Large screens in Workforce Innovation Hub classrooms help tech students program code line by line.

City of Refuge has opened a Tech Academy at the Workforce Innovation Hub to provide Westside residents with programs that will help them succeed in the information technology industry.

The junior software developer program is the nonprofit’s biggest yet and features six-month training in conjunction with Interapt, a Kentucky-based information technology firm, and Accenture, a leading global professional services company.

“We want to be pioneers in creating programming and changing communities,” said Dom Preyer, director of the Workforce Innovation Hub. “Everything in the tech world is so fast. There is something new every other day. If you look at coding or any other form of technology, you have to take it one step at a time.”

The Hub has been a nucleus for other programs at City of Refuge since its launch two years ago. The Workforce Innovation Hub is an open workspace for collaborating on projects as well as classrooms for training in automotive, culinary arts, customer service, security and bookkeeping.

Tech Academy’s curriculum, developed by Interapt, begins with a computational thinking and digital literacy, and will progress into hardware and network, Java programming and other skills training. The graduating junior software developers will be placed into either a full-time job with a corporate partner company or a four-to-six-month internship to gain valuable work experience.

The Tech Academy has become not only the largest program at City of Refuge, but the most sought after. Out of the nearly 75 individuals who applied, 25 students were chosen based on their goals and post plan after Tech Academy. Preyer said City of Refuge recruits from inside out, first encouraging residents at City of Refuge to apply. Women from City of Refuge’s Eden Village, a housing center that supports over 200 women and children, and House of Cherith, a program that serves victims of sex exploitation and trafficking, applied along with individuals from the 30314 zip code.

Sarah Wood walks the class through coding step by step.

“For me, I really wanted to focus on the women and the struggle it is for women to be in the [technology] industry,” Preyer said. “The Tech Academy is a great fit for both how we are tackling it and when we are tackling it.”

Sarah Wood lived in City of Refuge housing for three months and now lives in an apartment, but returns to campus every day as a Tech Academy student with dreams of becoming a junior software developer.

“I wanted to learn a new skill that would challenge me and that I could take anywhere,” Wood said. “I like things with little details, and if you like things with that kind of methodical nature, coding is something you would be interested in.”

Wood and her fellow students first learned HTML to understand how a website should look and then learned Java Script to see how websites should work. Wood quickly mastered HTML, but found Java Script to be challenging. “I do expect road blocks and times when things may get more frustrating than normal, but I do expect myself to overcome it,” Wood said. “From what I’ve been through, I’ve had to learn to compartmentalize my priorities. Every day is kinda like a baby step. It’s the same thing with coding, everything is a baby step.”

Having a step-by-step mentality is encouraged at Tech Academy. During the very first week, students were introduced to computational thinking, an outlook that encourages coders to break intimidating technology projects into manageable pieces. This perspective builds confidence away from the computer as well.

“You can apply computational thinking to almost any aspect of your life. First you have to believe in a certain thing and then work through that process,” Preyer said.

Computational thinking helped Deonte Walton become coding savvy in just a few months. The Tech Academy teaching assistant through Interapt attended a coding course similar to Tech Academy at CodeBridge, graduated in July, and is already teaching new programmers at City of Refuge.

“Programming is taking a complex idea and breaking it down into the smallest, simplest task you can do,” said Walton. “When you are programming, you become detail oriented. Communication becomes easier too because when you get used to telling the computer exactly what to do, with instruction line by line, it becomes easier to break down advanced concepts into more simple steps.”

Sarah Wood revisits logic concepts to better understand computational thinking.

A sense of solidarity has grown amongst the students at Tech Academy. As they program line by line, they assist student by student until the entire class is on the same page. “There are students who are picking it up fast and instead of sitting back and saying ‘I’ve got it’ they are going to other students and helping those students with camaraderie,” Preyer said.

Near the end of the six months in Tech Academy, Accenture will lead a unit on soft skills. Preyer says the term “soft skills” is often misunderstood and encompasses appearance, organizational skills, communication and speaking skills, and time management. The students are already working on their online presence by publishing portfolios of work to GitHub, a popular code hosting service that connects coders so they can collaborate on projects.

Student by student, step by step, Tech Academy programmers are well on their way to junior software developers.

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