What’s the best way to bring top computer software graduates to Detroit and Michigan?
For Hacker Fellows the answer is simple. Pair them with start-ups. The potential for growth can be limitless.
Hacker Fellows, a program of Invest Detroit in partnership with Grand Circus, is funded by 21st Century Jobs Fund, a MSF program supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) designed to accelerate the growth and diversification of Detroit’s and Michigan’s economy.
Now in its second year, the Detroit-based fellowship program for software developers recently hosted an Interview Day to introduce its fellows to startups across the state. The process is designed to be more fluid than a typical interview.
Keheira Henderson, 21, a computer science major at North Carolina A&T State University, found the interview style refreshing.
“What I appreciate about the start-up community, is like everybody’s real chill,” Henderson says. “People were asking questions … things that I foresee for myself. It was possibly the most relaxed interview I’ve had. The people seem to care more about your person than what you can do for them.”
Henderson is aware of the disproportionate number of women and African Americans in the software development industry. But that’s not what drives her.
“If I have to take the first step, I’m all for it,” she says. “I think that’s really cool because people can stop complaining that they don’t see us. We’re here. You just have to actually look for us. We’re doing some pretty amazing things and that’s pretty much all that matters.”
Robin McNally, 22, a graduating senior from Michigan Technological University, began his computer adventure when he broke his family’s home computer.
“I’ve had a long progression of breaking things less,” McNally says. “If you’re interested in software development, it’s really accessible. We’ve already talked to the companies once over the phone, and over the next week or so, job offers will start coming in.”
Henderson, McNally, and others will start the program with five weeks of cohort-based training in downtown Detroit, where they will be introduced to the startup ecosystem, given the technical skills needed to work for a Michigan startup, and connected to a strong network of peers and mentors.
Bradley Hoos, executive director of Hacker Fellows, sees this as a way to broaden their network by bringing together the 2015 fellows who are currently working at start-ups with the 2016 fellows. This will inspire more peer-to-peer learning.
“That’s going to allow us to create a tighter eco-system of young developer talent here in Michigan start-ups,” Hoos says. “That will make them stickier to the area by having that effect.”
Michigan’s economy needs more software developers, he says. The key is to pair up the talent with “high-growth” companies that are going to be “scalable.”
“We are really supporting growth of Michigan’s economy by addressing a really acute need that’s finding the best technical talent,” he says. “The need is so real and the impact has been really significant.”
It’s significant because many graduates tend to look at the bigger companies as the best place to go straight out of college, says Nataliya Stasiw, portfolio manager with the MEDC.
They’re looking at Google, Yahoo, and other innovative companies. Rarely, are they seeking out start-ups.
“We’re trying to showcase our companies here in Michigan trying to do something innovative,” Stasiw says. “We are connecting these young graduates and showing them that there are so many opportunities in Michigan. We’re encouraging a connection.”
The program is one of several essential resources supported by MEDC intended to foster and advance the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Michigan. Because at the end of the day, the biggest challenge for tech startups in Michigan is finding top developer talent.
“A lot of these students once they’re out of the university, they’re not familiar with the start-up space,” Stasiw says. “What Brad and his team does is work with the companies, so they definitely (fill) the need, then provide the training. When the fellow actually joins the company, they have a much better understanding.”
For more information about the Hacker Fellows program, visit www.hackerfellows.com.