The demand for software developers is exploding, and companies often struggle to find job-ready candidates. One of the fastest growing trends in America is the programming bootcamp, an innovative style of education designed to produce skilled developers by exposing students to an intense, industry-specific curriculum in a short period of time. After the hard work, you’re offered a new opportunity as an employable software developer set to make $50,000+ annually. While this can be a great option, the $10,000+ price tag is inaccessible to many. To fill the gap, i.c.stars in Columbus, Ohio, offers an intensive development program free of charge, designed specifically to give low-income adults a brighter future.
“We offer our interns a chance to change their life trajectory. The program’s specifically designed for individuals who make less than $10,000 a year,” said Kim Gayle, Executive Director of i.c.stars Columbus. “These might be people who work at a restaurant, dropped out of college, have young children—whatever—but they’re tired of struggling and come to us inspired to change their lives. We teach them technical skills and prepare them for a career in technology. They further their education, improve their leadership abilities and graduate ready for the workforce. To these interns, that’s a world of a difference.”
One differentiator between i.c.stars and other IT programs is the fact that it’s free of charge for qualified interns. Not only do they not pay tuition, but they’re given a small monthly stipend. Another unique element of the program is the focus on soft skills.
“The goal is to teach our interns software development skills, along with learning about money, being leaders in their community and being well-rounded in soft skills that are not being taught in a lot of coding bootcamps. The discipline required is tremendous. These are 12-hour days, Monday through Friday, from 8a.m. to 8p.m.”
i.c.stars’ unique approach to career development began in Chicago in 1999, where they’ve graduated over 300 interns into the workforce. After nearly twenty years in the Chicago market, the program expanded to its second city, Columbus. i.c.stars Columbus graduated its inaugural class in May 2017 and promptly began with its second group in June.
The program operates with the financial support of community partners including AWH, The Columbus Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, CoverMyMeds, Accenture, Nationwide, and NiSource. i.c.stars is also located in and supported by Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier.
i.c.stars creates a measurable, life-changing impact. The four-month program has an impressive post-graduation job placement rate of 97 percent, and the financial impact is huge. Before the program, participants earn an average annual salary of $9,846. Following graduation, that figure rises to $57,240. Consider the case of Moses Byanyuma.
Moses came to the United States from Ethiopia alone in 2012, eager for the opportunity to get an education and make a life for himself. He settled in South Carolina and enrolled at Winthrop University. Within a year, Moses had dropped out. Too much, too soon he says, and he felt somewhat defeated.
But Moses decided not to give up on his dream to get an education and succeed in America. He came to Ohio, inspired by his brother and sister who had attended Columbus State Community College and returned home to Ethiopia after graduating. Life was still tough for Moses as he had little money to live on and had a hard time academically.
“I was not a good student. I barely passed. I felt guilty because my father was struggling to pay for my studies from Ethiopia,” said Byanyuma. “By the third week of the month I was eating very little to make the food last, and I had to wait for the beginning of the next month. It was just very hard. I was looking to change my situation.”
Moses, who was initially studying Economics, soon discovered his passion lied in Software Development thanks to guidance from an advisor at Columbus State. He made a change in course, and he’s been driving towards success ever since.
“My mentor helped me get a summer internship at Kukua [data company that provides weather forecasting services to countries in Africa], and I paired my love for Africa with development. The same advisor told me about i.c.stars and I knew I should take his advice again.”
Moses described his four months at i.c.stars as the most pivotal time in his life. He says he learned more during his time in the program than he did in his two and a half years of college, mainly because he was forced to work harder than ever before. He graduated skilled, disciplined and with an offer for the position of Software Quality Assurance Analyst at the startup company Vantage Point Logistics. Moses is a new man, and he won’t be going hungry anymore.
“Life-changing. Unbelievable. This is how I describe i.c.stars. I was lost, not sure what to do with my life,” said Byanyuma. “That’s all in the past. The program challenged me every day and made me want to do better. I can’t describe how lucky I am. I have to call my father and tell him, ‘Thank you. It will be me who sends you money now.’”