A new training program in downtown Jackson promises students a rewarding career – if students can make it through the rigorous course.
The program is the Mississippi Coding Academy, and its training recent high school and college graduates to be the next generation of computer programmers in the state.
“We’re getting people to the point to where a serious employer can hire and develop them,” said Rich Sun, the academy’s co-founder and chief financial officer.
The program falls under the umbrella of Innovate Mississippi, a nonprofit focused on strengthening the state’s economy.
Nineteen students are enrolled, and are taking classes at Eudora Welty Library.
“Most are recent JPS graduates, (and) a few are from the Hinds County system. We have one graduate from Jackson State University, one from Southern Miss; one from Hinds Community College graduate,” he said.
The academy reached out to JROTC instructors and guidance counselors at local high schools to recruit students. Academy officials also posted information on social media.
“We felt (JROTC) instructors really focus a lot on the soft skills – they could pick out the students who had this kind of drive. They don’t necessarily have to be A-students, but demonstrate they’re good at problem-solving … come (to class) on time, work hard and dedicate themselves to what they’re doing,” Brown said.
Students complete an 11-month course, scheduled just like a typical workday, said coding instructor Herbert Brown.
“Students come in at 9 o’clock, grab their computers and start coding,” he said. “We have the text materials they use, which explain concepts to them, and they’ll work problems in the book.
“They’ll also do projects … (It’s) learning by doing and learning by making mistakes and figuring out how to correct them as opposed to a lecture format.”
The first class is expected to graduate in September 2018.
From there, the students will have the skills to land coding jobs with companies like CSpire and government agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sun said.
“Entry-level jobs can earn $50,000 annually. A fully matured IT person can make $100,000 (a year),” he said.
Sun said employment isn’t guaranteed, but the prospects are strong that students will find gainful work.
“There are 1,100 unfilled coding jobs in Mississippi. There’s such a demand for coders, (that they should) have no problem getting jobs,” he said. “We work with several major employers on the curriculum.”
Students also are expected to do internships with potential employers and go on trips to visit work sites.
“Employers are enthusiastic about them visiting the facilities, and coming to our facility to talk with students about what they do and how they do it,” he said.
The program is free to students. Those eligible to apply include recent high school and college graduates, and no coding experience is necessary.
Plans are to have two classes next year, and eventually move the academy to a building on North State Street next to Innovate Mississippi’s headquarters.
Both classes are expected to cost Innovate between $450,000 and $500,000, and will likely be funded through private sector gifts, Sun said.
For students and the local economy, though, the donations are well worth it. “There is no tuition, no debit, and it’s a very powerful economic development (tool) for the state,” he said. “Computers are provided, manuals are provided, instructors are provided.”
The group would like to involve additional employers, as well as find individuals who can provide lunch for students.
“If someone wanted to donate a pizza car that provision would be an enormous help,” said Janet Parker, director of business development for Innovate.
For more information, log onto mscoding.org.