Editor’s Picks

Michael Moore Walked Away from an IT Job to Learn to Code with Mined Minds. It Didn’t Go Well.

By Henry Kronk
September 23, 2019

“With [Mined Minds and Amanda Laucher], truth is always skin deep. She says things that are technically true, but you know, only skin deep. Like ‘Everyone gets a job.’ Yeah, everyone gets a job. But it might only last for three days. That’s the kind of thing she does.” – Michael Moore

This podcast investigates Mined Minds, a coding bootcamps that received a huge amount of community support and federal and state tax dollars to re-educate out-of-work coal miners and others for jobs in the tech industry. Find previous episodes here. This podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.

Last week, we heard about the experiences of Susan Graves, whose experience as a CPA lent her a unique perspective as she learned and then worked with the organization. The week before, we heard from Billyjack Buzzard. Due to his background as a seventh generation coal miner, he served as an effective and charismatic spokesperson for Mined Minds. Like almost everyone else who went through the program, both were fired without warning and for dubious reasons.

This week, we hear that narrative repeated again, but with its own twists details from Michael Moore. Mike, as you will hear, is a busy professional, and he was not able to get in touch for an interview. Instead, he sat down and recorded his experiences with Mined Minds on his own.

I have done little more than edit his clips together. With that said, I’ll turn it over to Mike himself.

Michael Moore: My name is Michael Moore, and I’m a 36 year old West Virginia native. Before Mined Minds, I held a bachelor’s degree in business management and I was a manager at a local restaurant. I spent the majority of my life living in West Virginia and holding laborious jobs that generally required irregular schedules, working late nights, weekends, holidays. Most of these jobs had either very little or no benefits, like medical and dental. Retirement was non-existent. These jobs left me extremely wore out and miserable.

When I turned 30, I began think heavily about what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I was always holding these jobs I didn’t like and being tired and wore out. So I decided that if I didn’t make a change, soon, I’d be stuck doing something that I hated for the rest of my life.

I’d always loved technology and computers since I was a child. Most days after work, I’d go straight home, get on the computer and play a game or do something. Generally, a lot of my off time was spent playing around on the internet. So I’d always wanted to do something in the tech field.

I figured if I didn’t take my shot now, then I’d never get another one. So I stepped down from my management position, became the bartender and server again, and enrolled in a local two-year college to go for my CCNA certification and an associate’s degree in computer networks and security at a local college called Bridge Valley.

What Attracted Mike to Mined Minds

What at first attracted me to Mined Minds was the prospect of learning to code. I’d bought little C++ for Dummies books and other ‘teach yourself to code’ books. I would always kind of reach a point where I got stuck. When Mined Minds started holding their class, I was working 40 hours a week at the restaurant and taking a full 12-hour schedule at Bridge Valley. But I found out that the day they decided to hold the class was one of the two days that I didn’t have class. So I jumped at the chance to do something I’d always wanted to do.

I didn’t even know about the prospect of getting a job when I joined. I didn’t even know that was a possibility. I believed this was a chance to do something I’d always wanted to do. So I jumped on it.

I did learn a few things at Mined Minds. I don’t think I have them to thank for it. They act like it was a one-way street. But we legitimized them by virtue of the fact that we learned to code, and we attempted to bring value to their program. Yeah, they gave us the opportunity. But we also fulfilled our obligations, those of us that were left. So yeah, I did learn a decent bit while there. And I am glad that I learned that.

But Amanda and the Lauchers—they got rich off this program. No one else saw any success. But they did.

I think they could have made the program a success if they would have just done what they were supposed to. They had the money. I don’t know if they had the jobs coming in, that might have been part of the problem, and that they couldn’t find work for us. At one point, they had everyone working on one project. So I don’t know. I don’t know what their problems were.

But I know that they lied all the time and about everything. By the end, we all knew you couldn’t believe a word Amanda said. And we all knew that eventually that we were all going to be fired. I mean, we all figured that out pretty early. But I think the program could have been a success had they just fulfilled their promises. I think they had the ability to fulfill their promises. I think they chose not to do it.

