Iron Yard Kids Code Class Oct 2014

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40 women will gather in Durham this weekend for the second annual Rails Girls, two days of testimonials and workshops by passionate local coders. 

Come Monday Oct. 20th, more than two dozen students will meet in classrooms at the Iron Yard Academy for week six of their three-month crash courses in Ruby on Rails or front-end development.

And Tuesday evening, dozens will show up at the third Stacked! Meetup for a talk by famed Rails developer and podcaster (and All Things Open presenter) Josh Owens.

There, organizers will unveil plans for the first developer conference in Durham, Stacked!, coming in Spring 2015.

There's a common thread through all of these efforts—the four-year-old downtown Durham design and development agency Smashing Boxes.

The agency's senior marketing manager Ellen Clemons and just-hired director of growth Margaret McNab attribute all the activity to the passion of CEO Nick Jordan and a few key Smashing Boxes developers. Not only are they training up new talent to fill open positions at the fast-growing firm of nearly 50 employees, but they want that workforce to be diverse. And they recognize the opportunity coding education affords both present and future generations—the number of software developer jobs is projected to grow 22 percent between 2012-2022, reflecting much faster growth than most occupations.

"We're not looking for talent tomorrow, but 10 years from now," Clemons says.

Rails Girls is the next immediate effort and reflects a key mission of the agency—to increase diversity on its development team, where just two of 15 developers are women. Applications close today for the weekend event, which is free for attendees and features lessons in designing, prototyping and coding (in Rails) from local coaches and "day in the life" talks by developers. Smashing Boxes marketer Laura Smith blogs about the event here. 

Rails Girls is a four-year-old nonprofit, started in Helsinki to empower girls using technology. Events now happen in cities around the world, using curriculum and materials provided by the organization. Smashing Boxes hopes to attract college students who still have time to rethink their majors. In any case, attendees will get a taste of the opportunity that software development presents, McNab says.

The Stacked! Conference, which is still in planning stages but will be geared toward 1,000 regional developers, was born out a series of successful meetups that began in April and have drawn 60 or more developers for speakers and discussion around one front end topic and one back end. They've covered full stack development and CSS and Clojure. Next week's topics are Bourbon.io and Meteor.js. Smashing Boxes will reveal more details to the crowd at the October 21 event. 

A recap video of the first Iron Yard Academy class last year. Credit: Ryan Timms

But the biggest agency effort to date is The Iron Yard Academy powered by Smashing Boxes, a three-month, full-time, $10K code program based at American Underground (See our video recap above). Up and running within a couple months of a partnership with the Greenville, S.C. organization, the first class of 21 students graduated in late August, impressing local employers. Of 15 seeking jobs, eight have been placed. And Clemons says they're earning average annual salaries of $70,000.

IronYard Kids Code Class Oct 2014 2
Credit: Smashing Boxes

Earlier in October, many of those graduates came together with Smashing Boxes to host the first kids code class (pictured above), teaching kids aged 9-13 to code using the simple programming language Scratch. The event sold out within days, and future classes will happen at least quarterly.

Kids are as hungry as adults for this kind of knowledge, Clemons says. Few receive computer science education in school, another problem Smashing Boxes feels both obligation and passion to solve.

 "We could go to the Bay Area where there are a lot people doing cool things, but we want it to be here," Clemons says. "We're trying to grow that talent here."