"If they aren’t serious, they’re not going to be coming back.”By Michael Calhoun

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Sign-ups for LaunchCode’s spin on an ‘Introduction to Computer Programming’ course are double expectations, so — at least for the first night — it’s moving to a bigger stage.

And if students succeed, it could put St. Louis on a bigger stage in the tech world.

More than a thousand people will meet Monday night at the Peabody Opera House, although LaunchCode founder Jim McKelvey expects to be back at the Central Library, as originally planned, by day two.

“This is a tough class, so I think a lot of people are showing up to see if they like it; to sort of test the waters,” McKelvey told KMOX News on Sunday night.

“There are going to be some people who aren’t serious. And if they aren’t serious, they’re not going to be coming back.”

It’s a course designed for people with no programming experience at all — the instructor, in fact, wasn’t originally a computer scientist — but McKelvey says it’s like a rocket: it gets going really fast, really quickly.

“We’re hoping that a lot of people complete this, and if they do we have jobs at the other end,” he said. “So it’s a win for everybody.”

LaunchCode was founded to help bridge the I.T. talent gap in St. Louis. Originally, the program’s focus was on placing somewhat experienced programmers in apprenticeships with companies in-need. But out of 100 jobs for the taking, the program was only able to place 36 programmers.

The jobs deficit is in the thousands, and it’s not just a St. Louis problem.

“I know a dozen companies in Silicon Valley that can’t get talent fast enough,” McKelvey, co-founder of mobile payments company Square, said. “They would love to come out here and take advantage of a talent surplus … if we can create one.”

Enter this course to transform novices into coders ready for a LaunchCode apprenticeship.

The 4-month course is offered for free, online, by Harvard University and MIT through a non-profit they’ve dubbed ‘EdX.’ LaunchCode is adding the in-person support and study groups in a bid to make people’s success more likely.

McKelvey explains: “Why are there yoga classes? You could do yoga yourself at home, but it’s easier to do it if you’re in the middle of a class and people are yelling at you.”

launchcode flyer

CS50x class schedule:

Monday and Wednesday 5:30-8:30 p.m.
January 13th through the end of April

Contact reporter Michael Calhoun: mrcalhoun@cbs.com; @michaelcalhoun

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