TechHire Initiative: How LaunchCode Evaluates 600 Tech Apprentices Per Month

This is a guest post written by Alex Miller, VP of Programs at LaunchCode.


LaShana Lewis grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois. As a young girl, she was fascinated by computers, and spent hours building and deconstructing old PCs and hard drives. After receiving a scholarship to college in Michigan, LaShana explored her passion for technology by studying computer science, but was forced to drop out and return to East St. Louis. For many years, she worked as a bus driver before eventually securing a desk job in IT.

Still, LaShana continued to tinker with code in the evenings, eventually finding her way to CoderGirl, LaunchCode’s all-women’s community coding class. With the support of CoderGirl’s mentors and peers, LaShana quickly honed her skills. In less than a year, LaunchCode was able to evaluate Lewis’ skillset and help place her as an apprentice with MasterCard. In November 2014, she was hired full-time as an Systems Engineer.

“It changed my life,” she says, “giving me an opportunity I would never be able to get.”

Thousands of people like LaShana feel left out of the white, male-dominated tech industry. With tutorials and classes abound, learning programming has never been more accessible, why are there still so many people without the resources, support and community to start coding?

This is the problem LaunchCode is trying to solve. Our mission is to offer a pathway to upward mobility for anyone with the fierce determination, passion and know-how to achieve their dreams. Too many employers favor elite degrees, traditional computer science (CS) background and notable brands on a resume when hiring tech talent. Great coders come from all walks of life. At LaunchCode, we’re creating a non-traditional roadmap for folks who may not have earned a traditional CS degree–in fact, 82% of our placements don’t.

LaunchCode has been the model for the 2015 White House Tech Hire Initiative, which aims to help fill the 1 million unfilled jobs that the US Department of Labor Statistics projects will go unfilled in 2020.

The Challenge: How to Effectively Evaluate Hundreds of Folks?

We are incredibly proud of LaShana for achieving her dreams and acting as a role model–our ultimate mission is to empower as many people like LaShana to achieve their dream of working in technology. However, one of the process’ biggest bottlenecks is the time involved to accurately test a candidate’s skills. 

It can take weeks to sit down with each candidate, test their coding skills using a whiteboard and marker, and ask programming experts to evaluate the results.

The Solution: Using HackerRank’s Platform as Part of LaunchCode’s Evaluation Process 

Over 600 candidates come to LaunchCode each month to apply for an apprenticeship and secure a job in tech. Being able to accurately measure their skills is important to LaunchCode’s success–over 90% of our LaunchCoders are converted to full-time employees at the end of the 12-week apprenticeship.

LaunchCode has developed an innovative, multi-part evaluation system with which we determine our applicant’s aptitude and skill. Using HackerRank’s platform to create our own coding challenges has been an important component of this assessment process, and served as a resource for identifying skills and mastery.

For companies without a developer on staff, HackerRank is especially valuable. The library of code challenges and automated scoring system takes the entire guesswork and risk out of screening and evaluating candidates. For LaunchCode, it has proved to be a versatile and valuable component of our assessment process.

What’s next?

The demand for folks who are looking for a foot in the door for a technology job is rising at a rapid rate. LaunchCode is continuing its national expansion in order to develop homegrown skills and help change the minds of anyone who still believes that you need a traditional CS degree to be a great programmer.

Right now, LaunchCode is helping aspiring coders in St. Louis and Miami. In March, Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced his interest in bringing LaunchCode to his city, and we are excited to be exploring opportunities in the region.

In solving the tech-talent gap, LaunchCode is committed to supporting companies, and giving everyone a pathway to upward mobility, economic independence, and a better life. Stories like LaShana’s remind everyone— even the President of the United States— the impact these changes can have.

 

Image from KnightFoundation.org 

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