Tech Elevator’s Push to Raise Midwestern Tech Literacy

Julie Zimmerman

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For Anthony Hughes, the need for Tech Elevator is as simple as a few numbers: the number of software development jobs currently advertised in the Cincinnati region (around 5,500), the annual number of graduates from local universities with computer-science degrees (a few hundred), and the unemployment rate for software developers (around 1.5 percent, compared to 4.3 percent regionally).

“You’ve got this massive demand on one side, and our traditional educational system hasn’t been producing enough talent on the other side,” says Hughes, CEO of the coding boot camp, which serves students in Columbus and Cleveland as well as Cincinnati. “You’ve got this gap, and that’s where we come in.”

After a career that included economic development, technology and education, Hughes founded Tech Elevator in 2015 with the intent of combining all three. He saw the technology needs of companies continued to grow, and he knew Midwestern cities had to increase their levels of technical literacy if they wanted to compete against coastal cities for jobs.

“Today every company is a technology company,” says Hughes, who partners with employers ranging from Fortune 500 companies to three-person start-ups to find jobs for Tech Elevator graduates. “We really see ourselves as a skills bridge, and we’ve built a really strong reputation with companies that have great jobs in software development they are looking to fill. You can write your own ticket if you learn and keep building on these skills.”

While the opportunities are plentiful, the task of becoming a software developer isn’t easy. Most of the students at Tech Elevator are 20 to 35, with a few years of work experience under their belts and a yearning for something more. Tech Elevator’s selection process includes aptitude and behavioral testing, and most of those who inquire end up not pursuing the program.

“The barrier of entry is difficult because software development is like learning a new language,” Hughes says. “It’s not for everyone, and we have an obligation to our students – we’re in this together, and we don’t want to take your money if we don’t think you can become a software developer.”

Those who do make it into the program spend 60 to 70 hours a week over 14 weeks learning one of two primary coding languagess. New classes launch three times a year, with a maximum of 16 students, and their perseverance is rewarded with a placement rate north of 90 percent. Hughes is particularly proud that, in an industry composed of about 15 percent women and minorities, Tech Elevator is at about 38 percent.

Hughes is also pleased that the three essential elements of a successful tech industry – great companies, access to capital and talent – are coming together in Cincinnati to complement everything else the city offers. “The assets here, like an ethic of hard work, affordability, history and culture, the brewing scene – there’s an authenticity here that places like Phoenix and Salt Lake City lack. I think we’re on the verge of something really big.”

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