An Interview with Tech Elevator CEO Anthony Hughes
Health-Tech Corridor recently went to Tech Elevator and sat down with CEO Anthony Hughes. Learn more about Tech Elevator, its recent program growth, and its plans to help close the skills gap by reading the interview here:
Tell us about Tech Elevator.
Tech Elevator is a 14-week coding boot-camp that teaches people to become software developers. The program is designed to take novices with a strong natural aptitude for problem solving and equip them with relevant technology skills to get jobs in the technology economy.
How did Tech Elevator get started?
Three of us founded the company in September of 2015. I had previously led a technical training program and before that, had worked in the economic development space with JumpStart. David Wintrich, our Chief Academic Officer, came to us from the Federal Reserve Bank where he was the Architect of pay.gov. Aaron Cornell, our CFO, had previously been on the founding team at Explorys (now IBM). The three of us founded Tech Elevator because we saw a major supply-demand mismatch in terms of IT talent throughout the Midwest. We’re all Cleveland-based so it just felt like a natural place to start testing the idea that we could contribute to closing the tech skills gap.
How has Tech Elevator grown since it was first created?
We’ve grown quickly in response to the demand in the market and because we’ve been embraced by students and hiring companies alike. When we started the company we talked to the hiring companies, looked at the data in the market, and asked, “Where are the most job openings in technology today?” From there we engineered a curriculum to act as a skills bridge between entry level opportunities and bright but non-technical individuals.
When we started the program, we had six students in our original cohort coming through. All those looking for jobs got jobs right out of it so that was very exciting. Those students have gone on to do some really cool things in their careers, make great impressions with the companies they have worked at, and those companies in turn have come back to us asking for more. It’s a virtuous cycle: You find quality students, you give them a quality education, you place them in good quality jobs, they do great work, and then the companies come back and ask for more.
The word of mouth has been huge for us. We have tons of referrals from hiring partners, co-workers, and from alumni who have come through our program. Careers in technology are really desirable today but traditionally, in order to enter into the field somebody has had to consider going back to college. Word has gotten around quickly that Tech Elevator offers a high quality alternative and that has fuelled enrollment.
In terms of our expansion, we opened up in Columbus in September of 2016. That was just a reflection of our comfort in having a proven model that we could take to another market and know we could deliver at the same level of quality that we have been able to do here. That location is now at an equal output rate as the Cleveland location. Both locations will graduate about 100 students a year. To give you some context, last year, OSU graduated 220 computer science bachelor’s degrees. It’s exciting to think how far we have come. And to add to it all we’re very excited to be opening this Fall in Cincinnati. We’ve been talking about Cincinnati and talking to people in Cincinnati about expansion since we got the company started. It’s great to see that vision become a reality.
What type of people does your program attract?
Our students are problem solvers who love to learn. These are people who are curious, who are self-improvers, who have drive, ambition, and don’t want to settle for their lives as they currently exist. They know that in order to get where they want to be, they need to make investments in themselves; they need to acquire relevant skills. The typical profile of a Tech Elevator student is a career changer somewhere in the 25-35 year old range (but we’ve seen people as young as 19 and as old as 62). They’ve had some years of career experience but know they need to upgrade their skill sets to take their careers to a new level. These are folks who, generally speaking, are way smarter than the work that they’re doing and aren’t feeling challenged. Software development offers that challenge and for people who are willing to learn and adapt, it’s a field of constant opportunity.
What has the reception been like from your employers?
The reception from employers has been fantastic. We have a network of over 100 hiring partners in in Northeast Ohio. Every top technology company in the region has hired from us at this point, even companies you would not look at as a technology company but still heavily use technology. Companies have come to us to hire one graduate and then quickly come back and hire more. We sit on the doorsteps of these companies, work very closely with them, listen to them, and ask what they’re looking for so we can constantly be updating our curriculum to stay relevant. They also come in and mentor our students through technical interviews, panel discussions and tech talks. At this point in time, a quarter of our students have job offers before graduation, which speaks to the efficiency of the process and is exactly what we want to see in terms of that “hand in glove” approach to working with companies in the region. We have developed a reputation as the preferred boot camp talent pipeline, and that’s exactly where we want to be.
Why is Cleveland, and more specifically the Health-Tech Corridor, a good location for Tech Elevator?
When people think about software development, they think about Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and Austin; they don’t think Cleveland. The reality, though, is that demand for software developers in the Midwest is growing at a faster rate than they’re seeing on the coasts. Much of that has to do with the fact that today every company is a tech company in some form and many of the traditional industries have headquarters in this part of the country. Cleveland is a perfect example of that. We don’t have the digital literacy in our market to fuel the needs of the companies here locally, so as demand increases for these workers we threaten to lose jobs to other areas where that talent base exists. Through Tech Elevator, I want to contribute to the digital literacy in Cleveland so that when opportunities do arise for companies to relocate here or grow their technology capabilities, they’re able to find talent from within the community.
At Tech Elevator, we believe our role is to elevate people, companies, and communities. I fundamentally believe that a community cannot be strong without a strong core. The Health Tech Corridor is right in the core of Northeast Ohio, right in the center of it. There is amazing energy happening right now; it’s really exciting to be here, contribute to it, and participate in it. This building once housed the world’s largest manufacturer of electric cars! Thomas Edison’s first car was a Baker automobile. Where in the world do you get to build an innovative new tech company in a building where amazing technology was being built over a hundred years ago? The bone structure of Cleveland, the ability to reimagine spaces, the ability to be in the core of this city and participate and contribute to a community, that is what makes the Health-Tech Corridor really valuable. On top of that, our students have received offers from the Clinic, UH, and other companies along the Health-Tech Corridor. There is an energy here that is mutually beneficial for everyone.
How has Tech Elevator worked to promote technology more broadly in the community?
Whether you chose to learn with us or on your own we are always interested in sparking an interest in technology for individuals and throughout our community. We host, on an annual basis, about 80 events in our space. Maybe half of those events are open to the public, where we work with anybody to come in, learn and get involved. We might be hosting meetups for the technology community or Learn to Code events for people who have no experience.
Last year, we did a hackathon with the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field which was a huge success. Basically, we asked people how they could enhance the fan experience using technology. What we took was something that was very accessible and relatable, which is the Cleveland Indians, and connected it to something people can find intimidating, which is technology, and demonstrated how people can use technology to enhance their experiences. We had just unbelievable submissions: virtual and augmented reality, apps to order a hot dog to your seat, apps to swap seats, and cool gamification apps The event helped people connect with technology and have fun with it. The more we can help make technology accessible and relatable, the better.
Watch the video recap of Tribe Hackathon
If you’re interested in learning more about Tech Elevator bootcamps, register for an upcoming Open House or test your aptitude with a 25 minute free assessment online.