Coding With a Mission: Claim Academy student, USAF veteran, and Boeing full stack developer, Kevin Thornton.

Kevin Thornton, Claim Academy Graduate

At Claim Academy, our students are our true inspiration. Their sacrifice, dedication, and personal stories motivate us all to raise our own game.  Each of our students has a great story to tell. Today, we’re going to let one of our current Claim Academy students and Air Force veteran, Kevin Thornton, tell his story. Kevin recently accepted a job with Boeing in St. Louis and will be relocating to the greater St. Louis metro after graduation this month.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Austin, Texas, went to high school there, and did a bit of college at UT (The University of Texas at Austin), and then my folks moved out to West Texas and retired in San Angelo, Texas, so I relocated there for a few years. Around this time I realized I would need additional money for graduate school so I decided to enlist in the Air Force earlier than I had originally planned.

While in the Air Force, I considered making it a career, but my parents were older in age and as the last, and youngest child, I knew that I would be needed at home to help them out. After my time in the military, I finished my undergraduate degree at Texas Lutheran University. I studied Patristics, which is the study of early church history and writings.

After earning my bachelors, I began to pursue my masters at Southern Methodist University. Unfortunately, my dad developed cancer at that time I was in grad school, and I came home to take care of him. After he passed away, I stayed in San Angelo to take care of my mother.

Did you return to school or work after that time?
While in San Angelo I worked as a special education teacher at Belair Elementary. It was during that time where I developed the idea of using coding to help parents with autistic children. There was a lot being done for the kids, but not much that was being done to help the parents.

I also worked at a help desk at the hospital, and that was kind of like being the cop of the IT world–no one wants to see you until there’s an emergency. And, then, everyone wants you to be there immediately. I felt like one could plateau pretty early on the IT side.

I knew the real future lies in coding–creating products and things from scratch that real users needed.

What languages were you coding back in the 1990s?
Working at the help desk, I mainly used scripting, automation, bat files, and things like that, though I did experiment with C++. In terms of coding, I wasn’t doing as much of that as I was in hardware and software troubleshooting.

What was your first exposure to coding or software development?
When I was in high school, it was Basic and COBOL, and I took some classes on it. I took those classes in the 1980s, and it wasn’t that interesting at the time. It was basically databases and very basic automation, and where you’re in your teens it wasn’t that exciting.

In the ’90s, the internet was growing exponentially and I could see the possibilities that were happening all around…

How did you decide to enlist in the Air Force?
Every member of my family served in the military, and I also wanted to get the GI Bill for graduate school. I felt that it was a responsibility to the country to serve and give back. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the Job Corps or the military, just give something back to the country you are fortunate enough to live in.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from your time in the military?
Working as a team and working with people with different backgrounds, personalities, and how to troubleshoot and organize on a massive scale. Also how to prioritize, triage and prepare technologies for deployment.

And finally, learning how to adapt and overcome. There’s an old saying, I believe from Helmuth Van Moltke, who stated that “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”* That’s very true. You can make plans, but you also have to be able to adapt very quickly.

If you can, describe what you did in the Air Force?
I was part of the first crew chiefs assigned to the B-2 Stealth Bomber when they reactivated the 509th Bomb Wing. It was a prestigious assignment, and I was proud to serve in the program.

How did your experience in the Air Force shape your life and your outlook?
It just reinforced my idea and feeling that I was part of a bigger picture and a team. It instilled in me the belief that what you do matters, and how you do it, matters.

How did you decide to pursue a career in software development?
I reached that aha moment where I realized that IT help desk had a limited future for me. I wanted to leave footprints or do something that impacts peoples lives,  and I realized you have to create a product that actually does some good. I wanted to do something that gave back to the parents of the children I worked with. When I was teaching special ed, I realized there was a need for a portal that was directed at these adults. I had the idea for my Capstone (software project for Claim Academy’s final) before I came here, but I realized that I needed to learn how to code.

Learning how to code on your own can be done, but it’s a lot easier when you have structure, guidance, and immersion. That’s why I decided to go the coding boot camp route.

What have you learned from travel?
I’ve learned that geography and the landscape might change, but people are people in every culture.  You’re going to find people that you really like and have a lot in common with, and you find people you’re not going to mesh with. The things that are going to change are our culture, food, and their approach to life. Basically, you’re going to find good and the negative in every country and situation. You could talk to the Inuits in Alaska or any culture on the planet, and find some that you like, and others that you just do not get along with.

