Building Talent for the Digital Revolution

Just a few years ago, Max Johnson was living out of his car after working a series of dead-end jobs. Today he codes software for a New York City tech company. The opportunity he now has, he says, "is a miracle."

New Haven tech school to create access to good jobs

Max Johnson shares his story at the recent announcement of Holberton-New Haven.

When Max Johnson saw an ad for a software coding school in San Francisco called Holberton, he was in a dead-end job and looking for a way out. The idea of being a computer programmer had been in the back of his mind since he was a teenager growing up in Camden, New Jersey. So, he took a chance and applied.

Johnson had never thrived academically and was unsure he would get in. But Holberton looked for something else besides grades and degrees. What mattered was the motivation to learn. Having struggled to keep his head above water in the decade since college, Johnson was extremely motivated. And when he received his acceptance letter, he saw it as a chance to turn his life around.

Living out of his car because he could not afford an apartment in the Bay Area, Johnson set himself to learning what is known as the "full stack" of software tools that are the building blocks for Google, Facebook, and Apple, and are in demand across every sector of the economy. As important as learning how to code, Johnson also absorbed what was expected at a typical professional job. The school's lessons were simulations of typical high-tech work projects, which require teamwork and creative problem solving. He also learned how to compete for a job. More than just learning how to interview and write a resume, he rehearsed an entire multi-stage hiring process used by most big firms.

Since graduating from Holberton, Johnson has leapt into a professional career path. He was hired by a New York City tech company and now has opportunities that he describes as, "a miracle."

Holberton's opening of a New Haven campus in January 2019 has raised hopes that similar success stories are on their way to the region. Citing a major talent shortage in software coding in the state of Connecticut, Holberton aims to fill the job openings with anyone and everyone willing to learn, regardless of whether they have a degree of any kind.

"Our mission is to put more people to work from our underserved communities," says David Salinas, a New Haven entrepreneur and partner in Holberton- New Haven. "We are a feeder system of talent."

To serve this mission, Holberton created an application process that aims, as much as is possible, to eliminate human bias. It also removes a financial burden by allowing students to waive their upfront tuition fee and pay it back only after getting a job.

Operating out of The District, a co-working space and tech campus in Fair Haven, Holberton - New Haven will start with cohorts of 30-50 students, building up to an eventual goal of 1,000 graduates in five years. The school boasts that 100% of its graduates receive jobs. In Connecticut, Salinas says, those jobs can be found across every sector of the economy, from healthcare and insurance to defense contractors.

"The digital transformation is happening everywhere. Employers need this talent," Salinas says.

The Community Foundation, seeing Holberton's commitment as inclusive and building the talent and entrepreneurial drive in the region, made a Mission Related Investment in the training center. The Foundation is one of several funders supporting the school, including the Elm City Innovation Collaborative and CTNext, and the project is recognized by leaders as part of a statewide effort to create a labor market that fuels economic growth. The Foundation is committed to supporting this and other efforts across the region that promote growth that is also inclusive of all people and communities. Read more about inclusive growth .

Did you know?

Software applications developer jobs are expected to increase by 30% over the next decade in Connecticut and pay an annual salary of more than $100K on average, according to the Connecticut Dept. of Labor.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.