By Amanda Bates | Photo by John Goldy
McGee is the CEO and lead instructor of We Can Code IT, an adult education program striving to diversify the technology and engineering fields in Northeast Ohio.
The idea to begin We Can Code IT gradually formed in McGee’s mind as she spoke with women after presenting at tech conferences. Very often women would ask if she would teach them to code.
“It became clear that they were kind of intimidated by my male peers, so they felt more comfortable asking me,” she says.
Through We Can Code IT, her goal is to fill a greater percentage of those one million open positions with women and people of color, both of which are underrepresented in STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) careers.
We Can Code IT offers full-time and part-time coding boot camps, which are highly comprehensive and focused on providing the relevant, practical information students will need to find employment in the technology fields.
The full-time boot camp, which lasts 12 weeks, is held quarterly. Part-time boot camps are 22 weeks and offered twice each year. Each session is comprised of roughly 20 adults, and McGee hopes to graduate 200 students this year.
Tuition starts at $10,000 and includes the instruction necessary to learn technical skills, one-on-one mentoring, and resume-building assistance. We Can Code IT has also built strong partnerships with area employers, meaning students have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with prospective employers that match their interests and skills.
“A lot of students have tried online-only options,” she says. “The problem is there’s a sea of coding information out there, and people don’t know where to start.”
With We Can Code IT, students aren’t left flying solo. McGee emphasizes teamwork and encourages peers to learn from each other, as well as from instructors.
“It’s this really engaged project-based learning environment,” McGee adds.
Her coding boot camps have avoided falling into the unbalanced demographic ratios found in traditional college STEM classrooms. Typically, these programs are composed of 80 percent white males and 20 percent women and people of color.
McGee has actually achieved the inverse by offering diversity focus awards, giving recipients $1,000 to put toward their tuitions. Eligible recipients must either be a woman, African American, Hispanic, Native American or earn less than $47,500 annually.
Boot camp participants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. However, McGee stresses that no prior programming knowledge is required or even expected.
According to McGee, many of her students have liberal arts degrees but have struggled to find jobs in their fields. Boot camp allows them to apply the analytical thinking skills and computer skills they already have to establishing themselves in a very lucrative field.
“That’s the cool thing with computer science,” McGee says. “The average salary for a software engineer or software developer is $93,000 after five or six years.”
Her formula has attracted students from around Northeast Ohio and as far away as California and Hawaii. For the most part, graduates are finding jobs here in Cleveland at companies such as Hyland Software, StreamLink Software, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
McGee turns to these employers, in part, to shape her curriculum. Right now, for instance, boot camps are highly focused on .NET and C# skills because she knows those are in demand.
McGee is excited to have a hand in turning Cleveland into a tech hub, on top of diversifying its workforce. She and her team have more programming in the works, including a nonprofit arm, free coding experiences, and a summer skill-building course put on in collaboration with Case Western Reserve University.
“Coding is a language that transcends all fields – everyone should learn at least something,” McGee says. “If you have a really innovative idea and you want to create it, you’d need code to do that.”
For more information: wecancodeit.org
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