January/February/March Recap

nebraska dev lab monthly updates

January/February/March Recap

By The Nebraska Dev Lab

The Nebraska Dev Lab launched the pilot cohort of its Pipeline Program on January 20, 2020. Six participants from five sponsor organizations comprise the cohort.

The cohort is in the first of four twelve-week stages of the full-time program. The first stage runs until April 10. During the mornings, participants receive direct instruction as they actively learn programming skills required of full-stack developers. The afternoons are studio time when participants complete items on their individual professional development plans. These plans provide participants a customized map to help guide them as they acquire the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective developer at their sponsor organization.

In addition to direct instruction and studio time, participants meet each week with their mentors from their sponsor organization to discuss what they are learning in the Pipeline Program and how it applies to their sponsor organization. Also, participants attend a professional development seminar led by an industry professional. Thus far, topics for both the mentor discussions and seminars have included a wide range of topics including best practices in programming, project management foundations, software modeling, testing, source management, and UI/UX considerations.

As an example of the progress participants have made, they will create a weather application that accesses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Data Online (CDO) site to get all of the recorded high hourly temperatures for a user-specified day, for a user- specified U.S. county, for a user-specified U.S. state. The application will display the hourly high temperatures in a line graph. The application will be implemented using a Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture involving file processing (JSON and comma-delimited formats) and the development of a graphical user interface (GUI).

As Doane has moved to all online instruction and Don’t Panic Labs has their employees working from home, our cohort began training from home on March 16.

We still meet every morning as a cohort for direct instruction, except now it is delivered using Zoom, a video conferencing tool. Throughout the afternoon, the participants are still engaged in professional development activities during our studio time. As in the morning, we are using Zoom for any needed cohort or team interaction during that time. Each participant is logging their studio time activities via a daily email. The participants are continuing to contact their mentors each week via video conferencing or email, and we continue to have our weekly professional seminar.

We will return to Don’t Panic Labs when their employees return and when Doane resumes face- to-face courses.

PARTICIPANT SPOTLIGHT: JENNY NIELSEN

The Nebraska Dev Lab launched the pilot cohort of its Pipeline Program on January 20, 2020. Six participants from five sponsor organizations comprise the cohort.

This month, we are highlighting Nelnet employee Jenny Nielsen.

Why did you sign up for the Pipeline Program?

After graduating from university with a degree in chemistry,
naturally I found myself in the world of marketing (hopefully my
sarcasm is coming through here). While I enjoyed my work in marketing, it wasn’t a long-term career path for me. During that time, I became interested in pursuing software development (on both a personal and professional level), but just didn’t have the time or energy outside of my 50- 60+ hour work weeks to devote to learning a new discipline, let alone one as involved and complex as programming.

So when the opportunity became available, I reached out to developers across several industries and regions and did research about being a software developer to determine whether or not it’s something I would be seriously interested in and a good fit for. After learning more, I was sure software development was the career path I had been looking for.

The Pipeline Program is such an amazing opportunity for professionals like myself to pivot into the software engineering field – it was a no-brainer to apply for.

What was your level of familiarity with software development prior to starting the program?

Absolutely no software development knowledge. I had a lot of the thorough, analytical, and methodical thinking skill set from both my educational background (lots of chemistry, math, and logic classes in university) and my professional career in project management and operations – which I think has helped a lot.

What have you enjoyed about the program so far?

That the program is so much more than just the typical code school boot camp. I’ve had a few friends (back home in Seattle) who pivoted into software development, but in order to do so had to quit their job, pay $10-15k out of pocket for tuition, attend a 3-month coding boot camp, and leave it with no experience or job placement, and spend upwards of a year trying to find an employer to take a chance on them. In contrast, my employer is covering the cost of tuition, continuing to furnish my regular salary throughout the program, and guaranteeing me a job afterward – but that’s just the employer.

The program itself is also far more robust than code school boot camps. Even though the program is a year-long, we’re spending half of it getting actual experience building real software that will be used and working as part of a dev team – which is invaluable. And the first half that is mostly instruction/education – even that is above and beyond just the bare bones skills of programming that you get from a code school. We learn so much more that goes into being a real developer – like version/source control, project management, etc. None of this is to disparage code schools/boot camp programs – but rather to highlight just how robust this program is.

What about the program has challenged or surprised you the most so far?

Challenged: Knowing when to stop and say, “I don’t fully understand how or why this works, but it does so I’m going to roll with it”. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to cut corners or leave something sub-par or incomplete; but the world of programming is SO large, that while I could spend hours trying to understand exactly why some solution works, I’ve been having to learn how to decide when it’s important to take the extra time to understand, and when it’s just not worth it. Especially early on, not knowing when I should devote time to understanding something fully because it’s a fundamental concept that will carry throughout all of programming, if it’s a “take it for granted now, it’ll make sense later once you learn more” type concepts or just a random one-off situation.

Surprised: How bad I am at Googling. Discovering that I’m that person, the one who types full questions into a search – like, “what is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?” instead of just “hurricane vs. typhoon”.

Looking ahead to after you’ve completed the program, what most excites you about being able to use the skills and knowledge you’ve gained through the program?

Being able to help people build software that enriches their lives. It sounds so corny, but it’s genuine. Even for myself personally, I have built so many spreadsheets that help me automate and organize my life – which would be better suited as apps. I’m excited to be able to help build apps and tools to help others accomplish more, regardless of what specifically it is.

Can you list a few things you would recommend to someone applying to a future Dev Lab cohort?

Do your due diligence in researching what it’s like to be a software developer. I can’t stress this enough. While being paid to learn new skills to pivot into a new field and be guaranteed a job afterward is truly an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — it is a huge investment. It’s a huge investment from your employer in you, but even more so, it’s a huge commitment and investment from yourself. You have to devote a year of your time and energy to this, and a couple years of your life afterward at a minimum – but hopefully more. So make sure that this is really a field you want to be in. This is a career that will require daily teamwork/collaboration, creative problem solving, and methodical/analytical thinking – which isn’t the right fit for everyone!

As a bonus – here are some of the questions I think are most important to consider:

  • Do you enjoy collaborating with others?
  • Are you comfortable with knowing how to discuss ideas and potentially resolve conflict or tension when there are disagreements?
  • Are you open to doing things a different way than you want — and not hold it against others?
  • Are you open to receiving critical feedback?
  • Are you really thorough, methodical, and systematic when it comes to solving problems?
  • Are you good at breaking down processes into small steps or components?
  • Are you good at planning – do you often foresee or consider what potential obstacles may arise (regardless of what it is you’re planning)?