Startup trains workers to fill Detroit's growing IT demand

Posted on December 11, 2012

A business start-up in Detroit is trying to fill a void in the high-demand field of information technology by training local workers about how to do application programming.

Since mid-October, about 15 students have been taking courses in iOS app programming and design through Develop Detroit, a startup educational program founded by Michael Vichich in June to teach app design, programming and development. The classes meet for three hours, two nights a week at locations in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing.

The classes are part of a rising information technology scene in downtown Detroit and around the region as companies look for workers with the correct set of skills in the hot field.

“As a result of the tech company influx, there are a handful of companies that have needs,” Vichich said. “There’s definitely demand, but that education aspect is missing.”

Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans Inc. and affiliated firms such as Detroit Venture Partners — which is partnering with Develop Detroit — are trying to fill the shortage of qualified information technology workers in Metro Detroit. In June, three Michigan colleges partnered with a group of downtown companies — including mortgage lender Quicken Loans — to host “IT in the D,” a two-month program to give students and IT professionals more experience to advance their technology careers.

The Develop Detroit courses are split into two tracks — design and programming — and consist of lectures, demonstrations and hands-on exercises. This semester, Develop Detroit has tapped experts at local app-making company Detroit Labs to teach its classes.

The nearly two-year-old technology business — based in the Gilbert-owned M@dison Building — has created apps for Chevrolet, mortgage lender Quicken Loans Inc. and Domino’s Pizza Inc. It recently launched Landmarked, an iPhone app that provides information about downtown Detroit’s iconic buildings and landmarks on a user-friendly map of the city.

“We have a really high quality of teacher; people that really get teaching and are passionate about it,” Vichich said.

The goal of the program, Vichich said, is to expose students to all aspects of app development and give them notes to reference as well as experts to call.

Most students are already employed at Detroit-based tech companies. Kelly Born, a 34-year-old senior mobile designer at Quicken Loans, heard about the courses at work and chose to take them to broaden her knowledge of the subject.

“They move pretty fast for someone who doesn’t have a programming background but they’ve been what I expected,” she said. “It’s about bridging the gap between myself and my developers and understanding what they do.”

Detroit has recently hosted other IT education programs. Last summer, Wayne County Community College District’s downtown campus hosted an intensive 18-week information technology boot camp that graduated its inaugural class in July.

“There’s a huge demand for software developers and interface web designers,” said Jake Cohen, vice president at Detroit Venture Partners and an adviser with Develop Detroit.

“Companies are scrambling to figure out how to find the right talent and inspire people locally to develop the right skills to fill the jobs they’re looking to hire for.”

About 12,500 information technology jobs could be created in Detroit by 2015, according to a Microsoft Corp.-financed study by International Data Corp., a Farmington, Mass.-based market intelligence company.

“It’s a micro-community that’s growing all the time,” Vichich said of the technology field. “It doesn’t have that mass appeal yet, but I think it’s on that path.”

Michael Martinez, The Detroit News