Notes of Experience from Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square

I had the pleasure of attending an intimate breakfast meeting of ~30 people with Jim McKelvey, a passionate funny tech entrepreneur disrupting tech talent recruiting and tech education . McKelvey is co-founder of Square and founder of LaunchCode.

McKelvey made so many interesting points, many in off the cuff comments said so quickly I almost missed them. Below are the notes I voraciously wrote during the United Way breakfast event so that others reap the wisdom:

1.       We all work for tech companies. Law firms, healthcare, restaurants, finance all rely on technology to conduct business. If we do not have tech talent, our businesses will not grow. All business leaders must be thinking about technology. On a city level, if we don't have tech talent, businesses won't grow and they will be forced to leave. 

2.       McKelvey is in the business of greed driven employment. When he started LaunchCode in St. Louis he approached CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and told them he had vetted junior level programmers who he would personally vouch for and whom they could hire for $15/hour for 90 days, place with a Senior programmer, have no obligation to hire full time and could fire at will. Because of the tech talent scarcity in St. Louis, the CEOs and CTOs were willing to try LaunchCode and were overwhelmingly happy and hired the junior developers full time after their 90 day probationary period.

3.       LaunchCode’s success in St. Louis led him to be approached by Boston city officials to start the program there. He turned down funding to start LaunchCode because Boston doesn’t have a talent shortage, so the success of LaunchCode in Boston wouldn’t have proven that LaunchCode could work in cities with true tech talent deficits. He launched in Miami/South Florida because the city was ranked 100 in a list of 100 cities for tech development.

At this point, he had helped people find livelihoods and had collected compelling testimonies. He portrayed these stories to CEOs in Miami thinking that the business leaders would be excited as well. He forgot about the greed driven employment model he had used in St. Louis. He couldn’t figure out why LaunchCode wasn’t catching on in Miami until a CEO routed McKelvey to the company’s diversity office. After this epiphany, he has tried to reshape the narrative of LaunchCode as a non-profit that helps place junior developers in technology apprenticeships to provide much needed tech talent to various cities with tech brain drain. This is a great reminder of how important narrating the story of your services is. The story should be tailored to fit the audience for impact and buy-in.

4.       Free course CS50x = no means test. The curriculum weeds out students instead of an entrance exam which might otherwise eliminate talented or hard-working people. No exam bias, etc.

5.       Accenture study: senior programmers who are mentoring junior programmers will stay in their jobs 70% longer.  

6.       LaunchCode employees will stay in their jobs longer because they have chosen the employers they want to work for instead of interviewing and accepting the first job offer as is current hiring model.