In many cities with a tech scene there is a need for programmers and developers who aren’t necessarily computer science (CS) majors. CS is great for understanding the structures underlying programming, how software interacts with hardware, and the mathematics behind compression, encryption, algorithms graphics and topology. Their skills and understanding are needed to build computing and programming structures and frameworks, for working out effective storage techniques, telecommunication methods, encryption and for a lot of security work.  You will always need these specialists. And, if you want to be a CEO of major tech company, the groundwork is vital.

But for the rest of us, a mix of our existing skillsets in combination with either a bootcamp or self-study with tutorials are the most effective ways to start a programming career. Our power is crossover knowledge. We’re going to be working in teams to build and implement using existing tools – and being able to learn quickly, effectively and put existing pieces together to solve people’s problems is the best way we can contribute.

So – how do you get started in Birmingham? There aren’t a lot of specialist programs being run in the area, are there?

No, there aren’t. And given the state’s pattern of having a lot of small liberal arts colleges with a few big state universities, and of NOT developing larger centers of excellence or tech-focused schools (as other regions do), you will be waiting a long, long time. This is a failing of state educational policy – something you as a voter have to raise with state leadership. 

Here are the current options:

Universities and Community Colleges

As a student, in order to finish strong, you need to combine what you’re doing at school with side projects or interest projects where you’re developing your own code outside of the classroom.You need to have about ten – twenty hours a week consistently available for this .  This will be hard if you are attending as a mature student, and have other demands on your time, such as family and work.

Bootcamps

Bootcamps have been around for about two decades now, and focus on teaching specific skills or a base set of skills to individuals or corporate teams. Here’s SwitchUp’s ranking.  Most are located in large cities (not Birmingham), will run 2 – 4 months, and will cost betwen $8,000 – $20,000 US to attend. Course Report has evaluations and options for financing. They are intense courses which will require all your available time to work on projects and classwork. If you have children at home, you won’t be kissing them goodnight much. Most graduates report significant increases in earnings in their new jobs. 

Locally in Birmingham, we have Depot/U’s bootcamp. They are placing almost all of their graduates with local companies. For those with the right skills, these are well-paid gigs.

Self-study & tutorials

There are lots of ways to begin teaching yourself (or yourself and friends – talking about this stuff helps shove it into your brain). Online tutorial sites, both free and paid (content is generally richer on the paid access sites), individual language tutorials (every programming language has a home page, reference material on the language structure and tutorials to learn what you’re doing). Depending on your age and existing knowledge level, TechPrep will direct you to an an appropriate starting point and initial career guidance. Women Who Code has also compiled a great list of tutorials, broken down by language. 

Local groups interested in promoting self-education:

Computing professional associations maintain study resources for their membership. 

The project thingy

I mentioned doing programming projects. Where do you find those? All around you. These are the ones I see in Birmingham:

  • Websites for the local neighborhood associations. It takes city newcomers quite a while to learn about Birmingham’s neighborhood associations because only 1 out of 99 has a website! Why is this? A combination of existing comunity leadership not using the technology/not being interested in learning, city leadership not seeing the importance (Mayor Bell!) and funds and/or knowledge to do implementation. This is a solvable problem for someone with a little WordPress.com, HTML, CSS and existing tool knowledge. Project!
  • Developing a geo-navigation travel tool using Bhamwiki. There is a mediawiki plugin that will allow one to add geo-tags to the existing wiki entries. Code up a web app to call them when the user is at the location and you have a great tool for telling the city’s stories.
  • A reference wiki for the city and state’s smaller nonprofits to share best practices, how to get things done within their individual cities and counties, and known resources. The Alabama Association of Nonprofits has told me that they don’t have the time, budget or knowledge to do this on their own. I have the domain registered and ready to go.
  • Using sensor technology, microcircuits and a phone app,  a way to automatically detect, report to database, capture nearby cell numbers and vehicle information, and automatically report close calls between cyclists and vehicles. This is especially important as evidence when a cyclist is riding alone and is rendered unconscious or killed.
  • RSS feeds into and from the community calendars to automate event publicity. I’m looking at you, Birmingham365.org, AL.com, TechBirmingham, IN Birmingham and the City of Birmingham – combined, it takes two hours to get each and every event entered and in to y’all!

Look around you. There is a problem waiting to be solved. Learn to code and do it!