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Co-Founder of Square Wants to Save St. Louis, One Programmer at a Time

August 20, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228000

A co-founder of Square has got his eyes set on a big, round arch these days.

Jim McKelvey has launched a non-profit mission to get programmers and coders employment-ready in St. Louis an effort to turbocharge the startup community there. Called LaunchCode, the effort will bring together aspiring programmers with experienced programmers in companies that currently have job openings. The goal is that the aspiring programmer, once experienced enough, will fill the open position.

"Every firm is fishing in the same pond, and without creating more talent, we just keep raiding each other. And the talent shortage is nationwide, worldwide actually, so recruiting is not the answer; we have to develop talent," said McKelvey at the company's launch event in St.Louis today. "But this is not a training program. People already have the training or can easily get it for free online." 

In the month since LaunchCode began soliciting corporate sign-ups, 75 companies in St. Louis have agreed to be part of the initiative, including World Wide Technologies, Monsanto, Savvis, Enterprise, Build-a-Bear, Lockerdome, Express Scripts and a number of startups.

Related: Jack Dorsey Makes the Rounds With Square

New coders will participate in what's called the “pair programming” method, a popular technique among Silicon Valley tech firms where two programmers work together on two keyboards and one monitor. In the LaunchCode program, new programmers will be paid $15 an hour to be trained.

Pair programming has been lauded as a powerful teaching tool by some of the most sophisticated tech companies. “An hour of pair programming followed by five minutes of unaided whitespace fixing, comment clarifying and patch posting goes a long way," wrote Steve Persch, a programmer for Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley-based big data analysis company. "It reinforces the idea that developers of any skill level can ask for help when needed and still take responsibility for finishing the task. That feeling of independent completion builds confidence and makes for better developers."

There are hundreds of positions available through LaunchCode, and programmers interested in participating can apply online. Companies interested in staffing up through the program can apply online, too.

The goal is to make St. Louis a talent hot spot. "Within a year St. Louis will be the only city in the nation without an IT talent deficit. In two years we will have a talent surplus. The companies you see listed behind me will be growing faster and our entire region will be energized," said McKelvey.

Related: Lack of Confidence, Fear of Failure Hold Women Back From Being Entrepreneurs