Aaron Denney, 26, worked for Walmart in the Shepherdsville area for seven years, but now he’s in week seven of the Software Guild, where he’s learning .NET/C# coding. He’s in the first cohort of the Louisville coding bootcamp.
IL recently talked to The Learning House CEO Todd Zipper about the Software Guild, which they had just acquired. Last week, we visited the still-under-construction HQ of the Guild on Market and Floyd streets to talk to the people with their boots on the ground.
Denney had been trying to teach himself coding using Code Academy, Khan Academy and other similar programs for a while. But when his girlfriend’s brother, who works at The Learning House, told him about the Software Guild, he jumped at the opportunity.
It’s not easy to get into the Software Guild, brand manager Erin Frazier explained. There’s a rigorous aptitude test, an interview, several essays and then five to eight weeks of pre-work.
Once in, apprentices (not “students”) attend classes from 9 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m. Denney said a typical day begins with exercises to get the class warmed up and recap the previous day’s work, a long lecture by lead .NET/C# instructor Jason Gerstorff, followed by both group and solo work on projects.
Denney said he expects he will graduate from the program with the skills to land a $50,000-a-year job with lots of potential for growth. “I just want to get a job and learn more doing something I like to do,” he said.
Darren Pendley, Java apprentice, is ambitious: “I want to build something and be known for it.”
Pendley said the Software Guild is “difficult in a very good way. I love it.”
The 31-year-old used to work in The Learning House’s media department doing low-skilled work. He learned about the Software Guild at a company meeting.
“It’s challenging in a life-defining way,” he said. “It’s preparing me to jump into the deep end.”
He compared the homework for the course to the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel work the line at a candy factory. “It just snowballs.” He said when people ask him if he’s single, he says, “No. I have Java.”
Pendley had glowing praise for Austyn Hill, Java lead instructor. Hill is a Louisville native who attended Collegiate, went on to MIT, then went to work for Microsoft. She came home several years later because her mother was sick; her mother is better now, but Hill is sticking around.
Hill said teaching is exhausting, but she’s “excited and proud.” She takes special pride in being a female instructor and said she hopes her seven apprentices take away the fact that women should be in tech, too. She helps out with Girl Develop It, a nonprofit that encourages women to learn coding and development.
One of the reasons Hill took the job was because she loves Louisville and, she said, “I really want to get more tech people in town.”
Software Guild has a track record for creating and keeping tech talent. For example, the Guild’s program in Akron, Ohio, enrolls 50 percent of students from out of town, and 50 percent of those students stay in Akron after they graduate.
That’s in part due to the fact that part of the program involves bringing in employers and acquainting them with the students. Jacob Knight, employer network manager, is slowly building a local network of employers. Knight will plan events like “speed dating” for employers and apprentices, in addition to teaching the apprentices “soft skills” like résumé building and interviewing techniques.
VP of operations Rachel McGalliard said, “We want to keep the apprentices focused on learning. They should not be focused on their career search.” So the Software Guild does a lot of the early legwork for them.
The program is starting a low-residency online cohort in January. It’s 20 hours a week over the course of nine months and requires seven weekend visits. It’s the exact same program taught at Market and Floyd with the same tuition — $10,000.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose,” instructor Gerstorff said. But once the apprentices graduate, they will be trained to be full-stack web developers.
This cohort ends on Dec. 11., and Louisville employers may have 10 fewer web developers to find.