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Monday, Aug. 17, 2015

Coding Businesses

Cohab course opens doors for programmers

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Cohab course opens doors for programmers

In high school, Jessica Puckett didn’t really get computers.

“I couldn’t really understand it,” said Puckett, 26, recalling a websitebuilding course.

At the time, she was attending the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches.

“Everyone seemed to be more advanced than me,” Puckett recalled.

Today, though, Puckett is one of 15 graduates of a pilot, computer-coding course called HackerForge, a course created by the Shreveport-based Twin Engine Labs and Cohab, the small business-centric nonprofit in downtown Shreveport. And by all accounts, Puckett is no longer a slouch at computers.

She’s described as a “shining student” and a “great example” of what the program aims to do by John Grindley, Cohab’s executive director.

That aim is to turn men and women into computer programmers during a 10-week program.

“This course molds the students into what companies need,” Grindley said. “[Coders who are] not green but moldable.”

HackerForge’s approach cuts to the heart of what both Grindley and Kevin Hanson, CEO of Twin Engine Labs, believe about the future of computer coding careers.

“Coding is a trade. And the trade is only as good as your chops,” Grindley said.

Hanson is an example of this trade mentality. A self-taught programmer, Hanson worked his way into the technology industry, typically starting as a junior coder who learned from a senior coder.

“Every job I was an apprentice,” Hanson said. “Then I started doing that with my own company. This should be a trade.”

“Anybody who has the hustle and grit should be able to come in.”

Through HackerForge, the students are taught the ins-and-outs of writing code. It’s “real world experience” that’s about on-the-job training, not a degree program, Grindley said.

“Graduates can say, ‘Look at this software I wrote,’” Grindley said.

For Puckett, a degree in computers wasn’t even on the horizon. That is until her junior year at LSUS, which is when she realized she could handle technology.

Puckett was so far into her management and marketing degree, she decided to “get the degree and get out.” But she did not forget her new interest in computers.

“I think that in my heart I always wanted to do something technical,” Puckett said.

So, when she discovered HackerForge, Puckett took the online application test, which she passed, then reserved her seat. The $2,000 tuition, she said, was far less than any similar program.

Puckett entered the course with three goals: (1) work with Hanson, (2) learn HTML, (3) land a paying client. She achieved all three of those before her final week of class. She described HackerForge as complete immersion in code. “You are drowning in code, and you have to save yourself.”

As for her instructor, Hanson, Puckett described him as “very energetic, very knowledgeable about code.”

Grindley echoed Puckett’s compliments, calling Hanson an “amazing instructor.”

Despite the praise, Hanson, who is also CEO of HackerForge, is not looking to be the course’s permanent lead instructor.

However, both he and Grindley are looking to keep HackerForge going with another 10-week session. This one kicks off Sept. 7 with a target class load of 20.

Per the course’s website, some graduates may be able to land entry-level positions with a possible beginning salary from $40,000 to $50,000.

“The demand is there,” he said. To help find and fill these positions, Grindley said Cohab plays matchmaker for HackerForge graduates and prospective companies, allowing the graduates an opportunity to show off their skills. “These students are so hungry for this. It’s incredible,” Hanson said. “You’ll never have to convince these people to come and work for you.”

Hanson, like Grindley, is upfront about the abilities of the HackerForge graduates. “Now I definitely feel like we’re not creating a bonafide engineer. But they are more trainable,” Hanson said. “They are trained to think like a programmer and can do anything.”

When asked about her future, Puckett embodied this “do anything” mentality by offering up several possibilities, including working again with Hanson.

“Initially, I didn’t want to work for a technical company unless it was TwinEngine Labs,” Puckett said.

But the flexibility of coding has her weighing the options as a stay-at-home mother to her 6-month-old daughter.

Regardless of her path, Puckett said she’s “very excited for there future.”

“Coding has opened up many doors.”

–RT Morgan

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