeing, but we need to do a better job on our end of training people to get ready for it,” Nields said. “To ease them into the process so even if they don’t have a background they should be fine.”

A background in IT helps, but since the field is changing employers are looking for different qualities in workers, with the industry wanting workers to be more extroverted, Nields said.

Noelle Grome, coordinator of Cincinnati State’s Information Technology Co-Op program, echoed Nields’ sentiments.

“Before it was like companies could set programming students in a closet and they didn’t really need a personality,” she said. “Now the companies are looking at it holistically. They want students with a personality that have good intrapersonal skills.”

Grome’s job is to connect those students to companies providing co-ops, which are similar to internships, so they can earn a degree.

“I work with the students to prepare them to write a resume, to interview and I then send the resumes to different companies based on students’ skills and personality,” she said. “Then the companies pick the students they’re going to hire for the semester.”

There are more available co-ops than there are students Nields said, and Grome helps prepare them to be the complete package for employers.

“I encourage the students to get involved in some sort of professional organization to practice their networking skills,” she said. "A lot of IT students are introverts, so they’re quiet and it’s good seeing them going and challenging themselves to go to a networking event where they don’t know anyone.”

It’s not just educators noticing the need for these skills; local entrepreneurs are also stepping in to help those looking for a second chance at a career.

Coding outside of the classroom

Bill Barnett, co-founder of Gaslight, a Blue Ash-based business that creates smartphone and tablet apps for businesses, has noticed that not many people know the language of the web application form his company uses, Ruby on Rails.

So, he’s taken it upon himself to help educate anyone who’s looking to learn the language, especially if they’re looking for a career change or future employment, through Queen City Merge .

“Queen City Merge is our attempt to build a nonprofit organization based in Cincinnati to meet not only the needs of the tech community,” Barnett explained “(…but also) what we are trying to do is more bottom up, help individuals help themselves.”

The course helps students learn the language, which gives them a chance at a better job and possibly, a better life.

“This is our first effort to say, ‘Okay, if we could

take someone with zero knowledge on web application development, mid-life, career change oriented. If we can take someone with zero programming experience and teach them just this narrow path, the golden path, what would this look like?’” Barnett said.

Women get the coding message

Girl Develop It , a nationwide group that aims to help women learn the fundamentals of computer coding and programming, has a chapter in Cincinnati.

Its courses don't result in certification, but that's not goal. Instead, Girl Develop It aims to arm women with tools to add their their skill sets--not to mention their resumes.

“The whole ‘Knowledge is power’ thing; it’s still true,” said Becky Singson, a co-chair of Cincinnati’s Girl Develop It.

“In a nutshell, our mission and objective is to offer affordable introductory courses into getting your feet wet with technology,” she said. “It’s a field that is not dominated by women for a variety of reasons and we want to create a comfortable environment for women who may not have taken that route or taken that opportunity.”

Singson works at digital agency Rockfish and is used to being one of the only women in the building when it comes to her job in technology. She says the Girl Develop It courses do help women gain a basic

“We think of ourselves as empowering women and providing a tool for them to put into their arsenal,” she said.

You can connect with WCPO community manager Libby Cunningham on Twitter: @WCPOLibby .

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