‘On the Job Training’

Up until it everyone graduated and the money was involved, everything was great. Amanda was acting like she was everyone’s best friend. And everyone just ate it up. When graduation came around and she started talking about the possibilities of jobs, I was really skeptical. Graduation was coming up around January and jobs had still not been confirmed.

I was getting pressed for time to make a decision between Mined Minds and continuing to pursue my CCNA certification and my degree. Actually, right around graduation, I was offered a junior position at a local managed services company that a friend had managed to set up for me. Or I could take my chances with Mined Minds.

Amanda was constantly telling everyone how we’d all be making $40,000 in six months, and how everything was going to be so great and blah, blah, blah. She’s a great talker. Up until that point, everything had seemed great. So I believed her and dropped out of college. I turned down the junior position and went with Mined Minds.

Fast money … you should never believe it. But I believed it. I probably should have known something was up when she asked me if I could get fired from my job about a month or so before graduation. Getting fired from my job would have made me qualify for the OJT program.

OJT stands for On the Job Training. It was a job program provided by the unemployment office. Instead of being unemployed, and people sitting on their butts collecting unemployment, the office would reimburse companies that hire people for 90% of their paychecks for, I believe, a period of around six months. By me getting fired from my job versus quitting, I would have qualified for unemployment, which means I would qualify for this program, which would get them reimbursed $1080 of the $1200 that we were paid every two weeks.

For the for the first class, we all made $15 an hour. The second class made more like $12 or less. But the guy from the OJT program even used me as an example of how the it was a success. I remember he told us all how this isn’t for companies to get temporary, cheap labor. This is to offset their costs while they get people up to speed. So it probably isn’t hard to guess how he reacted when, after the reimbursements stopped one by one, immediately people at Mined Minds began getting fired.

Someone told me the first thing he asked was, ‘Did they fire Mike?’ I was the example he used to show this program was a success to the state.

Working as an Apprentice

Once we became apprentices, we all thought it was great. Everyone who had stuck with it over the six or seven months saw their efforts come to fruition. Amanda held this big ceremony at the state capitol. [Senator] Joe Manchin was there, the news was there. She announced to the news and the world that Mined Minds was hiring 13 new graduates and giving 13 West Virginians jobs or something along those lines. She’s real good at being flashy. But then, by the end of the first pay period, the first person had been fired.

Supposedly, they were fired for stealing hours. And at this point, I still had no idea Amanda and Jon would do things like that. I thought it was some kind of mistake. I’d become friends with the first person they fired over the six months. She was someone like me who was just looking for a chance. She was a an older lady, probably in her 50s. And she had high hopes with Mined Minds.

I seriously doubt she had gone through seven months’ worth of classes to steal two or three hours on her first paycheck. But Amanda stuck by her story. It wasn’t long after that she started accusing quite a few of us of stealing hours. She set up a camera saying it was there so we could better communicate. But the camera was in a position where she could always see where all of us were sitting to make sure that we weren’t stealing hours.

I don’t think anyone was stealing. I don’t know where she got that idea or if that was just another reason. But all of us were psyched up. We were dedicated. We wanted to learn, we thought this was our chance. No one was stealing hours.

Some of us, myself included, were being told to program things we’d never done before on day one. Day one, I was put on an assignment and told by the client that I was supposed to pull back information from the census API in JSON format for this guy that wanted to create a property value app, similar to Zillow. I had never touched Node. I’d never touched an API. I didn’t even know what JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) was at the time. I’d barely done any JavaScript.

So there would often be days when I would have zero [Github] commits. I had no idea what I was doing. I’d spend all day just reading trying to figure out what I was doing. Sometimes, to avoid being accused of stealing, myself and a few others, we would deduct one or two hours off our timesheet. We were trying to avoid her wrath. But, little did we know, later those timesheets would be tallied up. And the individuals with the lowest total hours would be dropped for not being dedicated enough.

But [Amanda and Jonathan] were generally never there. Once we graduated, they spent most their time in Pennsylvania, or wherever they go—all over the place, really. But eventually Amanda got a house down here in Charleston. And Jon was there to ‘help us’ … probably watch us.

