Toni Warren of Suncoast Developers Guild on Shaping Tampa's Tech Scene

August 20th, 2019

Lauren Mabra

Marketing Coordinator @ Suncoast Developers Guild

Tampa Bay is growing on every level- in population, housing, new businesses, and technology. This area actually ranks as number one in the continent for the best small tech market. In this blog interview, Suncoast Developers Guild President Toni Warren dives into the major key players who have helped the local tech scene thrive and grow so rapidly as well as uncovering what may come next.

You’ve been a part of Tampa Bay’s tech scene for quite some time. Specifically, how long have you been working within this industry?

I first got involved in the tech scene after graduating from the University of Tampa MBA program in 2013.

What can you say about the tech community when you first got involved compared to now? What’s the biggest difference that you’ve noticed?

From the time I first got involved, I noticed that it’s always been a welcoming community. Over time, I have gotten the opportunity to watch it grow and become more unified due to Tampa Bay’s geography. Thanks to Slack and amazing groups like Emerging Tech Leaders and High Tech Connect, we’ve been able to grow the community closer despite who lives on the St. Pete side and who lives on the Tampa side. It’s amazing to see the collaboration that helped bridge the gaps as well as created more jobs, resources, startups, and helped the overall Tampa Bay ecosystem.

What do you think truly accounts for such rapid growth?

Workforce training as well as unity and collaboration between educators and employers has helped tremendously. This allows there to be a greater understanding of employers’ needs so that we, as educators, know what we should be training for which results in creating more talent suitable for companies' needs.

How should someone go about getting involved in the tech/web dev scene if they have a non-technical background?

  1. Of course, always start by doing research.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Like I said previously, it’s a very welcoming community. Try asking someone who’s already involved out for a cup of coffee.
  3. Attend local meetups, community events, and crash courses.
  4. Emerging Tech Leaders is also an amazing resource for someone looking to get started. It's a young professional leadership program designed for anyone under 40.

Can you name some companies or individuals off the top of your head who seem to be at the forefront of the technology and its growth?

I have quite a few just off the top of my head:

We're also lucky to be connected with some amazing, leading-edge individuals including Andy Graham from Big Sea, Terry Willingham from Code For Tampa Bay, Deb Nef CEO Sourcetoad, Kiki Roeder from Women Who Code, Daniel James Scott from Tampa Bay Tech, and Reuben Pressman from Presence

I also want to recognize the companies who are hosting and nurturing tech meetups: Masonite, Malwarebytes, and Ozark Labs.

What do you think is next for Tampa Bay’s tech scene? How can this momentum be built upon?

We have a solid foundation for growth. As the third fastest growing city in Florida, I think what’s next is not pushing for even more growth but nurturing what we already have by continuing to develop startups and helping to build a pipeline of talent. We also need to focus on building upon opportunities and making them unique for Tampa Bay’s market. What I mean by that is developing solutions and technological advancements that specifically fit the needs of Tampa Bay. For example, it could mean developing software for the ports since we’re on the water or, perhaps, we focus on creating hospitality solutions due to tourism. We could even work on technology that will help clean up the environment and waterways.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if more people and parents become more open to “non-traditional” forms of higher education when it comes to tech or trade jobs. Google, Apple, Ernst & Young, Starbucks, IBM, and other major companies are even getting rid of their degree requirements and offering well-paying jobs to those with a high school diploma or non-traditional education.

Lastly, I see an opportunity to provide tech education in innovative ways to our children. For example: building more code classes into the grade school curriculum so that we can work toward meeting the demand for web developers. I emphasize this because we have a surplus of web dev and tech jobs available in the Tampa Bay area- nearly 4,000 to be more specific. There are not enough people to fill them due to a talent shortage. We need to work on providing instructors for not only children but people of all ages who are wanting to learn software development.

How has Suncoast Developers Guild specifically played a role in growing Tampa’s tech scene?

We’re always doing our best to collaborate and give our best to the community by being a consistent pipeline of talent through our educational programs and facilitating an online and in-person community to allow people to grow, share knowledge, and learn. We also host and provide a home for 30 different tech meetups that are completely free for anyone to attend.

We’re the only non-profit immersive code school in Tampa Bay and our team has consistently trained high-quality developers for the past five years. With the help of advisory committee, which includes employers who are hiring developers, we receive a 360-degree view of the employers needs, so that we can prepare developers to be extremely valuable assets to companies.

What can we expect from SDG in year two?

You can expect Suncoast Developers Guild to continue to refine our curriculum, expand diversity and inclusion efforts, and more part-time course offerings that are exclusive to what employers and the community want. We may also continue to expand part-time and kids classes across all of Tampa Bay. We aim to continue to put our efforts toward providing more people the opportunity to learn code.

You may expect some collaborations with universities and colleges. We’ve partnered with companies of all sizes from startups, local enterprises, mid-size, and even corporations. We also have loose collaboration with bigger tech companies such as Amazon (who aren’t used to hiring from non-traditional programs), but we’d love to get more involved with them and discover how we can provide value to them.

Would you say that now is the perfect time to get involved in the programming and tech world? If so, why?

YES, absolutely. This is one of the most powerful educations that has such an incredible ROI. To be completely transparent, the investment for our full-time web development bootcamp is $14,900 plus living expenses and three months of your time. However, the return on investment of learning how to code is possessing skills that every company is in desperate need of. Plus, our graduates are making an average starting salary of nearly $50,000 starting out as junior developers!

Jumping into the tech scene breaks up the monotony, challenges you, and unlocks infinite opportunities. Some industries are becoming stagnant and don’t offer any room for advancement. However, a career in web development can provide amazing stability, opportunities for growth, and doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be behind a computer all day. Through our full-time program, you’ll gain a skill set that is extremely valuable to employers and yourself. If you wanted to, you could even use your software developing skills to build your own business.

Ready to be a part of the booming tech community here in Tampa Bay? Become a junior web developer in just 12 weeks. Get started and learn more here.

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