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Local companies bolster ROP tech education in Santa Cruz County

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In the Spring of 2013, four local tech companies including Cruzio, Launch Brigade, productOps, and Looker ChrisN-ropclassgot together and approached the Santa Cruz Regional Occupation Program (ROP) about working together to better prepare graduating high school students for entry level jobs in the local tech industry.

While it is true that the technology business often calls for college educated technology staff, many tech jobs don’t require a college degree. Many jobs don’t require a highly paid engineer so much as the 21st Century equivalent of a mechanic or a technician.

And as employers, it isn’t always easy to find that entry level or “blue collar” employee who has that mechanical and problem solving aptitude, and we spend a fair amount of time doing basic training to bring incoming staff to a useful level.

Mark Hodges, the director of ROP responded immediately to the overture, and over the course of several meetings through the spring and summer of 2013 we worked out a curriculum and a schedule, and the first class of students met on September 5, 2013, and will complete the yearlong course in June 2014.

There are 15 kids in the class, a couple of juniors, mostly seniors, from three high schools in Santa Cruz County:  Delta, Harbor and Aptos, mostly boys, with two girls.

The class meets Mondays and Thursdays at Cruzio from 3:30 to 5:30 pm and is managed by a County employed ROP instructor, Fidel Mejia, who is great with the kids, a computer  science graduate of UCSC, and all around awesome to work with.

The course is broken into five sections, each taught by someone from one of the participating companies, working with Fidel. Starting with an introduction to computers and networks (Cruzio),  the course progresses to HTML and CSS (Launch Brigade), then an introduction to programming (Looker), then on to Php and MySQL (Launch Brigade) and then finishing with team project work and modern methodology (productOps).

Whew, that’s a lot. The intent was to serve as a broad introductory survey exposing the kids to many different facets of the tech industry. (It has also brought home the fact that teachers are heroes and teaching is incredibly hard work. When I started, I found it was taking two hours to prepare one hour of class material. Wow!)

Cruzio provides a Linux server which hosts the web sites and programs and exercises done by the students. All work is done on Chrome Books also provided by Cruzio. Launch Brigade hosts a Moodle server which is used by Fidel to store the curriculum and grades.

I taught the first eight weeks of classes, and it was a lot of fun, there was a lot of laughter especially when we were stumbling together through binary arithmetic, boolean operations and logic gates. Nothing makes you feel more idiotic than explaining hard to explain stuff with a group of jolly teenagers. Coworkers in the Cruzioworks space were often amused by explosions of hilarity coming from the classroom.

As I got to know the kids, it became apparent that almost half of them were stone Minecraft geeks, so as a special treat, Joe from MakersFactory visited to do a presentation about how Minecraft works and led the class through the source code to demonstrate how he had made custom modifications.

It was a pleasure to see the gleams in the eyes of the students when it clicked and they understood that the ability to do something like that was in their power. I suspect a half dozen new career programmers and Makers were born on that day.

We’re all meeting in a couple weeks, along with the folks at MakersFactory and Jill Denner and Jacob Martinez of ETR Associates, to debrief on the year so far and discuss expanding it across the whole county.

This tech educational initiative and the participating companies are documented on Civinomics here:
https://civinomics.com/initiative/4Px0/civinomicon-education-expanded-program-for-information-technology-career-training/show and will be updated to include plans to expand the program swell as progress reports.

There are a number of other tech education programs in the County, such as the TEC program in Watsonville run by Jacob Martinez and the new Discovery Center at Gateway School to name a couple. There is also an initiative in the Santa Cruz County Business Council to poll their membership on desired entry level job skills and work with ROP on refining and developing programs to better prepare students to enter the local employment marketplace.

Stay tuned to Santa Cruz Tech Beat for ongoing updates on the state of tech education in Santa Cruz County.

Chris Neklason
Co-CEO of Cruzio

Sara Isenberg curates and publishes Santa Cruz Tech Beat for the benefit of the extended business and technology community. When she is not volunteering her time for the tech scene, Sara makes her living by managing software projects, web strategy planning, and providing development team services (including account management, vendor management, strategic partner management, beta project management, referrals to qualified technical team members, and more). Please visit http://saraisenberg.com or contact Sara by email at sara@saraisenberg.com if you have any project management, account management, or Development Team leadership or service needs.

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