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2023 Rewind

As we prepare to enter the fifth year of the 2020s (!!), we’d be remiss if we didn’t pause to reflect on what has been a remarkable year for our program and the IT industry.

With the pandemic largely behind us, 2023 saw us and the world more firmly settle into our updated version of normal. In-person classes and events lost the stresses of the first three-ish years of the decade.

There was a noticeable verve shared by our students and staff throughout the year that is reflected in our program milestones and favorite memories. Some are bittersweet, such as our co-founder Robert Montague announcing his retirement. Others are joyful, such as welcoming Aaron Lamey as our new Executive Director, increasing our lifetime graduate total to over 1400 students, hosting our first IT Security Capture the Flag event (CTF), and the small moments shared by our students with our staff.

During a routine resume prep meeting with a student, Tonya Braden (Academy Operations Manager and Lead Soft Skills Instructor) was reminded of how meaningful the simplest conversations could be.

“I was helping (a student) with his resume when he interrupted me to say something I won’t forget,” Braden said. “He goes, ‘You may not remember me, but I used to work in the Concourse for a couple of years at the FedEx Office store before it closed. I remember running the print job for the certificates for (Tech901) graduations, you telling me about the classes, and inviting me to check it out. Now I'm in class and really learning a lot about tech, and I am like, "Why did I wait so long?”’

Braden continued, “We both had a brief chuckle, but it warmed my heart to know that just having casual conversations and inviting people to take a class at Tech901 in my everyday life actually makes an impact and changes lives.”

This student was one of 348 we welcomed into our program in 2023, with over 300 graduating and receiving certifications. Some students sought to upskill, and others sought to break into IT for the first time.

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By mid-November, 98 graduates had secured a new IT position. Another 52 graduates landed entry-level roles, officially launching the skills they absorbed in class into the real world. One such student called Aaron Lamey to celebrate.

“One of my former students called me out of the blue to tell me he got a job,” Lamey said.  “He said to me, ‘The person I interviewed with told me he was also a Tech901 alum and was happy to see it on my resume.’”

Calls like this one indicate the power our Tech901 network is now wielding. A graduate of ours enters the workforce with inherent credibility, easing anxieties hiring managers sometimes feel when considering employing a job-seeker from a non-traditional pipeline.

Trina Rogers, one of our adjunct instructors, doesn’t see the ripple effects of our grads slowing soon.

“The impact this organization has had on our students’ lives is amplified as they create change across Memphis,” Rogers said. “In 2024, I’m excited to see even more students start their dream careers or land new roles that help them better provide for their families.”

Any fears of IT roles shrinking in 2024 and beyond were quickly put to rest with the rise of generative AI, a still new but rapidly growing wing in our industry.

According to Grand View Research and Markets to Markets, the AI industry is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 37% or more, with its market value totaling over $1.3 trillion by 2030.

Our staff is adapting along with the world to provide training that will fill the needs soon to be required en masse due to the AI boom. This is what Trey McGinnis, one of our lead instructors, is most excited about in ‘24.

“It feels safe to say that data-related fields (including Business Intelligence/Data Analytics) will continue to grow in 2024,” McGinnis said. “Large language models such as Chat-GPT and Google Bard have been pretty transformative in the past year, and various companies are working to implement LLM (Tech speak for Large Language Models) capabilities into their products in many different ways.”

Tonya Braden echoes Trey’s thoughts.

“I am very interested in the growth of AI technologies as they pertain to the tech industry in general,” Braden said. “I am looking forward to seeing how the adaptation of computer modules that learn from humans can impact the job market. I suspect this growth will create very nuanced opportunities where the skill set of learning how to train your computer will be added to tech job descriptions. I look forward to exploring the array of opportunities technology will open for our students in the year ahead.”

The demands of AI tech is forcing a need for more robust security systems as well, which, in turn, leads to more roles for our IT Security graduates to fill. Seeing this on the horizon, we hosted our students' first IT Security Capture the Flag event.

This CTF session was a favorite 2023 highlight for many of our staff, including Paul Rogers, Lawrence Dennis, and Trey McGinnis.

“Out of all we did in 2023, my favorite was the CTF event,” McGinnis said. “The instructors worked hard to put the event together, and the students really made the whole thing worth the effort! For many, it was their first CTF event, so they were exposed to cybersecurity concepts far beyond what we tend to cover in class. It was great to have the camaraderie of students working together to solve difficult problems.”

Paul Rogers agreed and added, “I hope there are many more to come!”

There will be. Don’t worry!

With our recent winter graduation officially capping off our 2023, we’re confident Tech901 is poised for even greater success next year. Our shift from a quarterly to a trimester model extends our IT Foundations courses from 12 to 14 weeks, allowing for a more fine-tuned lecture structure and increased hands-on/in-field experiences.

“Longer training sessions (switch to trimester structure) will result in even more hands-on training to support the already outstanding content our instructors provide,” Tonya Braden said. “I believe that more hands-on exposure will help to increase the confidence level of our graduates who are new to technical roles and give them more

knowledge to use when expressing their enthusiasm during technical interviews, ultimately helping them to win more roles.”

Her 2024 outlook is that of our entire staff, including Aaron Lamey.

“The entire team is optimizing everything we do to bolster certification numbers because we know how impactful (a certification) is for career success,” Lamey said. “We will have a higher percentage of students achieve certifications than ever.”

But all of what we accomplished in 2023 was only possible with the generosity and trust given to us by our partners, donors, students, and alums. Our impact can only be as widespread as our community allows it to be, and we’re continuously blown away by the support we receive in this beautiful city we call home. 

As we settle into our brief holiday hibernation, know we’re ready for a fantastic 2024. To our incoming students, see you in January!

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