By Adam Enbar
Millennials are the most educated generation in U.S. history and outnumber their older colleagues in the workplace. Unfortunately, this education—particularly higher education—is no longer the key a job and a better life, as it once was. Today only 20 percent of college students feel “very prepared” to enter the workforce, and the business leaders who are hiring them concur.
At the same time, young people are looking for more fulfillment and meaning from their careers than their parents and grandparents ever did. A recent study shows over “half of millennials are willing to take a 15% pay cut to work at a company that matches their ideals”—a pretty powerful statistic considering the slow job market and student-loan debt that this generation has faced.
Because these young people can no longer rely on traditional education alone to find work that’s both lucrative and meaningful, many are hustling to make their own luck—and doing so in all sorts of creative and innovative ways. For some, this means turning to other forms of education, which are less about credentials and fancy brand names and more about building the relevant skills that lead to exciting and future-proof careers. They’re also going on to solve important problems at work—whether that’s through social entrepreneurship in the private sector (helping those who need it most); creating startups that challenge the status quo; or joining established companies that have the scale and resources to make a significant and positive impact on people’s lives across the globe.
In 2012, I created Flatiron School, which teaches people the skills necessary to become software developers. I was working for a Venture Capital firm that was investing in education companies and saw a serious problem to solve: companies were and still are in desperate need of talent, yet too many people, particularly recent graduates actively looking for jobs to help pay off their student debt, were unqualified for them. It seemed obvious that there should be a more efficient form of education that would deliver a very specific and valuable outcome, the outcome everyone wanted… a job. So I teamed up with the most incredible self-taught programmer and teacher that I knew, who at the time was teaching at various schools in NYC, and we founded Flatiron School.
We’ve had hundreds of students come through our campus in NYC—and that number is increasing since we’ve launched our online campus, Learn. Their stories inspire me every day. Here are three examples of grads who undoubtedly embody generation do-it-yourself or “GenDIY”—they’re tackling important problems, traveling down non-linear paths to find careers they love and breaking the mold of what it means to be “creative” versus “technical.”
The Socially-Minded Entrepreneurs
A little over a year ago, Tristan was an aspiring archeologist and William was an accountant. During their time in Flatiron School’s Web Development course, they set out to build something that mattered. They started building Heat Seek NYC as a student project to help address the need for livable heating in NYC’s lowest-income apartments. Landlords can lower the heating far below room temperatures in their buildings to save money or drive out poorer tenants. Heat Seek NYC helps validate tenants’ claims against their landlords with the power of cold hard data—and gives tenants agency over their living environments.
They’ve learned a lot—everything from brand new technologies to socio-political landscapes of underserved areas. But they also recognize that, for their app to make a difference to whole communities, they’ve got plenty of work ahead of them. And they’re now heads down to make their app bigger and better—and have a greater impact.
The career changer
At a big state university, Jennifer studied chemical and tissue engineering before switching to Italian language and literature. This led her to Europe after graduation, then back to the U.S. as a foreign language teacher, before eventually working as a health coach and chemistry lab technician. In her own words: “I had a lot of different jobs, but I didn’t have a career.”
It was her brother—another Flatiron School grad—who suggested she might enjoy programming, because she’d be able to solve some of the problems that were frustrating her at work through code. He shared Chris Pine’s book Learn to Program and before she knew it, she quit her job and went to Flatiron School full time—all while raising a young child and providing financially for her family.
Now, as a software engineer at XO Group, she’s in a career that she loves, which allows her to continue learning, becoming a better programmer every day.
The “Creative” Coder
Vaidehi now works as a full-stack engineer at the startup Imprint, where she gets to use both creative and technical approaches to build digital products that make people happy. She’s also actively involved in the developer community—giving talks at conferences and meetups—and committed to fostering more diversity in tech. Through this work she hopes to inspire a younger generation of women who, after seeing “someone like her” as a software engineer, may be more inclined consider a career in tech. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she often says.
I could share many, many other stories of grads who have used their Flatiron School education to do and build incredible things. It’s one of the reasons I love my job so much. Not only is our school challenging the status quo in education at the macro level—helping to ensure more people in the industry are accountable for the outcomes they promise and increasing diversity in tech—but we’re also touching so many lives on a daily basis. Just the other day, I received a note from an alum in Germany, one of the first graduates from our online campus: “I just got a job as developer. Thank you. Flatiron School changed my life.” When I walk into the office every day, that’s what I’m thinking about.
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)–how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love–on The Huffington Post and GettingSmart.com. This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial.
For more on GenDIY:
- Flexible from the F to the E: Lessons from AmeriCorps
- 10 Simple Steps for GenDIYers to Find Meaningful Work
- Online Learning as a Viable Option for Building Real Time Skills
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