There are thousands of job openings in Massachusetts for people who know how to program computers. The problem is, most people never learn basic computer science skills. Now one local man is trying to close the gap by offering at risk young people a crash course in coding.
Johan Baez only travels a couple of miles from his home in Dorchester to get to Boston’s Seaport District but it’s like no place else he’s ever been. “I opened the door and it was like was walking into this amazing world,” said Baez.
It has its own language, actually a couple of them, crucial to the main activity here: writing computer code. “I believe that it opens a lot of doors, a lot of money to be made from coding,” said Baez.
Baez is part of a coding boot camp. It’s the brainchild of David Delmar. Delmar speaks softly but make no mistake, this guy’s a drill sergeant.
“I like to tell them that I grab them by the ankles and throw them in the deep end, that’s how we operate. We don’t ease into it,” said Delmar.
They’re only here for two months, students who may have struggled in high school, brushed up against the law but selected to be part of this program because they have something the coding world values: grit.
“The most important asset to have as a person while learning to code is: can you stick it out?,” said Delmar, “It’s not always going to be fun.”
Delmar should know. He rose quickly in the world of high tech to become the head of design for PayPal. Not bad for a kid from upstate New York who came to Boston for art school and kept hearing the same question when he graduated: Can you code?
“I said not really not really,” said Delmar. “Until finally I was at one interview and I said yes.”
He figured it out and figures others can too. It’s about providing opportunity. And that, it turns out, is Delmar’s true passion. He left PayPal and founded Resilient Coders, a nonprofit designed to give young people high tech know how.
“East of Silicon Valley, in venture capital dollars, Boston is the biggest tech city in the country but we have a serious problem with the talent pool,” said Delmar.
In other words, not enough local people have the skills the tech community needs, not enough young people learn to code in school.
“You put in 12 years of effort into this model and at the end of those 12 years well who knows,” said Delmar. “There’s a disconnect between what’s being taught and the skill set people are employing.”
Delmar is trying to strengthen that connection by using one that already exists: the MBTA’s Silver Line. It runs from neighborhoods struggling with poverty to one flush with opportunity.
“So take very talented young people from Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester and very talented people down here in the innovation community and just make them meet,” said Delmar.
Boot camp is tough. And it’s only a beginning. But it’s a way to get everyone speaking the same language, one that offers real opportunity.
The next step for some of the boot camp grads is a program Delmar runs called “Resilient Lab”. Young people, new to coding, have the opportunity to build websites and web applications for paying clients.