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Turning coal country into tech country shows the power of Kentuckians working together.

Coding might become the new mining.

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Microsoft

When you think of places where technology rules, does rural eastern Kentucky come to mind?

When I think tech, I think Silicon Valley — an area that's such a tech bubble (and occasionally a parody of itself), there's even a TV show about it. And then you have other obvious hubs: the New Yorks, L.A.s and Tokyos of the world. The tech world loves cities.

GIF via "Silicon Valley"/HBO.


But a push to create a high-tech ecosystem is happening in an area you'd least expect: the heart of coal country.

In a new initiative called TechHire Eastern Kentucky (TEKY), students are getting paid to learn to code, with the hope of launching the area onto the tech map.

Yep, getting paid to learn to code. How unheard of is that?

The program is equipping local residents with the skills they need to turn their deeply struggling economy around with technology jobs. And with the support of local governments, Congressional leaders, tech businesses, schools, and community leaders, it just might work.

All images via Interapt, used with permission.

TEKY works like this: Eastern Kentucky residents apply to the program. If selected, they are paid to learn to code at a local community college in a rigorous 16-week program. Upon successful completion of class and a 16-week paid internship that follows, students are offered full-time employment at the technology company Interapt, which is expanding from Louisville into eastern Kentucky.

The program hopes to answer the question: Can you train a tech workforce and build a tech ecosystem where one doesn't exist?

It's hard enough to build a tech business in a major city, let alone in the remote region of eastern Kentucky, a part of the country that's known for getting left behind.

What was once an area booming with the coal industry, eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia continue to deeply struggle as that industry fades out. Poverty rates and percentages of working poor are higher there than the rest of the country. And wages, employment rates, and education continue to lag behind.

But Ankur Gopal, a fellow Kentuckian and the CEO of Interapt, thinks coding might be the way to bring jobs back into the area — and keep them there.

When Gopal first entertained the idea of expanding his tech businesses into eastern Kentucky, he knew it was the opposite direction a tech company would normally take. But he was impressed by the hardworking, loyal, and passionate people who loved their communities there, and he wanted to give it a shot.

"That’s the beauty of technology and the opportunity it brings," Gopal said after the program launch. "If you have connectivity and the skillset, you can work wherever you want and make a very good living. We intend to make that a reality."

Removing barriers is critical to making that reality a success — and one of the most obvious barriers is the cost of education. The fact that students get paid to learn through TEKY, instead of the other way around, shows an incredibly thoughtful approach.

"You can’t learn something hard if you’re worrying about where your family’s next meal is coming from," Gopal says.

When the program's first class started in August 2016, almost 1,000 candidates applied for the 50 open spots. The second round of the program is expected to start in 2017, and they aim to continue the program until at least 400 jobs have been filled.

Coding skills aren't only helpful for tech jobs. They help lay a foundation for the ability to learn quickly and constantly — and that can be applied anywhere.

But just like any profession, coding isn't for everyone. For those students that decide it isn't right for them, TEKY has resources to guide them down other career paths through local partnerships they've developed.

That may be the biggest accomplishment of all of this: everyone working together. A community that's willing to address the problem of an economically deteriorating region — and coming together to find solutions for it. That's how you get things done.

Gopal hopes this initiative will spark interest with other tech companies and industries, helping local economies to grow and prosper. It's an endeavor that's rewarding from all angles. As he puts it:

"If you give people an opportunity, you’d be surprised at how well they shine."

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Gardiner Brothers/TikTok (with permission)

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The word "jumbo" literally comes from an elephant.

The evolution of language is fascinating, and the etymology of specific words can be a fun little trip through human history as well as human creativity.

Many English words are derived from Greek and Latin, but other European languages make up a good chunk of our language as well. The roots of some words can surprise us, and so can the way certain words came to be. And in some cases, what we don't know can be just as surprising as what we do.

Enjoy diving into the history of 15 words we use every day.

1. Dog

Dog is often one of the first words babies learn to say, and it's one of the first kids learn to spell. But don't let its simplicity fool you. This word is truly a mystery.

