How Chicago Tech Companies are Helping College Grads

Simon Graham/Harrison Photograph

Pop quiz: Would you rather spend four years paying tuition to learn software development, or get paid to work while being taught software development?

You might not think you have this choice, but you do.

Chicago tech companies like Groupon and 8th Light are bringing an old methodology back to life: apprenticeships.

The goal is to provide trainees the opportunity to work directly with teams on actual projects, with mentors, and be able to shape their own education.

Clearly there are gaps in education today when it comes to raising the next generation of software developers. The most notable being recent grads facing a market starving for developers, but not finding positions to fill right out of college. Instead, they’re faced with job requirements schools haven’t prepared them for.

They’re faced with debt, limited work to showcase, and are probably less familiar with some of the newer tools.

Apprenticeships are filling that niche, the gap between novice developer to junior developer and beyond. Apprenticeships allow the focus to fall back on what it takes to become a true craftsman. This is arguably more relevant than ever, seeing how hungry companies are to hire and keep their best talent.

Looking at the current system for hiring, we’re stuck in an unstable cycle of poaching and clueless recruiters. Hopefully as we continue to see companies adopt an apprenticeship model, the traditional method of hunting will give way to gathering. Where companies are willing to share time and space to teach, grow and create more effective developers. It’s a novel pursuit in this technical age, and the progress these programs make can only benefit the companies and our next generation of software craftsman, who in turn become the next teachers.

Neal Sales-Griffin has worked with and consulted for numerous startup and not-for-profit organizations in Chicago. He helped start two companies (a digital signage firm and a barbershop) and has worked in private equity and at two venture capital firms in Chicago: OCA Ventures, where he evaluated and assisted companies seeking funding, and Sandbox Industries, where he analyzed and developed new business models for startups in the incubation division. Neal currently serves as a board member of the Chicago chapter of the International Game Developers Association, coaches future entrepreneurs in underserved Chicago communities with NFTE and the Future Founders programs, and is currently the founder and CEO of the Ruby on Rails and UX Design training school Code Academy.

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