Brand U Work in the Disruption Economy

Technology Thought Leader: Sheri Dover

Sheri DoverSheri Dover is an entrepreneur and founder of the PDX Code
Guild. She is a thought leader in the Portland tech startup community. Here, she talks with us about how the PDX Code Guild helps people get high-paying jobs in the technology sector.

Can you tell me a few things about yourself?

My name is Sheri Dover. I am the founder and the CEO of PDX Code Guild.

What is the PDX Code Guild?

PDX Code Guild is a coder bootcamp that prepares adults for high-paying jobs in the tech industry by delivering carefully curated education in twelve-fourteen week intensive, hands-on courses.

What do students do at a bootcamp?

Students are treated like apprentices. They write increasingly complicated code as they gain skills and experience. At the beginning of the bootcamp there are lots of lectures, but they are short and interactive. Lectures feature the instructor demonstrating programming concepts using a whiteboard or by writing live code on the projector for students to follow along. After each lecture, the students do an exercise to reinforce and practice concepts covered in the lecture.

Students also do group projects so that students can practice things you do in the real world on a team. One thing they learn is committing code to a repository and getting a merge conflict. That’s something you can only practice in a team. They also learn how to split up the work and communicate.

We focus on teaching the fundamentals of programming so that graduates can think like programmers and take the skills they’ve learned at PDX Code Guild and apply it to other languages. The first thing students learn are the fundamentals of programming using Python. After that they develop a static website and learn HTML and CSS. They learn all of this first so they can learn JavaScript and add functionality to their website. Once you’ve learned Python and JavaScript, you really understand the fundamentals of programming and how that looks in two different languages. After that, students learn Django, a framework for Python and database design. It ties everything together. At this point, the students are more co-workers than classmates.

What projects do students work on to become a programmer?

It depends on the class and the instructor and the students. All instructors do a combination of large and small challenges. Some instructors do a lot of games while others do web apps. During the last portion of the bootcamp, students put everything they’ve learned together by creating individual final projects. For their final projects, they plan and implement original games or web apps, usually something related to the student’s personal interests. At this point, the student is a programmer.

When was the PDX Code Guild founded?

In September 2013.

Where did the idea or the PDX Code Guild come from?

It was a process. I first went to school to become a plant pathologist. I wanted to do something cool that had a positive effect on other people. It turns out it isn’t that easy. You can’t just go to school and be a scientist and save the world. In grad school I realized community involvement was what energizes me, so I dropped out and started a public market for artists in Corvallis, Oregon.

During this time, the economy crashed and I became involved with efforts to educate laid-off HP Engineers about founding tech startups and e-tailing. Through this, I became interested technology as a way to create economic opportunity for individuals and communities. I eventually ended up in Portland volunteering for Startup Weekend and TiE Oregon. It was really exciting when venture capitalists started investing in Portland tech startups but there was a limiting factor because of a shortage of tech talent. Tech companies were competing with each other for tech talent with increasingly expensive perks.

During all of this, I was volunteering and exploring startup ideas of my own as an entrepreneur. But I realized it was time for me to get a job. My plan was to go to a coding bootcamp and get a high paying programming job. That was my plan, but an acquaintance who was volunteering at a bootcamp suggested that I help him start a one. He said “Hey Sheri, how about you help me start a bootcamp? I can teach you how to code.” I realized a coding bootcamp was a great idea and a good use of my skills, but I knew there was no way he could teach me how to code because for the first two years, I would be working twelve hour days. And two and a half years later, I still am. The guy who asked me to help him start the bootcamp left after a month.

You’ve definitely grown.

We have. There’s a huge need for coding bootcamps. We’re always finding ways to make the bootcamps better. We pride ourselves on workmanship. We put a lot of effort into hiring good instructors, keeping class sizes small, and carefully curating the curriculum. We’re always iterating and making things better.

Why do you think coding is important?

For an individual it is important to learn coding because we’re in the Technical Revolution. So many companies now are becoming a tech companies: Starbucks, Godfather’s Pizza, Jaguar Landrover. If you want to earn a living wage, there are two big fields you can get into: Medicine and Technology. To get a job in tech, you just have to know how to program and show your work. People are getting jobs by going to coding bootcamps, studying for three months, and coming out getting jobs at $60,000-$65,000 a year – that’s the market rate for one of our grads.

How is software useful?

It’s useful for future-proofing your career. Programming is the fastest growing sector that pays well. And you don’t have to be a programmer – there are other jobs in the field such as recruiter, project manager or marketing professional where programming skills are valuable. If you know coding, you’ll be able to work in and around tech, speak tech, and communicate with the Dev (Development) Team. And programming is for all kinds of people. There are have chefs, musicians, scientists, and all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds who do great as programmers.

Do you think programming is an important skill to have to get a job now?

Absolutely. I think people should know code because it greatly expands their job opportunities and gives individuals the freedom to explore other opportunities such as founding a software startup or freelancing.

Do you have future plans/goals for the PDX Code Guild?

We would like to grow and offer this good education to people in other communities.

Thank you very much Sheri for your time and your story. You are making a huge impact on the Portland job ecosystem.

Bio:Margau RetouchI

Margaux Hutchins is an engineering intern at WorkingIt.com and CERM Academy. Share your story with her at margaux@workingit.com.

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