SC Codes Greenville – Creating an innovative pilot program for our community

freeCodeCamp GreenvilleI’ve been planning to write a blog post about our SC Codes Greenville pilot (Jan 2016 – Jun 2018) to share the awesome experience and Greenville community achievement. The recent confusion because of the launch of a new program under the same name – SC Codes – is now another reason to write about it. It also seems fitting that I’m publishing this post as I host the final freeCodeCamp Greenville hack night for 2018. Using freeCodeCamp’s open source curriculum for our 1-year pilot program allowed us to achieve more with our small grant! We met at the OpenWorks coworking space in NEXT on Main as usual where we host many of Greenville’s tech meetups. Make attending one of the meetups a goal for 2019! You can check out all the groups and upcoming events on the HackGreenville.com website – an open source project built by some of our SC Codes graduates at our final pilot event!

Over the next two and half years, we developed a free, part-time 12-week experience that would help over 200 adults grow their coding skills with the highest achievers graduating from our program and completing freeCodeCamp’s Front End Development certificate.

On a mission to create accessible options for skill development

After launching Women Who Code Greenville in October 2015, I began researching part-time coding boot camp options for our members – including reaching out to Tech Talent South about arranging to have one of their pop-up programs for us. At that time the only coding bootcamp option in Greenville was a very intensive full-time 3-month program which would not work for many working adults – especially women who tend to have more family care responsibilities. Also, the financial burden is not just a coding bootcamp’s fee but also the loss of income from leaving a job during the program and the following job search period.  A growing number of families need both incomes and can’t afford for one parent to quit their job. Meanwhile, the exponentially growing number of free online resources had become confusing for most new learners making it harder to find and focus on a successful path to developing their skills.

When I was invited to join the planning team for a pilot coding education program in January, I was excited that the vision emerging would create a wonderful opportunity for many adults in our community – especially women. Our mission was to create a more accessible, flexible option that would help the adults in our region gain the software development skills that would both satisfy growing employer needs and valuable career opportunities for adults in our community – with a focus on reaching underserved populations. Over the next two and half years, we developed a free, part-time 12-week experience that would help over 200 adults grow their coding skills with the highest achievers graduating from our program and completing freeCodeCamp’s Front End Development certificate. I’m also happy to say that we had a significant number of women take advantage of our program – 50% of our first cohort!

Digital literacy on steroids

The Greenville County Library System which became the lead agency for our pilot had already organized a monthly coding club and was looking at Code Louisville as a possible model because of its recognized success and involvement of the local public library. In Louisville they created a hybrid format using an online curriculum and pairs it with weekly in-person meetings. This maximizes flexibility for adults with busy schedules but provides the benefits of an in-person experience – connecting with other students and local developers volunteering as mentors. We loved the concept and could see how much success they were having in Louisville so we reached out to them. The leadership was very generous in sharing what they had learned so we could benefit from their experience.

I had already become involved with the local freeCodeCamp group and I suggested that we use the open source curriculum for our pilot. This not only kept the cost of running the program low, but we leveraged a successful global resource and community – giving our students a full pathway to a career while developing our local program and employer connections. Many of our participants were juggling family responsibilities and sometimes two jobs and one of the benefits of using freeCodeCamp as our curriculum was knowing they had a full self-paced career pathway to continue with if they missed out on our limited enrollment or couldn’t keep up the pace of our program. In addition to freeCodeCamp, we also used Lynda.com as a supplemental resource because access is free with a Greenville County Library Card.

We received approval for funding of our proposed pilot from the South Carolina Department of Commerce and launched our first enrollment in July 2016. Over the next two years we created not only a wonderful learning opportunity but a community that was integrated with our already growing Greenville tech community. It was an exciting expansion of the Greenville County Library System’s digital literacy focus and we created a vibrant collaboration between GCLS, Greenville Technical College, Women Who Code Greenville, Code for Greenville, Open Upstate and freeCodeCamp Greenville. As part of the unique experience our program included contributing to a civic tech open source project – map layers for community use. We also created successful experiences like the Open SC Hackathons energizing the whole community around contributing to open source software.

It’s not just STEM education – building a community of learners

Creating such a positive impact for our community through our pilot program was an incredibly meaningful experience for me – especially because of the connection with my father’s leadership in the development of science education in South Carolina. I was able to weave together my passions, experience and connections to launch and develop the program. I’m continually grateful for not only the vital contributions of our volunteer mentors but for their feedback about how much the experience helping the students meant to them too. Through our pilot I realized the importance of fostering a culture of mentorship in the tech sector – now touching all industries as well. Continuous learning is part of the reality of our modern workplace and we need to encourage active involvement both internally in work cultures but also in our communities to have the resources to meet the current and future needs of employers.

Of course the students were at the heart of the pilot and I continue to be humbled by the gratitude expressed for the opportunity and positive outcomes. These range from successful starts down a new career path; greater achievement than they would have been able to complete on their own; wonderful experiences with mentors; and also career successes like promotions and new jobs. Students often expressed that they would have given up on the challenging curriculum if they hadn’t had the support and schedule provided by our program. Although placement in jobs was not a goal of the pilot, it was part of our long-term vision. We connected students to freeCodeCamp’s career pathway while we were seeking innovative local approaches including apprenticeships. I was glad that we weren’t making promises of jobs to our students because the leap into software development is a challenging one and expectations about it being quick are not realistic.

Our Greenville collaboration continues

The SC Codes pilot ended with our 2nd hackathon in June 2018 and the program we hear about with the same name has headed in a new direction with new leadership as it grows statewide. In addition to wishing Build Carolina well with the new statewide program, I’m happy to say that that our pilot partners are still actively collaborating and look forward to creating new opportunities here in Greenville as the Greenville Codes project. I’m excited about our plans for 2019!

We learned a lot over the course of offering four 12-week sessions during the two year pilot. If you are interested in launching a similar effort in your area, I’m happy to continue sharing our experience. Our Greenville pilot team recently gave a talk at the SCLA/SELA Conference and during the pilot worked with a team in Beaufort to assist in the development of a similar program. FreeCodeCamp continues to grow as an open source project becoming a nonprofit organization during our pilot and launching brand new certificates this year. In addition to the free curriculum, freeCodeCamp builds open source tools for nonprofits. It’s a great partner for communities and organizations that can launch or amplify their programs with access to these resources.

Here are a few photos of our program graduates and mentors! More are archived on the SC Codes Facebook page.

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