Who inspired or continues to inspire you?
I think that people that attain a level of success in their fields yet stay good people and give back are inspirational. Keanu Reeves is approachable and good with his time and willingness to help people. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook set up the scholarships that enabled me to attended Claim Academy and obtain the job with Boeing. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and his wife (Melinda), etc. People that think outside of their circles to help others.

How did you decide to select Claim Academy from all the coding boot camps out there?
I previously looked at other boot camp programs, and I was accepted into one of them, and I even made a downpayment on one. Then I discovered, and this struck me as false advertising, that they’d simply used the university’s logos (UT, USC, University of Oklahoma, etc). They would use the university affiliation, letterhead, images, etc. so they appeared to be part of the university, but in reality, they are just licensing the name. When I found that out, that struck me as a caveat emptor situation (buyer beware), and it was disillusioning. To be fair, in the tiny print, they do have verbiage indicating they’re not really affiliated with the university.

So I decided to research more schools with solid reputations. Claim Academy was one of them. The pre-course work was challenging and was real coding. Plus, Praneeth seemed very knowledgeable, and Jennifer was very helpful with the logistics of getting here. After speaking with them, I felt like the school really had their act together. When you’re traveling in from out of state, it’s important to have a place to stay before you arrive and Claim Academy made it as easy as possible.  Additionally, the Facebook scholarship and endorsement on websites such as Course Report stood out for me. If Facebook believed in Claim Academy enough to allow them to distribute scholarships, then there must be something positive going on there.

What was the most challenging moment at Claim Academy and how did you overcome it?
For me, it was probably the first week and adjusting to the pace. There’s a reason they call it boot camp.  There’s so much information, but what’s kept me going is my classmates and my instructors who reassured me that everyone feels this way initially. Understanding that everyone is pretty much in the same boat, but others with less prior knowledge than mine have made it. You have to be willing to spend the time outside of class to make it work, and it takes effort on your part.

Helping our Nation’s Veteran’s Fill The Coding Pipeline.

2.77 Million Service Members Have Served On 5.4 Million Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan Since 9/11.*

200,000 of them separate from the military every year.**

Approximately 200,000 service members separate from the military every year**. Our nation’s veterans are a diverse, skilled, dedicated talent pool that needs the right training and preparation for the civilian workforce.

Our nation’s veterans already possess tenacity, problem-solving abilities, and can handle pressure in a way many civilians cannot.  Some have also acquired valuable skills in the military that may translate well into growing fields like software development. Others, while capable of learning anything, haven’t had exposure to coding. That’s OK; we have the solution.

At Claim Academy, an accredited, accelerated, and GI Bill®***-approved coding boot camp, we teach the skills that help veterans leverage their military experience and transition into great careers with excellent pay, benefits, and unlimited futures. We also work tirelessly to ensure that our students-both civilians and veterans, land jobs as soon as possible. In fact, we have multiple students that have received and accepted job offers from top St. Louis-based companies, even before they graduate.

There is a staggering amount of positions in the software development space that go unfilled every year. Approximately 1,000 of the 10,000 available software development jobs in Missouri go unfilled every year****! That’s not because Missouri employers are too picky or that there aren’t millions of applicants, the reason is what we like to call the skills gap. Missouri employers want skilled coders, specifically those with full stack skills–Java and C#/ .NET specifically. Luckily, both employers and prospective veteran students, also know that this gap must be filled by training and hiring competent software developers with just the right skills–skills that veterans are learning at Claim Academy.

We teach students that have an aptitude for problem-solving and the desire to learn, the exact skills that Missouri employers like Allscripts, Boeing, Bayer, Centene, Express Scripts, InBev, MasterCard, and many more, desire and more importantly, hire.

We know that both Missouri and nationwide companies want to hire veterans. In hiring a vet, they know that they’re hiring someone who is dedicated to solving the mission, never giving up, capable of teamwork, self-reliance, and ability to adapt to change and do so on the fly.

Together, veterans, employers, the state of Missouri, and Claim Academy can create a win-win situation where all parties accomplish their missions, contribute to shared growth, and participate in prosperity. Claim Academy is ready for our mission and stands ready to help train and place vets for great roles in software development at Missouri companies.

CITATIONS AND LINKS:

*https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/03/20/2-77-million-service-members-have-served-on-5-4-million-deployments-since-911-infographic/

**https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/news/stories/gen-odierno.htm

***https://benefits.va.gov/gibill/  The GI Bill ® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill

****https://www.kcur.org/post/report-missouri-employers-struggle-find-qualified-workers

Claim Academy Kicks Off National Military Appreciation Month With a Big Announcement.

Attention! Claim Academy Reporting For Duty. Claim Academy Now Approved to Accept Veterans’ Education Benefits!

