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Monday, April 19, 2021

Digital Fluency

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Citizens take class in digital coding

z“Many are called but few chosen” is a scriptural quote that certainly applies to a banquet recently offered by the City of Shreveport. Citizens were offered a free, four-month class in digital coding. Plus a free laptop.

Mayor Perkins and City of Shreveport Chief Technology Officer Keith Hanson are well aware that among the resources lacking in this area’s workforce is digital fluency. Thus, they signed up for a program to be taught by Tech Talent South. The program “was probably a $13,000 value per student,” noted Randy Roberson, one of a couple of dozen graduates.

Students were required to take an entrance exam. Some 107 residents qualified for the program.

Fewer than 25% completed the course.

To quit or not was a crossroads faced by seemingly everyone. “A promise to take 40 hours a week for four months was a huge commitment,” said Roberson. Several program graduates quickly declared that they seriously thought about dropping during the program.

An additional struggle affected this recent program. Classes began as the disruption of Covid shutdown arrived.

During the Covid months, musician Eric Gardner, a career bassist who has performed in such bands as Dirtfoot and the Mansion Family, saw zero income.

With no background in digital studies, he dived in with the program called CodeSHV. A fortunate outcome about which he knew nothing awaited. “My brother has had a small web-based business based in Arkansas, though he lives in Idaho. As I finished my class, he got a lucrative offer elsewhere. He needed someone to run his existing business.” Suddenly, Gardner went from clueless about a domain hosting company to realizing that he could hack it.

Not only does Gardner think he can run the company, he has ideas about how to grow the company.

“Web site development” is the easiest answer to the question “What did students get?” They were able to see front-end and back-end software development and understand what’s needed in mobile apps. They got acquainted with an assortment of development languages.

“You don’t need a college degree or a background in technology to apply,” Tech Talent South CEO and founder Betsy Hauser told The Times. “Some of our most successful talents have been high school graduates with a trade or service job, who want to break into the tech industry and try something new. We’re looking for hard working folks who have a desire to be in demand and build a new future for themselves and their city.”

Roberson’s recent background in installing and repairing fire alarm systems gave him “some transferable skills.” But mostly, he was learning new material.

He pointed out that at a Highland Restoration Association meeting, former city councilman Jeff Everson recently proposed a database that would let citizens report city street issues, both good and bad.” Gardner sees that CodeSHV students could use their newly-learned skills in that application.

“I’ve been impressed by my classmates as they chose ‘capstone’ projects,” Roberson added. “They are ready and willing to develop apps that serve the community.”

The camaraderie was seen as a benefit of the class by Roberson and Gardner. Over the months of work, students depended upon each other for explanations and for attitude. Both see themselves calling on their classmates in the future. “We’ve learned to share and to help and learned about the talent pool,” said Gardner. “In the beginning, it was somewhat awkward to share parts of our ongoing lives via the Zoom cam, but it became personal in a good way. We were hanging out with each other -- it felt like a community.”

An atypical digital boot camp grad is S. Renee Watkins, a Caddo teacher. She has a degree in computer science. Additionally, she works for Sky Coach, a sideline coaching tool for high school football teams that allows coaches and players to view instant video replays. Still, she felt that the program was helpful. “The communal feeling was one of the best parts,” she declared. In the end, “the class gave us a whole view.”

“I will admit that a lot of it didn’t seem to make sense,” observed Roberson. “It was grueling.”

“You needed a warrior mentality to complete the work,” agreed the trio. “Week after week, people dropped like flies,” observed Roberson.

And the “free lap top” was free only if you completed the program.

Tech Talent South is a female-led tech education company that builds and connects tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems, says Betsy Hauser. “Rooted in community and humility, TTS creates immersive and inclusive experiences for both individuals and our corporate partners. The main value that we boast: Our incredibly close-knit community of tech professionals, innovators and employers. We operate in 12 cities, have trained over 5,000 individuals, and have written over 4,192,812 lines of code.” 318-272- 6045. Instagram, flickr.com and facebook.

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