Voiceover: Welcome to HR in the Car with Miriam Dushane and Tom Schin of Alaant Workforce Solutions, where exciting HR professionals and business leaders share laughter, insider stories, and maybe even a few tears about HR in today's world. Buckle up for the best half hour of your week.
Miriam Dushane: Tom, today we are going to have another one of my favorite people on. I feel like I say that a lot in these, that we keep having favorite people on, but-
Tom Schin: A lot of favorites.
Miriam Dushane: There is a lot of favorite people in the region that I love, but this one's near and dear to me. Annmarie Lanesey, founder of Can Code Communities formally known as Albany Can Code, is joining us and I'm just really excited to share what this organization is doing, and how it's impacting lives. And so, I'm super excited to have her join us, and you to learn a little bit more, because I know her really well, but you just, like you said, know her in passing.
Tom Schin: I've only met her a couple of times, in just some casual conversation, "Can I get you a glass of water?", kind- of- moments.
Miriam Dushane: Exactly.
Tom Schin: But being a listener to the podcast, it's a little harder for you to see the light that's in her eyes as she talks about-
Miriam Dushane: Oh, my gosh.
Tom Schin: Everything.
Miriam Dushane: It is infectious, and I know we don't like to use those terms anymore considering pandemics, but her passion and energy is infectious, and she's been a huge influence on my life in so many ways, so I'm really excited for us to talk with her.
Tom Schin: Thanks for joining us today, Annemarie, it's pleasure to finally get down and have a real conversation. I know we passed each other a few times, and gotten some hellos from a few different people, but we're excited to have you here on HR in the Car.
Miriam Dushane: Yes, thank you for joining us today. I want to start with a story about you that you may or may not even remember this, but it was impactful for me and my life. As many of you know, I do not have a college degree, and I spent a long time being embarrassed of that fact. I remember when I started to learn more about Albany Can Code and what you guys were doing, but it was in the really beginning, and you and I had lunch, and it was at Tala. We were talking about how we could start to work together, and I was really excited about the things that you were starting to do, and I believed in everything. And I shared with you that it was important to me to start to get rid of that stigma of the college education being a symbol of something other than- You weren't worthy unless you had a college degree. At least, that's how I felt. And you said, "I never would've known that you didn't have a college degree, and you don't need to have a college degree to have a successful career, and have a great pathway to success." And so you are the reason that I stopped being embarrassed, and started talking more boldly about the fact that I don't have that. I don't know if you really realize how much that actually impacted my ability to be proud of that, and not be ashamed by it, because of everything else that we've done with Alaant, and my career as a whole, but you really helped me embrace that and not be ashamed of it anymore. So I just want to say thank you for that, because it was really important to me. It meant a lot.
Annmarie Lanesay: Wow. Thank you for sharing that with me. I believe I knew this story, but I don't know that I knew the impact that it had, and I'm so grateful that it did because you have been such a role model to so many people, and I think an even bigger role model to so many people knowing that's your story, so it's just such an inspiration.
Miriam Dushane: Thank you. Tell us more about Can Code Community. For the people who don't know what Can Code is and how it started, I think it's really important to share that story. So can you share with our listeners about Can Code? One, first what it is, but really how it started, because it's important.
Annmarie Lanesay: Yeah, there's a few different, I would say almost light bulb moments that I had, that were the genesis and culmination of the passion for wanting to create something, and the one that is most loud and clear, although there's a couple others and maybe I'll get to tell those too, but was when I was in my office. Before starting Can Code, I ran a software company with my husband, a small boutique custom Ruby on Rails development shop, and we were looking to hire Ruby on Rails developers. Couldn't find any in the capital region. Many people may know a woman named Susan Lundberg, whom I know Miriam knows well. Susan had worked with us as a recruiter, and she brought to me someone who worked in a kitchen. He never went to college, and he had a friend who was a programmer, and they enjoyed the conversations that they had. He thought, "Well, maybe I could be a programmer too. I really find this conversation interesting." And so he taught himself Ruby on Rails. Susan came to me, she said, "Well, you talk a lot about alternative talent," and at that time I was talking a lot about why are there not more women in the rooms that I sit in, because very, very few women in software consulting and software development. And, she said, "He's self-taught never been to college. He's taught himself Ruby, would you like to give him an internship?"
