Magazine article American Libraries

Get Cracking on Code: Community Courses Lead to Jobs

Magazine article American Libraries

Get Cracking on Code: Community Courses Lead to Jobs

Article excerpt

Matt Ferguson was in a dead-end job, and he knew it. He'd become a paralegal because it gave him flexibility to spend time with his family. But working in a small office, he had no hope for advancement, and he didn't love the work. After researching different career options, he decided to learn about web development, an area ripe for growth. That's what led him to the Louisville (Ky.) Free Public Library (LFPL).

In a matter of months, Ferguson took a series of free coding classes through the library. It opened up an array of career possibilities, and he was quickly hired as a front-end web developer with an advertising agency. "When I was working as a paralegal, I had reached the ceiling," says Ferguson. "Whereas with web development, there are a lot of avenues I could go into."

Louisville's library system is one of many across the country offering coding courses to community members. From the East Coast to the West, different programs have arisen, aimed at kids, graduate students, and the general public. The result: improving technological literacy while filling communities' needs, and leading, even, to new careers.

Transformative learning

It was a program called Code Louisville that caught Ferguson's attention in the first place. The initiative, a partnership among several Louisville government and nonprofit agencies--LFPL, the Department of Economic Development, Greater Louisville Inc., EnterpriseCorp, and KentuckianaWorks--as well as local businesses, is the city's response to its software developer shortage. Louisville is home to a number of health-care-related companies, including Humana, Kindred Healthcare, Atria Senior Living, Trilogy Health Services, and, in recent years, has been working to fill nearly 2,000 technology jobs.

As part of the Code Louisville program, the library provides the learning platform and KentuckianaWorks (a workforce investment board and partner in Code Louisville) refers people to the library. As a library cardholder, Ferguson was able to enroll in a free 12-week course online that focused on front-end web development, where he studied independently and then met with his class and an assigned mentor once a week to review his work. Soon after the course ended, a recruiter helped him find a job as a front-end web developer, where he has been working since April.

Ferguson is one of 11 men and women who have found new jobs thanks to the coding skills they learned through Code Louisville (about 100 people have participated in the program since it launched in fall 2013). The initiative has been so successful that it was recently awarded a $2.9 million federal grant to expand into other regions and will begin working with additional libraries in coming months. The goal over the next three years is to train and place 500 people in jobs.

One reason it has been so successful: LFPL had the infrastructure in place to train library members in coding for free. "It really allowed us to deploy so much faster, because the distribution channel was there, at no cost to the individual," says Rider Rodriguez, director of sector strategies at KentuckianaWorks. "We could never have launched as quickly without the library stepping in to do this."

That infrastructure was in place thanks to Julie Scoskie, LFPL's director of education and outreach. In September 2013, Scoskie purchased a license for the community to use Treehouse, an online resource of courses that teaches users to code, design websites, build apps, and more. As users master each skill, they're awarded a badge by Tree-house and move alongto the next skill. To date, more than 9,000 badges have been earned, says Scoskie.

To use the program, library cardholders simply register with their card number and log on remotely. They have access to more than 1,000 videos that instruct them on programming language such as HTML, JavaScript, app development, and Ruby on Rails. …

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