Brilliant people of Omaha: Sumeet Jain talks about founding Omaha Code School and advice for new developers

By AIM Team
May 20, 2016

Sumeet Jain and his team launched Omaha Code School in the fall of 2013 after noticing an overall lack of developers in the market. In the past three years, the school has transformed novice developers into hirable software/web developers with its 16 week program, and has graduated over 80 students.

This week we sat down with the lead instructor and co-founder Sumeet and talked about the founding of the school, Omaha’s tech community and his best advice to jobseekers looking to get into the software development field.

AIM: What were you doing before you started Omaha Code School?

SJ: Immediately before, I was building a software development consultancy, Big Wheel Brigade. Before that, I was a web developer in Silicon Valley working for various corporations, startups and agencies over about a decade.

AIM: Why did you choose Omaha as a place to grow your business?

SJ: Superficially, we chose Omaha to start Big Wheel Brigade and Omaha Code School simply because it’s where we were– it was our home. But our reasons for choosing entrepreneurship for our careers, and our reasons for finding joy in it, have to do with Omaha’s business-friendly environment.

Even now, Omaha is still trying to define itself and find a solid foothold on its path to growth. That makes it incredibly exciting to be a part of, and it has encouraged the community to be exceptionally welcoming to new ideas and people. This was, and continues to be, refreshing when compared to San Francisco, where it can sometimes feel harder to get access to resources and support.

AIM: What’s your mission as an instructor at Omaha Code School?

SJ: Everything we do stems from our mission to be the best software training program around. All of our other goals, like instilling the principles of virtuous coding and fostering more diversity in Omaha’s tech community, are borne from our core value of providing superior education. From these values and goals, we see tremendous change occur for our students. It’s uplifting and emboldening to see major life trajectory shifts happen in our classes.

AIM: Do you see a diverse group of people go through the program? What is the typical student like?

SJ: We get students from many different areas of expertise. Some may have gone to school for computer science, while others might still learning how to use a computer beyond its most basic functions. From delivery driver to graphic designer to high school educator, our students’ job backgrounds span the entire spectrum. What unites them is a desire to have a wholesale change in their career path.

Students in our program are required to quit their jobs for the duration of the program, as class is Monday through Friday and requires 10-12 hours of focused study and work daily. Being immersed in our curriculum for four months makes a huge difference in learning outcomes.

AIM: How would you attempt at solving the issue of diversity in the IT field?

SJ: Companies need to have specific tactics to achieve diversity. Merely saying that diversity is an important goal for an organization is not nearly enough. So I would strongly advise companies to seek guidance from organizations like Inclusive Communities to learn about what they can do.

At Omaha Code School, we enforce safety within our classroom and codify guidelines with a detailed code of conduct. But we’ve learned that simply having a code of conduct is rarely enough, so on the first day of class we have a discussion about it.

We also have an allies workshop as part of our curriculum, which helps plant the seed of empathy and compassion in people that may not have realized how big of an issue diversity is.

We’ve seen the results of these types of actions firsthand with the diversity of our applicant pool. I’ve lost count of how many applicants specifically cited our commitment to safety and diversity as a reason for their applying to our program.

But if companies really want to be diverse, they just need to start hiring diverse people. There’s no more direct way to do it. You have to advertise your company in different communities and most importantly, you have to ask yourself how valuable a diverse workforce is to your business. Making diversity a goal is nice, but being deliberate about achieving it is really what matters.

AIM: What is the most exciting thing that Omaha Code School is working on right now?

SJ: For the second year now we are working on the Omaha Code School Highlander program, which is a summer program for North Omaha high schoolers that want to learn more about web development. We love working with Seventy-Five North, and it’s just fun to see students go through the program. One of the graduates from last year’s program is going to be a T.A. for this summer’s class, so it’s really exciting to watch these young folks come into their own and begin careers in technology.

One of the other things that we are working at Omaha Code School is to formalize an apprenticeship model in the coming months. It would essentially be a low-cost firm [in house] that would offer professional, quality web/software development work to local organizations–beyond the usual class projects. For example, a lot of people have ideas for a website or app, but they have no idea of how to create it. Our students would take on those projects to hopefully fill a gap in Omaha’s tech and business communities.

AIM: What’s the biggest piece of advice you tell your students when they start their job search after the program?

SJ: I always tell them to continue to learn. You’ll know many things after the program, but what you’re really learning is problem solving and how to find resources.

I also tell our students to manage up. Employers often don’t know how to support emerging talent in their company–mentorship is hard. So I advise students to be direct with their team about what they need to learn and contribute.

AIM: How do you think projects like yours are going to influence the future of Omaha?

SJ: I hope that we play a part in creating space for newer developers, so that talented people feel supported and decide to stay here. What that looks like, to me, is a bigger “middle class” of software developers. That’s the missing part of the pipeline that we’re trying to fill with our class and also with groups like Omaha Emerging Developers, which is a technical meetup where only junior developers can give talks. Building ways for new talent to grow into mid-level talent is, to me, the surest way to help Omaha’s tech and business communities thrive.

Are you interested in finding a career in IT? Check out the latest openings here.

Brilliant People of Omaha: A series of discovery.

Welcome to Brilliant People of Omaha. In this series we will sit down with local brilliant individuals who love their jobs, have excellent career advice and are ready to share their story about how they came into their current position.

We will talk to a variety of people in this series including: developers, designers, managers, CEOs, interns, etc. Everyone has a story, and we are here to uncover it and see what we can learn from the brilliant people around us.