He came to work for me and he sat side by side with someone who had a degree from one of the top tier local computer science schools, and this self-taught individual sped right past this individual that had this college degree. And I swear, it was like a cartoon moment where I almost saw the little cartoon-like light bulb go off over my head. I pointed out my window, which was in downtown Troy, just full glass, beautiful windows, and I said, "She could be a developer. He could be a developer. Oh, my gosh, they have no idea they could be programmers, and these are high paying jobs. Holy smokes! We have to find more people like this individual." And that lit my heart on fire, because I just got so passionate about this community service project, never thinking it was going to become its own business, and now it's a not-for-profit, and started right out the gate as an independent 501(c)(3). And it's been an amazing journey ever since, as Miriam knows, who's been alongside me pretty much from the beginning, and we've just been growing pretty much ever since.
Miriam Dushane: Tell us more about the programs and the things that you offer through Can Code.
Annmarie Lanesay: We started as an adult education workforce development program, training adults for all of these unfilled computer science roles. We thought we were training computer programmers, and we are, but we have since come to learn that we're training all kinds of what we call tech-adjacent jobs. I'm sure you both know about all those roles that employers can't fill for all these tech related responsibilities like quality assurance, and project management, scrum master, requirements analysis, so many other things, help desk support. All kinds of jobs that involve software that most people are terrified of, because they think, "Oh that's too technical for me," or, "I would never be able to do that." So we've been training adults for that work. We started with a 12-week front end web development class. We had nine people that completed our first initial program and now we're averaging about 50 to 60 people every three months, three or four months give or take. We started in Albany-
Tom Schin: Amazing growth.
Annmarie Lanesay: Yeah, very, very quickly. We almost doubled every six months, but now we're all around the state and we have through the pandemic, been offering our programs virtually, and so many, many people can take them, and our reach is widened quite a bit. We also have two other parts of the work that we do. That was the core, and that was the start, but we also now do K-12 education. We had some very forward thinking superintendents come to us early, saying, "We see what you're doing with adults. We need help with K-12 and with the youth, and we're never going to have solved the workforce challenge if we don't start training young people for the jobs of the future." And so we started working with schools, and that's been amazing. And this year, within the last 12 months, give or take, we've served probably about 500 kids and more lesser known for that work, because everybody hears about our adult education. But we do work across the capital region and beyond, pretty broadly with young people. And then the third piece of the work that we do that just started roughly right before the pandemic, is basic digital literacy education. So teaching all people how to use computers, because when the pandemic hit we realized that working from home was only going to really be an option for people that had skills to use a computer.
Tom Schin: And even had access.
Annmarie Lanesay: Exactly, so we started serving that challenge and we've been doing that pretty much ever since, and that's been a growing part of our program. We served 85 people during the pandemic through the computer, which was amazing. Really, really hard to do. Teaching people how to use the computer virtually.
Tom Schin: I can remember when smartphones started to become more and more prominent, and you would ask candidates about their computer skills for certain roles, and they're like, "Yes, I have a smartphone," and the answers seem to imply that, "I know how to use a computer," but they are two very different things in terms of managing information and data, versus knowing how to open up an application. So it's game changing now, where you just walk in thinking that people have these skills, and it's great that you're offering that to those that want it and need it. How far is your reach now? You mentioned statewide. Tell us about some of the cities that you're tapping into these days.
Annmarie Lanesay: After about a year or two into our program, we started to get calls from other communities in New York state, and it was very interesting because it was quite literally all up and down the Hudson River and all across the Erie Canal. We started to get calls down to New York City, Hudson Valley, Mohawk Valley, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Buffalo, and everybody said the same exact thing. "We see what you're doing in Albany. We have the same challenges here. Can you help us? Can you bring your model to our community, in some kind of way?" We started initially in the Hudson Valley with a program in Kingston, called, Kingston Can Code, and we've been serving folks in Kingston probably two to three years now. We have great partners. Part of our model that I think is part of why it works really well, is that we are not reinventing the wheel, we're trying to work with others that are already doing good work, and we partner with community college partners and community based organizations. So, we have a number of partners in the Hudson Valley. We're now in the Mohawk Valley. We've been running programs there with Herkimer Community College for about a year, give or take. We run our first program I think this spring, and we just started a program in Jamestown, which is way out in the western part of New York State.
