New school for developers will pair with nonprofits on tech help

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Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 11:18 am, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

Mark Hasebroock has heard it time and time again.

He hears it from the startups in the inaugural class of Straight Shot, an accelerator program he founded; from corporate Omaha; from startups his Dundee Venture Capital has invested in.

Omaha companies are looking for talented Web developers, and they can't find them.

“We've heard numbers anywhere from 400 to 500 unfilled positions up to a couple thousand. It's real. It's not going away,” Hasebroock said.

So now Hasebroock and a team of four others will launch Omaha's second coding school March 3 and Lincoln's first in July. The school, Interface, will take a two-pronged, comprehensive approach, focusing on Web development, project management and business analysis, tailoring the curriculum based on what students want and what the local market demands.

The school is designed also to benefit another group: nonprofits with tech needs. The Web development course will pair each team with a community nonprofit and the work will culminate with a competition day in which teams, led by a mentor from the community, will show off what they've built. The winner will win back the tuition for the advanced Web development course.

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The school is now accepting applications, and people of all ages and skills are encouraged to apply. For maximum flexibility, the school will run year-round, with classes starting in March, July and September. The different segments of the classes can be taken together or separately, allowing for half days in segments that range from one to six weeks.

“There are some big companies that have needs and there are some startups that have needs and there's everybody in between. Those demands will shift, and we have the flexibility to jump in and do that,” Hasebroock said.

MindMixer, an Omaha company that provides virtual town hall meetings, is one such “in between,” currently employing about 40 people who are scattered throughout its Omaha, Lincoln and Kansas City offices. CEO Nick Bowden said the company could double its staff within the next year.

“This could be a way for us to find those people,” Bowden said. “It's a self-selecting group. If someone says they want to get involved in this, they've indicated they are interested.”

He said he liked the idea of Omaha having different models of code schools. The new Omaha Code School will launch next month and offers strictly coding from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 12 weeks. “I think having two different models is to our benefit because we'll see what works for Omaha,” Bowden said.

Hasebroock said he sees the school playing a complementary role to a computer science or other college degree, with the flexibility of the program allowing for a wide variety of people to take the courses — from college students to full-time workers who want to add to their skills.

“Companies have an immediate need,” Hasebroock said, and the school will aim to help meet that.

Home growing talent is especially important in Omaha, Bowden said, because the large corporate players are not necessarily technology-focused, making it difficult to recruit talent from outside the region.

“You're never going to have a high in-migration rate of tech folks to the Midwest,” Bowden said, referring to Omaha, Lincoln, Kansas City and Des Moines, making schools like this especially important for the area.

Jerod Santo of custom software company Object Lateral will teach the Web development portion of the school, a 10-week class that will include three segments that can be taken separately or together. Seth Carlson and Jake Stutzman, founders of Omaha design firm Elevate, will teach courses in the summer that focus on branding.

Shonna Dorsey has taken the lead as managing director of the school and will teach the business analysis and project management courses along with Hasebroock; the classes will be from one to two weeks each, five weeks total. They also can be taken separately.

The American Heart Association Sweethearts, a leadership program for high school girls, is the first nonprofit on board. It needs a one-stop shop for its committee members, alumni and members to go for a calendar, communication and event postings.

“Right now I'm still back in the '80s and I'm making three-ring binders,” said Ashley Christensen, the American Heart Association's Heart Ball director, who manages the Sweethearts program. “These kids don't use paper anymore. ... I think there's just a lot of functionality to this.”

And in July, Interface will debut in Lincoln.

“The word spreads pretty quickly, and that shows you the demand,” Hasebroock said. He added that there is potential for the school to expand to Kearney, Hastings and other areas that might have a need.

A location for the Lincoln class has not been solidified yet, but Hasebroock said it will probably be held somewhere in Lincoln's Haymarket, home to several startups. The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce is on board with the school, helping it find a space in Lincoln and connecting the founders with supporters, potential students and instructors.

The Omaha class will be held at the Scott Technology Center on the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Pacific Street campus, where the Straight Shot accelerator program also is located.

The first portion of the Omaha class, an all-day workshop for three days, will focus on Web development basics, such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS. The intermediate and advanced portions will focus on Web development using Ruby as a programming language and Rails as a Web framework. Those classes will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week, with the intermediate course lasting three weeks and the advanced segment of the course lasting six weeks.

Prices range from $525 per week for the business classes to $4,000 for the advanced Web development session.

Students in the Web development courses will have free access to the business fundamentals classes, held from 8 a.m. to noon, but the two can be taken separately.

The intermediate and advanced Web classes will be open to about 15 students a session, while the Web basics and business workshops will be open to more people. The goal is to reach hundreds throughout the year, Hasebroock said.

The application process will include a basic profile and interviews with Dorsey to tailor the curriculum for each individual student. “You can build on and layer as much as you need to,” Dorsey said.

That flexibility is an important piece, Hasebroock said, and Bowden agreed. “A comprehensive, flexible approach is more tailored for the Midwest, where you've got a little bit of a risk-averse culture,” Bowden said.

Tamara Sloan, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce's director of entrepreneurship and innovation, said even large companies in Lincoln such as Assurity Life Insurance Co. have a hard time finding talent. She's especially excited about the flexibility of Interface and its long-term goals, such as potential offshoots targeted toward high school or even middle school students.

“Our companies can then build toward it and have potential to use it,” she said. “People want to see the results of something before they jump on board. It's an easier sell down the road.”

Hasebroock said he took the comprehensive approach of business fundamentals as well as coding based on what he's heard from the community. He said while there is a need for coding in general, he wanted to build something that includes a broader base of people, building a bridge between corporate Omaha, corporate Nebraska and the state's startup community.

Clark Lauritzen, president of the First National Bank of Omaha's FNN Wealth Management, welcomes the bridge.

“We're always looking for good talent in IT and that talent is in high demand,” Lauritzen said. “There needs to be more training programs like this and it's great to see people stepping up and taking responsibility for that.”

Hasebroock said he expects the demand to prompt more code schools. “My guess is there's going to be 20 of these. Who knows.”

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