Victor and Sarah Olivares smiled and applauded as their son Isaac accepted a certificate from Boise Mayor Dave Bieter for completing a summer coding course at the Boise Public Library.
Sarah Olivares said she found the course while looking for free and constructive activities to keep Isaac busy before he started seventh grade last week at Lowell Scott Middle School. She knew nothing about coding, but her son had expressed interest in engineering. She figured a chance to pursue his passion for computers was a good thing.
“Coding is in everything right now,” he said. “The opportunity for Isaac to learn at this age was just great.”
If Isaac pursues a career in technology, he can start by walking behind the library and looking up 8th Street. Within a few blocks to the north, he will see a startup co-working space, a new Downtown code school and the Boise State University’s Computer Science Department.
If he pokes his head into offices within a few blocks of Eighth Street, he will find dozens of software companies that are part of a broader Treasure Valley tech industry that is snapping up code-school and Boise State computer-science graduates.
The workforce and the talent are what determine our companies’ futures. For us, nothing could be more vital to our survival.
Nic Miller, Boise economic development director
Before handing out certificates, Bieter said pieces were aligning for a five-block “coding corridor” to become the center of Boise’s growing tech sector.
“You young people have a chance to graduate down the street,” Bieter said.
FREE AT THE LIBRARY
Thomas Smith, an eighth-grader at North Junior High School, was one of 118 students from first through ninth grades who enrolled in the Summer of Code program. An additional 39 students will take the similar Fall into Code course.
Thomas said he enjoyed the exercises, including writing code to create smiley faces and flowers. He said the course whetted his appetite to learn more.
“I didn’t have much to do this summer. I found this,” he said.
[My son] wants to get into engineering. I have no idea about this code stuff, but he enjoys it, and he does it on his own.
Sarah Olivares, whose son, Isaac, completed a library coding course
Nic Miller, Boise’s economic development director, said he hopes children such as Olivares and Smith continue their tech training at the CodeWorks Boise school up the street or at Boise State.
“We want to get kids interested early,” Miller said. “We want them to keep going on that education path.”
Adult programs have also been popular. All 250 slots in Treehouse, an online coding course, were booked last month, Miller said. The online courses range from four to more than 50 hours each, with students completing them at their own pace. They are free for library members.
DOWNTOWN CODE SCHOOL
The leaders of Trailhead, a nonprofit aiming to provide work and collaborative space and support to entrepreneurs, have talked for a year about offering a code school. Trailhead opened in a building at 8th and Myrtle streets in March 2015 and now has more than 300 members.
After looking into several code schools around the nation, Trailhead chose CodeWorks Boise, which opened the Valley’s first code school last year in Garden City. Trailhead has rented 7,000 square feet in the fourth floor of the Mercantile Building at 404 S. 8th St. in BoDo to house its code school, which will start its first course Sept.12.
CodeWorks Boise is one of many private coding schools that have sprung up around the nation the past couple of years to provide short but intensive training. Their graduates lack the breadth and depth of skills taught in college computer-science programs but learn enough to meet the needs of employers for whom more-limited skills are often sufficient.
CodeWorks Boise will teach other courses in Garden City. A user experience and design course, which is nine hours per week for 12 weeks, starts in October and costs $3,000. A web development course, which starts in January, runs 12 hours a week for 12 weeks and costs $3,200.
After graduating from the winter session of CodeWorks Boise’s full-stack course, Zach Mixon, 25, was hired as a software engineer by Boise tech firm Vynyl, which makes custom mobile and web applications. Mixon said he earns nearly three times as much as he did at his previous job as a call center worker.
I had a passion for programming, but I needed a structured environment to properly learn my fundamentals, and a four-year degree from a university wasn’t going to give me the skills I needed, or even that I wanted.
Zach Mixon, CodeWorks Boise graduate
Mixon said he would recommend the code school for anybody looking to change careers.
“I made excuses for almost seven years as to why I couldn’t do what I’m doing now, and it only took three months to completely turn it around,” he said.
Freeman Digital Ventures in Eagle pays between $40,000 and $50,000 per year each to two CodeWorks Boise graduates. “Both [employees] got up to speed very quickly, and with very little oversight,” said Casey McMullen, director of digital solutions development. Dallas-based Freeman’s Eagle development business was formerly Klowd, a company founded in 2011 that Freeman bought this year.
McMullen told an audience of employers and code school students this month at Trailhead that his company, which builds web-based applications used at conferences, will hire more code school grads to build its talent.
Completing courses at the library, code school or computer science department are part of an “education continuum” for the tech sector that promises higher-than-average wages as well as a high placement rate, said Miller, the Boise economic-development director.
“It’s no secret that our state has about the largest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the country,” Miller said. “The code school isn’t free, but it’s certainly a great return on investment.”
BSU MOVES DOWNTOWN
Boise State’s Computer Science Department this summer moved most of its required classes and 26 faculty members to nearly 50,000 square feet inside the Clearwater Building, the new white headquarters for Boise’s Clearwater Analytics that is part of the City Center Plaza being built on the Grove Plaza.
Tim Andersen, department chair, said one reason the department moved is so that undergraduate students would be closer to the Downtown tech companies where many work as interns, such as Clearwater, MetaGeek and Keynetics.
Five years ago, the department had seven instructors and about 280 students and was graduating 20 to 25 students a year. The department has since grown to 11 faculty and 16 graduate assistants serving nearly 700 students, and last year graduated 69.
Companies are getting aggressive in trying to establish relationships. The earlier you do that, the greater the chance when they graduate they’ll come to your company. That’s all part of this Downtown move.
Tim Andersen, Boise State Computer Science Department chair
About 90 percent of the department’s graduates take jobs in the Treasure Valley, so moving Downtown won’t affect the Valley’s talent retention much, Andersen said. The goal is for students and staff to bump into tech employees and executives and start building relationships sooner.
“I can stand on the street corner and run into Clearwater executives and we start talking about things we can do together,” Andersen said. “Those kinds of off-the-cuff opportunities are important. That doesn’t happen on campus.”
TALENT TO SPREAD AROUND
John Hale, a Trailhead board member and former managing partner of accounting firm KPMG’s Boise office, said he has talked with most of the tech companies in town about what they need to grow.
“They all say the same thing: We need more coders, of all stripes,” Hale said. “We needed them yesterday.”
While those companies will hire junior developers out of the code school and higher-level developers and project managers from Boise State, increasing the talent pool will also help startups gain footholds at Trailhead, Hale said.
Currently, startups seeking developers must pay per hour to contractors, assuming they can find any in Boise, Hale said.
“Startups with one or two people needing help to get a website launched are competing with companies like Meal Ticket, which are adding coders all of the time,” Hale said. Meal Ticket sells cloud-based sales, marketing and analytics software for food-service businesses.
Miller said he hopes children such as Olivares and Smith who went through this summer’s library program will continue their tech training at the CodeWorks Boise school up the street or at Boise State.
“We want to get kids interested early,” he said. “We want them to keep going on that education path.”