Tom Schin: Wow.
Miriam Dushane: Oh, wow.
Annmarie Lanesay: And, we are doing digital literacy and some technology training. We just launched in New York City, so we're going to start our first program in January, with our first CUNY partner, which is the Kingsborough Community College. We're really excited about that.
Tom Schin: My mind is blown. I knew Can Code was growing, and obviously we hear quite a bit through Miriam, and it's amazing to see that rapid growth in just a couple of years. Boom. Now, has the business that you mentioned that you came from, Ruby on Rails production, has that gone by the wayside now?
Annmarie Lanesay: Well luckily I was running that organization, head of Business Development and Operations. My husband was the CTO in running the technology projects, and as Can Code grew- I was initially the Board Chair and Founder. I really had no intention of ever leaving that work. I really loved it. I actually still love that kind of work, but this just took on more and more of my life. And then when I became the CEO of the organization in 2018, my husband ended up taking on, and just leading Greentree and he's still running the organization. Still up and running, and doing more Ruby on Rails projects.
Tom Schin: I'm trying to think in terms of the students that you have coming in, the game changing element that comes as you mentioned with the person that had come, that had been a chef, and moved in, and now is fantastic. Other stories like that. Are there other ones that just kind of make you smile, almost warm your heart, or give you a good chuckle? Hearing people talk about the success stories is always really inspiring for others.
Annmarie Lanesay: When we first got out the gate with our first program, almost initially, we started hearing incredible stories from the people in our programs. There was one early on, which was an individual who, I don't know that he completed college, I think he may have attended college, but he liked programming, and somehow I think maybe he maybe took a programming class, maybe in high school, found our program. At the time that he came through our program, he was working the night shift at one of the big box retailers, cleaning floors. That was the job that he had at that time. He's one of my favorite stories still to this day, because he was so ambitious, and he was riding his bike to work, which one would think in some communities that's an easy thing to do, but where he lived, this was really, really, hard to do. He wasn't making enough money to buy a car. He came through our program. He did really, really, well. He started right out the gate in one of our higher level programming classes. He got hired right after completing the class, into an internship, and the company gave him a summer internship. He came to me at the end of the summer. This is when I knew all the students at the time, pretty- I knew their stories and what they're up to. I don't know all of them anymore as we've grown. But he said, "I have a problem. The internship company wants to give me a full-time job, but I have another company that's interested in me, and I'm kind of feeling loyal to this internship." And I said, "Well, this is great. You get to negotiate now, on what you want them to pay you." And like I said, he was making a pretty low wage before this opportunity. He took the higher offer, which was not the company he was interning with, and he's, I believe, still with this company. I probably spoke to him maybe a year or so ago, and he was probably making $85,000 or $90,000 at that time.
Tom Schin: Wow.
Annmarie Lanesay: He also told me he was able to buy a house, and that was something he could have never dreamed he would've done before coming to our program.
Tom Schin: Life altering.
Annmarie Lanesay: Yep.
Miriam Dushane: Huge, huge. Another gentleman that I always think of was our individual who was a veteran, and had been unemployed for, was it eight years?
Annmarie Lanesay: Mm-hmm.
Miriam Dushane: And came to the program. Did he go through both front end and back end?
Annmarie Lanesay: Mm-hmm, yes.
Miriam Dushane: Went through front end and back end. He got an opportunity to do the apprenticeship program through another supporter of the program, and now he's making well over a $100,000 and he had been unemployed and struggling for eight years before he came through the program. And, he wasn't just struggling from being unemployed, he was also a person of color, and was facing, and had faced, we even witnessed some of the discrimination and bias that's out there, unfortunately, in our world. It just made me angry at the time, but also seeing, wow, how he's overcome it, and done such a really great job for himself, and the nicest man you could ever meet. He was just somebody you wanted to say hello, to have a conversation with, and honestly get a hug from. He was just, he's just a beautiful person, beautiful human. So I always think of him, but I remember this other person that you were talking about too, and that's just two of how many stories? We were just looking. It's like over 500 people we've served over the last however many years. I've lost count.
