As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Fogarty. Daniel is the Vice President of Growth at LaunchCode, a nonprofit which trains motivated individuals for free then matches them with companies in need of tech talent. After moving to the United States from Ireland in 2013, Daniel began working with LaunchCode as their first employee and since then has worked in numerous roles, building and cultivating LaunchCode’s marketing, candidate engagement, recruitment, public relations and growth departments. Ultimately, the culmination of his work helped grow the organization from three employees in St. Louis to over 40 employees nationwide with services that have educated over 5,000 individuals, launched over 1,600 upwardly mobile careers and impacted economic growth in a number of regions across America.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After moving to the United States from Ireland in 2013, my background in the finance world led me to working with a financial technology accelerator in St. Louis before finding LaunchCode in 2014. Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Square, moved the company out of St. Louis to Silicon Valley to tap into the robust pool of tech talent Square needed to thrive. It was Square’s exit from St. Louis that sparked Jim McKelvey’s idea of creating an entity that would essentially solve the mismatched needs of employers in need of talent and aspiring programmers seeking jobs.
Since then, I’ve worked in numerous roles at LaunchCode, watching the organization quickly scale and flourish. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had a hand in growing the organization from three employees in St. Louis to over 40 employees nationwide with services that have educated over 5,000 individuals, launched over 1,600 upwardly mobile careers and impacted economic growth across America.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Without a doubt the most interesting thing that has happened in my career was having both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden publicly acknowledge LaunchCode and provide support to the organization.
In 2015, President Obama called out our work and shared the story of LaunchCode alumni, LaShana Lewis, during his speech at the the National League of Cities Conference. This was a surreal experience for our team at that time. We simply couldn’t believe that it happened.
We were still getting over the shock when, the following year, Vice President Biden reached out to host a press conference at LaunchCode’s Mentor Center in St. Louis to bring more attention to the work we were doing to move the workforce development needle. I will never forget seeing secret service members on roof of our building with rifles.
It’s crazy to think just a couple years after the organization was founded, we were almost accustomed to the leaders of the free world praising our work and shining light on our students.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Five years ago, LaunchCode was just a couple of people with big ideas. Growing up in Ireland, perception of education and workforce development was so different. In Ireland and most of Europe, education and workforce development opportunities are free and bountiful to citizens. After moving here and learning more about the education-to-job pipeline, I noticed a large gap. It was a culture shock, but realizing this gap existed gave me confidence that change was necessary. If LaunchCode could really enact this change, the impact on individual lives would add up to eventually impact entire communities and the economy as a whole.
We also quickly realized LaunchCode had a bigger purpose than just making the connection between employers and talent. LaunchCode’s model completely flips two traditional ideas on their heads: it changes the way people are educated and changes the way employers hire. From the beginning, our classes have been free, highly-accessible and centered around employer need. On the employer side, companies across the nation need a serious shift in the way they think about hiring. Employers are in dire need of tech talent, but at the same time, they’re hiring based solely on credentials and solely from universities and, in turn, overlooking a pool of talented, driven people with the potential to succeed.
After first pitching this idea to companies and whittling 400 applicants to about 40 qualified candidates, LaunchCode’s pilot program was able to successfully place 38 people to salaried positions. Looking back, this number seems so small. Just five years later, we’ve ran programs in 10 different states, have 40+ employees and a network of thousands of alumni working across the country.
How do you think this will change the world?
LaunchCode has made a huge impact on the communities we serve. In our hometown of St. Louis alone, we’re now the most prolific producer of tech talent. But as the Vice President of Growth and as someone who has been here since the beginning, I want to expand our footprint of impact even more.
Currently, LaunchCode’s goal is to educate 2,000 Americans in 2019, equipping them with digital skills needed to enter the tech industry. The average LaunchCoder enters the industry and increases their income by $30,000. We know that we could dramatically increase the number of individuals we train. This winter in St. Louis, we received over 1,200 applicants for about 150 available seats in our flagship course, LC101. In Memphis, where we we just launched our first course, we received nearly 900 applications. The thirst for accessible digital education is massive and we know that with additional resources, we could scale to accommodate well over 10,000 individuals a year.
