TSD Q&A: Wilmington Coding School Founder Takes Pride in First Year's Success

When the first class of ZipCode Wilmington students graduates today from Delaware’s only computer coding school, all of them will start work at new jobs on Monday. With virtually all 17 participants doubling their take-home salaries since enrolling in the intense 12-week program, the students are incredibly grateful they were selected for the inaugural instructional program, which in large part is paid for by their future employers.

Working with the Governor’s Office and with an investment from the State, co-founders Jim Stewart, Porter Schutt and Ben duPont launched ZipCode Wilmington to help fill a growing tech need in the local business community. Ben duPont pitched the idea to Governor Jack Markell only one year ago, and today he is able to demonstrate that their fast-paced boot camp is one bright idea that works. We spoke with duPont about today’s milestone and where he hopes to take the coding school going forward.

Town Square Delaware:  Your first 17 students in ZipCode Wilmington are graduating today. And all of them have jobs. How did that happen?

Ben duPont:  100% of our students had jobs jobs before graduation!  A few have already started.  ZipCode Wilmington is close to the employers, and we had a robust interview process, where we got the students in front of each employer.  We had 142 applicants for our first program, and for the January program we already have 200 applicants.

TSD:  What kind of background did each of your students bring to the program? Is there an ideal candidate?

BD:  No prior computer skills needed.  Strong algebra (problem solving) skills are key.  Average age was 28.  The average student spent 71 hours a week learning Java, or 852 hours/week in total.  The average Computer Science graduate of a 4-year college gets about 400 hours of coding instruction spread over several coding languages. 498 pots of coffee were consumed over the 90 day program.

TSD:  Tell us about the apprenticeships. And are they all in Delaware?

BD:  Nearly half were hired directly, and the rest through apprenticeship models.  The first class was hired by JP Morgan, Capital One, Bank of America, Diamond Technologies, Chatham, CSC, and Schell Brothers. Before opening the school, we surveyed the landscape and found that employers by large measure were looking for coders with skills with Java.

TSD:  We hear you like dropping in on the bootcamp classes. What was it like to see your vision in action?

BD:  Inspiring. You will always see students in there on Saturdays or on any given week night working on collaborative projects. Average salaries before the program were $24K/year. Average after the program is $55K, but the employers are picking up tuition, so we think graduates’ take home pay will go up.

TSD:  Any plans to grow or tweak the business model next year?

BD:  We are doubling the size of the class to 35 for the January cohort that starts on January 11th.



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