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AlbanyCanCode To Expand With $50,000 Facebook Grant

Facebook's Lisa Harris (left) presents a $50,000 check to AlbanyCanCode CEO Annmarie Lanesey (right).

A nonprofit coding school in Albany, New York has received a grant from Facebook to extend its programs across the state. 

The $50,000 grant is Facebook’s first in the Capital Region. Lisa Harris, Facebook’s director of state and local economic development policy, was all smiles as she handed the check over to AlbanyCanCode CEO Annmarie Lanesey. Inspired by her own frustrations hiring in the Capital Region, Lanesey says she founded the Troy-based organization in 2016 to address an employee shortage in the tech sector. 

“I think at the time it was some Department of Labor statistic – there [were] 2,000 open jobs available. So open jobs, unfilled jobs, in the Capital Region for software development talent of some kind," Lanesey explains. "And what we know is that most of the jobs that are open are mid-level to senior – however you don’t become mid-level to senior if you don’t have any first experience. So essentially what we’re doing is building that entry-level pipeline for people to get experience in the workplace, and then go on to fill those open jobs.”

That’s part of the story, anyway. The other half, Lanesey says, was to promote diversity in what is typically a young, white, and male industry. Priding itself on “creating the new generation of software coders,” AlbanyCanCode tends to focus on “nontraditional students:” women, minorities, veterans, the undereducated, underemployed, etc. More than 150 people have graduated from the nonprofit since 2016, and Lanesey says 70 percent of last year’s class did so with tuition assistance. Courses range from SQL/EQL database work, to front-end web development and JavaScript.

Credit Jesse King / WAMC
Air Force veteran Ramon Vasquez took his first course with AlbanyCanCode in 2018.

That’s where Ramon Vasquez, a 10-year veteran of the Air Force and now a teacher at AlbanyCanCode, got his start.

Well I worked for an office supply store for about four years, and I ran the print department there. And we had a customer who used to print very large manuals. And I was curious one day and I asked him about it, and it turned out he was a database guy, and he suggested I look up a program called AlbanyCanCode. And I did!" Vasquez chuckles. "I would definitely suggest like, the front-end course first, because the others just kinda require a little bit more footwork.”

That was 2018. Vasquez says he got his first coding job halfway through his second course, working as a front-end developer for UPPMarket in Troy. Lanesey says graduates have gone on to jobs at Goldman Sachs and MVP Healthcare, with an average rise in salary of $15,000.

In October, the Albany Business Review put the average starting salary for Albany developers at $59,000, but that number can approach six figures with experience – and as technology continues to evolve, Lanesey says it can take as little as two to four years to be seen as a “senior” employee.

Looking ahead, as automation and robotics continue to threaten traditional industries, Lanesey says programs like AlbanyCanCode may actually increase in demand. 

“So I think there will be some jobs replaced, but there will be a lot of new jobs created in the data and IT fields because of that," says Lanesey. "And what [experts] are saying is that that’s only projected to continue to grow – and essentially the gap, and how many people [are] entering the workforce, is continuing to get wider and wider because not enough people are getting this kind of training.”

Lanesey says the organization has already gotten a number of calls seeking help in metro areas across upstate New York. With the Facebook funds, AlbanyCanCode plans to start building courses and partnerships in the Hudson Valley first.

“I think the energy that’s happening in the Hudson Valley region right now is really ripe and opportune for this kind of work," Lanesey smiles. "There’s a lot of momentum there, so [I’m] really excited that this is gonna be able to help us enable that and get that started.”

AlbanyCanCode also offers training to K-12 teachers looking to bring computer science into the classroom.

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."