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First class: Creating jobs across Workforce Intelligence Network








Prudence Byas spent 10 years working in IT, enjoying the tech world and everything it had to offer. She took a break from it a few years ago but realized she couldn't stay away. So the middle-aged woman changed her career course slightly, going into software development and becoming one of the first members of the initial class of IT in the D.

A handful of downtown Detroit-based tech corporations started the initiative earlier this summer by partnering with a number of local colleges and universities. The idea is to help get more local students with tech ambitions into careers like IT and software development through an intensive training program hosted through the companies over a few weeks.

Byas was already taking tech classes at Wayne County Community College District when she heard about IT in the D. The Dexter/Davidson neighborhood resident was taking part in the college's Shifting Code program, which also aims to grow the computer programing talent pool for the Michigan's expanding IT industry. Taking the IT in the D course was a no-brainer because it allowed her to work with some of the region's heaviest hitters in both technology and entrepreneurship. She graduated from the IT in the D course last week filled with confidence, and she has her sights set on bigger goals.

"I wanted to get back to the development side of things," Byas says. "It allows you to do stuff on your own, not only for a company but entrepreneurially."

Growing the tech talent pool

The brightest spot in Detroit's job market is its growing IT sector. Got any experience in IT, or technology? You're hired. Experience in software development? You're hired yesterday, and do you have any friends with coding skills looking for a job? 

The demand for tech talent has spiked so hard in recent years that it seems like just about every business is looking to hire in-house IT professionals of every stripe. Big companies or small, cutting-edge tech firms or traditional businesses, they all seem ready to hire just about anyone with a tech background.     

Quicken LoansCompuwareGalaxE SolutionsMarketing Associates and Fathead started IT in the D earlier this summer to help meet that demand by growing the local talent pool organically. They partnered with Wayne State University, Wayne County Community College and Washtenaw Community College, creating a pipeline for students with tech ambitions to pursue them in the Motor City. 

These students are meant to help meet the steadily rising demand for IT and software professionals in downtown Detroit. The Motor City's Central Business District has become a hub for on-shoring IT services and tech start-ups. Companies like Strategic Staffing Solutions, GalaxE and Compuware have been hiring hundreds of people to fill a growing number of IT positions in recent years. Quicken Loans started off the year with 300 openings for IT professionals and had only filled half of them by mid summer.

"We're not the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. We're Detroit," says Lisa Katz, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network (or WIN), which is overseeing the IT in the D program. "We're unique. We're special. We're growing IT jobs faster than Silicon Valley, faster than Boston, faster than the Research Triangle." 

The initial class of IT in the D graduated 30 students from across the region and is aiming for a similar-sized class this fall. Many of the participants echoed a desire to pursue their tech careers in Detroit and saw a bright future for the sector in the Great Lakes State's largest city.

"One thing IT in the D did was dispel the myth that programing is one person sitting in a corner by themselves," Byas says. "It's a group of people taking on a project."

New careers, new opportunities

Brad Chaiken didn't intend to get into tech when he first thought about going back to school a few years ago. At the time he was working in HVAC and fiberoptic installation. The Farmington Hills-resident wanted to broaden his career options by getting a degree in mechanical engineering at Wayne State University. He had ambitions of getting into the white-collar portion of the automotive industry.

That changed when he took his first HTML programming course. He was hooked on programming, coding and just about any other word that describes creating computer software from scratch. He joined IT in the D's initial class and he knew he had found his career path.

"You can create," Chaiken says. "I can create and develop. I can do whatever I want to do."

The 33-year-old has already received job inquiries from tech firms on both coasts looking to leverage his newly created tech skills. He has no plans on leaving. The newly minted software engineer and computer science major at Wayne State University plans to pursue his career in his native Detroit and sees a lot of opportunity for him and fellow graduates right here.

"Keep the talent in Detroit," Chaiken says. "A lot of us want to stay here."

Jon Zemke is Model D's innovation and jobs news editor. He lives in Detroit. 

All photos by Doug Coombe
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