They came to help computer programming students with final projectsBy Michael Calhoun

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – It’s hard to imagine a Harvard professor getting quite the raucous reception that David Malin received Friday.

The Harvard computer science lecturer was swarmed by St. Louisans who’ve spent hours with him, virtually, each week since January through his online introduction to computer programming course. Though they’d never met him, he’s helping give them a career.

And the more of them can become computer programmers, the easier it’ll be for St. Louis companies to fill their jobs without having to head out-of-town.

“I need at least a thousand new programmers right now to fill the jobs that we have,” Square co-founder Jim McKelvey says of the local job market. “My guess is that if we fill that thousand, we’ll attract at least a couple of companies that’ll move back to St. Louis and will need five thousand.”

His effort, LaunchCode, was initially intended to help connect inexperienced coders with apprenticeships at companies in need. But the pool of local programmers proved too shallow to make much of a ripple.

Out of 100 companies with 100 positions, 57 programmers were placed. 27 of those have since been hired full-time.

More programmers are needed.

McKelvey thought Harvard could help.

He decided to pair Harvard’s free course, CS50x, with a local location for students to meet, connect with and counsel each other. LaunchCode would the funnel graduates of the course through its apprenticeship program. In January, more than a thousand people turned up at the Peabody Opera House to learn more.

Approximately 300 people are still plugging away today. Their final projects are coming due.

Enter Friday’s ‘hack-a-thon’, held at T-REx, the Washington Ave. tech start-up incubator, which gave the students an opportunity to reach through the screen and ask questions of those who’ve been teaching them for the last three months.

Aspiring computer programmers in the Lammert Building on Wash. Ave. (Photo via T-REx Facebook)

Aspiring computer programmers in the Lammert Building on Wash. Ave. (Photo via T-REx Facebook)

The trip came out of a visit by McKelvey to Harvard, during which Malin asked if the online class could be improved in any way. McKelvey said he “couldn’t think of anything,” and then Malin suggested he take his team to St. Louis.

Monsanto paid travel expenses for Malin and 11 of his colleagues. He said St. Louis is the first place his team has held a ‘hack-a-thon’ outside Cambridge, Mass. — for good reason.

“To my knowledge, LaunchCode is definitely the largest such initiative” to bridge the nation’s shortage of tech talent, Malin told KMOX News at the City Museum on Friday.

The country, McKelvey added, is taking notice of the St. Louis Way.

“We’ve already seen people move to St. Louis just to take this free Harvard course, which is amazing because they can take it free in their home city,” he explained. “But we’ve had people move here from Phoenix and Austin, Texas.”

Harvard's David Malin

Harvard’s David Malin

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.) 



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