Annmarie Lanesay: The same. It's hard to keep up, because it's changing so quickly.
Miriam Dushane: Right. Let's talk a little bit about what's the value prop for an employer? They're looking to fill a position for their organization. They need skills that we can provide through the training that we're giving to the people who are coming to our program. What would you say to an employer, to take a look at our students and give them a chance?
Annmarie Lanesay: I think some things have changed since when we first started, but what's still similar to when we first started, and I feel like has been very helpful to our organization, is I come from the perspective of what does a software employer need to hire a software engineer. I think what we were able to do out the gate, we built this employer committee, which was I think, probably out the gate, we probably had about 25 companies that I said, "Here's what we're looking to do," because I was very engaged in the Capital Region with other people hiring software developers. And everyone said, "Yes, all in. How can we help?" And so employers are sending staff to our classes to mentor, so we have people that will come from all kinds of companies, and all types of tech jobs, talk about what it's like to work for their company. That's one really easy way for an employer to get involved, and their staff love it because they love to talk about technology. Also out the gate what we were able to do was start matching employers with talent.
Miriam Dushane: Obviously.
Miriam Dushane: Absolutely.
Tom Schin: What's in store in '23 for Can Code that the community doesn't really know about? It doesn't have to reveal any big secrets, but something we can look forward to.
Annmarie Lanesay: Well this has been an interesting year for us. I think this has been both a growth year, but also really building the foundation, because we have grown extremely fast, and we are a non-profit organization. I will say non-profit is a harder business than any other business I've been involved in, because it's not really fee-for-service. It's grant funded, and funded through philanthropy, and there's a lot just more mechanisms of how to pay for this work, because it doesn't really sustain itself without support. This year we've been really just building a solid foundation, so that we can be set up for further growth. We have been getting calls from other parts of the country, very, very similar to when I started getting those calls from around the state. We've heard from a number of people outside of New York State, asking us if our model might be a fit for their area. And we're looking at potential ways that might be a fit. Right now nationwide, there really is no strategy that I can see, and many of the people I talk to can see, for a, "I'm really building a tech talent pipeline for the US economy." So, I believe our model could be one, because we are working with assets already within the community, but we want to make sure we're on solid footing, and so this year we're really building up our capacity.
Miriam Dushane: I want you to talk a little bit about the model, because if I remember the stat correctly, it's around 80%, 85% of the students that go through our programs are funded. They're either grant funded, they qualify for dollars. And so, if someone's listening to this and they know somebody, or they themselves are interested in it, but they're afraid of the cost. Can you talk a little bit more about that, because I know for the majority of people in need, they can take this class with no cost out of their pocket.
Annmarie Lanesay: So our courses have a " ". Air quotes. For anybody at home that can't see me, I am actually doing the air quotes sign. It's right about $1,950 right now. Like Miriam just said, the majority of our students pay nothing to go through our program, because we are designed to be affordable. However, $1,950 is not a small sum of money for most people, and so we have set up a process of scholarships, and I think it's give or take, 85% to 90% of people right now in our programs have paid nothing to go through the program. They're funded through either their local workforce investment board office, each county that someone lives in, they have one of these offices, an employment office and one stop career center that can help people with training, if they're under or unemployed. And then, they can come through a program like ours. We have private philanthropy that pays for some of our tuition scholarships. We have a partnership with the New York State Office for New Americans, so anybody who is a New American in the state of New York who's interested in taking our program, we have funding for that. And we also have a number of, like I mentioned, these private funds. We have a fund for veterans, actually. Any veteran in the state of New York that wants to come through a program, it will be zero cost to them. And that's what we're designed to do, make sure that people have access to these programs. There are a lot of online resources that people can learn. I think the challenge with some of that, there's other boot camps, there's actually lots of this stuff out there. Some of the for-profit boot camps are extremely expensive. There are about 15K, $15,000, sometimes more, some are less. But, what we're hearing and why our program is a little bit different, is that there really isn't a career matching or career advising component to it. This bit of work that we do, matching people up to employment, is a differentiator for the work that we do. We also are finding there are other programs like ours, but the one thing that's pretty different about our work, is that some other programs are pretty high to get into. You have to have a background in computer science for some of these programs.
