Nebraska Dev Lab Monthly Update – May 2020

nebraska dev lab monthly updates

Nebraska Dev Lab Monthly Update – May 2020

Over the final weeks of May, the direct instruction in the Nebraska Dev Lab Pipeline Program will transition from being led by Doane University Professor of Computer Science Dr. Alec Engebretson, to Don’t Panic Labs CEO/Co-founder Doug Durham and Senior Software Architect
Chad Michel.

Throughout the first twelve-week stage and through the first six weeks of the second stage, Dr. Engebretson has been guiding the six cohort participants through training activities designed to lay a strong foundation in both programming and full-stack web application development.
Currently, each participant is designing and developing a full-stack web application to manage recruit information for a college women’s basketball program. At the same time, participants are researching, learning, demonstrating, and leading short workshops over a number of
technologies found throughout a tech stack, including .NET Web Pages with Razor, Bootstrap, JavaScript, Typescript, Angular, React, and VS Code. Weekly seminars from industry professionals include full-stack development best practices, source/version control management with git and GitHub, unit testing, and professional use of the Visual Studio IDE.

When Don’t Panic Labs takes over the direct instruction for the final six weeks of the second stage, the focus will shift to these topics specifically for software engineers:
• Architecture principles
• Software design principles
• Requirements, modeling, and analysis
• Quality and test development

The tools and technologies used will include ASP.NET Core, Web APIs, data access with the Entity Framework, Azure, Angular, SignalR, Xamarin, and React. Seminars will cover continuous integration/continuous delivery, cloud-based frameworks, multi-platform development, and
more on project management.

Throughout all stages of the Pipeline Program, in addition to direct instruction activities, participants are provided studio time each day where they complete items on their individual professional development plans. These give each participant a customized map to acquire the
additional knowledge and skills specifically needed at their sponsor organization. The six cohort participants are from five different organizations. Weekly interaction with their mentor from their sponsor organization provides valuable input into creating each professional development plan.

All instruction continues remotely and will do so until Doane resumes face-to-face courses and Don’t Panic Labs employees return to their office.

Participant Spotlight: Heather Honer

This month, we are highlighting Nelnet employee Heather Honer.

Why did you sign up for the Pipeline Program?
The bulk of my career with Nelnet has been spent as an analyst for
TPD Operations. My work in that role required me to become
familiar with writing and understanding data queries, learning
variations of SQL, and occasionally working with the TPD Ops Dev
team to assist in improving or creating new features for the business. Getting an introduction to how the Dev team worked and what kind of projects they were responsible for really sparked an interest in learning more about how it was all done: what does it mean to be a developer? How
did they do the work to make our business products function? I knew how the business worked; now, I wanted the chance to learn how the business was supported behind the scenes.

At the time that the opportunity to apply for the Dev Lab Pipeline program came up, I was already sure that I wanted to explore software development more. I had spoken with my manager about what support Nelnet may offer in terms of pursuing education or training in software development. And then I saw the announcement for the program and couldn’t pass it up. This program was such an amazing opportunity – it offered the chance to make a profound career change with all of the support and tools one could ask for, and it was designed specifically for people like myself who had the interest but not necessarily the time or the resources.

With a little encouragement, I put my application in and crossed my fingers!

What was your level of familiarity with software development prior to starting the program? Essentially no skills whatsoever. I had done a little dabbling in programming languages and had made attempts to review source code for software that I used for a different job, but I had no
actual skill. Working as an analyst had already helped me develop my critical thinking, problemsolving, and analytical skills, which are essential for software developers, so I did have some foundation for a career in development in that sense.

What have you enjoyed about the program so far? The unique approach that this program takes to developing us into software developers. I can’t
think of any other program that offers the chance to make a career change like this while making sure you’re fully supported in doing so.

This is so much more than a code camp, and it provides far more experience than traditional education ever could. We get actual practice writing and developing software that we can apply to the real world while simultaneously gaining experience in what working within a development
environment is like. We have mentors that support us along the way and direct us toward technologies and skills that we’ll need to know to be successful in our roles within our host companies. There are weekly seminars given by experienced members of development teams
that give us invaluable insight into the tools and practices that they use every day in their roles.

Everything about the program is designed to give us the basic knowledge and tools we need to be functional developers, but it also provides us the time and resources to develop ourselves professionally in areas specific to the company we’ll be returning to.

What about the program has challenged or surprised you the most so far?
Just the sheer amount of information there is to digest. This program moves quickly, and it’s up to you to make sure that you have a firm understanding of what you’re learning in order to be successful. It’s forced me to address my hesitance to seek help. In this kind of environment, there’s only so much room for me to be stubborn and struggle through something. When I
encounter problems, I do my best to work through them and figure them out on my own, but I’ve had to get used to learning when enough is enough and being okay with asking for help.

As for what has surprised me, the amount of information I’ve been able to retain. At first, it all seemed overwhelming. I was spending hours outside of class reading chapters and going through my notes to clarify things we’d gone over that day to make sure I understood it. I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to grasp concepts that I was going to need to move forward. But the more we put what we learned into practice, the more it solidified my understanding. It was all about making sure I was absorbing the material in a way that complemented my learning style.

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? Making this a reality – seeing all the hard work and effort I’ve put into this program come to fruition and realizing that I do have what it takes to be a developer. It’s crazy to me to think that this is going to be my career. There are so many opportunities that this is going to make available
to me, and knowing that I already have a job to return to where I can put this experience to use is both comforting and exciting. I can’t wait to get to join a team where I get to do this every day, where I get to create software that people are going to use and see what can become of what I’ve learned.

Can you list a few things you would recommend to someone applying to a future Dev Lab cohort? Be ready to learn. This program is going to throw everything at you, so it’s imperative that you be prepared to take it all in and put in the time and effort to make sure you understand it all to get
the most out of it.

Understand what it means to have a career in software development: this is a career that is going to challenge you. It’ll require you to collaborate, be open to criticism, and will demand that you develop your problem solving, creative thinking, and analytical skills. Don’t let that scare you – it’s also going to be a lot of fun!