Amid Coding School Boom, Eleven Fifty Aims to Meet a Local Need
A little over a year ago, John Qualls, a veteran entrepreneur and leader in the Indianapolis area’s business community, decided to try something slightly different for his next career move.
At the time Qualls was working as an executive at BlueLock, a company he started in 2006 that develops software to help clients manage data stored on remote servers, and recover it in the event of a disaster. Qualls says that some of the region’s high-tech companies, including his own, often encountered a hiring pool that was short on workers with the needed technical skills. “Finding talented people has been a challenge for me my entire career,” he says.
Meanwhile, Scott Jones was feeling a similar pain. Jones is CEO of Carmel, IN-based ChaCha, a question-and-answer service that allows users to submit queries via phone, text message, or an online form. Qualls says that when ChaCha—founded by Jones in 2005—was growing and needed to hire a mobile developer, the company was initially stringent about considering only candidates with relevant skills and experience. Eventually, though, ChaCha had to temper those expectations.
“By the end, they were simply asking, ‘Do you have a heartbeat and do you carry a phone?’” Qualls says. “They went through 100 people and couldn’t find anyone with the needed skill set. That prompted Scott to say, ‘This is a real problem.’”
So in January 2015, Jones launched Eleven Fifty Academy, a nonprofit that provides in-person instruction on developing software for computers and mobile devices. Qualls joined Eleven Fifty, which is also based in Carmel, as president the following month.
While the number of so-called coding schools has proliferated in recent years, Qualls says one thing that sets Eleven Fifty apart from other organizations is its focus on teaching those languages and skills that are in demand from today’s employers.
Earlier this month, Eleven Fifty announced a collaboration with Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the state’s technical college system. Under the terms of the agreement, a student who completes a nine-week program through Eleven Fifty can receive 12 credit hours toward an Ivy Tech degree or certificate.
“This partnership between Ivy Tech and Eleven Fifty Academy opens doors for these students, allowing them to get a head start on a degree in this emerging field,” says Kathleen Lee, chancellor of Ivy Tech Central Indiana, in a statement.
Qualls says that the majority of students in a nine-week course that kicked off in March are between the ages of 19 and 25, which is fairly typical for Eleven Fifty. However, an increasing number of groups are working to teach computer science concepts to students of all ages and abilities.
An analysis by the coding-school website Course Report estimated that there are 67 full-time “coding boot camps” in the U.S. and Canada, and their 2015 revenues totaled more than $170 million. An estimated 16,056 students graduated from such camps last year, up from 2,098 in 2013, according to the analysis.
And it’s no wonder why: The technology sector is where many high-paying jobs are today, and where many of the new jobs created during the coming years will be. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that from 2014 to 2024, employment in “computer and information technology occupations” will grow by 12 percent. The median wage for these jobs was more than $81,000 as of last May, according to BLS data, compared with an average wage of $36,200 across all occupations.
Coding academies have popped up on the West Coast—there are schools in San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle, for example—as well as in cities in the middle of the country, like Detroit and Austin, TX.
Those who aren’t ready to spend the time or money on an immersive program—Course Report estimates the average coding boot camp lasts 10.8 weeks and costs more than $11,000—have the alternative of completing free, online modules on websites like Codecademy and Hour of Code. The latter offering is organized by Code.org, a nonprofit that seeks to give students in all schools the chance to learn about computer programming.
Roxanne Emadi, who until recently worked as a social and communications manager at Code.org, says kids today are voracious consumers of technology and schools should avail themselves of this eagerness.
“Students are so obsessed with technology that they’ll jump at the opportunity to create it,” she says. “All students should have some exposure to computer science. It’s foundational, just like physics or biology or English.”
Emadi says that Code.org targets Computer Science Education Week, which is typically held toward the end of each calendar year, to get as many people as possible to try out an Hour of Code lesson. In 2014, she says, an estimated 25 million students participated. That figured roughly doubled in 2015, according to the organization’s website.
Eleven Fifty’s Qualls says that he’s talked to students who thought they’d be able to learn everything they needed using online resources, only to later hit a wall.
“They say, ‘I could cover it up to a certain point and then I got stuck. I really didn’t have a mechanism to get answers to my questions,’” Qualls says. “The in-person part of it is really important to them.”
It comes at a price, however—according to the Eleven Fifty’s website, tuition for some nine-week courses can exceed $11,000. However, not every student pays full freight; the organization says it’s awarding $500,000 in scholarships during the three-month period that ends June 30. Qualls says that Eleven Fifty is able to offset the cost of some programs with money from corporate partners. Another source of funding is public grants from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, through its Skill UP Indiana initiative.
Eleven Fifty also offers shorter courses—some last three weeks, others are as brief as five days—for students seeking positions that don’t require extremely deep levels of technical expertise.
And while a scarcity of technical talent is central to Eleven Fifty’s origin story, Qualls says that in recent years, companies in the Indianapolis area have increasingly shown the ability to attract outside interest. He points to Aprimo’s sale to Teradata, announced in 2010, and Salesforce’s 2013 acquisition of ExactTarget as examples. Qualls says that those deals demonstrate some of the progress the state’s tech community has made since 2006, when he founded BlueLock.
“It’s really turning,” he says. “I’d say today is nothing like it was 10 years ago.”