Coding bootcamps capitalize on demand for 6,500 tech workers in Pittsburgh |

Coding bootcamps capitalize on demand for 6,500 tech workers in Pittsburgh

Aaron Aupperlee
Tech Elevator held a Learn-to-Code event at CoLab18 inside Nova Place on Pittsburgh's North Side before starting its first full class in May. (Photo from Tech Elevator)
Students in a Tech Elevator class in Columbus. (Photo from Tech Elevator)

Pittsburgh’s newest computer coding boot camp will start its first class this month as the need for programmers and software developers in the city continues to outpace supply.

Tech Elevator’s Pittsburgh campus will be the first outside its home state of Ohio, where it runs boot camps in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

The boot camp boasts a nearly 90 percent job placement rate for graduates.

“The need for software developers continues to stay off the charts,” said Justin Driscoll, the campus director of Tech Elevator’s Pittsburgh operation.

Tech Elevator’s 14-week boot camp costs $14,000. Students get 500 to 600 hours of coding experience and assistance with composing resumes, honing interview skills and pitches and networking with area companies looking to hire. Graduates make on average $58,000 a year, Driscoll said.

The program will set up inside the House of Metal, an office building on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Other organizations offer coding boot camps in Pittsburgh. Academy Pittsburgh offers a 12-week boot camp in Allentown. Students pay a $6,000 fee if they find a full-time job after graduating. Josh Lucas, an executive committee member of Work Hard PGH, which helps run Academy Pittsburgh, said half of the boot camp’s students are women, veterans, refugees or people of color typically underrepresented in the tech sector. About 75 percent of graduates find full-time work making about $58,000, Lucas said.

All Star Code, a New York-based nonprofit that teaches black, teenage boys how to code, piloted a free summer program in Pittsburgh last year at Chatham University.

Diversity of its classes is one area in which Tech Elevator would like to improve, Driscoll said.

Driscoll, who was at the Pittsburgh Technology Council before working for Tech Elevator, said Tech Elevator decided to open a campus in Pittsburgh after seeing the need. There were more than 6,500 open computing jobs in the Pittsburgh area in 2017 and fewer than 500 computer science graduates to fill them, Driscoll said. FedEX, PNC, American Eagle, Dick’s Sporting Goods and other Pittsburgh-based companies were snatching up Tech Elevator grads from Cleveland and Columbus. Erin Greco, director of IT for FedEx, said Tech Elevator offered qualified, local candidates.

“There’s absolutely a need here,” said Sam Ziegler, a software developer at PNC and a graduate of Tech Elevator in Cleveland.

Ziegler had been working as a financial analyst at a lending firm in Cleveland when he decided to quit and enroll in Tech Elevator. He said he realized he’d rather write computer programs to help financial analysts than do the job himself.

“But I didn’t really have any of the skills,” Ziegler said. “I knew at the time that what I was currently doing was wrong for me. I knew I was looking to make a change.”

Ziegler said PNC is a step up for him, and he enjoys his new, “healthy salary.”

Ziegler graduated from Tech Elevator in the spring of 2016 and quickly found a job at a small software company. A few months later, he was hired at PNC to work on software for its corporate and institutional banking division. Ziegler writes software to transition the bank from an old payment system to a new, centralized one. He works with databases, end-of-day reporting and development and operations infrastructure.

Ziegler doesn’t spend his whole day at his desk punching away at a computer.

“As much as I’m working on writing code, I’m also working with people,” Ziegler said. “I can’t really do my job effectively if I’m just putting on headphones and tuning out.”

Tech Elevator participants are typically in their mid-20s to mid-30s, Driscoll said. Most want to start a second career. Many leave full-time jobs to enroll and break into the tech scene. Others are unemployed and hoping programming skills will help them land a job.

Between 65 and 70 percent have bachelor’s degrees. There have been deli owners, graphic designers and musicians, Driscoll said. Lots of musicians.

“In almost every cohort, we have a band,” Driscoll said.

Tech Elevator’s application process is rigorous. People first take a 25-minute, 12-question, online test to see if they think like a programmer. A bulk of the questions require math, but it’s not your typical algebra homework. The questions require people to work backward through a series of math functions or use substitution to solve equations. There are questions that hint at logic and pattern recognition.

People who pass the test are invited to apply for an interview. If they pass the interview, they take an 18-question test.

About 50 people started the application process for Tech Elevator’s first class. Fourteen will start the course.

“I don’t want to take their money if they’re going to fail or if they drop out or they don’t get a job,” Driscoll said.

Tech Elevator says 91 percent of its students graduate and of those, 89 percent find full-time jobs.

Driscoll said Tech Elevator students can qualify for a grant of up to $5,000 from Partner4Work, a Pittsburgh-area workforce development organization. More information about Tech Elevator is available at .

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected], 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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