Code Fellows Plans to Open Detroit Office, Help Fill Talent Pipeline

As part of Detroit Homecoming, three days of events devoted to luring expats back to the Motor City, more than 150 former residents were invited back to learn more about how they can participate in the city’s revitalization.

(Allow us to digress: One of the announcements made as part of Detroit Homecoming was that Austin, TX-based Whole Foods is looking for a second Detroit location. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if that isn’t a sign that Detroit is a very different place than it was even three years ago, I don’t know what is.)

The idea of enticing Michigan expats back home isn’t new. State and local officials have been trying to attract the talent and money of former residents here for a few years now, with mixed results.

Kristin Smith is one of the expats participating in Detroit Homecoming. She was born in Royal Oak, grew up in Troy, and moved out of state in 1999.

Smith is the CEO of Code Fellows in Seattle, a startup focused on teaching people how to write code, but with a twist: Code Fellows guarantees that graduates of its eight-week development accelerator (price tag: $10,000 per person) are promised a job upon graduation paying at least $100,000. She told us she’s planning to expand Code Fellows to Detroit, the first time the company has established an office outside of Seattle.

“Where we are in our evolution is pointing us toward geographic expansion,” Smith says. “We guarantee a job offer, which is why we need to be where people are. We’re excited to be part of the renaissance, which is also a good reason for Code Fellows to be in Detroit, with all of the training and retraining needed to help people get the skills they need to be employed.”

Software developers, she says, used to be hired only by tech companies. But now that software is heavily involved in nearly every industry on the planet, there are lots of IT jobs that need to be filled. Even in Michigan, which has struggled with a relatively high unemployment rate, there’s a great need for IT talent.

But can Smith really promise people in Detroit, still an economically depressed place despite the revitalization underway, a job paying six figures? She answered carefully.

“We did some quick data gathering when we were thinking of where we wanted to go,” she explains. “I see tons of open developer jobs in Seattle, and there are about two-thirds [as many] of those jobs in Detroit. Even if there were only half as many, we’re still a drop in the ocean when you’re looking at the talent pipeline.”

Smith says she’s working to make the right connections in Detroit to find out where the talent gaps are and what software skills employers are looking for. It’s likely that the Seattle curriculum will be tweaked to fit Detroit, she adds. She’s also looking for funding sources to help bring the price of the eight-week program down.

Ideally, Smith says, she’d like to open the Detroit office of Code Fellows next year.

“I’ve been so blown away by the love and care people have for each other here,” she notes. “It makes me even more excited to be in Detroit.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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