Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

Bend is inching closer to its first software programming school with the beginning of a new noncredit program at Central Oregon Community College.

DevStation began offering introductory courses in software development and JavaScript in January through a licensing agreement with Seattle-based Code Fellows. While COCC and Oregon State University-Cascades offer degree programs, Central Oregon has no privately run code schools that operate on a compressed schedule and focus on in-demand job skills.

COCC is starting DevStation as hundreds of people in Central Oregon and beyond apply to Apprenti, which began in Washington and expanded to other states through U.S. Department of Labor grants.

Participants go through a free five-month training before spending a year in a paid apprenticeship with a local employer. Positions in Apprenti are limited, however.

Three people completed the training last year and began apprenticeships in November at Five Talent software and CBT Nuggets.

For the next round of training starting later this month, Apprenti’s organizers will choose seven people from a field of 320 applicants, said Stefanie Siebold, director of programs at the East Cascades Workforce Investment Board.

The workforce investment helped secure the funding to bring Apprenti to Bend and organizes the program with Technology Association of Oregon.

Apprenti graduate Alex Hanson said he’d been considering moving to Portland to attend a code school, or moving to Finland, when he was selected.

Hanson, 38, has a degree in environmental toxicology, but he couldn’t find work in that field after moving to Bend so his wife could pursue a career in architecture.

Another Apprenti graduate, Sharon Miller said relocating wasn’t an option as she was trying to start a full-time career at 35.

“My husband’s a teacher,” she said. “We have three kids in school here. I’ve been here 15 years.”

Like other code schools, DevStation will allow people to complete one course at a time, said Rachel Knox, continuing education program manager at COCC.

“The commitment for those classes is significant,” she said. “People need to clear some space in their life for it.”

She anticipates that people who turn to DevStation will be career-changers, like the Apprenti applicants.

So even though the size of Apprenti’s applicant pool indicates high demand for training in software development, Knox said she’s not sure how that will translate to course registrations.

“There’s a lot of life pieces to put together with this,” she said. “Who takes care of the kids? How do I keep money coming in?”

It could be nine months before DevStation offers more than the brief intro courses that are currently available, Knox said. COCC needs more qualified instructors, she said.

“We can’t just offer it willy nilly,”she said. “We want to have really good instructors who are able to deliver the curriculum to a standard that’s going to be most useful for an employer.”

DevStation’s lead instructor is Adam DuQuette, an OSU-Cascades computer science graduate. Code schools are known for taking people with no background in programming from “zero to hero,” he said. They’re also becoming places where people can take one or two courses relevant to their jobs.

“Code schools will have computer science graduates come through just to get that workforce training,” he said. “It’s quite an amazing thing that’s happening.”

DuQuette said he hopes DevStation will fill a similar role in Central Oregon by offering add-on classes like data structures and algorithms.

“That’s a critical concept for any software developer to understand,” he said.

As part of the licensing agreement with Code Fellows, DevStation will have the same price structure, Knox said. The full software development course costs $20,099.

Hanson said that’s why he feels so fortunate to have been selected as a FiveTalent apprentice.

“Boot camps can be a wonderful investment but can be a risk as well,” he said. “You don’t know if you’re going to get a job afterward.”

FiveTalent Chief Technology Officer Ryan Comingdeer said the apprentices have exceeded his expectations, and the company agreed to take on four more apprentices this year.

“Self-motivated, curious with a strong work ethic — that’s what these guys bring,” he said.

But Comingdeer doesn’t have the same regard for job seekers who’ve only spent time in a boot camp or workshop.

“Because they are self-directing, they skip out on the classes they aren’t interested in,” he said. “If you’ve just been in a coding school, six or nine weeks, they’ve learned to copy and paste well.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com