It’s been another great week at Claim Academy, the Midwest’s premier coding boot camp. We have big things happening, and we’re excited to share some of the big news right here with you, our faithful readers.

As many of you already know, our Founder, and Chief Idea Officer, Ola Ayeni, and several of our current Java software developer students, were featured in an article in the business section of the Sunday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Ola revealed a big surprise in that article–Claim Academy recently received the approval of The Veterans Education and Training Section for the GI Bill®*. The GI Bill®* is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs*. You can find more information about the education benefits offered by the VA at the official U.S. government web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill*

Ola Ayeni, our fearless leader, recently said in a press statement: “America’s veterans and their family members have earned these great benefits and we want to help our country’s vets transition from the military and into great, high-paying jobs in software development. Demand for skilled programmers–the kind you’ll find right here at Claim Academy, is huge and projected to grow.” In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of software developers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Software developers will be needed to respond to an increased demand for computer software. Almost a million programming jobs in the US went unfilled last year**. Claim Academy wants to meet this demand and fill these jobs with qualified, skilled coders, including our nation’s veterans.

In March 2019, Code Academy, ranked one “One of the Best  Coding Bootcamps in 2019 & 2018” by SwitchUp *** and Rated as “One of the Best Coding Bootcamps in 2017″ by Course Report,**** was approved by The Veterans Education and Training Section, to accept and train veterans by allowing them to use their GI Bill®* benefits to cover the costs of tuition and more.

Claim Academy’s accelerated 9 or 12-week courses in Full Stack Java and C#/.Net programming are great programs for veterans that don’t want to spend four years or more pursuing a traditional degree and worrying about finding a job upon graduation. Some Claim Academy students receive job offers before they even graduate!

Claim Academy firmly believes in putting all of our students first. We are committed to helping our veterans utilize their education benefits, and train them for the in-demand jobs in software development. Moreover, Claim Academy helps fill Missouri’s programming talent pipeline and helps America grow economically.

The Veterans Education and Training Section is the State Approving Agency responsible for approving GI Bill®* Programs in Missouri for veterans and other eligible individuals. To learn more, visit: https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/apply.asp

Claim Academy graduates, including many veterans, work for Missouri-based Fortune 500 and other great companies including Bayer, Express Scripts, MasterCard, Boeing, Centene, Mercy, RGA, Daugherty Business Systems, and many more. Claim Academy is an approved center for Workforce Development, as designated by the Missouri Workforce Development Board. Because of this designation, Missouri residents can apply for grants for Claim Academy training through several Missouri Workforce Center. Scholarships and financial aid are also available for qualifying applicants.

To learn more, visit – https://claimacademystl.com/veterans.php

CITATIONS AND LINKS:

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill

**https://qz.com/929275/you-probably-should-have-majored-in-computer-science/

***https://www.switchup.org/bootcamps/claim-academy

****https://www.coursereport.com/best-coding-bootcamps

Claim Academy is approved to operate by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education.

Claim Academy Gears Up for Summer Demo Days

Any student who has attended Claim Academy knows that Demo Day is when things get really, well, real.

Prep for Demo Day starts as early as Day 1. That’s because on Demo Day, students have the opportunity to show off their skills in front of a group of community supporters, and, more importantly, employers.

This summer, Claim is hosting two Demo Days within a month’s time, which is unusual. These two Demo Days are full of students who came to Claim on the Facebook Scholarship.

Let’s rewind. In March, we announced a groundbreaking partnership with Facebook, which provided $250,000 in scholarship funds to students who could not afford to attend bootcamp at Claim otherwise.

Time has passed quickly for these students. The first Java cohort, full of Facebook Scholarship  recipients, is set to graduate in just over a week. Their Demo Day is on July 12.

Capstone projects reflect each student’s personal interests or hobbies; we believes in giving students the flexibility to build a software application or website that solves a real problem — any

Joseph Williams, Spring 2018 .NET graduate, presents his final capstone project on Demo Day.

problem — they have identified in their work or personal life.

At Demo Day on July 12th, student projects will include, among many others, an app to schedule hair bookings, a software to help us recover from natural disasters, and a supply chain logistics management system.

Claim Academy originally partnered with Facebook because they share a common mission to address the skills gap in technology. The lack of software developers who can write code in the St. Louis region often prevents companies from claiming their stake as members of the growing Midwestern tech innovation hub. Though jobs in technology are abundant, people lack access to basic education in coding and software development. Minority populations are even less likely to gain access to this kind of training.

Thanks to the Facebook grant, we admitted 25 new students from diverse backgrounds, including some international students from Uzbekistan, Kenya and Nigeria.

