Launch Code: How 42 "Unqualified" People Landed Dream Tech Jobs in St. Louis

Categories: Tech

Courtesy of Terrence Bowen
Terrence Bowen.
"I'm always thinking of ways to automate, whether it's a task or a chore," Bowen tells Daily RFT. "I came up with all these little scripts and ideas, but I didn't know anything about programming. It grew into a hobby."

Bowen decided to enroll in computer science at UM-St. Louis, but even with a degree, jobs are almost impossible to get. Lind says many of the applicants at Launch Code have degrees from UM-St. Louis, Washington University and other local colleges. One applicant even had a master's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and couldn't find a job.

"Their application gets thrown out by the HR department," says Lind. "People may have the skills or very close, but they don't have the ability to get their foot in the door. It's a goofy situation."

Bowen applied for a few programming jobs and, just as he expected, heard almost nothing back. Even once he earned his degree, he didn't have enough experience to land a job.

That's when his wife saw a tweet about Launch Code and told him about it. Three months later, Bowen is a developer apprentice at Clearent, the Clayton-based payment processing company.

"To be in the position where you have the job but you don't have the degree, it's once in a lifetime," says Bowen. "In spite of knowing how much I didn't know, Clearent still took me on because they saw potential. They say good habits in my programming. They saw aptitude, motivation, enthusiasm."

Bowen's enthusiasm is palpable. He speaks in circles with the wide-eyed excitement of someone who's discovered a new purpose.

"I feel guilty, like I'm slacking," Bowen says. He's been learning development on his own at
night and on weekends, but now, "I wake up and get paid to do it."

Jim McKelvey, founder at Square
The demand for experienced developers is practically infinite, says Lind, and if St. Louis companies can't find people here, they'll look outside Missouri or even overseas. No one wants that, so Launch Code is matching even more Terrence Bowens with St. Louis companies, giving local developers the hands-on experience they need to land jobs on their own and, eventually, attract other companies looking for developers.

"I believe that we'll actually create a talent surplus," McKelvey optimistically tells NPR.
"Then you'll start to see companies moving to this region to take advantage of that surplus."

To apply for an apprenticeship through Launch Code or to take free computer programming classes, log on to the Launch Code website.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at

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