RHODE CODERS: The new tech workforce development model

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs in the United States, and only 400,000 qualified candidates. Here in Rhode Island, state leadership has made it a priority to integrate computer science into every K-12 classroom.

While this initiative is important and a much needed step, the immediate needs for software engineers and programmers will not be met in time, without similar initiatives in adult workforce development and retraining. That is why Providence Public Library (PPL) decided to make workforce development the focus of our adult and teen programming.

One of our flagship programs is “Rhode Coders”. The Rhode Coders Club launched in June 2016 as two separate 10-week cohorts (HTML5 & CSS3 and JavaScript) where adults and teens can explore the world of coding without any of the traditional barriers of cost, fear, or lack of knowledge.

Rhode Coders instructor Don Gregory showing students errors in a piece of code. Photo Courtesy of Providence Public Library.

According to Fast Company, there were close to “7 million job openings in 2015 in occupations that required coding skills” and “programming jobs overall are growing 12 percent faster than the market average.” Rhode Coders provides a foundation in web development skills to students with no or some previous coding experience. Over ten weeks, club members learn HTML, CSS, programming fundamentals, and core JavaScript using a fun and game-oriented approach. Our curriculum blends Codecademy.com lessons with Mozilla Web Literacy activities and tools in a face-to-face setting. College and career readiness 21st century “power skills” of communication, collaboration, self-management, problem solving and critical thinking are also a focus.

At the end of the course, club members are able to use what they have learned to build their own personalized website and online game. We are currently rolling out micro-credentials as evidence of learning. Beginning in July 2017, each participant can earn a Mozilla coding badge and a ‘super’ badge for their website and online game. As we solidify our partnerships with higher education and more advanced computer science training programs, our aim is to use the badges as currency that will give priority to Rhode Coders for admission into their programs.

As part of the Rhode Coders program, students are required to show that they can identify errors in code. Photo Courtesy of Providence Public Library.

Mozilla’s Thimble IDE online resource is the primary tool of the Rhode Coders instructors. The flexible design of using remixed coding projects allows the instructor to create curriculum to share and work on interactively in a classroom setting. Sharing project code among members and the instructor greatly enhances the collaborative process.

A screenshot of the Rhode Coders HTML/CSS Lesson 6 using Mozilla’s Thimble Platform

In less than a year, Rhode Coders has expanded to three other Rhode Island libraries, one adult education organization, and a public housing authority. Plans are moving forward to bring this initiative statewide through state funding. To date, more than 150 Rhode Islanders have completed a Rhode Coder cohort, with more than a dozen participants having gone on to coding boot camps or enrolled in higher education computer science fields.

A participant from the most recent Rhode Coder cohort was accepted into the highly competitive and rigorous Rhode Island state sponsored coding boot camp General Assembly. When sharing news of her acceptance, the Rhode Coder said to her instructor, “You have changed my life!”

~ Don Gregory
 Technology Instructor
 Rhode Coders Club Creator
 Providence Public Library