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Syracuse Coding Camp Aims To Advance Tech Careers In Distressed Communities

Katie Zilcosky

 When two engineers noticed a lack of collaboration between Upstate New York’s tech communities, they created Hack Upstate to bring technologists together. Since their launch in 2013 they’ve created a community of people who are trying to advance Upstate’s technology economy.




They’re about to launch Careers in Code, a program designed to teach people how to code to advance their careers. Hack Upstate Co-Founder Doug Crescenzi said their new coding camp aimed at women and minorities in poverty.


Coding bootcamps have been popping up all over the country promising in-demand careers at the end of them. But these programs can cost thousands of dollars and often have rigid schedules. When Doug Crescenzi and his partner Jesse Peplinski got the opportunity to create a coding camp for those struggling in Central New York, they didn’t want to make the same mistakes.


"Because of the folks that we are targeting, many of them already have jobs, right," said Doug. "They have to work from 9 to 5 or whenever they can. They have families they have to account for. So what's a good time to have class? It's tough to have it in the middle of the day. So our classes are in the evening from 5:30 to 8:30, Monday through Thursday. Along with that, we'll have a flexible office hours schedule where instructors can coordinate around folks schedules to make time for them. So that flexibility is critical."


Doug got the idea for the camp last November.


"My attorney actually approached me and said 'You've got to take a look at this,'" said Doug. "He throws this grant RFP in front of me. It was coming from the AEI."


...a request for proposal from the Alliance for Economic Inclusion , a 24 person committee with members from five central new york counties. They’re tasked with determining how 30 million dollars of state money gets distributed to anti-poverty initiatives.


"Look. Oh this is perfect, right?" said Doug. "We have all of these awesome technologists that are very passionate about our local community, and more than capable of teaching and putting together a curriculum. At the same time we have all these employers desparate to hire talent. We just don't have enough talent here locally, enough STEM talent for sure. So we can create that talent."


Hack Upstate was awarded the grant to fund Careers in Code. The camp itself is 24 weeks and completely free to those admitted to the program. They’ve partnered with local tech companies to mentor students and provide a network for employment after the camp’s completion.


In a blog post, Hack Upstate said they’re designing this camp as a way to close the gap in tech employment opportunity, making careers in tech possible for those who may not have the resources to pursue them. That means doing more than just offering classes.


"Actually if you are admitted into the program, we will be buying you a laptop, a new laptop," said Doug. "So that will be yours. You will keep that if you complete the program. And we're also going to have a $400 stipend for them. They can use that for travel costs. They can use that for web services that they need."


They camp is also trying to secure a co-working space for participants and will have a Student Success Director whose job will be to help resolve stress or challenges in student’s home life that are beyond learning how to code. Even with everything Careers in Code has designed to make the program accessible, Doug recognizes that the program can’t be everything.


"The realitiy is this program is not perfect for everyone," said Doug. "It's not a silver bullet that's going to combat poverty on behalf of all of Central New York. But it is well suited for a select handful."


That fact isn’t deterring him or Hack Upstate from making this camp the best it can be for those who are in it.


"We've learned a lot about people's unique situations," said Doug. "And how much value this can bring not only to them, but to their families. Whether it's a single mother who is raising her child on her own or it's somebody who made a few bad decisions early on and is trying to get their life headed in the right direction."


The deadline to apply for Careers in Code is February 19th, and the first day of classes will be March 11th. To apply, visit