Jim McKelvey doesn’t mince words. That fact became particularly evident in a speech he gave last year to St. Louis’ social elite. During that speech, McKelvey, co-founder of the mobile payment company Square, reminded the upper crust of his hometown that not everyone has the same opportunities they did. It was also during that speech that the idea for LaunchCode, his nascent nonprofit, took shape.
The mission of the St. Louis-based LaunchCode is simple. It aims to match beginning computer programmers with companies facing a coding talent shortage. By pairing beginners with more experienced coders, the organization helps bridge the hiring gap that is affecting both workers and companies.
For McKelvey, the director of Square, the disruptive mobile payment technology company, LaunchCode is a way to take the already established work model of pairing programmers with less experienced programmers to help them learn. Each programmer is paid $15 an hour to work with a partner at one of the 100 companies that has signed up to work with LaunchCode.
In its first 10 weeks, LaunchCode has placed more than 20 programmers and has dozens more going through the placement process. And it is still looking for more applicants to join its ranks.
McKelvey said his path to creating LaunchCode was circuitous. In addition to being a successful tech entrepreneur, McKelvey is also a glassblower and cabinetmaker. While rehabbing his apartment building a year and a half ago, the son of one of his fellow workers was murdered while delivering a pizza. The tragedy left McKelvey stunned and searching for an answer as to why someone would commit murder for seemingly no reason.
The only answer he could come up with was that faced with a lack of opportunity, people will do desperate and crazy things. The realization inspired him to find a way to start creating those opportunities. For now, LaunchCode focuses on helping those who have at least some experience.
“Step one is to be a reliable conduit from training to employment,” McKelvey told BusinessNewsDaily. “Right now, we are solving a market need. People who need jobs get jobs. People who need talent get talent.”
Ultimately, however, McKelvey hopes to take the data he gathers and the lessons he learns from this experience and work to create opportunities for early career training that will provide opportunities for people who wouldn’t otherwise have them.
And, those opportunities may not just be for programmers alone. McKelvey believes knowing basic coding is no longer just a skill for programmers.
“The days of computers being the province of scientists are 40 years in the past. The days of computers being the province of professionals are 30 years in the past,” he said. “These days, every single person carries a computer on their phone or tablet. Those who can control it or at least understand it have a better chance of successfully interacting in their world.”