Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon

January 13, 2021: Candice Williams, The Detroit News

Apple Inc., the Silicon Valley heavyweight, said Wednesday it will open its first U.S. Apple Developer Academy in downtown Detroit later this year to support coding and tech education.

The Apple Developer Academy courses, offered in collaboration with Michigan State University, will be free and accessible to all learners regardless of academic background. No previous coding experience is required.

The move represents another step forward in Detroit’s effort to change the narrative of a city long associated with factories and blue-collar work into a place that welcomes tech investment — and can draw the talent to justify it, be it for modern auto assembly lines or app development.

The academy is among new major projects the tech giant announced as part of its $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative that Apple says will “help dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity and combat injustices faced by communities of color.”

“We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world — and these new projects send a clear signal of Apple’s enduring commitment,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a release.

“We’re launching REJI’s latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long. We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple.”

Patrick Anderson, CEO of East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group, said the Detroit area has been a high-tech center for at least two decades, but didn’t get recognized as such until Automation Alley started reporting annually on the number of high-tech jobs in Michigan about ten years ago.

Anderson said Michigan has a large pool of people that start new businesses —significantly higher than the nation as a whole. Apple’s initiative in Detroit is likely to help tap into that.

“Apple is a lot of things, including a great deal of savvy about their future consumers, suppliers, and workers,” he said. “This will help Detroit, and it will build Apple some new apps it will be putting on iPhones for years to come. That’s a win-win-win.”

Anderson says that Apple is demonstrating that everybody needs to know how to do some coding to survive in today’s economy, which involves a certain amount of software as well as capability with the Internet and electronic devices.

“Projects like this, and Girls Who Code and others that go into areas that tend to be under-served are important in terms of demonstrating the critical nature of what I’ll call the literacy of the era,” he said. 

Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of business technology review site TrustRadius, said that Apple is addressing accessibility, which his firm has found through its research is a huge barrier for people of color entering the tech industry. 

“The fact that Apple is bringing the Developer Academy to Detroit, a city with a majority-Black population, shows that at least one big tech firm sees the accessibility problem and is willing to address it head-on,” he said. “We need more companies to step up and create opportunities like this across the country.”

Bhagat said they found that Black, indigenous and people of color growing in the tech industry in places including Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas and that “it would be awesome to see Detroit rise to that level.”

MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. expressed gratitude for the partnership. The university has worked with Apple since 2018, when it launched its own iOS Design Lab on campus.

“Apple is the perfect partner for us to help educate and prepare a diverse generation of coders, tech leaders and entrepreneurs, and Detroit — Michigan’s innovative technology and premier urban hub — is the right location for this academy,” he said. “There is tremendous potential for this project moving forward and we’re excited to get started.”

The academy will consist of two programs: first, a 30-day introductory program that will provide students an understanding of what it means to be an app developer. The full academy is an intensive, 10-to 12-month program that will teach the skills needed to work in the iOS app economy and also start a businesses. 

Curriculum will cover coding, design, professional skills and marketing. Apple said it expects the academy to reach nearly 1,000 students each year. The Apple Developer Academy will be open to all Michigan residents. The company declined to provide further detail regarding the program Wednesday. 

A downtown location has not yet been selected for the academy. Officials said they are working with partners, including Rock Ventures, in hopes of finding a location by the summer.