Whether you’re a St. Louis local or simply passing through, we encourage you to stop in to Demo Day. See what coding bootcamps are all about – and how they set students up for success in a tech career.

There are two upcoming Demo Days this Summer: one on July 12 and another on August 2nd. For more information and to RSVP, please visit: www.claimacademystl.com/demo-day.php.

Claim Academy Launches New Apprenticeship Program, Aims to Empower Veterans

We are happy to announce that Claim Academy is launching our first apprenticeship program with a goal to help retired military start a civilian career in technology! Thanks to a new partnership with Eagle Technology Group, veterans and their spouses — especially those preparing to transition from military to civilian life — are eligible to apply for an apprenticeship that will launch them directly into an entry-level role in IT or software development at Eagle TG.

Although anyone may apply for the opportunity, this apprenticeship is especially groundbreaking for veterans.  This unique program is approved and sanctioned by the State of Missouri Department of Apprenticeship as well as the U.S Department of Labor.  Many veterans are interested in joining one of the fastest-growing sectors: software development and information technology. Approximately 250,000 veterans exit service annually, and of the 17,000 veterans currently living in St. Louis, many of them struggle to find rewarding work that allows them to engage the skill sets they developed during time in service.

The demand for professionals in tech grows stronger every day, and for veterans transitioning into civilian life with their families, a career in software development could provide the stability, flexibility and high earning potential they’re looking for in a job.

Ryan Nettemeier, a Principal Engineer at Eagle TG, notes that veterans in particular have a certain skill set and ability to communicate that is much needed on teams like his. “Veterans possess many of the traits we look for and expect within our teams,” he notes. “We pride ourselves on the talent, experience, domain knowledge, and the drive of our people to be the best they can be.”

Accepted candidates will start by training with us, at Claim Academy in Downtown St. Louis, where they will spend 9 to 12 weeks in an accelerated coding training cohort, learning how to code using Java or C#/.NET languages.

Employers across America have identified that veterans make great coders and even better team members. Eagle TG is no exception.

“Eagle has always focused on hiring veterans,” Ray Gluck, Director of Program Management, notes. “About 60% of our team members are veterans.”

We have worked hand-in-hand with Ray and his team in the past to find — and hire —  veterans who can code. “One [graduate] in particular, Colburn Sanders, immediately contributed to two critical high-value projects,” Gluck recalls, “and he continues to make significant contributions today as a valued team member. We’re excited about Claim’s new veteran program and look forward to bringing more veterans onto our team this summer.”

Once they complete the required training at Claim, the trainees will start immediately in an entry-level role on the IT or software development team at Eagle TG.

Since opening our doors in 2014, Claim Academy has been perfecting two core bootcamp cohorts, Full-Stack Java and Full-Stack C#/.NET with a 95% placement rate. Although these two languages are used for very different things, Eagle TG uses both. That means that people applying for our apprenticeship may choose which language they’d like to learn.

During the training at Claim Academy, all students (civilian or military) will produce a capstone project, which is typically a software application or website, to add to their professional portfolio.

We call our cohort a “bootcamp” for a reason; the training is quite rigorous. All students attending Claim Academy must be prepared to work long, hard hours — up to 50 hours per week.

“I don’t think most people realize what the commitment is for these individuals to attend a Claim Academy Cohort,” says Nettemeier. “These students are hungry, eager, and passionate. So we believe Claim’s bootcamps and Eagle’s team atmosphere will challenge, develop and help these individuals reach their personal goals.”

It’s clear that as technology advances, companies must evolve their workforce to focus on maintaining data integrity, improving website performance, developing web-based products or mobile apps, and so much more — all in an effort to stay relevant and competitive in their industries.

Claim Academy Founder Ola Ayeni is excited by the prospect of assisting veterans in their search for a civilian career. “After working with several veterans,’ he says, “we believe our U.S Department of Labor sanctioned apprenticeship program will allow us to help our men and women in uniform into high paying careers in technology.”

There’s no better time to jump on the technology train—and you can now can do it in just a few months with the help of Claim Academy and Eagle TG.

To apply to this new apprenticeship training program with Eagle Technology Group, visit http://claimacademystl.com/eagle.php .

To learn more about Claim Academy’s bootcamps and free coding workshops, visit www.claimacademystl.com .

 

 

How to Ask an Employer to Fund Coding Bootcamp Training

Coding Bootcamp Students

It may seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but really, getting your employer to pay for your coding bootcamp isn’t that outlandish. Still, the conversation can be intimidating. You may imagine it going like this:

You: Hey, boss… what’s your take on continuing education?
Your manager: What about it?
You: Well, there’s this thing called a coding bootcamp…
Your manager: A what?
You: A coding bootcamp, where you learn full-stack Java or .NET in 12 weeks…
Your manager: Well how much is it?
You: Twelve thousand five—
Your manager: Forget about it.

