April 2021

Color Coded Labs coding boot camp in King-Lincoln aims to finally increase diversity in tech

Courtesy of Columbus Business First
By Carrie Ghose
April 22, 2021

The motto on the wall is “Everybody eats.”

Color Coded Labs, a Black-owned coding boot camp, has launched in Columbus’ King-Lincoln District, seeking to finally move the needle on diversity in the tech sector.

Applicants have started interviewing for the first cohort to train for a career switch to software development, in a welcoming environment for Black and brown workers and others in historically marginalized groups, said co-founder and CEO Doug McCollough.

Hybrid remote and limited in-person classes could start in May.

“We want to transform people’s incomes,” said McCollough, also CIO for the city of Dublin. “Lots of people can do recruiting, upskilling and reskilling – but few of them are so well targeting this population that they are making a difference in the talent pool itself.”

Employers have increased diversity and inclusion programs, but recruiting isn’t translating to retention, he said. If a workplace is intimidating or unwelcoming, people leave.

“We’re just not holding on to them,” McCollough said. “We’re not seeing the impact in the workplace.”

Color Coded Labs has five founders who had been working on the issue in parallel and decided to join forces:

McCollough has worked on inclusion initiatives and mentorship in Central Ohio for years. He also co-founded the professional development group Black Tech Columbus.

Bruce and Branden Jones, twins and co-founders of BlkHack in Columbus, will host the program in Venture Suite, their coworking space inside the Columbus Urban League headquarters, 780 Mt. Vernon Ave.

Kevin Lloyd is co-founder of MYLE LLC, an entertainment software and data analytics company that’s parent to the MYLE social and entertainment recommendation app.

Mark Kvamme, who is white, co-founder of Drive Capital LLC, investing personally, not on behalf of the venture capital firm. He also helped design the program, McCollough said.

“We want to see people of color excel in this space,” Branden Jones said in a news release. “We invested in this model to help create a culture that will drive that success and allow our talent to support their future growth, as well as to help grow the Central Ohio economy.”

The 16-week program is open to those with high school diplomas or an equivalent. Tuition is $13,500, which comes with the coworking space and a new laptop. The program can help link to public and private workforce development funding or set up a payment plan from a salary after landing a job.

Classes teach full-stack development, focused at first on the language JavaScript. There’s also training on “soft skills” such as interviewing, plus mentorship and exposure to the work environments at companies that intend to recruit students.

“We will stay with them for at least a year after they have gotten into that job,” McCollough said, with both mentors and alumni networking.

Color Coded Labs has raised seed funding for an undisclosed amount, with backers including Rev1 Ventures, JumpStart and Kvamme. Support also came from Columbus City Council, Columbus Urban League and One Columbus.

If successful, the program will raise venture funding to open in new markets. This first cohort is limited to 20 students while refining the model and curriculum.

Anyone can apply regardless of ethnicity. The difference is in where the program recruits and the branding and messaging it conveys, including the location on the Near East Side, McCollough said. The wall inscription is a culturally relevant expression for the ethos of sharing bounty and success.

“We wanted to create an environment that made a statement that this is a place you can be comfortable,” he said.

Intentionally or not, employers tend to put the burden of inclusion on the member of the underrepresented group entering a majority-white space, instead of changing the space.

“A lot of the questions I get from people are, ‘Should I cut my hair? What should I wear?’ ” McCollough said.

“Why should I place myself in an environment where people don’t understand me?” he said. “People are ignoring or passing on these opportunities to make a significant increase in their income. We need to change that dialog.”

Color Coded Labs is a for-profit similar to Tech Elevator, a coding boot camp housed at Rev1 Ventures. The model contrasts with nonprofits such as Per Scholas and i.c. stars, a Chicago nonprofit that had started a Columbus branch a few years ago. Efforts to start a new round last year were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The boot camp industry has a lot of players,” McCollough said. “If all of them worked at top capacity, there would still be room for more.”

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