New downtown programs give Detroiters edge in tech field

- The Motor City is shifting into high-gear in the tech industry with some help from Facebook.

Right now three programs are happening under one roof, giving Detroiters access and an edge in the booming tech field.

Inside the TechTown building in Detroit's New Center, a woman who went to school to be a mortician is now a tech teacher of sorts. Marlin Williams is heading up a program called Sisters Code, which encourages women 25 and older to learn the art of coding.  

"We are empowering women to know that they too can code to dispel the myth that it's not for them," she said.

She learned how to code in 13 weeks when she was 25 and changed her life. Over 350 women have signed up so far.

"Sisters Code - our main mission is we are empowering women to know you too can do this. Can come and try it out. We have a weekend class and that way we are inclusive, you don't have to miss work and it's at a very minimal cost. You show up and just bring your purse if you want to because make sure we have computers there," Williams said.

The recipe for success in Detroit when it comes to coding has been simple - a blank slate, a city on the comeback from bankruptcy was fertile ground for something new. 

Damien Rocchi is the CEO and founder of Grand Circus, a Tech school on Woodward Avenue.

Classes teach how to code, which is the science behind every app on your tablet or phone - from the second you make a friend request to the minute your map program launches on your phone. It's not magic they work so well, it's methodology that's taught here. So far, 1,000 people have graduated from Grand Circus's boot camp.

"We train people full-time for 10 weeks, and take them from an interest in technology all the way to a job. So that's a lot of what you see when you come to Grand Circus now - students that are learning to code and getting ready for jobs," Rocchi said.

Then in June, the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg came to Grand Circus to announce a new boot camp - social media classes that Facebook would teach. The goal is to teach digital marketing to 3,000 Detroiters over the next two years. 

While digital marketing is different than coding, it's all being taught under this roof. Students of all backgrounds are taking on tech in the Motor City. The drive to keep talent in the city seems to be working.

"Once I do finish this Boot Camp I am looking to get a job inside of Detroit to add to that movement, to help build on Detroit from the tech perspective," Michelle Williams said.

There's an open house for those interested in coding at Grand Circus at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 13.  For more information, visit grandcircus.co.

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