“Why are you doing this? It’s super hard!”
Because Keith and Bridget Baker raised their two sons that way. “Anything hard to do is worth doing.” the factory worker and teacher in Phenix City, Alabama, both college-educated, incessantly told their sons. To which Keith added: “Go big or go home.”
Charles, the oldest son, recently graduated from Alabama A&M with a degree in mechanical engineering and is deciding which medical school to attend.
It was a few of baby brother Keith’s friends from Central High School, though, who asked him why he tinkered around so much with computers, why he chose to major in computer science at Alabama State, why he now aspires to be a software engineer at a Fortune 100 company.
Why do something so hard?
Because of Keith and Bridget. “My passion was always technology,” he says. “[Coming out of high school.] I understood the hardware side, but I wanted to figure out how computers worked.”
Then adding a phrase he no doubt heard often at home, Keith says: “You can’t learn too much.”
A Thurgood Marshall Fund Scholar who just completed his sophomore year at ASU, Keith (his full first name is Keithbridges, but he goes by Keith) will make his first trip to California’s Silicon Valley next week for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference—an annual confab of coders, tech creatives and other industry leaders featuring design workshops, hands-on labs and other geekish interactions.
It’s thousand of miles from Birmingham’s burgeoning tech industry, but the industry’s effects on a continuously evolving job market reverberate not only in this region but throughout the state.
Who doesn’t know now that most future jobs will be touched by tech? But download this: Today’s new jobs are driven by technology, as well—particularly in the software realm.
In Alabama, between December 2016 and April of this year, the number of iOS app economy jobs (from developers to sales) soared from 8,800 to 12,200, a 39% rise, according to the Progressive Policy Institute.
Moreover—and Lord knows we could use some good news these days—students in the state are poised to capitalize on the growth, in part, because Alabama is the only state where every two-year community college has adopted Apple’s Swift app development curriculum called Everyone Can Code.
This summer, Lawson State will host Birmingham middle- and high-school students at free week-long coding camps using the curriculum. (Registration is full, alas.)
Interestingly, Baker wasn’t initially especially sold on coding—not even after attending a job conference in Washington, D.C. last summer where he saw myriad opportunities in software development. “I knew I had to code a little bit,” he says. “It could set me apart from everyone else. But I was still, ‘Nah. not for me.”’
That changed after Baker and a team from ASU competed in the inaugural HBCU Battle of the Brains, a tech competition in March hosted during South by Southwest, the popular annual conference held in Austin, Texas. The challenge was to pitch to a live audience a comprehensive business solution that included social media engagement, mobile app, and a go-to-market tech strategy.
Oh, and teams had just 24 hours to complete the challenge.
With his knowledge of hardware, a dash of business acumen and at least a modicum of coding expertise, Baker emerged as “the perfect person to balance between the digital business and super-tech worlds.”
“I was able to help both sides,” he says. “But I could have helped a lot better if my coding skills were up to par. Once I returned from the competition, I thought, ‘I need to code.’” (Paul Quinn College won first prize.)
This summer, Baker will enroll in a coding program at Bishop State in Mobile.
In the meantime, he’s using what he’s already learned in Swift to develop an ASU-based app called Where’s my Tutor? It will allow students to submit when they need help on a particular subject; if a tutor in that subject is available, they’ll respond in the app.
Call it, essentially, Uber for tutoring.
“My software development skills are proficient enough,” Baker says. “You can learn a programming language, but you have to know how to turn that into a product.”
Baker says he “will be” a software engineer, hopefully while working for a company that will pay for him to obtain a master’s and Ph.D. The “end game” is to launch his own software development firm and “have fun doing what I love.”
Not so hard—certainly not for one of Keith and Bridget’s boys.
A voice for what’s right and wrong in Birmingham, Alabama, Roy’s column appears in The Birmingham News and AL.com, as well as in the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at twitter.com/roysj.
By Roy S. Johnson | email@example.com of AL.com.