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Viewpoint: Innovative coding academy can be part of the solution

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By Ben DuPont
Guest Columnist

Like many Delawareans, I was saddened to hear the news that DuPont will be laying off 1,700 employees.  While it illustrates the tough times businesses face globally, the human cost of this is hard to fathom.   

The fact is, the economy is changing all around us. We can either sit back and let that change happen, or we can be part of creating solutions. When Jim Stewart, Porter Schutt and I founded Zip Code Wilmington Code School last April, we wanted Delaware to be part of the new economy, and part of the solution.

Zip Code Wilmington is an intense 90-day boot camp in JAVA. We had 140 applicants to the first 90-day cohort in the fall. We selected 20 students, two deferred and two dropped out of the program – and we had 16 graduates. Every one of our students was hired before they graduated. Average salary before the 90-day program was $24,000. Average starting salary after was $55,000, but this is a little misleading because employers are paying tuition, so we expect the average to rise above $55,000 soon. The students were hired by: JP Morgan Chase, Capital One, Bank of America, Corporation Services Co., Chatham Financial, Diamond Technologies, and Schell Brothers Home Builders.

Based on this success, Zip Code Wilmington had 240 applicants for the spring cohort, which started on Jan. 11. We have accepted 32 students into the program. A volume of new corporate partners has reached out to the school, wanting to hire our graduates. So we expect to place our students with an even broader group of employers and hopefully at an even higher salary.

So now true magic begins, as the JAVA instructors — Tariq Hook, Froilan Miranda, and David Ginzberg — teach, challenge, and inspire 32 students. Most of these students have never written a line of code before, but they have good problem-solving skills and strong work ethic. The students will work very hard, and get more than 800 hours on instruction. Most will work Saturdays. This is more than double the hours of coding instruction a student gets in a typical four-year computer science program.

The 90-day program is demanding, intense and fun. Students are pushed hard, and at some point almost every student wants to drop out. A few will. Those who make it will graduate into jobs that pay more than double their prior salary, with employers who are growing.  he class will become close friends in the process.  The skills they learn — software development —are transferable, and are the basic building blocks of the new economy.

I believe every company is either becoming a software company — or will be displaced by a software company. Imagination and coding skills drive our new economy. 

While Zip Code Wilmington cannot ease the pain for lost jobs, it may be part of the solution, as Delaware transitions to a more software-driven economy that is less dependent on the fate of a few large employers.  

Ben DuPont is co-founder and vice president of Zip Code Wilmington.

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