The word "dog" comes from dogca, a very rarely used Old English word, but how we started using it as our everyday name for canines, no one knows. "Its origin remains one of the great mysteries of English etymology," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Even more interestingly, no one knows the origins of the Spanish word for "dog" ("perro"), nor do they know the origins of the Polish ("pies") or Serbo-Croatian ("pas") words for our canine friends, either. Who knew dogs were so enigmatic?

2. Nightmare

It's obvious where "night" comes from in "nightmare," but what about "mare"? Surely, were not referring to a female horse here.

Horse, no. But female, yes. Female goblin, to be precise. In Old English, mare means "incubus, nightmare, monster; witch, sorcerer." And "nightmare" started being used around 1300 to refer to "an evil female spirit afflicting men (or horses) in their sleep with a feeling of suffocation." Yikes. Thankfully, now it's just any old bad dream.

3. Jumbo

We've all seen animals named for words with certain meanings, but here we have the opposite. The word "jumbo" came from a large elephant who lived at the London Zoo. Zookeeper Anoshan Anathjeysari named him "Jumbe," the Swahili word for "chief." But his status as one of the largest African bush elephants in Europe in the 19th century caused his nickname, Jumbo, to become synonymous with enormousness.

muscular man exercising

Run, little mouse, run.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

4. Muscle

The Latin word musculus means "little mouse." As hilarious as it sounds, they thought the movement of muscles looked like little mice scurrying under the skin, hence the origin. Kinda ick to think about, but also logical, so here we are.

5. Quarantine

Ah, a word with which we are all familiar, thanks to COVID-19. But do we know what it really means?

If you understand roots, you may guess that "quar" might have something to do with the number four, and you'd be right. In Latin, quadraginta means a period of 40 days. Our usage of "quarantine" to mean isolation from others comes from the Venetian policy of ships coming into port from plague-stricken countries in the late 1300s to remain in port for 40 days before letting people off. The usage to mean any period of time in isolation began being used in the 1600s.

6. Mortgage

Most of us grow up not really understanding what a mortgage is until we buy our first house, but even then, most of us don't know what the word literally means. It comes from Old French, mort gaige, literally meaning "death pledge."

HAHAHAHAHA. Death pledge. Mortgage. That's funny.

However, it doesn't mean you're tied to the debt til you die, even if it feels like it. The death part means the deal dies either when you pay it off or when you become unable to pay. Doesn't really change the fact that it feels a bit like you're signing your life away when you buy a house, though.

ball of yarn

What does a ball of yarn have to do with "clue"?

Photo by Philip Estrada on Unsplash

7. Clue

Oddly enough, "clue" comes from a misspelling (or alternate spelling from before standardized spelling was a thing) of the word "clew," meaning a ball of yarn.

The word itself comes from German, but its usage points to the Greek myth in which Ariadne gives Theseus a ball (or clew) of yarn to help him escape the labyrinth. Now we use it to refer to anything that helps us solve a mystery.

8. Nice

The word "nice" is nice and simple, right? It's the most basic word we use for "pleasant," a definitively positive word. But this seemingly simple word has been through quite the trek in its etymology.

From the Latin nescius, meaning "ignorant, unaware," it was used to mean "timid" or"faint-hearted" before the year 1300. A couple hundred years later, it had morphed to "fussy, fastidious" or "dainty, delicate." In another 100 years, it changed to "precise, careful." Tack on another few hundred years and we're at "agreeable, delightful," and from there it was only short jaunt to "kind, thoughtful."

What a nice journey from insult to compliment.

9. Shampoo

I would have bet money that the word "shampoo" was French in origin, but nope. It's Hindi, coming from the term champo, and the original meaning was "to massage, rub and percuss the surface of (the body) to restore tone and vigor." It's only been used to refer specifically to lathering and washing out strands of hair or carpet since the mid 1800s.

10. Torpedo

Literally Latin for a stingray. As in the marine animal. That comes from the root word torpere, which means "be numb," since a ray's sting can numb you. It doesn't become the word for a propelled underwater explosive until the last couple hundred years.

11. Ambidextrous

We know that left-handedness was seen negatively throughout much of human history, but even the word that means "able to use both hands equally" has a right-handed bias baked into it. The medieval Latin ambidexter literally meansliterally means "right-handed on both sides."

Isn't English fun?