Coding camps continue to grow and expand in Houston. The most recent comes from the University of Texas. Getty Images

As Houston's innovation ecosystem grows, the need for tech talent grows too. It's why the University of Texas and workforce accelerator Trilogy Education decided to bring a series of coding boot camps designed to teach Houstonians the skills they need to excel in the fast-paced world of the tech economy to town.

"Too many working adults lack the skills to succeed in the digital economy," says Liliya Spinazzola, the senior director for professional education and strategic initiatives at the Texas Extended Campus of The University of Texas at Austin. "And that means that employers are lacking a talent pool."

The Houston Coding Boot Camp aims to change all that. The 24-week sessions teach web development and coding skills, allowing adults to take classes even as they're working. That kind of flexibility helps them increase their knowledge as they continue to build career paths.

Houston's seen a good amount of growth when it comes to new coding camps. Digital Crafts, for instance, grew from an inaugural class of eight students to 125 people in just two years. Women Who Code saw a need for female coders in Houston to have a network, and now the city has a newly launched chapter.

Student success
So far, 260 students have completed the programs, going on to work at companies such as JP Morgan, IBM, and Deloitte.

One of those is Rebecca Gemeinhardt, now a full stack developer at Shell. She graduated with her bachelor's in graphic arts from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2017, and found that she missed being in a classroom. When she started the boot camp, she was immediately drawn to the challenge the subject matter offered, as well as the flexible schedule.

"The boot camp was just as formidable as the curriculum promised but extremely fulfilling," she says. "Going into boot camp, I didn't tell anyone I was doing it — what if I struggled and couldn't get through it? I kept it a secret until I found the confidence to identify as a developer."

Once she completed the program, she was hired at Shell.

"My life had changed so much in just six months but definitely for the better," Gemeinhardt says. "By focusing on the ability to adopt new technologies, [the coding boot camp instructors] left us with the invaluable skill of being adaptable and fast-learning full stack developers. This has helped me immensely at my current position as we are always incorporating new languages to our architecture depending on individual project needs."

Filling the need
Spinazzola says the camps deliberately try to create environments that foster the level of problem solving and exploration Gemeinhardt describes. The program partners with employers to discover what skills are most needed, and tailors the curriculum to dovetail with them. She says the skills most in demand right now are coding, cyber security, IT project management, and digital marketing.

"We also look at job description data here in Texas to see what skills are listed," she says. "And while students are in the program, we have a robust network that engages with them upfront, talking to them about what jobs are out there. And we host career fairs where they can show off their portfolios and discuss their skills set with potential employers."

Spinazzola says that students come from all walks of life and employment backgrounds, and that 26 percent of the participants are women. With 25 students per boot camp session, the small classes make for deep instruction. UT offers between three and fours sessions in Houston each year. She says that she finds participants are looking to either break into the tech sector, learn new skills or re-train to be able to advance their careers. The average age of students is somewhere in the low-30s, she says.

"We had a student who owned a cooking school and wanted to start a new career," she says. "[Rebecca] trained as a graphic artist and wanted to be a developer. One student shut down his medical practice and says that he wanted to learn coding so that he could go work for a pharmaceutical company. To me, that's the beauty of this program. These skills are in demand, and our students are able to take what they already know and enhance their abilities to be able to take on new career paths."

These three innovators to know are responsible for solving problems here in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

A good innovator sees a need and fills it. Whether it's a bigger budget for new hospital technology, a network for female software developers in Houston, or access to creatives for nonprofits, these three Houston innovators are responsible for filling the needs of Houston's innovation ecosystem.

Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist

Roberta Schwartz is leading the innovation initiative at Houston Methodist. Courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist has always been an innovative hospital system, says Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer, so it was not really that surprising that a group of hospital officials had an interest in new technologies.

"As we watched these technologies come in, we found that there were a number of us within the organization that were just talking about it all the time and watching how we could really revolutionize the way we worked by embracing these new technologies," Schwartz says.

The group named itself the "digital innovation obsessed people," however, now that group calls itself the Houston Methodist Center for Innovation, and Schwartz is leading the initiative. Read more about Schwartz and the new center here.

Alex Anderson, founder of Good Measure

Alex Anderson started Good Measure to help nonprofits have access to creatives and storytelling tools. Courtesy of Alex Anderson

Houston-based nonprofit, Good Measure, completed its third creative workshop last week — and its first outside of Houston. Nuu Group's Alex Anderson and Tres Garner founded Good Measure to help nonprofits with storytelling and media, and they took their efforts to New York City to work with Memphis-based youth violence nonprofit, Grounded.

Just like the last Good Measure project, volunteer creatives has less than 72 hours to create a slew of branding materials, including user experience-focused designs, web pages, photos, videos, and more for the nonprofit.

"My hope is that each and every individual who attended sees the impact that our craft skills can make," Anderson wrote in a post on Medium. "We certainly can volunteer our time and work with nonprofits, but the real question is whether we can return to our day jobs, to clients with big budgets and capitalistic mindsets, and influence their decisions—to push them from opportunistic to purposeful."

Silver Ehiwario, director of Women Who Code Houston Chapter

Silver Ehiwario flipped careers a while back, and now she hopes to help other women with that process. Courtesy of Silver Ehiwario

Making a career switch is never easy — but it's extremely hard for women trying to enter the technology industry. Women Who Code, a global organization, just opened up shop in Houston, thanks to seven female directors, including Silver Ehiwario, who changed her career to tech recently.

"We are able to see a lot of people are changing their careers from what they have done before — just like I changed mine," she says. "We need communities where they can be inspired." Read more about Ehiwario and Women Who Code here.

