New Leader, Data Engineering Program Poise Zip Code Wilmington for Significant Expansion

The CEO and President of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Jamie Dimon, stopped by Zip Code Wilmington on his national road tour earlier this year accompanied by CBS 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl.

The state’s first coding school that boasts a 93 percent placement rates of graduates is launching a new initiative that could “double” the student body, according to a founder of the job training program.

Zip Code Wilmington’s first data engineering and analytics boot camp kicks off in February, and the organization expects a robust cohort will matriculate as its recruiting efforts wind down today.  The extension of its successful software code writing school happens as a new leader takes the helm.

US Naval Academy grad Desa Burton recently joined Zip Code from InterDigital, where she was assistant general counsel. Prior to her corporate career, Burton spent 10 years as a surface warfare officer in the US Navy and Naval Reserve and she is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law school.


Earlier this fall, Burton welcomed Zip Code Wilmington’s 14th class, or cohort, a group of 34 that was selected from 440 applicants. Students include a truck driver, receptionist, short-order cook and carpenter, all looking to build skills that will improve their employment opportunities in an increasingly tech-based job market.

Zip Code Wilmington focuses on training people with no prior coding skills, teaching them the skills employers need, and connecting graduates to companies seeking those skillsets.

It has been a busy season for the coding school as just this past fall, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon stopped by Zip Code Wilmington’s downtown campus when he was accompanied by Lesley Stahl of CBS News’ 60 Minutes, who was reporting on a profile of Dimon that aired last month. JP Morgan Chase is a partner of the school along with other leading local companies including CSC and WSFS.

Zip Code Wilmington (ZCW) co-founder and board member Ben duPont believes the new engineering training program has the potential to double the school’s student body. We caught up with him for an update on everything underway with the school and the impact on students and the local economy.

Zip Code Wilmington head Desa Burton in October as she congratulates one cohort of graduates and welcomes another.

Tell us about the big potential in ZCW’s newest software development offering.

Yes – several corporate partners have expressed interest in defining a curriculum that will educate students in various data engineering and analytics techniques, which led to the creation of this new program.

Companies of all sizes are using data analytics. They generate and build complicated data models that try to predict patterns. For example, if you buy this brand of coffee, maybe you’d be interested in that brand of sheets. Data engineering and analytics go into creating and managing these models.

This new program also supports the findings in the new Tech Impact report that points to an urgent need for highly skilled talent with a variety of skills, including data analytics. Zip Code Wilmington is responding to this need.

The first Data Engineering and Analytics cohort will begin in February 2020. 


Why do you think Wilmington was ripe for software development curricular programs?

Our research showed current educational institutions were not fully addressing the deficit in coding talent. There is a large national demand for skilled software developers, with more than 500,000 unfilled openings today. We also heard this from local businesses that had an immediate need for software development talent. We considered this an opportunity to invigorate the local job market by meeting the tech talent needs of local businesses.

About 64% of college graduates are working six months after graduation, while 92% of ZCW graduates have a paid technical role three months after the program. How does ZCW manage to achieve such post-graduation success?

What sets us apart is that we begin with the end in mind. While traditional education is very input-based (e.g. how many teachers/administrators are needed, how much should it cost, etc.), our process is outcome-based, meaning employer engagement is critical to developing curriculum and education strategy.

Another difference is our close connection with our corporate partners. Not only do our corporate partners hire our graduates, they also engage in the actual learning process with “tech talks,” tutoring, and mentorship. As a result, Zip Coders impact and add value to their work environment on day one.


What would you tell someone trying to decide between a four-year computer science degree or completing the ZCW program?

I would tell them they are in a very enviable position – they have a choice!  There was a time, not so long ago, when we did not have the ability to teach these types of technical skills outside of a university setting. There was very little access by even the most elite researchers to the level of computing power and resources that exist in today’s ordinary smartphone. Times have changed!

Universities and colleges are excellent at providing a traditional educational model, and many people still desire and seek out that experience. Zip Code Wilmington takes a different approach, but that approach may not be right for every person. A person should assess their goals and desires in life and choose what’s right for them. 

But this is not a binary decision – there is room within your career path to experience both traditional and non-traditional educational models. Many Zip Coders already completed undergraduate and graduate degrees and worked in a chosen field but have now decided to attend our program in order to pivot into a more desirable tech career. Likewise, Zip Coders who did not have college degrees can now obtain one while working full time with employers who offer education benefits, and they even receive 16 credit hours from Wilmington University to help get them started. 

What would you tell someone that argues that the code you learn now might become obsolete in a decade or two?

Zip Coders learn multiple languages and, more importantly, they learn how to learn languages. Even if the code you learn becomes obsolete, your ability to code does not. Coding languages have certainly evolved over time and will continue to do so, but the talent creating those languages and applying them evolves. If you don’t start learning how to code now, when will you ever begin?

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