Learn Tech Labs: Silicon Valley skills for all

LearnTech Labs co-founder Jordan Hart (Olivia Rempel)

LearnTech Labs co-founder Jordan Hart (Olivia Rempel)

For years, Oakland-based Learn Tech Labs co-founders Bella Baek and Jordan Hart heard the same complaint from employers and jobseekers in tech fields. Colleges weren’t teaching graduates practical skills, and coding bootcamps weren’t offering the computer science foundation needed for many programming jobs.

Hart says he used to interview people with computer science degrees who had never heard of Git, the industry standard software that allows users to track changes in their code and collaborate. “It wasn’t like they’d been taught a competitor; they hadn’t been taught the idea of how the industry stores its code, and yet they’d spent four years training for coding jobs, which makes no sense,” he says. “It’s like a carpenter not knowing how to use a toolbox.”

Hart and Baek, both of whom have backgrounds in technology and education, decided to do something about it. In September, 2015, they launched the inaugural, three-month LearnTech Labs bootcamp in Oakland.

Now, they offer mini-bootcamps that run on weekends and at night, and two core programs, one that focuses on computer science, and the other on web development, which combine to become a comprehensive eight-month long program.

Hart says they chose Oakland in part because there was less competition in the area, and because they felt their presence would benefit the community. They offer discounts to Oakland residents enrolling in bootcamps to help combat the gentrification that many blame on the Bay Area’s tech boom.

“It seemed to us the best way to address that was to help train local people to take local jobs,” says Hart.

LearnTech Labs attracted a small but very diverse first class. The age range was wide, and most of the participants were women.

The group continues to strive towards diverse participation. “When we’re designing things and making engineering decisions, when it’s a group of adult males of the same race all sitting around, they’re going to miss the concerns for the other 90 percent of the population,” Hart says.

Ultimately, he believes bootcamps represent a response to the speed at which technology is advancing. “I think four to eight years of college and then a career for life is out the window,” he says. “So instead we need micro-credentials.”

Tech skills are not only essential in tech fields anymore, they’re becoming necessary for many traditionally non-tech related jobs, as more work becomes automated, and organizations develop an online presence, or start using databases.

“One thing I told my students was ‘Hey, we’re not teaching you a career for life,’” says Hart. “‘You’re catching a wave.’”

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