Paramount. Life-changing. How Innovate Birmingham propelled 5 former candidates into Birmingham’s tech industry

Read Time 7 Minutes


The consensus is the same for all of the candidates I’ve spoken with: The friendships developed at Innovate Birmingham last well beyond Demo Day. From L-R: Blake McCracken and Lee Panter. Photo submitted

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Innovate Birmingham is changing lives. But don’t just take my word for it. Meet 5 former candidates from Innovate Birmingham’s 7th Cohort, and see their success for yourself.

The ‘Why’ Behind Innovate Birmingham

Innovate Birmingham saw a problem with Birmingham’s booming tech industry: there were more IT jobs available than people trained for those positions. So they set out to create a pipeline of local tech talent to connect with employers and help close the gap.

They made it their mission to not only equip them with the technical skills needed to work these jobs, but to also give them critical lessons in personal and professional development that they will carry with them wherever they may go in the future. 

I‘ve been following their program since earlier this year, and I’ve written about so many of it’s benefits. But hearing the success stories from the candidates themselves offers an entirely new perspective. 

Meet the Innovators:

1. Lee Panter, 22, IAmBham Cohort 7

Lee’s curiosity, like many, led him to Innovate Birmingham. Photo submitted

Currently: Front End Developer at Martin Retail Group

Before Innovate Birmingham, Lee was working odd jobs and living on his own. He was working towards becoming a yoga teacher when his old roommate decided to start coding for a project.

“Spending evenings together and seeing the work he put in inspired me. Then when he achieved a life changing career, I knew I needed to buckle down.”

He was introduced to Innovate Birmingham through a mutual friend and former candidate and weighed the pros and cons of the program. 

“I decided that there wasn’t much to lose—besides being broke for 3.5 months while learning 9-5 Monday-Friday and weekends. On the first day when we gathered in the waiting room meeting our new friends, I knew I would enjoy this time.”

2. Pete Wiley, 20, IAmBham Cohort 7

Innovate Birmingham is located at Innovation Depot, a local tech + startup incubator. Professional dress is required by Innovate Bham candidates and for good reason—They are surrounded by potential employers. Photo submitted

Currently: Software Developer at Altec

Before Innovate Birmingham, Pete didn’t have much direction. He was working as a delivery driver when a friend recommended Innovate Birmingham. Knowing he didn’t want to work as a driver for the rest of his life, he looked into it. And it was the perfect fit.

“It was very appealing to me, because I see myself as a problem solver and have always taken an interest in technology…Innovate Birmingham in particular was a gift. It grants life changing opportunities (for free!) to people that are willing to go out and work hard for a better future.”

3. Antoinette Washington, 29, ThinkData Analytics Cohort 7

Antoinette’s advice for anyone considering enrollment? “GO FOR IT! Become inspired by the thought of where you are today and where you will be in the upcoming weeks. Do not allow it to threaten you or stop you from seeking a better career.” Photo submitted

Currently: Founder of Obliged Virtual Services

Before Innovate Birmingham, Antoinette was working an internship that was ending soon and knew she wanted a career change. After learning about Innovate Birmingham one morning on the news, she applied for the ThinkData Analytics Bootcamp that same night.

“Balancing being a full-time mom while enrolled in a full-time bootcamp looked a lot like being proactive with your time, prioritizing, and coffee… lots of coffee.

What motivated me to push through was the knowledge that data analysis is in high-demand and is continuing to grow. With there being such a huge economic gap in IT here in Birmingham, I took that as a challenge as well as guidance.

I was given the opportunity to really step out of my comfort zone and find balance in the tech field. I was surprised by the amount of support I received while enrolled in the program, and I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching aspects of Robin Hunt.”

Now Antoinette is running her own virtual assistant service that assists Small Business Owners with their administrative tasks and duties while also offering social media, customer service and project management assistance. I’d say she’s been pretty successful.

4. Alec Justice, 25, IAmBham Cohort 7

Sometimes you just need one experience or interaction to send you in the right direction. Innovate Birmingham was Alecs. Photo submitted

Currently: Software Developer at Altec

Before Innovate Birmingham, Alec was working in a field that wasn’t making him happy. He worked for a few different companies in search of a career path that he was truly passionate about. Then he discovered the IAmBham program at Innovate Birmingham.