But even through of all that, most of us still loved what we did. I remember looking at Adam once (he’s another student). We just kind of were like, ‘Man, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.’ We thought Mined Minds was going to be this great new progressive company in Charleston, West Virginia. Adam was another guy, he was dedicated, just like I was. He was psyched up and passionate and ready to learn this stuff. But he was ultimately fired.

One time, he asked if he could take his kid to a WWE wrestling match in North Carolina. It required him to miss two or three days. Amanda said, ‘Sure, of course, family first. Family always comes first.’ She’d always say that. But then, when the hours were tallied up, he was fired for not being dedicated enough. Those hours for the approved days off were held against him.

He asked if he could just work out the final two weeks and she agreed. But then, when he got home, he added up his hours. When he accounted for the time approved, his hours were no less than anyone else’s. So when he brought this to her attention, thinking like all this has to be a mistake, she retracted her agreement to let him work out his last two weeks and she fired him on the spot.

When there were only three of us left, (everyone else had already been fired or quit), things calmed down for awhile. Eventually, Amanda gave me three goals. Once those three goals were completed, I was supposed to be made full-time. I was thinking, ‘Finally, finally I’m going to make the $40,000 that she touted.’ That was the whole reason I agreed to this scenario and wanted to do this rather than go the other route. At this point, it’s month seven or eight.

The three tasks were to teach a couple class periods. I was teaching Beckley on both of their class days, for quite a time. The second goal was to make a web page, which I did. And the third one was to figure out how to get AWS Codedeploy to work, which I did. But I was never made full time. Eventually, I started pressing them. I had some things coming up. I needed money to help fix up my dad’s house.

They ultimately told me something along the lines of that they did the math, and I would actually be making less as a full-time employee. How they came out to that calculation, I’ll never know. But it wasn’t long after that that they found a reason to fire me.

The Teal System, A.K.A. ‘Survivor Island’

Talking about the Teal System that they used, we had another name for it. We called it Survivor Island, because it felt like we were on that reality TV show, just trying to avoid being voted out.

There was four ‘random people’ that would vote on someone else’s future. I was only included in one of those votes, because they knew I was always the ‘give the guy a second chance’ person. I mean, I understand maybe don’t give him a third or fourth chance, but at least give them a warning.

I mean, we’re all new to this. This is supposed to be a learning environment. And they were supposed to be our mentors. But as far as I could see, they didn’t believe in second chances or warnings. The one time they included me on one of the votes was when a person they didn’t want to fire was on the chopping block. Again, I was the ‘give the guy a second chance’ person. Whenever she [Amanda] chose the ‘random’ four people to vote, she would always choose one of her siblings. Either Marv or Heather would be in there. So that’s one vote that was guaranteed her way. And people would generally always vote the way she wanted them to, because she’s the boss, and we wanted to keep our jobs.

But the funny thing about it was she would always decide what was being voted on. So either way, she’d get her away. If she wanted to vote in a way where the person wouldn’t be fired, she would have the random sample vote on whether the person gets suspended or gets a warning. It was the same in the opposite direction. If she wanted a person fired, she would set two extreme things for the people to vote on so the individual would ultimately be fired in short order.

Regardless of how the vote turned out, she controlled the outcome. I remember she said anyone could initiate these votes. She said we managed each other. But the only person that ever initiated any of them was her.

Everything Amanda Laucher did, she did methodically. She knows what she’s doing. She isn’t stupid, but she thought everyone else was. She acted like we weren’t seeing right through everything she did. She thought she was real slick, like, no one saw it. But she didn’t understand that everyone saw everything. But we just wanted to work so badly. I know we had our hopes in this so much that we just dug in our heels, hoped for the best, and prayed she’d actually come through on her promises.

The funny thing was, when I was fired, there was no vote. I’d seen that happen to other people. She picked and chose when to have the Teal system in place. It was almost like she did it when she was bored.

Talking about second chances: I remember they fired this one guy. And when he tried to argue his case, he was like, aren’t you going to give me a warning? And she said, ‘You’ve already had your warning.’

