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Sean Ivins worked at a help desk for a local corporation making $30,000 per year answering calls from the public.

“Like most call-center work, it was very quota-driven and regimented,” Ivins told Free Press. “I had very little control over my own work, work environment, and income.”

It’s where he could have stayed if not for the opportunity to retrain without going back to college.

But through hard work, curiosity and connections through a local organization, he is now a computer code developer making $80,000 per year.

It was a big income leap without having to go back to college where he received a degree in music and trained to be a band director.

Free Code Camp

He credits Free Code Camp OKC with giving him a human connection that kept him motivated for the two years that he explored new possibilities in the tech industry as he continued to work his day job.

That sector has shown steady job growth over the last decade in Oklahoma City mirroring the national trend of around 25 to 30 percent growth each year.

Free Code Camp is a national organization that helps people retrain for the tech industry without going through the massive time and money expense of going back to a college for training.

Michaela Clemmons at a recent Free Code Camp Sunday meeting
Michaela Clemmons listens to a presentation at a recent Free Code Camp Sunday afternoon meeting. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Instead, it provides its own online curriculum and most importantly, a peer mentoring process that provides training, orientation to the industry, and motivates participants to stay with the process when the going gets tough.

Free Code Camp OKC is sponsored by the Techlahoma Foundation that provides food and a meeting room at StarSpace46. The group meets on Sunday afternoons to give people who are working full-time jobs a way to participate.

“It was extremely valuable in keeping me motivated,” said Ivins. “The real value that it offered to me was just being able to know that there were other people out there.”

Nights, weekends

Some professions and industries continue to demand a related college-level or graduate degree before entry.

But, because code is developing so rapidly, the industry is more interested in finding people who are self-motivated and comfortable with constant re-training.

It is a culture of curiosity that involves self-training during nights and weekends even once one is working in it.

Curiosity

While colleges were the main source of training in computer science for the early years of code development, the culture of the tech industry has always valued curiosity and innovation over rote learning.

After all, the founders of Microsoft and Apple were self-taught and motivated by curiosity with the promise of large incomes if their creations could be monetized.

Free Code Camp -Joe and Rebecca Matthews
Joe and Rebecca Matthews come to Free Code Camp events to explore new training even though they are already in the tech industry. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

So, when companies see that an applicant is curious and has learned how to learn on their own, that can be a greater sign of strength than pulling all the right academic levers in college.

Granted, a student who gets a college computer science degree may be self-motivated.

But far too often, college grads have to spend almost the same amount of time retraining for a company’s needs.

So, self-motivated training and retraining is a part of code developer culture no matter one’s academic background.

Training

According to Daniel Ashcraft, one of the leaders of Free Code Camp OKC, a college grad in CS still has to add on about the same amount of time retraining as someone who is self-taught.

“There are three ways most people train for the tech industry — four years of college, boot camp, and self-taught,” said Ashcraft at a recent Sunday afternoon meeting of the group.

“In any of these cases, it can take 8 to 12 weeks for students to get enough knowledge to start applying for jobs.”

And in the realm of self-teaching, there are three widely-used online training vehicles for learning: Free Code Camp, Code Academy, and Data Camp.

Each has an online curriculum based on self-pacing and instant feedback as well as peer feedback.

The power of Free Code Camp has been the in-person meetings that are designed to train, orient the student to the industry, and motivate.


Disclosure: StarSpace46, mentioned in this article, is an in-kind sponsor of Free Press.

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