Amid Coding School Boom, Eleven Fifty Aims to Meet a Local Need

A little over a year ago, John Qualls, a veteran entrepreneur and leader in the Indianapolis area’s business community, decided to try something slightly different for his next career move.

At the time Qualls was working as an executive at BlueLock, a company he started in 2006 that develops software to help clients manage data stored on remote servers, and recover it in the event of a disaster. Qualls says that some of the region’s high-tech companies, including his own, often encountered a hiring pool that was short on workers with the needed technical skills. “Finding talented people has been a challenge for me my entire career,” he says.

Meanwhile, Scott Jones was feeling a similar pain. Jones is CEO of Carmel, IN-based ChaCha, a question-and-answer service that allows users to submit queries via phone, text message, or an online form. Qualls says that when ChaCha—founded by Jones in 2005—was growing and needed to hire a mobile developer, the company was initially stringent about considering only candidates with relevant skills and experience. Eventually, though, ChaCha had to temper those expectations.

“By the end, they were simply asking, ‘Do you have a heartbeat and do you carry a phone?’” Qualls says. “They went through 100 people and couldn’t find anyone with the needed skill set. That prompted Scott to say, ‘This is a real problem.’”

So in January 2015, Jones launched Eleven Fifty Academy, a nonprofit that provides in-person instruction on developing software for computers and mobile devices. Qualls joined Eleven Fifty, which is also based in Carmel, as president the following month.

While the number of so-called coding schools has proliferated in recent years, Qualls says one thing that sets Eleven Fifty apart from other organizations is its focus on teaching those languages and skills that are in demand from today’s employers.

Earlier this month, Eleven Fifty announced a collaboration with Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the state’s technical college system. Under the terms of the agreement, a student who completes a nine-week program through Eleven Fifty can receive 12 credit hours toward an Ivy Tech degree or certificate.

“This partnership between Ivy Tech and Eleven Fifty Academy opens doors for these students, allowing them to get a head start on a degree in this emerging field,” says Kathleen Lee, chancellor of Ivy Tech Central Indiana, in a statement.

Qualls says that the majority of students in a nine-week course that kicked off in March are between the ages of 19 and 25, which is fairly typical for Eleven Fifty. However, an increasing number of groups are working to teach computer science concepts to students of all ages and abilities.

An analysis by the coding-school website Course Report estimated that there are 67 full-time “coding boot camps” in the U.S. and Canada, and their 2015 revenues totaled more than $170 million. An estimated 16,056 students graduated from such camps last year, up from 2,098 in 2013, according to the analysis.

And it’s no wonder why: The technology sector is where many high-paying jobs are today, and where many of the new jobs created during the coming years will be. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that from 2014 to 2024, employment in “computer and information technology occupations” will grow by 12 percent. The median wage for these jobs was more than $81,000 as of last May, according to BLS data, compared with an average wage of $36,200 across all occupations.

Coding academies have popped up on the West Coast—there are schools in San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle, for example—as well as in cities in the middle of the country, like Detroit and Austin, TX.

Those who aren’t ready to spend the time or money on an immersive program—Course Report estimates the average coding boot camp lasts 10.8 weeks and … Next Page »

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Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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