As a former field archaeologist and financial counselor, Toshia Verheggen didn’t have any experience in computer programming when she took her first coding class in early 2015.
Verheggen, 37, of Holly Hills, stopped working full time after her son was born in 2010. She held a few part-time jobs in the years that followed. When she considered switching careers and entering the workforce full time, a friend suggested her problem-solving skills could fit well with software development.
While attending CoderGirl, an all-women’s coding meet-up in St. Louis that’s part of LaunchCode, Verheggen learned about a new 20-week coding boot camp, ReBootU, that was free for unemployed people. She applied and was among 20 students who completed the five-month introduction to computer science and programming.
After finishing the non-credit course, Verheggen was hired initially as an apprentice at Ekon Benefits, a retirement plan administration and consulting firm in the Central West End, then was promoted to full-time status as a software engineer apprentice in January.
“I love to learn and was looking for a profession where I’d always be innovating; that’s what’s interesting to me,” Verheggen said. The LaunchCode course not only taught her programming fundamentals, she said, it also introduced her to the language used in the industry.
A little more than a year after the first ReBootU course wrapped up, 16 of the 20 graduates found work in information technology. One was James Kane, 30, of University City, who received his undergraduate degree in 2010 in media communications and journalism but struggled to find long-term work. After taking the ReBootU coding boot camp last year, he landed a full-time job in January as a web developer at CPG, an event production agency downtown.
Kane found the coding coursework challenging at first but stuck with it. “It was not easy,” he said of the math and logic problems he encountered. “Those aren’t the types of problems I’ve faced before. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.”
LaunchCode partnered with St. Louis Community College and the city of St. Louis’ workforce department, SLATE, to offer the free ReBootU course at the T-REX incubator downtown.
Since its founding by Jim McKelvey in 2013, LaunchCode has placed nearly 500 people in apprenticeships with dozens of companies in St. Louis, Kansas City, Miami and Rhode Island. In a visit to LaunchCode’s headquarters on Delmar Boulevard last month, Vice President Joe Biden lauded the nonprofit’s efforts to train computer programmers as a steppingstone to employment. LaunchCode plans to add offices in Seattle and Portland next year.
LaunchCode’s Executive Director Mark Bauer said the nonprofit is evaluating offering ReBootU again, or a very similar version, next year if it’s able to find funding to support it. “We absolutely want to do it again,” Bauer said. “The immersive curriculum, with one-on-one help with instructors and peers, has proven to be successful.”
In addition to the coding boot camp for jobless people, LaunchCode plans to offer free 20-week computer programming courses at St. Louis Community College’s Meramec campus and the University of Missouri-St. Louis beginning in October. After opening registration in September, LaunchCode received more than 1,200 applications for the courses. Registration for courses beginning in 2017 will open to applicants later this year.