Zip Code Wilmington has a new leader, but she’s no stranger to the access-minded coding program.
Melanie Augustin has been with the nonprofit since October 2015. She previously served as Director of Corporate Partnerships and was recently promoted to Head of School as a result of Anthony Pisapia’s departure. Pisapia will soon be Chief Innovation and Information Officer at Tower Hill School.
Augustin spent eight years in litigation law in Washington, D.C., something she had enjoyed at one point but no longer found fulfillment through. Her husband relocated for a job in the Wilmington area so she took the move as an opportunity to start a new career.
We recently caught up with Augustin to talk about how she ended up in her new role. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
You were previously a lawyer, what inspired you to make the change?
I’d been doing litigation for almost eight years. It was really exciting and I enjoyed the city but I think there was a point where I just wanted to put a lot of energy into something that can really help the community.
You’ve been in your role for two months, how’s it going so far?
Anthony certainly did a great job and we’re all excited for him and his new role at Tower Hill. It’s going great, it’s really exciting to be involved at this level now. It’s been really fun to take this on and come up with new ideas to keep the school doing so well.
It seems like Zip Code Wilmington has a focus on the financial sector. Why?
I don’t know if we’ve specifically targeted the financial sector. That’s what’s here in Wilmington and that’s where a lot of the developer jobs are, at banks. We do work with other companies that are not in the financial industry. It’s just been a natural relationship for us to build here.
We’re constantly talking to new companies and bringing them in to talk to our students. We have [guest] speakers come in two mornings a week. We had Kelly Lyman, CIO of PECO, come in and talk to our students recently, along with Richard Gottlieb, Development Manager at OnCourse Systems for Education. Other speakers have come in from Bank of America, JPMorgan and Chatham Financial.
Our students love hearing from technology people that are out there working in software development. Hopefully these connections will create jobs for our students in the future.
What are your plans? What will you be changing and what will you be holding onto?
One thing that Anthony did really well was foster relationships with a lot of organizations in this community, I’d really like to build on that. I’d like to focus on making sure our students are getting placed, and [cultivating] different ways to demonstrate our students’ other skills in addition to interviews. Now they’re involved with Open Data Delaware, they’re creating real apps. This helps students say, “We’re not just another name, here’s what I can really do.” This is one example of how we’re trying to grow this and make it more successful.
We are working with Delaware State University this summer. Zip Code Wilmington will offer some programming there. We have a lot of similar partnerships that go beyond our classroom and into Wilmington and the Delaware community to continue teaching software development.
— Technical.ly Delaware (@technicallyDE) June 1, 2016
What are you doing in terms of community outreach?
Our new students are always assigned mentors from higher classes. Graduates are coming back in the evening after working full-time days to tutor our students. It’s been incredibly meaningful. It’s a stressful environment for 12 weeks, so having someone motivate you really helps. I know our students have turned to their mentors frequently as they’ve gone through the program.
Our staff is working on really exciting projects: David Ginzberg, who’s one of our instructors, is very involved with Open Data Delaware. Dominique Clarke is really involved with Girl Develop It. Our staff is really involved with helping grow the tech scene here and spread our message.
It’s instrumental for us to help our community in ways that don’t necessarily bring in revenue.
What’s in store? What do you envision for the future?
We’re constantly trying to develop. How to make the process better, how to better communicate with our corporate partners. We also just launched some new videos. We’re trying to really focus on student success stories.
We’d love to see this grow, we’re constantly working with our corporate partners to see what their needs are. We don’t want to grow to a point where we can’t have a quality program. What’s important to us is really understanding what the corporations around here need so we can train folks to grow into these open positions. We need to determine what those hiring needs are. That will dictate where we’re able to grow.
There are a lot of bootcamp schools out there now, what sets Zip Code Wilmington apart?
First of all, we’re a nonprofit while the vast majority of other bootcamp programs are for-profit. We’re not just looking to charge tuition and bring in revenue that way. We cap our student tuition at $2,000 and we also provide need-based scholarships. It’s a lot less than what students elsewhere are paying. Companies will also pay tuition for students when they’re hired. This gives us the opportunity to change lives even if the students can’t afford to attend school.
We had 250 applicants for our current class but have only accepted 25. As far as being able to increase our enrollment here, we want to make sure we are able to do it where the quality of the program remains really hard and that we’re placing our students afterwards. We don’t want to enroll students when the jobs aren’t there. It’s a matter of trying to assess where the jobs are.
We work closely with CTOs and develop curriculum based on their needs. We have amazing relationships based on these meetings.
We’re really able to have amazing placement rates. We graduated 27 students, 25 of them are in paid roles. They’re making salaries around at least $63,000 a year. A lot of our students place by graduation, which you don’t see at other bootcamps.
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