LaunchCode begins placing programmers at South Florida firms

Square co-founder Jim McKelvey‘s nonprofit, LaunchCode, has begun placing South Floridians in programming jobs.

People who have studied computer programming in school or online can apply for South Florida apprenticeships at more than 100 companies, including Burger King, MasterCard, Telemundo and Zumba Fitness.

“We will eventually get almost every employer in South Florida,” McKelvey said Wednesday at LaunchCode’s kickoff event at Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

The average LaunchCode apprentice is offered a job after one to three months, LaunchCode’s Miami expansion coordinator Mariana Rego said. She encourages programmers to apply for an apprenticeship by April 1.

Miami-based advertising agency República hired the first local LaunchCode apprentice.

“Many times we’ve had to move people from other cities to Miami,” CEO Jorge Plasencia said. “Well, shame on us if we can’t find the talent here.”

The agency hired Nate Beers, a 30-year-old former professional poker player who decided to kick-start a new career by completing coding training through Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco.

“I’d always had an interest in coding, and I’d done some in high school,” said Beers, who had been living in Tampa until he got the apprenticeship. “But I always kind of put it off.”

When Beers saw a tweet about LaunchCode from his former mentor at Dev Bootcamp, he decided to apply for a spot. Within weeks, he was placed at República.

“It was a perfect match,” he said.

If you haven’t studied coding, LaunchCode will point you toward affordable education options, McKelvey said.

Miami Dade College students can take LaunchCode’s free, 16-week programming course at the Idea Center. The class is based on Harvard University’s introductory computer science course.

McKelvey’s nonprofit has helped place about 130 people in programming jobs in his hometown of St. Louis, where the organization started in 2013. He moved to Miami last year in hopes of continuing LaunchCode’s success.

He said he started LaunchCode after he witnessed a lack of economic opportunity in north St. Louis, an area much of the country now knows as Ferguson.

McKelvey wanted to help grow the tech talent pool while forming a pathway to employment for people of all backgrounds.

“The biggest success [in St. Louis] was getting a guy who had been unemployed for 10 years — a veteran — his first job,” he told the Business Journal in October. “We got him off VA disability. We got him off welfare. He, for the first time in 10 years, is supporting himself and his dog.”

LaunchCode is not specifically designed to increase diversity in tech, but it’s a nice side effect, McKelvey said.

“No one cares what you look like if your code compiles,” he said Wednesday. “It is one of the most accepting fields.”