3 things I learned about Innovate Birmingham from candidate, Loni Vaughn. Apply for courses + scholarships by Aug. 9.

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Loni Vaughn in front of Innovation Depot, where Innovate Birmingham is located—Always laughing at something, and it’s contagious! Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

The tech world can be intimidating, but Innovate Birmingham is changing that. They offer courses for FREE—no tech experience needed. And they are helping make Birmingham’s local tech industry more accessible to everyone. Hear from Loni Vaughn, a Data Analytics candidate at Innovate Birmingham on what the program is really like, plus how to apply for courses and scholarships today.

Have you heard of Innovate Birmingham?

If you keep up with Bham Now or the Birmingham Tech scene in any capacity, then you probably have. Innovate Birmingham is a workforce development program, and it’s FREE of charge for Jefferson County residents between the ages of 17-29 interested in a career in tech. They’re teaching, prepping and connecting talent to local employers, creating a pipeline that’s helping to correct the mismatch of supply & demand in the Birmingham Tech Scene. But we’ve covered all of that already.

Loni explained the work feels a lot like college—Candidates have a lot of time on their own to work on their projects. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

What you might not know is who is participating in these programs and why. Innovate Birmingham candidates are diverse—all with varying backgrounds, skill sets and interests. Candidates don’t need any tech experience prior to applying.

But seeing the words information technology, software development bootcamp and data analytics bootcamp can be a bit intimidating for someone brand new to the tech world. Which is why I wanted to sit down with a candidate, hear their story and share so that others who might be interested in applying to Innovate Birmingham feel confident and comfortable enough to apply.

Meet Loni, a ThinkData Analytics Candidate at Innovate Bham

Loni Vaughn in front of Innovation Depot, where Innovate Birmingham is located. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

Loni Vaughn is a Vestavia Hills native, BIG anime fan and a candidate in the ThinkData Analytics course at Innovate Birmingham. I sat down with Loni a few weeks ago, and she told me about her earliest interactions with tech, what advice she’d give her younger self and how being a Data Analytics candidate for just one month has changed her perspective.

Here are 3 takeaways from our conversation, plus more info on courses + scholarships to apply for by August:

Never Underestimate Yourself

For Loni, tech was always an interest. But compared to her friends growing up, her access to technology was limited. While her friends had personal desktops, she had a computer with no internet. The extent of her early interactions with technology? Minesweeper, Solitaire and 3D Pinball. It wasn’t until her mom told her about Innovate Birmingham this past December that she even considered IT as a career option.

Loni Vaughn: “I didn’t have any tech knowledge whatsoever when I came in so I was nervous. I felt like I was going to be behind everyone.”

But she wasn’t behind according to her instructor Robin Hunt, ThinkData Solutions Co-Founder and Data Analytics Curriculum Partner. She’s excelled in the different aspects of the program like building charts and professionally describing data.

Robin Hunt: “She’s naturally curious with a very positive attitude—This makes for a great start for any analyst starting out.  I’ve definitely seen her grow in her skills and understanding.”

L: “I definitely feel more confident in myself with computers just after being in the course for barely a month. It has opened my eyes to more opportunities that I didn’t know existed. I feel ready to face whatever comes next during and after this program.”

For Loni, this has a lot to do with Robin’s hands-on instruction.

“If you don’t understand something, you raise your hand. She’ll come out to your computer, show you how to do it and watch you do it until you get it.“

Robin Hunt, Loni’s instructor, says she’s seen Loni grow in chart making and speaking professionally about data findings. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

Robin Hunt: “My teaching style is geared toward understanding the practical application of the tool and then how to use the tool… I try my very best to ensure that anyone seeking information gets what they need. I use real life tangible examples that everyone can learn from.”

Opportunity is Everywhere

Innovate Birmingham candidates aren’t just learning about software engineering or data analytics. They are learning how to build resumes, dress professionally, network on social media and so many other important personal development skills. A bonus? They work at Innovation Depot, a buzzing tech incubator downtown, where they are constantly surrounded by opportunity.

The candidates work in a computer lab at Innovation Depot where they have class, professional development days and work on projects. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

“There’s a lot here—a lot I didn’t know about… There’s a ridiculous amount of networking. It’s networking just existing here…You never know when one of the startup businesses here or anyone coming here might look at you as potential.”

It’s Okay to Take The Road Less Travelled

College isn’t for everyone, and the idea that without a college education, you won’t be successful is simply false. Innovate Birmingham is an amazing local alternative that gives young adults the opportunity to learn similar to the college format without the price tag.

The candidates work in a computer lab at Innovation Depot where they have class, professional development days and work on projects. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

“I wish I had known about this when I was 18…it wasn’t pushed to the forefront that you could just go to a trade school, learn the trade and get a job immediately in the workforce.”

If Loni could give her younger self advice, she’d reassure her that it’s okay to take the road less travelled… well, as long as she checks her oil!

Loni Vaughn in front of Innovation Depot, where Innovate Birmingham is located. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

“I would tell myself that college doesn’t have to be the next step after high school. Also, it is ok to just work and save up money until you figure out what you want to do…and get your car’s oil checked regularly.”

After the program, Loni hopes to use her data analytics skills to observe the cost effect local companies would face when trying to go green. She’ll receive her certification later this summer.

How to Get Involved with Innovate Birmingham

Don’t wait to get plugged in! Applications for spring enrollment are due Aug. 19, and you can apply here. Innovate Birmingham also offers scholarships to students at UAB, Lawson State, and Jefferson State with IT or Tech majors. Applications for fall 2019 are due Aug. 9—Apply here!

Visit Innovate Birmingham’s website to read more about their courses, employer partners and mission—Or find them on social @Innovate_Bham on Instagram!

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Hannah Chambley
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