Two years after dozens of West Virginians left their jobs to take classes from Mined Minds, a nonprofit that promised to teach them to write computer code, former students have filed a lawsuit claiming the entire operation was a fraud.
Mined Minds was founded by Jonathan Graham and Amanda Laucher, successful tech consultants living in Chicago. The program promised a better life and room for career advancement, which resonated with people in Appalachia, where career opportunities are limited. According to the New York Times, Mined Minds offered a paid apprenticeship in which students learned to code as they earned $10 an hour:
“The model for Mined Minds, at least initially, was this: a free 16-week coding boot camp, followed by paid “apprenticeships” with the program’s for-profit arm, a software consultancy. Apprentices worked full-time on projects for company clients, but were also called upon to teach in the classes they had graduated from months earlier. After working for a few months, apprentices would either go on to salaried jobs at the Mined Minds company, or to a big tech firm such as Oracle.”
But students say they were never paid for their time after many left their jobs to take the 16-week boot camp, which eventually stretched weeks longer than promised. Many students dropped out. Those who stayed say they were given vague assignments with little instruction and told to “Google it” when they had questions.
The directors of the program also created a booze-heavy “networking” environment, where students say they were plied with shots and tequila that they felt obliged to drink. One student, who paid $1,000 out-of-pocket for a company trip to Lithuania, was surprised to find she’d been kicked out of the program upon her return for drinking too much on the trip.
Others say they were fired for failing to make enough Linkedin connections, not reading a self-help book called The Start-Up of You, and failing to submit their resumés for review. Only ten students made it to the final weeks of the program, and just one graduated. He now delivers takeout.
West Virginians say that organizations like Mined Mines promising to make a difference and then failing to deliver are standard in the area and usually fail despite their best (or worst) intentions:
“I get angry at people who go to other places and say, ‘My culture is better than theirs and I am going to change it,’” said Katie Bolyard, 25, a college graduate who skipped her honeymoon to take a class.
She doesn’t know the motives of the people at Mined Minds, she said, whether they had bad intentions or were just “incredibly sloppy” with good ones. But intentions only matter so much. “It’s not your life you’re messing with.”
A few weeks ago, Laucher announced that she’d been accepted to law school, but claims Mined Minds will continue to operate.