Seeing things through

The Starter League Logo

I built my first website in 2005 for a class project. I was an information technology major and my class was tasked with building an “Interactive Resume” (in essence, a personal website).

After hacking together my site using a free HTML and CSS template, I could have collected my passing grade and moved on to more pressing tasks like all-you-can-eat Mexican food on Thursdays and securing an offer for full-time employment upon graduation. But there was something about the project—the ability to tell my own story in my own words, on my own site—that arrested me. I knew it would be an important tool as I made a name for myself.

Once I learned a bit of basic HTML and CSS, I started learning other technologies. Not only did following this curiosity allow me to build a freelance career when I left my job and joined the world of self-employed crazypeople, it allowed me to ship the first version of Abernathy on my own. I’m digressing.

Another story from my undergraduate days: upon reviewing my resume, one of my advisors encouraged me to join the student organization for IT majors. It was a new degree program, and one without a corresponding student organization.

So I started one.

This was my first real taste of leadership, and an experience that opened many doors for me as I grew the organization and learned more about the options in my field. I could have put things in cruise control once the organization was launched, but we held events and workshops. We cultivated relationships with companies who wanted to hire our graduates. We built something that has flourished in our absence.

AITP Dinner
Dinner after our inaugural FSU Association of IT Professionals event, 2005.

When Neal and Mike, founders of The Starter League, first learned how to code and ship web applications, they also discovered an opportunity. They found countless people just like them—smart, motivated, and curious—who spent a lot of time under self-directed learning via online resources. People who knew the process should be easier.

Without anyone’s permission, approval, or even an outside investment (Mike ran out of money completely just one month before launching The Starter League, with Neal not far behind), they abandoned promising and lucrative careers and opportunities elsewhere to create something that didn’t exist: a school to learn technology, in person, without a technology background. And it worked.

The Starter League became a profitable business overnight, generating more than a million dollars in revenue in its first year.

The Starter League Logo

The Starter League is an immersive, beginner-friendly school in Chicago. We’ve taught lawyers, baristas, nurses, and people from all walks of life how to code, design, and build web applications.

Today, thousands of people from all over the world have learned how to ship code professionally because of their company. I’m grateful that Mike and Neal saw their vision through, and it’s my pleasure to announce The Starter League as an Abernathy sponsor.

By willie jackson

willie jackson is an inclusion strategist who empowers thoughtful organizations and the leaders who run them.