By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
Once facing a shortage of skilled workers, tech companies in Missoula and Bozeman have tapped into a new line of junior-level programmers graduating from the upstart Montana Code School.
The program named its first executive director last month and is now gearing up for its third cohort in Missoula. It’s also ready to launch an inaugural class in Bozeman next month. Registration for both classes opened this week.
“A lot of people want to stay in Montana and earn a livable wage,” said Kelly Nash, who was recently named as the school’s first executive director. “Attending Montana Code School can be an on-ramp to a tech job with a good salary without the time commitment of a four-year degree.”
The school was founded late last year through a collaboration between Blackstone LaunchPad and Wisetail Works to help fill a shortage of junior-level programmers in Montana. Missoula and Bozeman have become hotbeds for tech-based startups, but have struggled finding the skilled workforce needed to feed their growing businesses.
To date, she said, 90 percent of the school’s graduates have found work in Montana.
“Startups, as well as established Montana technology companies like Cedar Mountain Software (Missoula) and Wisetail Works (Bozeman), benefit from an increased local pipeline which enables them to grow their businesses while continuing to locate in Montana,” said Nash. “This is a win-win for all sides.”
Projects under development in the program’s second cohort in Missoula last month included a website to help forage wild foods and a gauge to estimate river trips based upon real-time water flows. The starting pay for a junior-level programmer in Montana currently ranges from $40,000 to $60,000 a year, though that could soon increase.
Recently, Wisetail announced plans to create more than 100 new tech jobs in the state with an average salary of $75,000. For each of the past four years, the Kauffman Foundation has ranked Montana as the top state for startup activity.
“Our experience with hiring a graduate of the Montana Code School has been very positive,” said Bob Jaffe, owner of Cedar Mountain Software. “Our programming work is in areas not directly covered by the Montana Code School, but our new employee had no problem jumping right in and being productive from day one.”
Last September, the school received a $100,000 grant from Wisetail to support the program’s development of a virtual learning environment. The company’s CEO, Justin Bigart, said the program helps keep talented programmers in the state.
“The Montana Code School’s innovative approach to training the next generation of tech-sector talent is helping ensure home-grown talent is ready to take the good-paying jobs we’re aiming to create,” Bigart said.
Interested students can apply at the Montana Code School here.