Yikes. Fictional manager has a point. The fact of the matter is, bootcamp isn’t cheap. But, at the right bootcamp, you get what you pay for – and it’s very likely that 12 weeks of specialized training would make you much more effective in your current job.

The key is to be cognizant of when and how you communicate that message to your supervisor.

We’ve seen it firsthand. The way you “pop the question” could make or break an employer sponsorship. In this post, we break down a strategy we’ve seen work for many of our students. Here are the main factors to consider:

  • Your company/supervisor’s general familiarity with coding bootcamps
  • How training would effect your work schedule, if at all
  • How this training would benefit your employer
  • Your willingness to negotiate terms of employment or compromise

Let’s start with Stage 1: Planting the Seed.

Gauge your supervisor’s familiarity with coding bootcamps

In all likelihood, by the time you’re gearing up to ask your employer to support your training, you will have done your homework. Before saying anything specific to them, start by gauging your manager’s knowledge of (and feelings toward) coding bootcamps. See what they do and do not fully understand, and if the opportunity arises, help fill in the gaps. If they express concern over cost, make a mental note to discuss the bootcamp’s payment options in depth. If they speak positively about the value of learning certain new languages, remember to research the curriculum in depth to prepare to discuss technical advantages.

At the end of the day, this decision has to be mutual, so it helps to involve your supervisor in your own discovery and research process by asking questions and sharing realizations you’ve made about why a bootcamp training could be transformative.

Put all logistical concerns on the table

Have you ever spent hours discussing a vacation and all the fun things you could do in, say, Hawaii, before realizing that the time spent traveling across the country isn’t worth the PTO you’ve saved up… and that it’d probably be better to plan a short road trip?

Ok, that may just be me. The message is that logistics matter.

Your goal is to get down to the bottom of non-negotiable’s. If an employee at your company were to take any outside training opportunities, what are the formal barriers to entry? Are there any policies and procedures to consider? What paperwork needs to be filled out?

As you go about finding answers to those questions, work back with the coding bootcamp’s staff to get the details on start date, duration and the daily schedule. You’ll want to know exactly what’s expected of you – and how much wiggle room you’d have as an employer-sponsored student to customize your own schedule.

At Claim Academy, for example, we require full-time bootcampers (the majority of our students) to be in the building from 12 PM to 9 PM, but not all of that time is spent in a classroom. The first two blocks of our schedule are for 1-on-1’s with our mentors and for pair-programming.

We can be flexible depending on the employer-sponsored student’s technical capabilities, but this is definitely a conversation we’d want to have well before you’re up against application deadlines.

Once you do get down to the details with your manager, be prepared to discuss the variety of ways you could plug training into your existing work schedule, especially if you know you can’t take a leave of absence to attend bootcamp full-time.

Discuss the benefits and value of the training opportunity (be specific)

Remember: it’s all about paving a two-way street. Come up with a list of mutual benefits and practice explaining them to someone you trust.

Some quick tips to generate ideas:

  • Think about your team or company’s goals. How would this training opportunity help the business thrive in the long-term?
  • What about the bootcamp’s curriculum, whether a language, program or topic covered, would help you solve a specific problem in you or your team’s current scope of work?
  • What doors could this training opportunity open for your team or the business as a whole? Would having someone trained in a certain skill set allow you to develop an app or feature that generates revenue? How much would that add to the bottom line, compared to the cost of the bootcamp itself?
  • How would this training effect your long-term commitment to the company? Would you stay longer and work harder?
  • How would this effect other members of your team? Would gaining these new skills give you the ability to better distribute responsibilities among the developers, that way you can be stronger together?

It may be helpful to read student reviews on sites like SwitchUp and Course Report to reference these real experiences while you’re talking to your manager. Gather as many of these true stories and facts about the bootcamp so that you avoid the realm of hypothetical or conjecture.

Lastly, think about the best way to present this idea; you’re the best judge of whether to bring this topic up over a cup of coffee or through a PowerPoint. No matter when or how you do it, make it clear that this is a serious conversation.

Know what you’re willing to compromise on – and what you’re not

Once you get through your discussion of the mutual benefits, prepare to dive into the specifics of how this would affect the terms of your employment. Based on our experience, here are some common concerns from employers that you can anticipate:

  • Would you be willing to return to the company after training to work as an engineer, or in a different role where your new skills would be manifestly valuable?
  • Are you already well-versed in our company’s technology stack? Why should you learn a new language or program when we’re still paying you to work as you learn our native stack?
  • Would this encourage you to quit and join another company as an intern, apprentice or junior engineer?
  • (For current managers) How would your team survive without you for the duration of training?

