On Tuesday night -- the last night of SXSW Interactive -- a crowd of newly minted software developers were drinking in the back patio of Midnight Cowboy, a speakeasy on Austin's famous 6th Street. These people weren't celebrating the end of the festivities, however; they were celebrating the new set of skills they learned over the past four days.
While others were attending panels and parties, this group was busy learning computer-programming skills in the Frost Tower in downtown Austin, courtesy of a class hosted by Brooklyn-based digital agency Huge.
"One of the biggest challenges in marketing is that the people responsible for decisions don't know what it takes to implement certain solutions," Huge's director of marketing, Sam Weston, said. "It's a priority for us to teach our own employees and others the language that the world is written in now."
The class -- taught by Huge software developers -- attracted students from as far away as South Dakota who were so eager to learn how to code that they came to Austin on their own dime to participate in the class. (The class itself was free.) Students ran the gamut from documentary filmmakers to former rocket scientists, all of whom recognized that even the most rudimentary coding knowledge is essential to success in today's digital world.
"This is something I've wanted to do for a couple of years," Greg Whitescarver, director of technology at Huge's Los Angeles office. "The number of open coding jobs being greater than the number of unemployed shows a huge talent gap in the economy."
One of the students was Amy Lam, a mechanical-engineer graduate from MIT who used to build satellites for Boeing. Now, she works with startups out of startup incubator Launchpad LA. She and two friends -- 25-year-old documentarian Jamie Thalman and 28-year-old digital-agency entrepreneur Michael Sueoka - -drove 21 hours nonstop from Los Angeles to make it to the class in time.
For Mr. Thalman, the class is important because it will allow him to better serve Tatge Lasseur--the production company he works for--video on the litany of devices consumers watch video on now.
Drew McWhorter, an advertising graduate student at the University of Texas, decided to attend the class instead of skipping out Austin early for spring break like nearly every other Longhorn student.
"Advertising is attractive of the variety of things you can do. You have to know a little bit of everything to do your job well," he said. "I've tried to design websites in the past, but I just used quick fixes. I'm looking forward to building a website from the ground up."
Also helping instruct the class was Huge software developer Katie Sexton. She happily shared her knowledge with the class and echoed Huge's philosophy of empowering everyone with technical knowledge.
"I truly believe that the more knowledge you share, the more skills the world will have," she said. "And I don't think that will close the door on us [pro developers] having jobs."
As Huge showed at SXSW, the most successful digital shops are, at their core, tech companies.