23 July 2015
Jonathan Graham

As a skilled programmer you can work anywhere. Yes, there are international and regional hubs, but there is always the possibility of working remotely as well. Furthermore, it is an ever changing and expanding industry, with opportunities to move into an almost infinitely diverse range of technologies. These are some of the reasons why I decided to switch careers and jump into the life of a software developer, and I feel very lucky for the events that happened in my life to make this a possibility.

The same flexibility in how and where work is available is not the same for all industries. When I was in rural Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago I heard about the declining coal industry there and how this was impacting the local communities. It reminded me of the devastation parts of the UK suffered, and that some areas are still significantly impacted by, when the coal industry there went into rapid decline in the 1980's. Of course it's not just coal, and any community relying heavily on a single industry is vulnerable to suffering when market or political conditions change.

So, why don’t people affected in an area where jobs are rapidly disappearing learn to code and build themselves a career that isn’t dependent on factors outside of their control? One major reason is that programming can seem alien and inaccessible, and there is a general perception that the path into it requires the time and the expense of many years of education. You might just as well ask someone who has only ever spoken English to sit down and write a novel in Russian, or for them to start practicing brain surgery, or to develop a rocket to send to Mars.

But with a logical mind and a commitment to learning it is possible to initiate a career in programming without undertaking any formal education. Many people have done it, either hacking on their own, through local user groups, or by attending the growing number of coding schools for a few months placement. And I have done it. I have transitioned from a career as a scientist in drug development to one as a software developer. A year ago I didn’t think I could do that without first going back to university.

My first exposure to code was through music. As one half of Meta-eX, I wrote clojure code live on stage as we developed new synths and composed the musical structure of our performances. Playing from ambient sets to rocking out clubs, I felt the power and the potential that programming could bring. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to get to be involved in something so awesome, but I believe everyone should have the opportunity to see what code can do for them.

And so Amanda Laucher and I decided to start Mined Minds. Our plan is to deliver free computer programming training to a group of committed Greene County, PA residents, and to help them gain the skills and confidence to embark on a career in programming. The training will be flexible, and the aim will be to enable the participants to gain a position at a coding school; as an apprentice at a company such as 8th Light; as a junior developer; or as a software developer working remotely from home.

We have informational sessions this weekend, with the first course due to start during weekends in August. We are still building up a curriculum, but it is sure to include a bit of music along the way!

If you have any comments, thoughts, experiences to share or resources to point us towards then we would love to hear from you. Please wish the residents of Greene County luck as they embark on a new tech future.

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