David Dugger is used to living one step away fromÂ homelessness. At his closest point, he was down to his last $70 and living in a crowdedÂ storage room of a mobile home in North Platte, Nebraska. Completely surrounded byÂ boxes, he only had enough space to roll out his makeshift mattress — a six-foot- long byÂ two-foot- wide yoga mat.
Despite being in a circumstance where his immediate needs could have easilyÂ overridden his long-term goals, Dugger never stopped searching for the path to becomeÂ “someone of influence,” and an email he sent in desperation to the NebraskaÂ Department of Labor connected him to a not-for- profit organization that changed his life.
His informational meeting with Shonna Dorsey, the co-founder of the AIM Institute’sÂ Interface School in Omaha, was the first surge from a tidal wave of opportunities thatÂ have followed him since he started learning web development at the nonprofit dedicatedÂ to building the tech community in Omaha through education and career development.
“Shonna has been and continues to be a great mentor to me,” Dugger said. “I simplyÂ wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. When I was a student and didn’t think IÂ belonged, she helped me get there. When I didn’t think I was ready to apply for jobs,Â she encouraged me that I was ready to take that next step. She can see potential andÂ knows how to bring it out of people.”
Since September 2016, by way of crashing on couches in strangers’ basements to getÂ to Omaha, and without any prior web development experience upon arrival, Dugger hasÂ learned three programming languages, developed an intranet training website that isÂ used daily by 700 employees from a large private company and is now an instructor atÂ AIM Brain Exchange, where he teaches coding to underrepresented and sometimesÂ socioeconomically disadvantaged teens.
Drawing on his own personal experience, heÂ helps students work through the same frustrations and challenges he faced, and thenÂ eight weeks later he is rewarded when he sees that anguish turn into pride when theyÂ leave the program as architects of fully functional websites they created from scratch,Â armed with ready-for- hire web development skills that could lead to high-paying, fulfillingÂ careers in technology.
“I grew up in a relatively low-income family, and ever since I was a little kid, I wanted toÂ be influential in some kind of way,” Dugger said. “To see that influence directed towardÂ such a positive potential outcome, specifically their economic mobility – that impactÂ gives me the greatest joy. And they don’t even understand that part yet, but they’reÂ going to find out soon.”
Soon, Dugger will continue to live his dream on a trip across the country. He is one of aÂ handful of Nebraskans boarding the “Startup Bus” bound to New Orleans with a team ofÂ strangers who have the shared goal of conceiving and launching a business. TheÂ annual competition is designed to empower the tech community and is equal parts roadÂ trip, hackathon and global community.