Starter League boosts Chicago tech scene

October 1, 2012

Tricia Bobeda

As students filed into the computer lab for their first day of classes at The Starter League, some stowed luggage in the corner. They'd come directly from red eye flights to the 8 a.m. class.

They came from Hong Kong, Utah and the Chicago suburbs. The youngest was 13. A few guys in the second row sported gray hair.

Starting Monday, Jeff Cohen has eleven weeks to turn the room of rookie programmers into savvy web developers. Cohen is chief instructor at The Starter League - a computer programming school founded in 2011.

As Chicago tries to build up its local tech sector, the new school is training the city’s next crop of digital entrepreneurs. It hosts a range of classes at 1871, a new hub for tech entrepreneurs in the Merchandise Mart.

“We’ve had stay-at-home moms, realtors, lawyers, who want to become part of the group of folks that’s creating technology and not just consuming it,” Cohen said.

Gesang Lamu graduated from Duke University earlier this year. She moved to Chicago for a part-time job and Starter League.

Lamu wants to turn her ideas for websites and apps into realities.

“I get ideas like I was like ‘Oh I should build this,'" she said. "And I would run to my techie friends and say ‘Hey, you should do this’ but they were like ‘Uh, maybe later.'”

So she’s learning to build apps herself in an intensive course that comes with access to mentors, co-working space and networking opportunities.

Lamu is learning a highly sought after skill set. Many of the students say they hope the skills will translate into job security.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says web development jobs are growing at about twice the rate of other fields.

The Starter League - previously called Code Academy - has trained some 300 people in its first year.