Advancing tech possibilities in Memphis

Infusing tech jobs into a city has proven to be a community game-changer, and now an array of new local groups are working to shape how our city evolves by providing tech education to Memphians from grade schoolers to adult learners.  
As technology enhances everyday life, it also affects how cities grow. Look no further than communities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Austin, Texas, to know how technology and the corporations that cater to those jobs are moving forward.
 
Efforts are underway in Memphis to bring the Bluff City into that fold, and it starts with education.
 
When it launches its first adult boot camp in early 2016, Capital C will bring a new kind of tech education to Memphis. Capital C was born out of the Start Co. accelerator this summer. Its mission is to educate adults who want to pursue a profession as software developers.
 
“The whole idea is that employers in Memphis are in need of tech talent, especially software development talent,” said Meka Egwuekwe, a founder of the code school. “At the same time, people know this is a lucrative, well-paying field and want to change fields but they don’t know how to start or how to do it on their own. … I’m convinced we not only have a strong need but there is considerable demand.”
 
Capital C follows the blueprint that has been modeled in other U.S. cities and even around the world with boot camp classes that take place over a certain amount of weeks to teach participants to become professional software developers.
 
Egwuekwe is deeply involved in the advancement of technology in the Memphis community. He is director of software development at Lokion Interactive, a software company based Downtown. He has been there for more than eight years and a software developer for almost 19 years. He started the Memphis chapter of Black Girls Code when he wanted to sign up his daughters but discovered there wasn’t a local chapter.
 
From there, he went through Start Co. to help launch CodeCrew, which went through the Sky High accelerator earlier this year. The 501c3 organization did a pilot program with the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation to teach kids how to build mobile apps. It since has been transformed to an after-school program.
 Meka Egwuekwe
Over the past month Egwuekwe has been doing exploratory demos with Cloud901 at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.
 
And he recently had a series of conversations with Robert Montague, Executive Director of Tech901, as that organization got off the ground.
 
Tech901 also is in the business of advancing technology in Memphis through education. The nonprofit organization recently launched with the mission of training current and potential Memphians for a variety of technology jobs while working with employers to increase the local technology base. Tech901 will facilitate new job training and company job growth. It also will support code-based K-12 teacher training so students will receive tech training as part of their education routine.
 
Tech901 will better equip teachers to provide computer science education by working with Code.org, a nonprofit organization with a vision that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.
 
Secondly, Tech901 will work with local schools to identify potential tech workers and get them practical training and on the proper employment tracks. The organization will look for high school graduates who match up with installer programs.
 
Already underway is a class at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis where 30 students were chosen to work toward job readiness certification for help desk work.
 
Finally, Tech901 will offer directly or through partners a portfolio of technology career training options that range from system installation and technical support to software development and quality assurance. Some of that includes efforts available at Memphis-based Cook Systems International, which provides software developers for enterprise-class applications.
 
Montague estimates there are some 6,000 tech-related jobs in Memphis. Tech901’s goal is to increase that to 10,000 over 10 years.
 
“An assumption in reaching a goal like that is we will recruit new employers as well as grow current ones,” he said. “We’re working with local firms to look at initiatives and also to reach out to the tech community and recruit new employers.”
 
Capital C, on the other hand, has two focuses: adults and interns. Think of it as a technology university, so to speak.
 
The boot camp model varies depending on the needs in a specific market. Students might spend anywhere from six to 24 weeks heavily focused on technology education.
 
Typically participants spend their days in a classroom setting learning how to code and about modern programming languages, Egwuekwe said. Their free time in the evenings might include working on projects that support what has been learned in the classroom.
 
“The idea is at the end you will have a strong opportunity to be placed with an employer,” Egwuekwe said, adding that typical job placement rates in tech boot camps are 90 to 95 percent.

Capital C will follow the same model, based on a 15-week traditional boot camp for adults.

Students are looking to make a career change or maybe have an entrepreneurial spirit but don’t have the tech skills to make their ideas a reality.
 
The first adult cohort should start in the spring. The application process is open now at capitalcschool.com.

The internship program will be similar but reduced to 12 weeks to better align with the natural summer break for college students. While the adult boot camp is meant for novices who become professional developers in a 15-week period, the interns already have a background in computer science.
 
“The idea is these college students are building on theory they’re learning in college with practical real-world experience that corporations need so they are instantly more valuable when corporations are hiring,” Egwuekwe said.
 
Beyond those two programs, long term there are ideas that include courses that local companies can send employees to so they can gain exposure to new technologies. Another possible offering is a two-week short course where tech professionals can come in to learn things such as iOS or Android development.
 
But first and foremost, Egwuekwe said, Capital C wants to place a heavy emphasis on diversity.

“In Memphis our demographics demand that,” Egwuekwe said. “We can’t have the model we see in other cities where it’s stereotypically Caucasian or Asian males. We want to represent our city. … I personally believe in Memphis our demographics are such that if we want to be a prosperous city we must do it with diversity in mind. If we don’t focus on diversity we won’t have prosperity. Tech has the opportunity to be a game changer given the demand and how lucrative opportunities are.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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