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Getting paid to learn how to code

Carolina Fintech Hub’s Workforce Investment Network program trains economically challenged individuals as developers and places them in jobs at sponsor companies like Wells Fargo.

Less than a year ago, Piyavadee “Fah” Pariyavuth was working 70-80 hours a week for a food manufacturer, trying to pay off student loans, and she expected it would be years before she would advance in her career. Gerald “GQ” Lewis was working in sales and struggling to find a job in the technology field. Prentice Bess Jr. was also working in sales and feeling burnt out.

Today, the three of them work for Wells Fargo’s Technology group in Charlotte, North Carolina, thanks to their participation in Carolina Fintech Hub’s new Workforce Investment Network (WIN) program.

Fah Pariyavuth leveraged her passion for technology to make a career change from food manufacturing to development, with help from the Workforce Investment Network program. (1:58)

“I wouldn’t be here today without the WIN program,” Pariyavuth said.

Carolina Fintech Hub is a nonprofit formed in 2017 to foster collaboration between the world's leading financial services firms and innovative fintech startups to attract and retain talent in and around the Charlotte area. WIN trains economically challenged individuals and places them at one of the Carolina Fintech Hub sponsor companies, like Wells Fargo, in a full-time position as a developer.

“Diverse backgrounds, thoughts, and experiences help us deliver better technology products and solutions for our business partners and customers,” said Ravi Radhakrishnan, head of Wholesale, Wealth & Innovation Management, and Innovation Technology, the group Pariyavuth and Lewis joined. “These graduates are inspirations. It is through programs like WIN that we can identify team members who bring immediate value to our organization by bringing their talents and perspectives.”

The first cohort of 31 students graduated in September 2019, and the next cohort will begin in January 2020. To be accepted in the program, participants completed aptitude tests and interviews that focused on technical proficiency, emotional intelligence, collaboration, and motivation. Their backgrounds and circumstances were also considered.

“We wanted to do something in Charlotte to support upward mobility challenges, to support career success for people who may not come from college backgrounds,” said Jonathan Hartsell, digital manager for Wells Fargo’s Virtual Channels and a board member for Carolina Fintech Hub. “We were looking for individuals who may or may not have a college degree, were from underserved areas, and had an aptitude for coding.”

GQ Lewis honed his coding skills through the WIN program, and he now puts those skills to use at his full-time job with Wells Fargo Technology. (1:49)

The jobs filled by the graduates typically require a college degree or equivalent. While some of the graduates had college degrees, about half of them had some college education but dropped out for nonacademic reasons like financial difficulty or a death in the family, Hartsell said.

“They were doing everything that society asked of them, and then life happened, and they needed to respond,” said Pasha Maher, associate director of Carolina Fintech Hub. “The WIN program is a way to normalize resources, give people salaries and access to transportation, child care, and housing. We say, ‘We’re going to take care of the resources. You take care of the rest,’ and when given the chance to just focus on the work, people knock it out of the park.”

The program also represents a more diverse group than is typically seen in the technology sector, Maher said, with 75% of the first cohort people of color, and more than a third women.

Diversity and inclusion is one of our values at Wells Fargo and incredibly important to everything we do,” Hartsell said. “We want to make sure we have a diverse workforce with diverse perspectives that is representative of our customers and the communities we serve. We know that it improves the products and services we can offer our customers, and it is absolutely a priority. We know within the technology space that diversity is often underrepresented. From a gender perspective, from a racial perspective, those groups are not always represented as they should be within the technology roles, so this program gives us an opportunity to really source that high quality, diverse talent and bring that into our Wells Fargo technology organization.”

Prentice Bess Jr. learned technology skills through the WIN program and Carolina Fintech Hub that gave him the opportunity to leave his sales job and begin a new job with Wells Fargo Technology. (1:41)

In September 2019, the first cohort began their jobs. The program is currently accepting applications for the second cohort. The goal is to have 100 students in the next class, with two cohorts a year, Maher said.

“We hope to build that talent pool so that, when new businesses move to the Carolinas, they have faith that they’re able to place people, find talent, and make an impact on the organization,” Maher said.

He added that sponsor companies like Wells Fargo are crucial to the future of the program. Hartsell said Wells Fargo plans to not only continue, but to evolve its role.

“We are absolutely committed to our participation in Carolina Fintech Hub and the WIN program, and we look forward to growing that participation,” Hartsell said. “We hope that next year we’ll be doing even more, our number of students will grow, and we’ll engage more teams across the bank.”

A group of more than 30 people stand and smile at the camera.
Graduates from Carolina Fintech Hub’s Workforce Investment Network program, along with Carolina Fintech Hub Executive Director Tariq Bokhari (middle row, second from left) and Carolina Fintech Hub Associate Director Pasha Maher (far right) at the September 2019 graduation ceremony.
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