He would often have to leave early to go take care of his kid or take his kids to a doctor’s appointment or something. Of course, she always said, ‘Oh, yeah, family always comes first.’

He would always ask her, and she would always approve. One time I told him, I said, ‘Man, you gotta be careful. They’re gonna fire you.’

And he’s like, ‘Oh, no, they, they approved it. You know, they approved it. I got her permission.’ I’m like, ‘Man, they’re passive aggressive as hell. They don’t care. They’ll just fire you. It doesn’t matter if they say yes, or whether it’s okay or not.’

And so then they fired him. And he when he tried to argue, saying he never got a warning, they used me telling him what I said as his warning. They said, ‘Mike warned you.’

I aint management, but they use what I said as his warning. I mean, that’s ridiculous.

Why Mike Was Fired

Later, after I was fired, Amanda reached out to me at one point. I’m good friends with Joe McKenzie. We stayed in touch. I had some of his stuff in my trunk. And his his aunt lives down in my area. But for some reason, she could never meet up with me. I just told him I’d hold on to it. He knew I didn’t want to meet up with anybody from Mined Minds.

So Amanda’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll go get it from Mike.’ So he’s like, ‘Mike doesn’t want to meet up with you.’ So she messaged me like, ‘Joe tells me you won’t meet up with me. Is there something I should know?’

That was right about the time the court cases were starting. So she’s trying to feel me out. I told her, ‘Yeah, you guys fired me with no warning whatsoever. That put me in a really difficult position. I’d really rather never see any of you all ever again.’

At that point, I didn’t know why I was fired. They fired me the Monday morning after we came back from Lithuania. I got a text message saying ‘please check your email before you come into the office.’ And at that point, someone else from Beckley had already called me up crying, because she woke up and found out she was fired. That got me thinking, ‘Well, maybe I should check my email.’ So I checked and, lo and behold, I’m fired too.

So I’m like, ‘Well, you don’t have to feel bad, you know, and I was fired, too.’ I wasn’t given a reason. I was just told they couldn’t extend my contract any further.

Well, when Amanda messaged me asking if there was reason, if there was something she should know. I said, ‘I was told I was fired for saying some offensive.’ That’s what some people who were still working in the office told me, that I said something offensive. I was like, ‘I’d love to know what that is.’

And she said, ‘Oh, no, I didn’t do anything like that.’ They just couldn’t extend my contract. She said, ‘I bet it’s the Beckley people telling you that.’ I was like, ‘No, it’s actually people from Clendenin.’ She was acting like the Beckley people were out to cause trouble.

She said, ‘Oh, no, if you said anything, I would have told you, so you wouldn’t have done it again.’ At that point, I started calling her out. I guess the conversation didn’t go the way she had hoped.

I told her that I asked for help when they initially fired me. I’d asked if they could help me find a job, literally anywhere in the United States, using the skills I learned while with Mined Minds. They told me to start my own company. I mean, it would be great start my company if I knew the first thing about it.

When I told her that I’d asked for help, she denied that too. I sent her the text messages I’d sent asking for help. She denied that being her phone number. Well, that’s the number that I had communicated with her on numerous times. So I mean, maybe it was Jon’s number.

With Amanda Laucher, truth is always skin deep. She says things that are technically true, but you know, only skin deep. Like ‘Everyone gets a job.’ Yeah, everyone gets a job. But it might only last for three days. That’s the kind of thing she does.

After that argument, she starts telling me I’m being belligerent, I’m not making any sense. I heard the next day, she held a team meeting and told everybody that I’m on drugs, and that I was actually fired for being on drugs. She has no proof of this. I wasn’t on drugs. She knows that.

I actually have to go to the doctor pretty regularly. I have lots of proof showing that I’m not on drugs. But she doesn’t care about that. She thinks everyone will always believe her because they are these high and mighty people coming off their thrones to come help us lowly West Virginians.

So I don’t know whether I was fired for saying something offensive. I don’t know if I was fired for being unprofessional, or fired for being on drugs. I’ve heard three different reasons now. So your guess is as good as mine.

