October 12, 2020 - 3:03 am

Innovating Workforce Development and Building a Tech Community in Traverse City: Q&A with Keith Kelly, tccodes and tccyber Program Manager

By Keri Amlotte, Director of Marketing

Keith Kelly is a community builder, innovator, educator, and technologist. With the tccodes and tccyber programs at 20Fathoms, he united all of this to develop innovative learning communities for software developers and cybersecurity professionals, respectively.

Keith is committed to building workforce development systems and opportunities that support Traverse City’s emerging tech hub along with the broader Michigan economy. As he explains here, Keith believes the best way to do this is through entrepreneurial-thinking, high-quality education, and a strong sense of community.

Keith Kelly
Keith E. Kelly, tccodes and tccyber Program Manager

Can you describe your role at 20Fathoms?

I manage our workforce development programs which started with software development [tccodes] and then extended into cybersecurity [tccyber]. This includes community building and coordinating advanced professional development opportunities.

A lot of the startups and entrepreneurs we work with at 20Fathoms need technical talent, and as a Northern Michigan community, we need to create more tech talent. Ultimately, we’re focused on bringing more tech jobs and tech professionals to northern Michigan. tccodes and tccyber provides a place and a network that helps people get into and excel in the field. 

What interested you in working with 20Fathoms on the tccyber and tccodes programs?

I was excited about the energy around startups and tech entrepreneurship in Traverse City and first joined 20Fathoms as a volunteer providing training on Python and Raspberry Pi. Last year, we received grant funding which gave me the opportunity to join the staff and lead tccodes.

What do you most enjoy about your work at 20Fathoms?

I’m a builder. I like to make things – it could be a circuit board or a piece of software. At 20Fathoms, it’s startup work. We’re engaging a community in a way that’s never been done before. I love creating things and seeing them come to life and create value. It’s great to be part of an amazing team of people sharing this vision and making a difference, as well.

What is your professional background?

I sit at the intersection of education and technology. I’ve been teaching electronics and technology courses for 30+ years at Northwestern Michigan College. Along the way, I’ve also done consulting and completed three “return to industry” sabbaticals where I worked as a software developer and engineer. That real-world experience working in tech allows me to be a better educator.

What is your approach to technical education?

First, we have to provide high-quality technical training taught by incredible technical professionals. With tccodes, it was crucial to bring together a group of instructors to lead these classes who are committed to the same vision and have high-end technical experience. The type of high-value technical content that we provide is going to allow people to move into new career opportunities.

The second thing is the value of community: bringing people together, sharing, networking, and developing new trainers who have shared our vision. That’s been crucial and it’s something we’ve discovered along the way.

What trends are you seeing in the field?

From my perspective as an educator, the trend I’m continuing to see is that there are alternative pathways to becoming a tech professional, aside from the traditional university degree. As the demand for these professionals gets greater and greater, the willingness for companies to look at other credentials as they try to attract these people to these high-end positions has been really enhanced. This includes certifications, internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for people entering or growing in your field?

Learning and education. Technology changes so quickly and the tools are constantly evolving. Learning needs to be continual. If you’re going to be a cybersecurity professional or write software, you have to keep up to date. What we’re doing with the 20Fathatoms programs is making it easier and more fun to do that required professional development.

What opportunities do you see in your field?

There’s massive growth. The demand just keeps growing for software developers and cybersecurity professionals.

Also, a huge opportunity is the fact that as a knowledge worker, you just need broadband Internet and you can work from anywhere. So why not live in someplace like Traverse City? It’s a beautiful community and you can work for any company in the world.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in tech?

Immerse yourself in the technology. Find project work. It’s important to build a real understanding of the technology and really own your learning. Use your own projects and hobby work to create a portfolio of work that represents who you are as a solution developer or technologist.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like the outdoors. Bow season has just started and I’m getting ready to go out and sit in the tree. I also enjoy fishing and hiking.