Obviously, these concerns are very custom to your employer and your team. Think these things through and try to put yourself in your manager’s shoes; what risk are you taking, sending an employee off for training, and what agreement could you put in place to minimize those risks?

Our best advice is to listen carefully and take your time weighing all the factors at play before agreeing to a plan with your employer. Finally, if you do find yourself conflicted over a certain issue, it may be beneficial to involve the bootcamp’s head instructor or another staff member to lend credibility to the conversations about the quality of curriculum, topics covered during training, and past student experiences.

When in doubt, take a break from discussing the opportunity with your manager, write down some notes and conduct more research so you can continue to have an informed conversation. Getting your employer to pay for your time at coding bootcamp is not, and should not, be a quick decision. However, it very well could be the best thing you could do for your career in programming.

Are you in a position to sponsor, or a receive a sponsorship, for a coding bootcamp or other training opportunity? What do you think about this topic?

Drop your answer in the comments.

St. Louis Spotlight: Color Coded Kids

Find out how one St. Louis mom is breaking the code with accessible programming courses for kids.

It all started when St. Louis native Shay Gillespie took her 9-year-old son to his very first coding workshop. After only an hour, he was hooked. Like any mother who wants to support their child’s hobbies and interests, Shay searched for longer classes in programming that he could take near their home in North County. To her dismay, the only thing that came close was a robotics class out in Chesterfield. “You do what you have to do for your kids, right?” she asks rhetorically. “So every Wednesday for six weeks, I drove him to Chesterfield for this class.” The hour-long commute gave Shay plenty of time to think, and it was during these drives that she decided to put something together in North County for kids like her son.

After polling her friends and community with a single question posted to Facebook, Shay learned that if she were to find an instructor to teach kids how to code, she’d be solving a problem that many families face today: how to help a child take their interest in computers or video games and turn it into something even more fulfilling.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Shay began laying groundwork for what would eventually become Color Coded Kids, St. Louis’ first coding “bootcamp” for children. Today, Color Coded Kids is offered in 3 major US cities: St. Louis, Arlington, VA and Houston, TX. She plans to expand to 20 total cities in the next 5 years.

When I asked her about the kind of feedback she receives, Shay told me how parents tend to respond once they see their child’s passion take flight: “I have so much support from parents, it’s unbelievable sometimes. They tell me things like, ‘My son doesn’t want to play basketball anymore because he loves to code now.’ They say the kids remind them about class and can’t wait for new sessions to begin.”

As far as coding languages go, kids learn the basics of Python, JavaScript, CSS and HTML. The 12-week course at Color Coded Kids follows a standard progression through 3 learning stages, from Level 1 (Introduction to Coding), to Level 2 (Coding Novice), to Level 3 (The CODEt). Included in the curriculum are the fundamentals of application development, which involves learning how to build game applications (apps) while learning programming definitions, syntax, functions, algorithms and more.

Though the course is hosted in a classroom-type setting, the goal is to have fun. Shay’s mission is to help kids develop a love for technology at an early age to ultimately increase the talent pool of qualified candidates in technology related careers. When I asked her about how she finds instructors, she admitted that it’s tough. “The value we bring to our students is that we only hire real developers who actually code for a living,” she explains, “So that narrows down available instructors. I typically find instructors from friends and referrals from current instructors. We also perform our due diligence to interview new instructors and make sure they are suitable for the kids.”

Another way for Shay to find coders through her network of colleagues at World Wide Technology, where she is responsible for Diversity Business Strategy. For Shay, every day is a reminder that the future in technology is so bright for today’s youngest developers. Reflecting on her past students, she told me this:

“My favorite story is definitely finding out one of our former students now wants to be a computer developer after college and it was nowhere near what he wanted to do before getting in the classes. That makes me happy because that’s one of the reasons this program started!”

It’s no secret that most companies today lack diversity among software developers. Underrepresented groups face structural and social barriers in access and exposure to subjects like computer science. Shay and her team believe that by starting with children, they can help reverse that trend for an entire generation of future developers or more broadly, entrepreneurs.

Under CCK’s core values of Respect, Enthusiasm, Attitude, Client Satisfaction and Honesty and Integrity (REACH), kids who attend the classes will certainly be challenged in the best way, in the best environment.

You can feel Shay’s passion when she discusses the importance of early enablement in all communities.  Her analogy is this: “The kids are our future – and technology is the future – and we need them to marry each other, but they need to get to know each other as soon as possible. And that’s my goal.”

