Have you used your local library to learn about tech? Programming? Web site design and construction? If not, why not?
I haven’t been getting those materials from my local library, in Birmingham, AL. They didn’t have what I needed. I’ve bought my own books and training materials. Among them, off and on, was subscription access to Lynda.com. I’ve used Lynda training materials (first for websites, then for ongoing design software training) for almost 20 years. Until the past few years, it was not easy to afford.
Two and a half years ago, while attending a WordPress conference in Toronto, one of my fellow attendees, Alex Sirota, told me that Lynda.com had a library program (He has a write-up on his professional blog.) It’s been a big success for the Toronto Public Library system, with city residents using it to learn needed skills quickly. This is a great example of the idea of “city-as-a-platform”, in which the city/region/state works to make it easier for more residents to pick up in-demand skills.
I’m currently using Lynda.com to learn about systems administration and security, and Windows 7 & 10 deployments. Since my last use three years ago, they’ve added more IT and programming related materials to their existing design-software core. Most of it is introductory through intermediate, but it’s enough to give me direction as to what I should be studying next.
New to Birmingham and want to know where to find the techies? Or you’ve finished a first degree or training course and you want to know how to connect with other people in your field? In Birmingham, here are the three places you need to start looking to find them.
TechBirmingham’s community listings
TechBirmingham, the region non-profit coordinating and promoting the growth of the regional tech sector, has listings of the local tech organizations on its Community page. These include chapters of national organizations, such as the Project Management Institute, Infragard, Code for America, and Women Who Code .
You’ll also find local tech-focused groups such as the Red Mountain Makers and Steel City SQL.
Magic City Tech
MagicCityTech.org is the signup page for the Magic City Tech slack, a chat channel used by tech community organizers to coordinate events, share information and post jobs. An informal watercooler-style back channel, you’ll see everything from good React tutorials and case studies. to job postings for Scada and R programmers. The number of channels has grown significantly in 2017 & 2018
Because I was talking to a number of women at the We Rise Women in Tech conference this weekend, (June 24th) about the mechanisms necessary to make a given tech community penetrable by people who are not part of the dominant culture, (in Birmingham, white Caucasian hetero male), I want to park links to some of the organizations that I was introduced to who are developing the essential contact and education networks.
5 LGBTQ organizations (article behind the link)
Steal this list! Build the community! My observations from WebGrrls in the late nineties, and now with Women Who Code, is that when you are a minority group within a given community, working to grow your presence in a regional industry, national and international organizations help. A lot.
Just home from Women Who Code Atlanta’s We Rise Women in Tech conference. I have lots of notes to look through, suggestions for task-specific SDKs, contacts to follow up on, and new topics to explore. Reconnected with women I met last year at the first hackathon. I was only able to attend one day of this two-day conference due to work obligations but enjoyed every dang minute of it! So much positive energy, engagement, encouragement, reinforcement – it’s nice (and reassuring) to know that we’re out there, and we’re supporting one another. My notes from the sessions I attended follow.
Hot tip – the 2nd Women Who Code hackathon date is set for October 15 – 17th. Save the date!
Update December 30th, 2018. We had a great series of boot camps over two years. As part of taking on that role, I wrote and passed both of the CompTIA A+ exams in 2017 and then the Network+ exam fall 2018. If you’re a young adult between the ages of 17 – 29, living in Alabama’s Jefferson County, who is unemployed or underemployed, I encourage you to check out current (paid for!) coding and data analytics boot camp options at Innovate Birmingham. Innovate Birmingham is working to ensure that valuable (and well-paid!) tech training is available for all.
I’m moving on to new projects, but am still deeply committed to mentoring those coming up in the regional industry behind me.
Why the CompTIA A+ exam?
The A+ is an entry-level tech industry certification that verifies that you meet a certain level of knowledge about computing hardware, operating systems, peripherals, and networking. It has two parts; the 220-901, which focuses on hardware, and the 220-902, which focuses on operating systems, networking, security and the command line(s).
See? I earned a thing!
If you have been working with Windows computers for while, have learned how to work at the command line, and have been working doing computing support, it will take you a week or so of study after work to prepare for each exam. If you’ve been using Windows (and a smart phone) but haven’t stepped into the back end or explored some of the finer points of the operating system, it will take you longer – but with persistence and focus, it’s completely doable.
Currently, in Alabama (especially in Birmingham), there are more jobs open where the certification is requested than there are people looking for work who hold it. Demand is expected to grow. Entry level positions are usually as a computer support specialist, with progression to system or network administrators, or to business analyst (usually other areas of education or knowledge) common. If you’re willing to put in the time and work (40 – 60 hours for someone with experience, up to 300 hours for someone new to tech), this certification opens doors. The CompTIA website has a career path roadmap PDF available for download. If you have other qualifications as well, it can be the start of a well-paid tech career.
Updated October 28, 2018.
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 boot camp 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.
On Monday, September 12th, Women Who Code Birmingham held its Programming & Tech Career Development panel at UAB’s iLab at the Innovation Depot.
Twenty-seven women (and a few men) came out to learn what technical and software development employers are looking for in the Birmingham area, what to expect in a technical interview and how to ensure success starting a career after graduation from university, or when transitioning into the field from another career.