“As soon as I began the software development bootcamp with Innovate Bham, it was like a breath of fresh air and I was confident that I had made the right decision. It was both exciting and challenging every step of the way…Now, I am proud to say that I have a career that I love and a job that challenges me every single day. “

5. Blake McCracken, 26, IAmBham Cohort 7

It clicked for me.” -Blake McCracken, former candidate at Innovate Birmingham. Photo submitted

Currently: Software Support Analyst at KEYSYS 

Before starting at Innovate Birmingham, Blake spent 6 years working in various parking management positions around Birmingham. Deterred from college due to student loan debt, and curious about a career in the tech industry, he knew he needed to get started.

“Being someone who couldn’t afford college, I thought: ‘This is what I need to do.’ So, I began reading. I bought a Udemy course. I downloaded some educational apps on my phone. It clicked for me.”

Not long after this, a childhood friend and former candidate at Innovate Bham recommended that he apply to the program. 

“He sent me the link. I took a look and applied immediately. It was free! I was ecstatic. This was exactly the kind of opportunity I had always been looking for. The kind of opportunity I wished existed.”

If you’re not smiling at this picture, check your pulse. Blake McCracken pictured with his new employer, KEYSYS! Photo submitted

What’s something you learned from your time at Innovate Birmingham (besides technical skills) that’s helped you at your current job?

Lee Panter: “Being able to handle certain issues as they come up and how to Google. When it came time to get a job they were very insightful for questions on salary, benefits, etc.”

Pete Wiley: “…I came into my job confident, because I was already used to working with teams in a way the industry recognizes and uses. Outside of my job, Innovate bringing in a guest speaker to talk about personal finances was a valuable experience for every student involved.”

From Innovate Birmingham’s Demo Day where candidates present their projects, ideas and receive their certifications. Photo submitted

Antoinette Washington: “I learned that no matter what life throws at you, use it to assist with building your foundation.”

Alec Justice: “I learned how to effectively work on a team and value the ideas of my peers. A lot of the time in software development there are many different ways of solving the same problem. Being able to build relationships and work with other people is a valuable skill that has definitely helped in my current role.”

Blake McCracken: “Technical skills aside, I learned how to work in a software team…I learned how to interview, build a resume, network, give elevator pitches, job hunt. I learned how to brand myself, how to use LinkedIn…Probably most importantly, I learned how to think like a programmer. I have already used all of these things at my new job.”

How did Innovate Birmingham help change your outlook on your future and goals?

Pete Wiley, pictured in front, on a work day at Innovate Birmingham. Photo submitted

LP: “Innovate Birmingham gave me the tools and knowledge to drive my future in my direction. I feel like a silver surfer on the web sometimes whenever it comes to problem solving.”

PW: “I have decided I am going to go to school for a computer science degree. I go home thinking about work, what I did that day and what I’ll be doing tomorrow, excited and ready. Innovate Birmingham helped me recognize and develop my ‘thing’ and granted me the opportunity to do something I love for a living, and I don’t see this changing any time soon.

AW: “The outlook for my future was changed by Innovate Birmingham by the small amount of time it took for me to outline the change of my career. It only took me 3 months to learn a few additional skill sets that allowed me to start my own business.”

In Alabama, only 26.5 percent of individuals working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are women. Innovate Birmingham is trying to change that. Photo submitted

AJ: “Innovate Birmingham helped me realize that my curiosity for technology could be used to create a lifelong career. The technology field is constantly growing with endless opportunities and that really excites me.”

BM: “Innovate Birmingham exposed me to an entirely new and incredible career…They facilitated a remedy to the bitterness I felt about my social class, my economic status, my lack of a fulfilling career. They proved to me that if I had the determination and commitment, I could get hired without a college degree…I have a skill that I am passionate about now. I am genuinely a happier person now that I’ve found my calling in life…”

If you could sum up your experience at Innovate Birmingham in one word what would it be?

The whole Innovate Birmingham crew dressed to the nines. Photo submitted

LP: Paramount.

PW: “I would describe the people as passionate and the experience as invaluable.


AJ: Revitalizing. I can hardly explain what this program did for my life…”

BM: “If it counts, life-changing.

Want to learn more about Innovate Birmingham? Visit their website to find more info on who they are, what courses they offer, and how to apply for local scholarships.

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Hannah Chambley
Most likely Instagrammin’ the Birmingham skyline, behind the camera shooting photos or writing stories (with too many puns) for Bham Now.
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