Boot camp rewrites the workforce development code

Lining up: There are plenty of high-paying software development jobs to be had -- but learning coding skills is only half the battle, according to Laurie Carey.

They’re connecting important new dots at the Nebula Academy, where an innovative approach to software development is answering a 21st century workforce challenge.

You don’t need an Excel spreadsheet to know coders, programmers and other software specialists are in high demand; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook projects a 21 percent surge in software-development jobs between 2018 and 2028, easily outpacing national averages.

And developers bring home the virtual bacon – their 2018 median pay was about $50 per hour, equating to a nifty annual salary of $105,590, according to the BLS.

The rub: Employers are having a dreadful time filling the software-specialist positions open now, let alone those to come.

Laurie Carey – founder of Syosset-based nonprofit computer-education organization We Connect the Dots and the Nebula Academy, its for-profit professional-training arm – recognizes two distinct issues stymying this corner of the workforce-development realm.

And neither of them is a lack of interest among would-be software developers, according to Carey, who reports plenty of curious learners.

“We’re working with individuals who are seeking (software development) jobs and lack the right skills to get them,” Carey noted. “But it’s one thing to teach the skills – they also lack the workforce experience and connections to go out and apply them.

Laurie Carey: Two birds, one boot camp.

“That’s where we’re seeing the gap.”

To that end, the Nebula Academy is busily filling up the first of two 22-week training programs scheduled for 2020, funded by a $196,000 New York State Department of Labor grant, secured through the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council’s 2019 funding application.

The “Pathways to Success” effort is aptly named – a roadmap to gainful employment in the 21st century workforce, which according to Carey is starved for professionals who not only understand code, but know what to do with it.

This “developer mindset” is not often found in traditional settings such as university classes and other coding camps, where programming skills are stressed, Carey noted, “but not necessarily the opportunity to apply that knowledge.”

Example: A nonprofit organization needs software to process digital applications for a scholarship, something attendees of any coding boot camp can learn to do. But through the Pathways to Success, Carey said, “now we teach them how to move something like that straight into an application like Salesforce, something a lot of nonprofits need.”

“It’s not just learning about HTML and CSS – now, it’s being able to transition that knowledge into a use case the company wants,” Carey told Innovate LI. “If you demonstrate not only the ability to create the content or webpage, but also to push it to where the company needs it, that’s huge.

“That’s what they will hire you for,” she added. “So, people are coming into our boot camp because they want to learn how to apply these skills, not just learn the skills themselves.”

The differentiator, as Carey explains it, is a “hybrid” of educational We Connect the Dots programming with the targeted Nebula Academy curriculum.

“We can bring in an actual nonprofit and say, ‘Hey, let us do the work for you,’ and our students will get to work on a real project for a real nonprofit,” she said. “Now they learn what the process really looks like, what it’s really like to interact with customers, all of that.”

Carey likens it to a teaching hospital, where doctors-in-training make the rounds alongside seasoned providers, “except we’re using back-end web development.”

With the first 22-week boot camp set to kick off next month, Carey and her team are still accepting applications for both cohorts (the second is slated to follow in September). And the innovator is always seeking new professional affiliations – not-for-profits with projects needing attention, software firms interested in developing future talent, others who can help build momentum in this critical workforce-development effort.

“There are so many opportunities out there,” Carey noted. “Not-for-profits looking for system work, small companies looking to grow … and we can help them all build capacity while building our own capacity at the same time.

“It’s a win-win,” she added. “And we’re helping people actually get jobs as a result.”