For more information, or to register your child for a course, visit ColorCodedKids.com.

 

5 Ways to Prepare for Bootcamp

You’ve made it. You’ve been accepted to the coding bootcamp of your dreams (hopefully, Claim Academy). You’ve committed your time, money and energy to launch your career in programming, IT, software development, or any of the myriad career paths you may choose after learning to code.

Like anything in life, the best way to get the most out of a large investment is to prepare as best you can.

In this article, we’re outlining 5 ways to prep for this life-changing learning opportunity. Though some of these suggestions may seem obvious, it’s important to consider the basics and take them seriously. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time.

Let’s dive in.

#1. CLEAR YOUR CALENDAR

First and foremost… you must eliminate distractions.

Weddings, parties and trips all sound like great ways to celebrate… but only after you walk away from the classroom with your certificate of completion. Prior to bootcamp, we advise you to clear your calendar as much as possible for the duration of your 12-week course. It’s hard to fit fun events into your weekends when you need that time to relax your mind, attend to chores at home, and, of course, complete any outstanding assignments.

While looking at your calendar, consider your finances. Get everything in order so you don’t have to stress about paying bills or spending within budget while your focus is set primarily on learning dense coding concepts.

It’s also helpful to communicate to your friends and family that you’ll be mainly “off grid” as you focus on learning as much as possible for 12 weeks. This will help prevent those tempting texts from your favorite people asking you to socialize when you should be sleeping (more on this later).

#2. BUY SCHOOL SUPPLIES

Remember strolling into Office Depot or the Dollar Store as a 2nd-grader and picking out your favorite pens and pencils, notebooks, and crayons? I, for one, always looked forward to this inevitable summer errand (shoutout to pencil grips and Lisa Frank).

Before you start bootcamp, reclaim that childlike enthusiasm and go get yourself some fresh supplies for the classroom. You’ll walk in to your first day feeling prepared and ready to take lots of notes. Speaking of note-taking… our instructors highly advise writing down notes in class to improve comprehension. Experts agree that writing things down is better than typing them out… that is, if you want to learn quickly. In our context, for example, drawing out a wireframe is WAY faster and easier to do on a piece of paper.

If you’re looking for advice on how to choose a laptop for bootcamp, check out an older blog post here on the subject.

Final suggestions for essential supplies include noise canceling headphones and a reusable water bottle. Of course, hydration is an everyday need, but it is especially important to hydrate while coding. It’s quite easy to forget to drink water when you’re bent over a laptop for hours on end.

#3. DEVELOP HABITS FOR PHYSICAL FITNESS

As obvious as it is, if you don’t already have them, start developing habits to stay in ship-shape so you can max out your attentiveness at bootcamp. To start, give your body the proper fuel it needs to perform. If you haven’t heard of superfoods, do a quick Google search. Blueberries, avocados, and Greek yogurt are just a few examples of healthy food that is easy to eat on the go.

Speaking of food, our team works to make it easy for our students to hole up comfortably in the Claim Academy building to study or work. Our kitchenette area has a refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker, so feel free to bring snacks, your favorite coffee creamer, or any other refreshments that make your time here grinding it out as pleasant as possible.

Prepare to eat on-site as much as possible to save money and time. Meal planner apps like Eat This Much are helpful for managing cost; you can create a custom meal plans and adjust your weekly or daily budget to ensure you avoid spending too much on food, or worse, “stress-eating” junk food out of desperation and poor planning.

If you’re somewhat of a night owl, remember this: you still need to get as close to 8 hours of sleep per night as humanly possible. Consistent deep sleep is crucial to prepare your body for full, productive days.

Additionally, though you may normally get away with counting trips to the grocery store as “exercise”, once you’re enrolled in bootcamp, you’ll need to make a more intentional effort to carve time for physical activity. In order for you to be successful when you’re plugged in and coding for hours, you need to get up and move around periodically. Go outside and walk around the block, ride a bike, run a mile, lift weights or take an exercise class. Don’t run yourself down. You’ll lack focus, or worse, catch a seasonal cold.

Speaking of focus… ever hear of the mind-body connection?

#4. TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

We can’t emphasize this enough: it’s really important that you manage stress well in a bootcamp environment. This means that you must work to relieve your own stress while also protecting yourself from taking on your fellow students’ stress.

Aside from physical activity, many people find mental exercises like meditation helpful to sort through the feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious. Check out apps like Headspace or Aura to access short, 10 or 15 minute meditations which you can plug into your day as your guaranteed “brain break.”

