If you build locomotives at GE, you’ll be looking for a job pretty soon, but there aren’t many jobs like that around Erie, so what can you do? Well, the digital world of the internet, software and web apps is huge, but there’s no place for a blue collar factory worker in computer programming, … or is there? They believed that, down in Kentucky, when the coal mines were closing and miners were suddenly unemployed, who ever thought a coal miner could be a programmer? It was silly, until it wasn’t, when the co-owners of an excavation company decided to set up a code shop called BitSource and got 950 applications for the first 10 positions. It seems miners are willing to write code. It makes you wonder what a locomotive builder could do.
Others are picking up on this idea. A handful of companies in eastern Kentucky are now “rubber stamping our business model and basically doing what we’ve done,” Hall says. And it’s not just limited to Kentucky. In Waynesburg, heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country, the non-profit Mined Minds is offering free coding classes to laid-off coal workers. Its goal is to “seed the growth of technology hubs within areas in economic need in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, so that the information revolution can be the fuel to drive these areas into the future.”
Too many stereotypes exist about who can and cannot become a programmer, it isn’t always the young gamer often found playing with an Xbox or hunched over a computer keyboard until the wee hours of the morning, sometimes it’s perfectly normal people who have the desire to concentrate and do a good job and who are interested in and like to learn about complex technology. It’s a good bet quite a few guys on the shop floor right now could make the switch and find a new career.
The money can be good and jobs in the field are growing, but you’ll have to put in some serious time and effort if you’re planning to do this. Fortunately, there are still quite a few months before locomotive production is completely shut down in Erie and there are many online courses that will take you from complete novice to someone who can write serviceable code in that time. There are also coding boot camps you can attend if you’re already out of work, that are intensive and challenging, but almost always result in job offers from companies looking for coding ability right now.
No one is going to become an expert programmer in a few months, but you can make tremendous progress and it’s a field open to absolutely everyone, there are no restrictions, no gatekeepers saying you’re not accepted, all you have to do is learn to write code. If you do, you’re in.
On the other hand, this isn’t for everyone, but don’t rule it out just because you haven’t tried it, you might be surprised, a lot of coal miners were. Wouldn’t it be a great story to see locomotive builders leaving GE and joining the ranks of computer programmers? Maybe Erie County could get a reputation for building things with computer code. It’s so crazy it just might work.