At an announcement with Mayor Greg Fischer, Tina Maddox shares her experience of how Code Louisville transformed her from a stay-at-home mother to working at El Toro. | Photo by Rebekah Alvey

Over 250 people have been placed in technology jobs and careers through Code Louisville, Mayor Greg Fischer said in an announcement Wednesday at El Toro.

Code Louisville provides training to accelerate people’s entry into the technology field, according to KentuckianaWorks, which runs the program. There have been 821 graduates, ranging in age from 18-71, from the 12-week training course, officials said. These graduates have landed jobs in more than 150 local companies and have an average starting salary of about $48,000, they said.

“It is critical for our economy and our community’s future to have as many people as possible gaining the skills to embrace the technologies of today and tomorrow,” Fischer said. “It’s exciting that a homegrown initiative like Code Louisville has become a national model for developing tech talent — and out goal is to take that to an even higher level.”

Code Louisville was launched in 2014 using federal funding. The program significantly grew in April 2015 after former President Barack Obama visited and said Code Louisville was a model for the recent national TechHire initiative.

Now there are more than 1,000 people who sit on the waiting list for the program, officials said. Admission is prioritized by need, focusing on individuals who are unemployed, low-income families or veterans, they added.

The 12-week program comes at no cost to the students thanks to a Workforce Innovation Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Through Code Louisville, students commit to two 12-week sessions with a month break in between each session. The first session focuses on front-end web development, while the second features full-stack JavaScript or NET development, or a rotating option.

Students complete 20-30 hours far in advance of the course, which builds a foundation for the program, officials said. Once a week, students attend a two-hour meetup and complete online course work through Treehouse, an online coding program based in Portland. 

By the end of the program, students build a project to display what they have learned. From there, they can go on to pursue a career in tech and become a mentor for Code Louisville. At the announcement, Tony Thigpen shared his experience going from an unemployed lab technician to a student and now a mentor. 

After starting the program, he said the drive to continue learning about tech and solving problems grew stronger and his passion for the community followed.

“It’s a knowledge addiction,” Thigpen said.

After graduating from the program, he became a volunteer mentor. He said it’s a rewarding opportunity to help those who have been in the same situation as him and not only get them work, but steer them on the right path.

Tina Maddox also shared her experience with the program. She has been working at El Toro for two months and said her life was changed by Code Louisville. Before joining the program, she was a stay-at-home mom who home-schooled her kids.

She recounted the many nights she had stayed up working on problems and learning from the program. Now she is also a mentor and said she is giving back to the community.

“I can stay here and make the community better,” Maddox said.

Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks, said the first year of Code Louisville produced about five career-ready graduates. After reworking the program, those numbers have greatly increased, he said.

Currently, Gritton said the grant goes through April 2019. The program is working to extend the grant to keep the program free for students, which he said is important after hearing stories of graduates, like Maddox who wouldn’t have participated if it wasn’t free.

Sean Stafford, co-founder of El Toro, said the tech company reached out to Code Louisville for development talent. Now, out of the 110 people working in the company and 50 in development, 12 are from Code Louisville. He said it’s a great opportunity for graduates to reinvent themselves, but also helps the city and companies like El Toro who don’t need to go out-of-state to find talent

In Louisville and the south, Stafford said there is a stigma around the tech industry. People typically don’t associate the two. He said Code Louisville helped with the lack of tech talent in the city which helps tech companies grow.

Stafford listed some of the graduates past professions, including a stay-at-home mother, a former retail manager, a doula, a legal assistant, a NASA engineer, a music theater professional and a math teacher with a PhD.

“I don’t know if you could get a more varied group of people in a room,” Stafford said. “One thing they all have in common is now they are all programmers.”