Instructor and tech professional David Dugger has a first-hand understanding of the frustrations and challenges faced by his students at the AIM Brain Exchange in downtown Omaha. Afterall, it was less than a year ago that he was living in a storage room with $70 to his name and a dead end part-time job with no long-term plans or job skills.
“I ended up in the storage room because I had a roommate who caused a bedbug infestation in my apartment and didn’t have money to move out on my own,” said Dugger. “I was living paycheck to paycheck.”
Dugger said his plan was to stay in the storage room of his parent’s mobile home temporarily while he helped care for them, but he ended up staying for nearly 2 years. He got a part-time job and was able to save up a little bit of money but was shocked at the situation he was in.
As his 30th birthday approached, he decided to make a drastic change in his life and booked a trip to Peru and gained a new outlook on life.
“All this went south very fast. I knew I had to make a change. What I was doing wasn’t working,” recalled Dugger. “I came back and I knew I was done. […] I wanted something considerably more for my life but I didn’t know what that more was.”
He started searching online for possible career moves and decided that tech training would be a future-proof option. He reached out the Nebraska Department of Labor who directed him to the AIM Institute’s Interface School in Omaha where he met Shonna Dorsey.
“Shonna has been and continues to be a great mentor to me,” Dugger said. “I simply wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. When I was a student and didn’t think I belonged, she helped me get there. When I didn’t think I was ready to apply for jobs, she encouraged me that I was ready to take that next step. She can see potential and knows how to bring it out of people.”
Through Interface, Dugger learned three programming languages and went on to develop an intranet training website that is used daily by 700 employees from a large private company.
Now, Dugger is the one helping to bring out the potential in his students. He spent this summer teaching high school students coding at Highlander Code Camp, a partnership between Seventy Five North and AIM Brain Exchange that is addressing the tech talent gap among women and people of color.
His dedication and drive to achieve his dreams resonates with his students. Dugger is not only a mentor and instructor, but he acts as a point of encouragement for students.
“I did one-on-ones with [the students and …] one of them mentioned how patient I am and said, ‘Even when I’m feeling dumb, you make it sound like it’s okay because you were once there just a few months ago,’” recalled Dugger. “They said it feels real because they hear my story and they know I’m not lying.”
Dugger said that even the students who face the greatest challenges getting to camp rarely, if ever, miss a day. He feels their dedication is a testament to their work ethic and how much they actually like spending their free time at the Brain Exchange.
The students will be graduating from Highlander Code Camp at the end of this week, armed with ready-for-hire web development skills that could lead to high-paying, fulfilling careers in technology.
“I grew up in a relatively low-income family, and ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be influential in some kind of way,” Dugger said. “To see that influence directed toward such a positive potential outcome, specifically their economic mobility – that impact gives me the greatest joy. And they don’t even understand that part yet, but they’re going to find out soon.”
The camp is ending but Dugger isn’t stopping for the summer. On July 31, he’s flying to St. Louis to board the StartupBus, an annual competition designed to empower the tech community by challenging top-tier talent to hop on a bus and conceive, build and launch a startup in 72 hours.
“We don’t know our bus driver, we don’t know any of our startup companions. Within the first couple of hours, we each have to pitch our startup idea,” explained Dugger. “All I know is we start in St. Louis on July 31 and we end up in New Orleans on August 4 and pitch our businesses to a panel of judges.”
Dugger said that last year’s judges included the CEO of Uber and some other relatively high-level companies and venture capitalists. If the right person hears the right idea, they could be ready to invest.
“It’s a really unique opportunity and I just couldn’t say no to it,” said Dugger. “Worst case scenario, it’s a road trip with people from all over the United States or the world who share this passion.”
Christine McGuigan is the Associate Editor of Silicon Prairie News.