Stories Behind the Booze: Rita Stall of Tech Elevator

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Rita Stall may not have had her start in the tech industry, but she is certainly paving the way for others to become engaged in the industry, and learn how to become a developer through Tech Elevator’s curriculum. Through the course of this interview, not only did we learn about Rita’s passion for growth in the community, but Tech Elevator’s hope to help the community grow by bridging the gap in Cincinnati’s need for tech talent.

Interview by Tiffany White. Photography by Gayle Rothmeeler.

What is your role in Tech Elevator and how did you get involved in tech?

My role here is the campus director. I am overseeing all of the campus operations. I have spent the last 12 years working in career coaching and workforce development roles; working with people interested in career advancements. I love taking people who are trying to make transitions or to upscale themselves into new longterm career pathways.

There was a big CincyTech networking meeting. The CEO of Tech Elevator came out and was doing a talk on tech talent in our region and how the supply-demand issue is gigantic here. It really attracted me to Tech Elevator and I sought out a position here. I was really drawn to the mission.


What is the initiative of Tech Elevator?

The mission of bootcamps is to bring more talent into the market. Nationally, there are about one million new technology jobs that come on to the scene every single year, and not enough people to fill them. So, there are not enough people entering with computer science degrees and the delta becomes larger and larger.

Bootcamps were started in 2012 in California by two guys who were really frustrated by the number of resumes they were receiving for their development positions. They said, “This isn’t rocket science, we can teach people how to do this.” That is exactly what they did. They brought in a handful of their friends and taught them full stack development, and launched them out into the market. That sprung the bootcamp industry.

We don’t want our graduates to graduate and then go to a coast, we want them to graduate and stay inside our communities.

Tech Elevator was founded in Cleveland in 2015, so that’s when we first opened our doors. We opened a campus in Columbus in 2016, Cincinnati in 2017, and Pittsburgh in 2018. Our real mission is to elevate the people in our own communities, to give them the skills they need to enter into a high demand market, and for them to stay within our local economies to help innovate the companies that are currently here. We don’t want our graduates to graduate and then go to a coast, we want them to graduate and stay inside our communities.

Do you all help graduates meet local companies or startups to find jobs easily?

Definitely. So, our bootcamp is definitely unique in that in addition to our 14 weeks of technical curriculum, we have a 14 week pathway program. The whole time they are in our program, they are spending three to five sessions per week going through career readiness modules. For example, weeks one through four, we are helping them talk about what they have done in the past and how that makes them invaluable to a development team. About 90 percent of our students coming to Tech Elevator are career changers. They have had a career for the last five to 10 years and they have lost their interest and passion. They have a real genuine interest in technology and just given a little bit of training, they are able to go off to be software developers.

About 90 percent of our students coming to Tech Elevator are career changers.

The first four weeks, we are talking about what the students have done prior to be a really valuable asset to a development team. Then we go into resumé building, using LinkedIn, and building their brand. Weeks five through 10 of our cohort, we start to bring in hiring partners. Every Tuesday and Thursday, through those five weeks, companies come in to do what we call showcases. They talk about their company, culture, their tech stack, and how you could be a great addition to their team. Weeks 10 and 11, we culminate what we call matchmaking. We bring in tons of hiring partners to basically do speed dating interviews. So they do 25 minute interviews with up to 16 students over the course of two afternoons. Between 70 and 80 percent of our job offers come out of that matchmaking event alone.

What does the core curriculum of the 14 week program entail?

They are spending the first four weeks with an introduction to object-oriented programming. That is when they are learning about what is an object, what is a variable, and how do you take one into another. Then they will do two weeks in database programming. This is when we talk about how to pull data when developing concepts. The following three weeks they will go into the server side. So, how do you pull data to pull it through a server? How do you manipulate that data to make sense?


The two weeks following the server side consists of the client side. The client side is taking the data and putting it on to a web page. The client side is what people will see. That includes the HTML, the CSS, the JavaScript, basically what makes things look pretty, the user interface. That is followed by one week of web application security, just teaching students basic vulnerabilities that could exist in their code. Finally, they spend the last two weeks building their capstone. That makes our program a little bit unique. In the capstone, they are going to build a web application using the full stack from start to finish.