The Trip to Lithuania

I’m guessing I was fired for neither. One of the reasons I was actually fired for was pressing them about the $40,000 salary is what I think.

Then there’s also all that madness that went on [at a tech conference] in Lithuania. Well, I was there. At first they told everyone that, if they could buy a plane ticket to Lithuania, they would pay for the conference. I thought there was a few of us going, but it turned out that me and one lady from Beckley basically agreed to go on a Laucher family vacation.

We we thought there would be more people besides the Lauchers or people related to the family in some fashion. But it was just me and one of the students from Beckley. So, yeah, if we would have known it was a family vacation, I would never have gone.

A week or two before the conference, they all of a sudden said, ‘Has everyone bought their tickets for the conference?’ Well, I bought my plane ticket and passport already and had nearly spent $1500. I had a bunch of stuff going on with the house. I didn’t have another $1,000 for the conference. I think it kind of pissed them off that they had to pay for it. I asked them if I could refund my plane ticket, but they said it was non-refundable.

So we went over there. The conference was early in the morning, so a few nights, I didn’t go out drinking with them, because they liked to party till 3:00 AM and get up at 6:00 AM to go to the conference. I just can’t do that. I’m not a morning person as it is. I like to have fun, but there was too much money wrapped up and all that to let it go to waste.

While I was over there, Amanda kept saying, ‘You’re not being yourself. You’re not being yourself.’ She gave me this look like basically I had an attitude problem. So one night I do decide to go out drinking with them … and I get wasted. That’s standard operating procedure with them. Drinking with them is usually shot after shot after shot. Yeah, I got hammered. I headed up the stairs to the place we were staying at. I guess I passed out in the spot where someone else was sleeping. From what I was told, Josh tried to drag me out of the bed while I was sleeping by the leg. And I guess I’d raised my fist at him when he dragged me out of the bed. I don’t remember it. I guess that was one of the reasons they cited for me being unprofessional.

That was totally crazy. Like I said, drinking for them was standard operating procedure. They kept bottles of liquor in the office. During the daily meetings, they’d be like ‘Everyone grab a drink. It’s our 1:00 PM stand up, everyone get a shot.’

Post Mined Minds

As for what I’m doing post Mined Minds now: luckily, when they fired me, it was right at the beginning of December. I applied to a few jobs and didn’t have any luck. So I had time to get back into school for the spring semester over at Bridge Valley. At that point, I didn’t have money to pursue a degree or even to take care of myself for a semester, I had to get a job as fast as possible, which I was having a hard time doing as well.

So a family member loaned me enough money. I just needed to take one more semester, two classes, to finish my CCNA training. So I re-enrolled to finish my degree. And about two or three months into class, I got lucky. It wasn’t the same person that offered me the junior-level position before, but it was the same company.

I managed to get that same position that was available before Mined Minds. It was pure luck. So I stuck with them. And that’s actually who I work for now. And I actually just got my CCA about six months ago or so. Now I work more on a network level. I work on routers and switches, firewalls, and some Windows servers. I do a decent amount of voice stuff. We do a lot of troubleshooting for our clients. It’s real fun.

The company I work for, they’ve been real fair to me. It’s been great. One thing that’s kind of funny is I think I went in there with some Mined Minds PTSD. Every little thing I did wrong, I was afraid they were going to fire me. I would sneeze funny and worry about getting fired. I think people thought I was kind of a spaz.

But they learned more about the company. I think a few of them understood. But yeah, things are actually going really good right now. I don’t do any programming. I mean, I try to do something on the side. I do miss programming, but I like what I do now just as much. So yeah, things are going really good.

Henry Kronk: I would like to thank all the former mind minds learners and apprentices who have been in touch with me lately, especially Mike Moore, Susan Graves, and Billyjack Buzzard. Katrina Gibbs designed our logo and the music you heard was written and recorded by Daniel Monkman. He is currently playing as Zoon. You can find his music on Soundcloud and elsewhere the internet. 

Featured Image: Katrina Gibbs.