Miriam Dushane: Yeah, which is-
Tom Schin: That's not the point.
Miriam Dushane: That's not the point.
Annmarie Lanesay: Exactly, so we try to make that barrier very easy for people to get into the programs, and I have yet to come across an organization like ours that really meets people where they're at, and we'll bring them along no matter where they are.
Miriam Dushane: And address barriers. One of the things that we found several years ago, we had a student who stopped coming to class. They were like, "Oh, this guy just gave up on us." No, they didn't do that. They went, and they said, "We noticed that you're not coming to class anymore. Why is that? You were doing so well." His computer, whatever he was working with or using, was no longer operable, and so he couldn't participate, and he couldn't do the work. So the organization, I'm pretty sure it was Annmarie's brainchild or one of the instructors, but they started a laptop lending library is what they call it. So if you come to the program and you need the equipment to actually do the work, we can help you with that too. So, we're trying to address as many barriers as we possibly can, to break down because that's the problem. It's usually all of these other barriers that make it harder for people to get this education and start their careers. I remember when we had more classes in person, Alaant sponsored someone so that they could get to class, because the transportation was an issue for this person. We were like, "All right, here's $1,000 so you can buy Uber, or do whatever you need to do transportation-wise because public transit wasn't going to work for this person. That's the type of stuff that we're always doing. It's not like, "Oh sorry, you can't take the class. You don't have this." We're like, "How can we figure out a way, so that you are not blocked from it?" We're trying to break down all as many barriers as we possibly can.
Tom Schin: I think that's key. You're setting people up for success, and removing anything that could be a reason. I don't want to say excuse, because that's not the right word. I don't think any of those, what you described, was an excuse. It's the reality of life. Things break, access, somebody has to move and maybe fast, and isn't able to take that equipment with them. So I think that's a key selling point. I think this is a great opportunity for a pitch of ask for help, meaning for those businesses out there, whether you're in that tech space or not, as far as a community to get involved with, it's a great way to support folks in getting them into a better situation.
Miriam Dushane: Absolutely, definitely. And I'll pitch so that Annmarie doesn't have to, but we need employers. We need employers to help. And even if you're not a tech employer, that doesn't mean you can't help. We're always accepting donations. There's a "Donate Now" on our website. But, it's also career professionals, recruiters, people that can help get these students more career-ready. Whether it's practicing interviewing with them, or reading over their resume, or helping them set up their LinkedIn profile. You don't have to be a tech person to be involved with Can Code, and support the programs, and support our students. There is so many ways that organizations can get involved. And so, I'm putting out that public plea for help. We need help. We're a nonprofit, and we want to serve as many people as we possibly can. So in that, I'll end my pitch, because this isn't supposed to be about pitching, but I figure in this case it's okay. And full disclosure, I am on the Board, I'm the Chair of the Board for Can Code Communities, a proud Chair of it, and I see day-to-day what this work is doing for our community as a whole. So, it's just super important to me, and I want to make sure we get as many spotlights and as much attention as possible, on what we're doing at the organization. So, this is HR in the Car. We've been talking about students. We've been talking about education, but as HR in the Car, we also want to know what's in your roadside assistance toolkit. So Annmarie, what do you rely on, to help you day-to-day in running this business?
Annmarie Lanesay: Awesome. Wow, it's a stumper. Well, I have an amazing team, so I would of course, just want to say having great people on your team. I know that's a big part of HR.
Tom Schin: You can't fit them all into the kit, though.
Annmarie Lanesay: Can we shrink them down and put them in?
Tom Schin: They're not sardines.
Annmarie Lanesay: Okay, so actual, physical objects that go in the kit?
Tom Schin: It could be.
Miriam Dushane: It could be a book. It could be a quote.
Annmarie Lanesay: Okay.
Tom Schin: Inspiration.
Miriam Dushane: One of our guests just said, "I follow this philosophy." So, anything.
Annmarie Lanesay: Interesting, interesting. Okay, well I definitely have some things that have been really helpful to me. The last couple years we've been using the EOS framework. I don't know if folks are familiar with this.
Miriam Dushane: Traction.