Silver Ehiwario flipped careers a while back, and now she hopes to help other women with that process. Courtesy of Silver Ehiwario

Houston software developer helps bring Women Who Code to town

Featured Innovator

Silver Ehiwario worked to attain two chemical engineering degrees and had been in the industry in Nigeria for seven years when she decided she wanted to change her career path.

"I started thinking about making a switch when I found out I had this interest in being creative and building solutions for businesses so that they can become more effective and grow," Ehiwario says. "I like to be able to put my thoughts into the computer and see people use it."

She's not alone. Ehiwario and a few like-minded women are responsible for bringing the California-based nonprofit organization, Women Who Code, to Houston. On March 5, the Houston chapter celebrated its launch. At the event, the organization engaged its new members and asked them what they wanted from the organization. The feedback they received will drive the programing and events they will focus on, Ehiwario says.

"At the end of the day, I called for anyone open to mentoring. We had a whole lot of turnout — people were ready to inspire other women with what they do best," Ehiwario says. "I don't think there is a whole lot of other groups out there where your interest is represented and worked on."

Ehiwario spoke with InnovationMap about what she's excited about for Women Who Code in Houston and how she managed to change careers from a chemical engineer to a software developer.

InnovationMap: Did you find it easy to find resources for starting a new career in coding?

Silver Ehiwario: It wasn't easy — maybe I didn't know what I wanted. I searched online for something I could actually do where I wanted to do it. I decided to try the University of Texas' bootcamp here in Houston. It was very hard at first. I was very new to coding. I never used the computer other than for emails and basic work.

IM: How did you first get involved with Women Who Code?

SE: I had a colleague in the bootcamp who introduced me to it. I found out more online and it kind of aligned with what I wanted and I liked the idea of having support. In 2017, I applied to be a director so that we could have a network here. Everything started happening here at the end of 2018.

IM: Who is a part of the Houston chapter?

SE: There are seven of us. Julie Jonak, Roopa Rajala, Shefali Kapoor-Patel, Wanjun Zhang, Aditi Singh, Saima Rajwani, and myself.

IM: What's the program like?

SE: What draws me to Women Who Code is the mission and the vision. The mission is to inspire women to excel in their technology careers, and the vision is to have a world where women are representative of technical executives, founders, chairmen, and software engineer. We have people old and young. Our code of conduct has to do with inclusiveness — if you love technology, you're welcomed.

IM: Why is it important to Houston that Women Who Code have a chapter here?

SE: Houston is a huge community. I know there's a lot of tech people out here. We are able to see a lot of people are changing their careers from what they have done before — just like I changed mine. We need communities where they can be inspired. I've met people who just finished a coding bootcamp, are job hunting, and are kind of depressed. This community will be able to inspire them.

We need Women Who Code in Houston to support these women in tech — to close the gender gap and create a good working environment. If women succeed, girls will see that and it will give them that encouragement and motivation.

IM: How does someone get involved?

SE: Online. Sign up to be a member, join our Facebook network, and our LinkedIn network. We'll soon roll out our schedule of when we meet.

IM: Advice for someone wanting to switch careers?

SE: I like talking about this a lot. If you want to change your career to something in the tech industry, I would just say to take it one step at a time. Find one of the bootcamps out there and get connected. And join a network like Women Who Code so you can have a network and support after you leave that bootcamp.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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2 COVID-19-focused research projects happening in Houston

research roundup

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

Elon Musk taps into Texas workforce for out-of-this-world bartender gig

DRINKING ON THE JOB

Can you mix a mean margarita? Are you capable of slinging a superb Aperol spritz? If so, Elon Musk wants you to become a "spaceport mixologist."

Musk's SpaceX, which builds and launches rockets, is hiring a "passionate, experienced" mixologist for its "spaceport" near Brownsville. The ideal candidate possesses at least two years of "superior" mixology experience at resorts, bars, and full-service restaurants, including the ability to pair drinks with themed menus.

Among other duties, the mixologist will prepare drinks, including handcrafted cocktails, and will ensure "consistency and compliance with the restaurant's recipes, portioning, and waste control guidelines."

The new mixologist will concoct alcoholic beverages for SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, a Texas Gulf Coast community about 20 miles east of Brownsville. The job posting indicates the mixologist will work on the culinary team serving the SpaceX workforce.

According to Austin-based job website Indeed, the average mixologist in the U.S. earns $13.53 an hour. The SpaceX job posting doesn't list a salary, but you've got to imagine Musk — by far the richest person in Texas — would fork over more than $13.53 an hour for a spaceport mixologist.

By the way, in case you're not a master mixologist, SpaceX also is looking for a sous chef in Boca Chica. The sous chef will be tasked with cooking up menus that emphasize seasonal items and "creative" options. The chef's duties will include sourcing high-quality ingredients "with a focus on local, sustainable, and organic items."

Musk, who spends much of his time in Austin, is developing what the Bloomberg news service describes as an "empire" in Texas. Aside from the SpaceX facility, Musk-led Tesla is building a vehicle manufacturing plant just east of Austin and is moving its headquarters here. If that weren't enough, the Musk-founded Boring Co., which specializes in developing underground tunnels, lists 20 job openings in Austin on its website. In addition, SpaceX tests rocket engines at a site in McGregor, about 17 miles southwest of Waco.

"Texas has had its share of characters over the years, and many have been larger-than-life, wealthy risk-takers who came from elsewhere," Waco economist Ray Perryman tells Bloomberg. "There's still a wildcatting mentality here, and there's still a mystique about Texas that Elon Musk fits well."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.