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Lelia King on Solving the South Carolina Tech Talent Ecosystem Puzzle

Caroline Jennings July 6, 2022

When The Iron Yard closed in 2017 and Lelia King faced losing her job, she knew she had two options.

This post is part of The Founder Factor, where we bring you behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough.

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The clearest path was to apply for another Director of Communications role. She had worked in communications management for years – for The Iron Yard, Goodwill, and Charlotte City Center Partners – so she knew she could do the job well. The path that was less clear, and the one she ultimately chose, was finding a way to carry on The Iron Yard’s legacy and impact.

During its years of growth, The Iron Yard had become something far bigger than just a coding bootcamp. It had become the hub for all things tech talent for both Greenville and South Carolina. Plus, it had created a sense of community around programming in the state. When the business shut down, the team realized how important it was to find a way to fill that gap. “We knew the work this team had been doing was really good. It had changed lives,” King says. “We couldn’t just let that momentum slip away.”

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After months of discussion, the team decided to take a risk and create a 501(c)(3) organization that would fill the void. The vision was for the organization to do more than just train programmers; they wanted it to support current and aspiring developers, help local employers tap into the tech talent pool, and help to grow the “tech talent ecosystem” in South Carolina. In late 2017, Build Carolina was born, with King at the helm as Executive Director. 

Today, Build Carolina consists of several different programs, each of which addresses a different piece of the “tech talent ecosystem” puzzle. The first program, Carolina Code School, was launched in early 2018. Like The Iron Yard, it offers accelerated web development training programs for people looking for a career change. The second program, SC Codes, was developed in mid-2018 from a free coding education initiative that had been piloted by the SC Department of Commerce through the Greenville County Public Library. Today, the educational courses are accessible to anyone in the state via a dedicated online platform with mentor support. The third program, Develop Carolina, is a six-month fellowship program designed to connect newly minted software developers with local employment opportunities. Build Carolina recently received funding for this program from the SC Department of Commerce and will pilot it beginning in January 2022.

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“The Develop Carolina pilot won’t be perfect, but that’s the entire point – to see what’s working, what’s not, and iterate from there,” King says. “The core of Build Carolina is listening to what employers and students need and implementing solutions to help fill those gaps.”

Over the years, King has heard time and again that the main thing employers, developers, and students need is improved access. Employers need access to better local technical talent. Developers need access to more local tech jobs and career development resources. Students need access to local internship or apprenticeship programs – with pay. It’s impossible to address one issue without addressing the others, and that’s where Build Carolina comes into play.

“Our goal is to get more students enrolling in our state’s technical programs, graduating from them, and then staying local because they know that opportunities exist for them here,” King says. Her hope is that the Build Carolina ecosystem will continue reaching students at earlier and earlier ages to help them see how many career paths they can take with a technical education – whether that’s working at a software company or starting a business of their own. 

“Imagine how much more we can do as a community if we teach our future workforce that they are not limited to the pathways they know about!” King reflects. “The opportunities are limitless.” 

portrait of an app creator

Follow Lelia and her story on LinkedIn, or find Build Carolina on the web at buildcarolina.org

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