The bottom line is Americans deserve the opportunity to an upwardly-mobile career and zip code or ability to pay tuition shouldn’t be the sole factor to achieving that.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
While LaunchCode has been successful growing across the country, like any nonprofit, we could do so much more with additional resources. Because the need for tech skills is so great and will only grow in the future, the biggest barriers to delivering education to more people are funding and relationships with employers.
LaunchCode’s educational programming easily scales, has a minimal cost to execute and uses flexible curriculum that easily adapts to industry trends. On the hiring side, we’ve worked with 500+ employers from small startups to Fortune 100 companies to help them with their most difficult hiring and training needs.
Perhaps most importantly, overall perception of hiring has to change. Over the past five years, I have seen so many “aha” moments among hiring managers who see the value a LaunchCoder with a nontraditional background adds to their team. LaunchCode uses an apprenticeship model for this very reason. Companies can take on an apprentice with virtually no risk. After the apprenticeship, we see about 90% of our apprentices hired on full-time. LaunchCode’s mission to change the perception around innovative hiring is working, but there’s still work to be done.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Nothing happens as quickly as you want. LaunchCode’s model asks people to shift what they’ve always known to be true, and asking people to open their minds to something new takes time. It’s hard to remember to be patient when your business is so mission-driven, but patience always pays off in the long run.
- Getting people to invest in the mission takes effort. It’s inevitable — people are scared of change. Companies will always be incredibly risk averse to new ideas. Knowing when and how to sell your idea is an incredibly useful skill to develop.
- Hiring people is hard (and even harder for small startups). About 90% of startups fail and it’s hard to convince people to take that chance. Hiring people who are passionate about the mission and have a willingness to jump-in and help where they’re needed is key to growth in the early years.
- Scaling always brings new challenges. Whether it’s opening a new office, adding another employee or working in a new city, there are always unforeseen challenges. In the early years, every one of these milestones felt like we were building something from scratch. Expect it to be hard, but do it anyway.
- The feeling of helping people never gets old. In the beginning, hearing how LaunchCode changed one life and one family fueled us. Five years in, we hear inspirational stories daily. Every story makes every ounce of hard work worth it.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
The problems LaunchCode is solving now are ones that will be even more critical to solve in the future. We believe that more Americans must have access to digital skills as more workforce tasks become automated. Our programs target three main groups of American workers: the unemployed, the underemployed and those working in low-skill jobs likely to be automated in the near future. All three types of workers are in need of technical skills, but because of a variety of barriers, are unable to gain access to the education needed. We believe large-scale, job-focused training programs like ours need to be adapted across the country in order to provide more Americans with the skills needed for the future of work.
As far as individuals looking to “future-proof” their career, my advice would be to have a continuous-learning mindset. In the future, technology is going to automate lots of tasks and jobs, but creativity and solving problems is something that computers will never be able to do.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
If LaunchCode was given a million dollars tomorrow, we would open ten more large scale coding courses that would transform over 1,000 individuals into software developers. We know what we would do with $10 million and $100 million too.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Being open to new ideas and trying things at least once has been the philosophy that has guided both my life and my career. It’s surprising how far this will take you.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Investors who want their funds to go further and portfolio companies to succeed need to be concerned about the tech talent shortage. It’s no longer a tech company problem, it’s a problem plaguing our entire economy and it’s only getting worse. And it’s quite clear that traditional hiring practices and the dependance on universities to fill a talent pool big enough to keep up with industry demand is failing.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find LaunchCode at @launchcode and find me at @danieljfogarty. If you’re interested in keeping up with all things LaunchCode, check us out at www.launchcode.org and sign up for our newsletter!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.