Upon completion of the 14 week program, what are the students graduating with?

They graduate with a full stack certification. They are going to learn five to 10 different programming languages, depending on which one they are taking. They are going to learn about Bootstrap, CSS, and HTML5 along with .NET or Java on the database side. They are going to come out knowing several different languages to make them marketable for those full stack roles.

What are the prerequisites for enrolling in the 14 week program?

Our admission process is pretty strict. Anyone interested in enrolling in the program has to go online and take a 25 minute assessment test; it’s 12 questions. We are looking at problem solving and logic to see if they can get through common questions that we feel corresponds well with how a programmer’s mindset works.

If they score high enough on that – about 60 percent will make it through that –  we will bring them in for an in-person behavior based interview with myself or Jessica. With that, we are really looking for aptitude for learning. Technology is a field that changes every single day; if you do not love to learn, then this is not a good field to be in. We look at things like their communication style. Tech is a very collaborative environment. It is not like back in the day in a basement when somebody slid pizza under the door. It is a collaborative workspace, and you need to be able to work well with others, resolve conflict, and be able to articulate your ideas.

Tech is a very collaborative environment. It is not like back in the day in a basement when somebody slid pizza under the door.

We are looking at things like grit and resilience. This is a very intense program and it moves very rapidly. We want to make sure that it aligns with their learning style and their aptitude to retain information.

Then we will put them through an hour long aptitude test, which is similar to the one that they took online. There are more logic and reasoning questions on there, and we culminate the three scores for each step of the interview process. So, the mini aptitude test, their behavior based score, and their longer aptitude test will give us a core score. About one in 10 will make it through the whole funnel to start in their cohort.

Who is your target audience?

So, our typical student is somewhere between that 25 to 35-year-old range who are career changers. This is a very fast paced program and your mind is more elastic when it is younger. In our last cohort, we had an 18-year-old all the way up to a 60-year-old. In our current cohort, I think it ranges from 21 to 62-year-olds right now. It is really the passion for learning that we are looking for, not really a typical background. We are finding that our average student is about 30 to 31 years old, and about 60 to 70 percent of our students have a bachelor’s degree in something.


Do you all have a lot of women enrolled in your program?

It is definitely an initiative. Diversity initiatives is a part of Tech Elevator more and more. It is really important to us, and we are engaging with local groups to try and accelerate that. We average about a 40 percent women to men ratio across our four campuses. Our campus here is a little bit behind, we are at about a 30 percent women to men ratio. We are trying to find different ways to engage women into our program.

How engaged is Tech Elevator with local organizations?

The only advertising that we have for Tech Elevator is through NPR and everything else is through community relationships. Girl Develop is an organization that we work with. They come in and use our space to teach some of their classes every couple of months. CincyTech, HackCincy, and Graduation Alliance are all local organizations that we are working with. We are an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, and we do a lot of stuff with REDI Cincinnati. We are trying to bring new companies into our area to increase our economic impact.

What does Tech Elevator hope to contribute to the community?

We know there are a lot of smart, educated, well-spoken individuals who would have great careers in technology if they just had a little bit of training. Last year, there were 6,800 positions posted for technology in Cincinnati alone, and there were only 600 graduates from our local higher education institutions with computer science degrees. We really want to bridge that gap. We want to take these individuals who are really passionate about technology and give them the necessary skills to go back and impact their communities. The average in Tech Elevator is over one million dollars of salary differentials from the salaries that they came into Tech Elevator with, versus the salaries they leave with. The higher salaries are able to go back and impact our local communities. We want to upscale our community members and continue to grow our economy.

Do you all offer an introduction to Tech Elevator for individuals who are uncertain about enrolling?

Yes, we do monthly meetups. They are open to the community. We have them all on and our hashtag is LearntoCode. They are two hour events, usually done on an evening or a Saturday. People can come and get their toes wet and see if coding or programming is something they like.

Join Women of Cincy for our final Boozy Hour of 2018 at Tech Elevator, 1776 Mentor Ave., Norwood, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 6-8 p.m.