Stacy McCoy Dev Tech Academy

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Just nine months after a move from Los Angeles, Stacy McCoy is bringing her passion for technology, philanthropy and economic development to the Durham community by establishing its first free code education program, targeted to the city's impoverished youth.

With her <dev> tech academy, McCoy hopes to provide students who can't afford or aren't interested in attending college a viable way to earn a salary that competes with those earned by college graduates. Her vision is to train students in the skills and development languages most needed by both large corporations and small technology firms, and then place them in six-month internships to experience the job before joining the workforce. 

She'll sweeten the deal by offering the year-long program free. That is, if she's able to raise at least $80,000 from sponsors to hire its first instructor—an Indiegogo campaign is aimed to bring in $25,000 of that. She hopes to put six to 10 students through a pilot program this year.

Space and computers are already being provided by the nonprofit Durham Regional Financial Center.

<dev> tech is another response to the growing demand for development talent in the Triangle and beyond. According to Code.org, there will be a million more tech jobs than students by the year 2020, yet youth unemployment remains about twice the national average. McCoy wants to level the playing field for the students who can't afford or don't want to take on the debt of a traditional college.

That means she's targeting a different audience than the code schools that set up shop in the region last year. The Iron Yard charges $10,000 for its three-month full-time program and predominantly targets people seeking a career change or the development of new skills. Tech Talent South offers two-month full and part-time programs that cost a bit less money. And Girl Develop It is much less intense but still requires the commitment of financial resources and time in order to learn skills like Ruby on Rails or HTML development. 

Code the Dream is a new part-time program targeting minority and immigrant youth. And Astro Code School promises classes in Django and Python starting this spring. 

McCoy believes her program will be different in that it offers six months of educational curriculum taught at a slower pace for those not as familiar with today's technology, as well as a six month paid apprenticeship at local web development companies (She says five are already interested). It's also targeted to students aged 18-24 who have been identified by Durham Public Schools and social service agencies as good candidates for the program. And a focus will be teaching Javascript, the language employers have told her is most in demand in the region, as well as financial literacy and on-the-job skills.

Will a free program motivate the students to show up? McCoy believes yes. 

"These are people who can't afford not to work. Asking them to take six months and not work is a big sacrifice," she says. Eventually, the program could offer housing or transportation support, she says.

The Boston native started her entrepreneurial journey after her 2008 graduation from Wake Forest University and subsequent move to Los Angeles. While her then fiancee studied molecular biotechnology at the University of Southern California, McCoy was the first employee at a new UCLA research consortium called the Center for Policing and Equity. She eventually got involved in the Startup America leadership team and in L.A.'s "Silicon Beach" ecosystem, where she became interested in for-profit social ventures but found no easy way to figure out which were hiring. 

In 2011, she started a company called Give To Get Jobs to solve the problem—matching jobseekers with careers within social ventures like TOMS Shoes. She built the largest site of its kind serving that niche industry, she says. Though she spends a lot less time on it today (She works full-time remotely as a senior research associate at a market research firm in California), more than 2,500 companies across the nation are in its social enterprise database. The company never made a profit, she says, but it earned her a "Female Founder to Watch in Silicon Beach" nod from Forbes. 

McCoy moved to the Triangle in April 2014 when her husband took a postdoc position at Duke University. She originally thought she'd continue Give To Get Jobs here, but quickly saw the opportunity to pursue another long-time dream of training people who can't afford college for today's tech jobs and placing them in careers. 

She's since lined up a co-founder in her Boston-based mom, Betsey Epstein, and advisors in Devin Brown, community and economic development specialist of the Durham Regional Financial Center and Michael Finneran, a graduate of and now teacher at the Boston branch of the prestigious General Assembly code school. She's met with Durham Mayor Bill Bell, and hopes to enlist his support. She views <dev> tech as a long term solution to Durham's poverty problem.

"If you can change individuals lives by doubling if not tripling their income, the ripple effect on the community is huge," she says.

McCoy believes if she can make the pilot work in Durham, she earn revenue from recruiting fees when jobs are placed. She can also raise additional corporate donations and secure grants to host the program for years to come and in cities throughout the nation starting in 2016.