On the subject of mental fitness, as you prepare to start your course, work to train your brain to learn in a circular fashion. This means revisiting topics over again that didn’t quite stick the first time you heard them. The Circular Learning Model is a helpful tool for making the most of your classroom and post-class study hours. Practice using this method with the pre-course work we provide. For any concepts that feel muddier than others, revisit that section and practice exercises over again.

#5. START BUILDING YOUR PROFESSIONAL NETWORK

Never lose sight of the ultimate goal: job placement. You’re paying to become an all-star coder so you can score a well-paying job, right?

Many graduates suggest joining Meetup groups in your local area. In her post on Medium, bootcamp grad Jessica Dembe explains, “I went to meetups and let it be known that I was a coding bootcamp student who is looking for a job. I mean, that is how I got the job that I have now! So definitely attend meetups and let people know about your story.” Think about how to describe yourself, or tell your story, in a compelling way. Then: practice, practice, practice.

There are plenty of tools on the internet to lay the groundwork for exploring jobs both locally and in remote cities. For example, the review site SwitchUp offers a rolling list of jobs in tech that they keep updated. (SwitchUp also is a great resource for more helpful tips from bootcamp grads across the country; we highly recommend visiting their blog to explore these insights by topic).

Other ways to prepare for selling yourself to future employers include setting up a LinkedIn profileread through this stellar advice on getting the most out of LinkedIn — exploring various career paths in technology, and connecting with past graduates for coffee or lunch to chat about their experience getting hired after bootcamp. We’d be happy to facilitate these meetings if you wanted to connect with any of our graduates.

In short, there are a ton of ways to prepare for bootcamp. Don’t neglect these 5 important “to-do’s”. Got any other ideas? Comment below!

From Kenya to Computer Software Engineer

Joel Oyuchi had just arrived in St. Louis when he heard about Claim Academy from the CEO of Vitendo For Africa, a local nonprofit that provides support services and resources for African immigrants. He quickly decided that the 12 week developer boot camp was the right program for him and his new life in America.

“I compare Claim Academy to a gift that is presented to a person with both hands, a sign of respect in my culture. The receiver of the gift takes it with both hands and says thank you. I didn’t hesitate to apply to Claim Academy. The CEO of Vitendo for Africa walked me through what Claim Academy does and I submitted the application in his office that very day because I knew Claim Academy was the key to my future in the US,” says Oyuchi.

The journey to become a successful software engineer was not easy. Oyuchi did not have a car and had to work as a housekeep at a retirement community just to be able to afford the bus fare for three months at Claim Academy. But the hard work paid off, and he received a job offer from Express Scripts the same day he graduated.

With a well-paying job at Express Scripts, Oyuchi is now able to financially support his parents in Africa and is looking forward to owning a house and car. He credits the Claim Academy instructors and Claim Academy founder Ola Ayeni with providing him with an opportunity for a successful career in the tech industry.

“Three months at Claim Academy is a long life rewarding opportunity,” comments Oyuchi. “You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life at Claim Academy.”

Afgan Vet Finds New Career with Claim Academy

Russell Brooks, 30 years old, a recent Claim Academy graduate, spent eight years in the navy reserves with one deployment to Afghanistan. But life as a civilian was difficult and he had trouble finding a job he enjoyed.

“Before claim academy I was bouncing around from job to job not really knowing what I wanted to do. I first heard about coding bootcamps, and it sparked my interest to research if there were any in the St. Louis area. That’s how I found Claim Academy,” commented Brooks.

Interested in a job in technology, he started to take online coding classes. However, he found that he needed more. “I knew Claim Academy was the best opportunity and the fasted way for me to start a tech career.”

Claim Academy is a St. Louis-based developer boot camp that offers classes in Full Stack Java and .NET/C# programming. Students like Brooks attend a 12-week program that include daily lectures, guided mentorships, pair-programming with fellow students and guided workshops. The program culminates in a project presentation open to companies looking to hire on graduation day.

With a Veteran’s scholarship through St Louis Workforce Development center, Brooks graduated from Claim Academy in October 2016.

Brooks’s courses included long hours of studying, but according to Brooks, the hard work was definitely worthwhile. “My life has completely changed. I now have a career and a job that I lovegoing to,” he says. 

He also enthusiastically recommends Claim Academy. “Yes, I highly recommend it. You will find a job. Companies need programmers and many are willing to teach and work with the inexperienced.

And his advice for future students, “Study a lot. Don’t get discouraged if it’s not making sense at first.. programming is really hard but gets easier with practice just like everything else.

Russell Brooks is a Jr. .Net Developer at Preferred Systems Solutions.