Annmarie Lanesay: Yeah, exactly, Traction, the entrepreneurs operating system. That's been really helpful because I am definitely- I read one of the books on Traction and I was definitely clear that I am the visionary, and need a really good operator. Miriam knows this is about me. I'm always looking ahead to see what else we could be doing, and that's fabulous, but you really have to be able to put the wheels in motion to make sure all these amazing dreams can actually happen, and EOS has been fabulous with that. I also am a big fan of meditation. I've been doing meditation on and off since I was in college, which is more than 20 years ago, and I have had a practice over time. And I can say, that if I even just take a few minutes when I'm having a bad day, or a bad minute, just to take some deep breaths. But when I have time to do even more than that, that's been really helpful to me, to just keep my focus, and just remember, because life's hard. Everything. You could get a flat tire.
Miriam Dushane: Yeah, exactly.
Tom Schin: Oh.
Miriam Dushane: Oh, well done. Thank you.
Tom Schin: Nice.
Miriam Dushane: Thank you.
Annmarie Lanesay: And then the other thing that's coming to mind, I had a friend once that told me she's got these- Well, I don't know about my friends here in the room, but those of you also listening, I think I'm right a lot of the time. They're not always right. So, I've been doing this practice of learning. I would guess I would call it second guessing my own thinking, which is to say things like, "What are the things I know, and then what are the things I think I know?" And then maybe realize that those might not all actually be true, which is just kind of an interesting thing to think about, because it just helps you to expand all the realms of possibility. This also helps me at home in my marriage, where I can say, "Oh, you might be right about that, honey." But actually, do I really believe you might be right? No.
Tom Schin: You're giving my wife ideas and suggestions that I just don't need help with.
Annmarie Lanesay: So if you ever hear me say you might be right, I'll be thinking, "Hmm."
Tom Schin: Well I have a line. It's, "You're right. I'm wrong. I'm sorry."
Annmarie Lanesay: You're right. There you go.
Tom Schin: That's it.
Annmarie Lanesay: Yes.
Miriam Dushane: Can you teach that to my husband, because he does think he's right all the time. So Annmarie, thank you. I'm so excited we got to talk today. I'm so excited to share Can Code Communities with the world, so to speak, and thank you so much for joining us today. It has been an honor and a pleasure.
Tom Schin: Wow. I'm so thrilled that we got to have Annmarie on the show today. Listening to her talk about the great stories with the former students, alum, whatever you want to call them. Taking those situations, even yours where you mentioned the vet that had been homeless or unemployed for an extended period of time. When you can affect somebody in a life changing manner, I mean, even if it's small, it's helpful, but these were life- changing events for these examples that we talked about today.
Miriam Dushane: And there's so many more people out there that need education, need support. They don't have to do it the traditional route. You can do it this way, and you can have high paying, six-figure jobs. And it doesn't have to be just a programmer. You don't have to be just a programmer. I want to make sure people know that going through a program at Can Code can open so many doors, not just becoming- If you don't want to be a programmer, you don't have to be, but you could still take advantage of the programs. And employers, I'm telling you, you're getting the most loyal, ambitious, hungry, candidates. You want people who want to work? Go to Can Code Communities and check out their students. We will help you find the right one for your organization. I promise you, you will not regret it.
Tom Schin: I always thought it was just in this one little funnel, but to hear about even the digital literacy program, I can't tell you how many people I've interviewed over the years that just- You asked them if they knew how to use a computer, and they're like, "Meh, maybe." Or, they give you the runaround, and when you finally got down to the meat- and- potatoes of it all, you'd find out that they can turn it on and they can surf through the web, but that was about it. But the fact that this exists, gives those folks something to aspire to, if they're afraid to jump into that heavier lift.
Miriam Dushane: Absolutely. Honestly, it's interesting to see, and I can use my own experiences with my own husband. He's working in a job where he's had to learn so much in computers, and I didn't even realize how digital illiterate he was. I don't think he realized, and this is just basic stuff. So there's a lot of people out there that if they haven't gone to college, haven't had those traditional educations, they may need to start there, and we can help them get to that next level, because that's a huge foundation that they can grow upon.
Tom Schin: For those of you looking for more information on the Can Code Communities, read through our show notes on alaant.com. We hope you enjoyed this episode of HR in the Car, and look forward to talking about our next flat tire moment. I think we're onto something there, on our next show.