|Headquarters||St. Louis, Missouri, USA|
LaunchCode is a job placement company based in St. Louis, Missouri, founded by Jim McKelvey (co-founder of Square, Inc.). The company’s goal is to fill open IT positions by removing credential barriers to positions, linking learners with free resources, and creating an on-ramp to good jobs through apprenticeships with companies. LaunchCode offers inexperienced coders a pair programming apprenticeship with a company’s experienced developer. Ideally, at the end of the apprenticeship the inexperienced programmer will have acquired enough relevant skills to be able to fill one of the company’s job openings. LaunchCode is currently working with over 100 St. Louis companies.
LaunchCode was founded by Jim McKelvey in 2013. LaunchCode is an attempt to remedy a problem he saw in St. Louis:
- “Every year the IT talent shortage worsens. This is partially due to increasing demand for coders, but it is also due to problems with traditional educational and hiring systems.... Unfortunately, many human resource departments won’t even interview people without a college degree and several years of experience.” Jim McKelvey and Brendan Lind, edX.org:
LaunchCode’s practice is founded upon finding intelligent, hardworking people who need jobs and giving them skills and opportunities to get them. Candidates do not necessarily need to have a background in computer science.
The LaunchCode Apprenticeship
Once placed in a LaunchCode position, candidates work at companies in an apprenticeship. Throughout the apprenticeship, the candidate is training and learning on the job. LaunchCode encourages companies to use the pair programming model, which involves the transfer of applicable skills—from an experienced company developer to an inexperienced programmer—over one monitor/workstation. Ideally, at the end of this 2-3 month apprenticeship, the candidate will be hired into a salaried position somewhere in the company in accordance with the specific skill-set his/her mentor has helped him/her develop. For LaunchCode’s practice to be successful, the participation of businesses with IT needs is vital. Peter Downs writes in a The Wall Street Journal piece highlighting LaunchCode,
- “One key element to a competitive workforce almost entirely overlooked in the U.S. is apprenticeships. These days, American businesses typically want someone else—trade schools, community colleges, universities or even the federal government—to train their future employees. If potential future job seekers haven't been provided with the training they need, many businesses expect job seekers to take all the responsibility on themselves, often taking on serious debt without any guarantee of future employment.”
LaunchCode understands the efficacy of apprenticeships as a way for companies to generate skilled and valuable employees. While there is currently a talent shortage in St. Louis, McKelvey said on NPR that if LaunchCode is successful, "I believe that we’ll actually create a talent surplus, then you’ll start to see companies moving to this region to take advantage of that surplus.” In the first round, LaunchCode is placing coders at 100 companies, including Enterprise Holdings, MasterCard, Monsanto, Build-a-Bear, and Panera. LaunchCode is run by volunteers and, to date, has not received any financial contributions to operate.
LaunchCode and edX
Recognizing a deficit of coders with basic skills, LaunchCode collaborated with edX to offer free HarvardX programming classes in downtown St. Louis. Jim McKelvey and Brendan Lind explain on edX.org: “To support those who want to learn programming as the first step to a career, LaunchCode is holding city-wide study sessions to support HarvardX’s CS50x Introduction to Computer Science class. By creating peer-groups and supplying mentors, LaunchCode hopes to help more students learn the material.”  This process is still experimental, but hopefully it will give students the solid knowledge base necessary to move onto the next step—a pair programming apprenticeship.
LaunchCode in the Media
“There are glimmers of hope that the U.S.—or at least some savvy industries—might be starting to embrace apprenticeship. In St. Louis, technology entrepreneur Jim McKelvey convinced several large employers last year—including Enterprise, Monsanto, and Rawlings —that it doesn't take a college education to become good at computer programming. What it takes is working with an experienced programmer.” Peter Downs, Wall Street Journal
“Kegan Myers is one of the project’s first placements at this social media startup. Though he’s only 20, Myers has been goofing around with basic web programming for years. “Without Launch Code, I would probably be working some dead end job so that I have a little bit of money to find some way to better myself,” Myers says.” -NPR Marketplace
- "Square founder hopes to turn St. Louis into the Silicon Prairie | Marketplace.org". marketplace.org. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "Square’s Jim McKelvey Launches Opportunity for Beginning Programmers". businessnewsdaily.com. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "LaunchCode Flooded With Applications From Aspiring Tech Talent « CBS St. Louis". stlouis.cbslocal.com. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "LaunchCode and edX Team Up to Train Aspiring Coders | edX". edx.org. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "Launch Code: How 42 "Unqualified" People Landed Dream Tech Jobs in St. Louis". blogs.riverfronttimes.com. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "Peter Downs: Can't Find Skilled Workers? Start an Apprentice Program - WSJ.com". online.wsj.com. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "Co-Founder of Square Wants to Save St. Louis, One Programmer at a Time | Entrepreneur.com". entrepreneur.com. Retrieved 2014-03-16.