Mike Reinmiller, lead developer at Honest Policy, an insurance policy evaluation website based at Turbine Flats, doesn't have to go hunting for people to take a class he'll teach in Web development, coding and programming this summer.
"I just mention it in conversation and I get bombarded with more questions on how they can sign up and learn more," Reinmiller said in an email. "So people are interested in taking an accelerated course to jump-start their learning in this direction. I’m looking forward to see how the class fills up as we start looking and talking to more and more people."
So are others, including aspiring programmers, startup businesses and established companies looking for Web development and programming help, IT advocates and certainly the people at Dundee Venture Capital in Omaha. Dundee Venture Capital has started Interface The Web School, and is opening the 10-week class this summer at Turbine Flats at 2124 Y St. in Lincoln. The first class is under way in Omaha.
The economics are pretty simple: Demand for programming and Web development talent is exceeding supply, which partly explains the migration of MindMixer, the community engagement Web company, leaving Omaha and Lincoln and consolidating in Kansas City. MindMixer didn't have any trouble hiring here to speak of, said Amanda Ansell, director of communications. But the Kansas City office grew the fastest. "That and the fact that the talent pool is generally larger due to the city's size, led us to consolidate in Kansas City over the other locations," she said in an email.
So chalk the loss of that regional company up to coincidence and looking out for the needs of growth, for the time being.
Beth Engel used to be a middle school teacher. She left that for a career in technology and worked in three startups, including Hayneedle, the retail website in Omaha.
"I really enjoyed startup sort of things," she said. "Starting something from nothing."
Acquainted with Mark Hasebroock, founder of Dundee Venture Capital, she joined him as a partner. They have a portfolio of a couple of dozen companies they've invested in, including Bulu Box and Lockr in Lincoln.
"As we worked with founders, the thing that continued to come up was they have a hard time finding the development talent, people who can develop their sites," Engel said. "It was a common theme. We invest in e-commerce and software businesses. As they grow, they need to add to their teams, expand products, and it usually means adding a developer or two or three at the early stage.
"When there's a problem, we aim to solve it," Engel said. "So we launched Interface The Web School to get more people in the pipeline learning how to code and build the web. It's not only programming, but also business courses, such as project management."
Shonna Dorsey, a graduate of Omaha North High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is managing director of Interface. Jared Santo is lead instructor in Omaha. Reinmiller will teach the Lincoln course, which will be at night, unlike Omaha's, which runs afternoons.
It'll cost $7,000 in tuition for the full 10 weeks. Not all applicants may qualify.
Omaha students are placing themselves in internships in the morning while learning in the afternoon, Engle said. She expects the dynamic in Lincoln may be different, given the night hours. "Lincoln's an important part of our world," Engel said.
Dorsey recognizes the need for four-year institutions teaching programming and engineering. But this demand is different.
"We wanted to find a way to put more talent to work fast," she said.
There are code camps elsewhere in bigger markets, and this is similar, she said, but the students here go half-time, which can serve them well. Lincoln's classes will be 6 to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, plus a half day on Saturday. That adds up to 200 in-class hours over 10 weeks.
"We wanted people to have the opportunity to work," she said.
The 10 weeks are broken down into a one-week introduction, a three-week intermediate class and a six-week advanced course. Some students may skip stages.
"They will be creating real Web products for nonprofit clients, as well," Dorsey said. Teams of students can win back part of their tuition with demonstrations of their work at the end of the course in mid-September.
People from Lincoln in the startup and information technology businesses like the looks of this course.
Brian Ardinger, managing director of NMotion, the University of Nebraska's startup accelerator in Lincoln, is also a mentor for Interface.
"I'm not anyone who would argue with the idea that Lincoln/Omaha/Silicon Prairie is suffering from not enough technical talent, so I like the idea on a number of fronts," Ardinger said in an email. "It starts to address some of the talent gap issues that everyone is talking about and gives folks another option for breaking into this field. It is not the sole way to attract and train talent, but it offers options. In addition to programming training ... they have a project management track (and other courses), which could be used whether you are working in a startup or large corporation dealing with managing and creating technical/software solutions."
Interface also offers help learning to write, from professional profiles and resumes to user stories.
"The program is also making a conscious effort to include other community resources (people, locations like Turbine Flats and nonprofits) in helping the students grow and contribute faster than learning on their own or other possible programs," Ardinger said.
Rod Armstrong, vice president of strategic partnerships at AIM, the IT advocacy organization, says this is definitely worth a shot.
"There are a number of Lincoln software companies that are aggressively looking for IT talent," Armstrong said in an email. "It's also an issue for larger companies with IT departments. Schools in the area aren't able to turn out graduates in the numbers needed, and it's challenging to even recruit students into computer science programs. To supplement the talent supply, the alternatives in the short term are rapid training programs like Interface or attracting talent from outside the community. If we're not able to meet this demand, we may see more instances of companies like MindMixer pulling up stakes from Lincoln and Omaha and moving elsewhere."
A quick and dirty search of local job sites Friday by Erica Rose Wassinger, who does public relations for Interface, showed about 35 open positions for programmers/developers, not to mention those she knew about that weren't posted. "I am sure that is really low though," Wassinger said.
Longer term, AIM sees a real need to develop interest among younger kids in science and technology generally, and information technology in particular.
One way AIM is trying to address this is through a concept called CoderDojo, an idea that Armstrong said originated a few years ago in Ireland and is now spreading rapidly.
It's an informal, free, volunteer-led effort to introduce kids to programming concepts in a fun and engaging way. The Next one is Saturday at Hudl. Register for AIM CoderDojo online at aimforbrilliance.org/coderdojo.