One of Ryan Feagin’s passions is linguistics, the scientific study of language.
He’s fluent in Spanish and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the language from the University of Alabama in 2015, where he also minored in English. Two years later, he received his master’s degree in romance languages – also from UA – but couldn’t find a job, as most of the linguistics jobs he was applying for required a Ph.D.
So he took a job as a cook at a local church in Birmingham to have some source of income and to be covered by the church’s benefits package. He worked there for two years, thankful to be employed but not working in a field he was passionate about.
Then, while still searching for a job in linguistics in 2019, he heard from friends about Innovate Birmingham’s free, 14-week data analytics bootcamp. It wasn’t a field he’d ever thought about but it made sense – data is its own language and it sounded interesting.
“I thought I might as well apply,” Feagin said. “It turned out to be a really enormous decision for me, the best decision I’ve made in a long time.”
Feagin is one of the members of Innovate Birmingham’s ninth cohort of students to complete its bootcamps in data analytics and software development – one of 200 since Innovate Birmingham began offering its free tech training three years ago. Created to help fill the tech talent gap that exists in the Birmingham region – where there are more tech jobs available than people skilled to fill those roles – 140 graduates have attained work as a result of the bootcamps, said Haley Medved Kendrick, Ph.D., director of Innovate Birmingham.
After completing the three-month bootcamp, Feagin said that instead of pursuing work in linguistics, he’s now committed to entering a career in data, and was hired recently by ThinkData Solutions, Inc. as a data analyst.
So far, Feagin and 10 other graduates from the most recent cohort have accepted positions at local companies, including software development graduate Caroline Pitzer, whose background is in psychology. She accepted a full-time role at Shipt that will allow her to hone her front end development skills, she said.
“One major reason [the bootcamp] worked for me is that it was the most affordable, but really it was so much more than that,” Pitzer said. “It gave me practical, hands-on experience as well as being able to meet a lot of people involved in the tech industry in Birmingham. It feels amazing to have finished the program, and I feel very fortunate and proud to have been a part of it.”
In addition to offering a data analytics bootcamp for the first time, in 2019 Innovate Birmingham expanded the age range the program served and its geographic area, Kendrick said. There is no longer an upper age limit, and it now serves six counties in central Alabama – Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby and Walker – that align with the work of Central Six AlabamaWorks, a workforce development council that helps central Alabamians find quality jobs.
Both Central Six and Innovate Birmingham listen closely to employer demands to shape the content of their program offerings, and Kendrick calls the relationship with employer partners the driving force of the work Innovate Birmingham does.
“If we don’t have employers interested in hiring people at the end of the day, we don’t need to be doing what we’re doing,” she said. “Our success is really a result of being responsive to employer demand. We don’t want to have hiring partnerships who feel they have an obligation, but we really want to meet their needs. These [graduates] are talented people who will add a lot to any company, and if we’re giving them the right training based on the skills employers need, it’s really a no brainer.”
Graduates from the most recent cohort have accepted positions at places like the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Conserv, BMSS LLC, Syntropy Group, ThinkData Soluations and Shipt.
“It was the perfect storm because [the program] gave me not just tools but personal development,” Feagin said. “You get to grow as a professional and, if you come through the program, they’re there to help you get a job and succeed.”