Akron Accelerator Houses Boot Camp for Computer Programmers

AKRON, Ohio – Inside the Akron Business Accelerator is a program for software programmers that boasts a 95% job placement rate. The starting salary of its graduates averages $52,000 a year.

If this seems too good to be true, it is. Sort of.

“It’s a 12-week, immersive training program that lets people with a high aptitude for programming pick up enough job skills that they can transition into the workforce,” says the founder of the Software Guild, Eric Wise.

The catch is that the Software Guild asks a lot of its students before and during the program, which Wise describes as a “boot camp.”

Before applicants can begin the program – which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday – they must pass an exam that measures their skills in logic and reasoning, pattern recognition and mathematics, mostly algebra.

“We’ve found that the test correlates very highly with success in the program,” says Wise, who estimates 30% to 50% of those who take it fail.

Those who pass then take eight weeks of part-time pre-work to the satisfaction of the Software Guild staff.

“If they get to the end of that pre-work and they haven’t hit their deadlines, we refund their deposit and send them on their way,” Wise says.

Only then can the applicants who make it through those rigors begin their training, which is also considerable. “A successful student is here 40 hours a week, and then they put in another 30 hours,” Wise says.

Students who graduate from the Software Guild likely will find their perseverance and hard work – and the $10,000 tuition – well worth it. Within 90 days of graduation, 95% find employment in an IT-related job, according to Wise.

One, Paul Bargerstock, has lined up a new job, even though he won’t graduate for another two weeks.

“The track record that they have is not made up,” Bargerstock says. “If you’re willing to put in the time and take ownership of your career, it can’t be a waste of time.”

Bargerstock resigned as a seventh-grade social studies teacher near Detroit to enroll. “I wanted a bigger challenge for myself and I wanted better for my family,” he says.

As luck would have it, the company that hired him is in his home state, thus allowing him to return “with my head held high,” he says with a laugh.

Wise estimates about half of the graduates come to the program from out of state and about half of them stay. “Now we’ve got a brain gain,” he says.

On this day at the Software Guild, employers are on site for a four-day job placement fair for the latest class. One employer is Perry Zohos, operation manager of Great Lakes Publishing. “We have two positions coming up in the spring,” he says. “We also freelance a lot of work, but what we’re looking to do is bring that work in-house.”

This is Zohos’ first time at a guild employment fair, although he’s familiar with the company and its reputation. “We’ve been following them for about a year,” he says. “A couple of our colleagues have used some students from here and they’ve had good things to say.”

Since Wise held his first class of six students in 2013, more than 150 have graduated from the program. By yearend that number will approach 200.

The Akron office employs 10, including Eric Ward, who came on board a few months after it opened. He and Wise are working on the next version of the curriculum, a crucial component of which is the addition of video tutorials.

“Right now we have the live aspect of it here with the instructors,” Ward says. “Adding the videos will allow the students to see the material before class to prep, and they can also go back and watch those as many times as they want to reinforce the concepts.”

It was Wise and Ward’s curriculum that drew the attention of the Learning House Inc., based in Louisville, Ky. The online provider of education wanted to open a coding boot camp at the University of Minneapolis, but it lacked a curriculum. It decided to license the guild’s.

“They had a 100% placement rate,” says Wise. “They decided they wanted to acquire us, and so now we’re all on the same team.” As a result, Software Guild now has sites in Minneapolis and Louisville.

The course the Software Guild designed helps graduates find employment in any general programming position and has three tiers, each progressively more complex.

In the first, students can learn either Java or C#, two of the most popular programming languages. “Java and C# are kind of the glue that put everything together,” Wise says.

The second tier is database training, where students learn to design tables and assemble large sets of data.

In the third tier, students learn to display those data over the Internet with a user interface.

An example of how all three tiers work together can be seen any time you make an online purchase. A buyer uses the interface on the site. When he hits “buy,” the Java or C# determines whether his user and purchase data are valid, then stores them in the database.

Wise is preparing to launch the company’s new online program, which will run nine months and includes on-site training. “One of the big things that keeps people from doing this program is that it’s 12 weeks and it’s very intensive,” he says. “Some people just can’t quit their jobs.”

The program is set to launch early next year, about the same time the Software Guild will move into its new building on South Main Street in Akron. “We’re going to start with four classrooms,” says lead instructor David Balzer, and have a conference hall and meeting space.

Wise says demand for classes is growing and he wants to ensure the opportunity is there for those who can make the grade. “The people who come here take a leap and are amazingly motivated people,” he says. “They have jumped off the cliff. And if they don’t learn to program, they’re going to hit the bottom.”

Pictured: Eric Wise founded the Software Guild, which he describes as a boot camp for students who want to become software programmers.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.