UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte provide intensive programming training through boot camps

Dzmitry Dubarau was tired of working in restaurants and barely making ends meet. What he really wanted to do was work with computers. The only problem? He had almost no skills in that discipline.

“I think back then I typed maybe 16 words a minute,” he said with a chuckle. “I was really slow.”

So Dubarau decided to enroll in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Coding Boot Camp, eager to learn new skills that could land him one of the many computer-related jobs that are popping up across the state.

There are many potential jobs out there for the boot camp graduates. With nearly 9,000 software development-related jobs posted in North Carolina since June 2016, it’s almost impossible NOT to find a career in that field. The main qualification necessary is the requisite skillset in programming.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte are working to meet the need of filling those jobs by entering a strategic partnership with Trilogy Education Services, a company that operates “programming boot camps” at more than 20 universities across the country. The boot camps are designed for students like Dubarau, with few computer skills.

The camps are also there for students such as Christi Savino, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Central Florida. However, Savino chose to pursue a career path in biblical counseling and raise her family instead of working in programming, so her previous skillset was severely outdated.

After brushing up her skills online, Savino decided to attend the UNC-Chapel Hill boot camp because of the variety of programming offered, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Bootstrap, Express.js, React.js, Node.js, Database Theory, MongoDB, MySQL, Git, C# and ASP.Net.

“I missed working with computers a lot,” she said. “What I liked about UNC was that it wasn’t an all-day class – you had two evening classes a week, plus Saturdays. I saw what the UNC lessons were offering up with Java, HTML and CSS, and I decided to do this one.”

Meeting North Carolina’s needs

UNC-Chapel Hill’s boot camp began last summer while UNC Charlotte’s began a few months later in November. Despite both universities working with Trilogy, there is some variation in course structure. UNC-Chapel Hill currently offers a six-month part-time course, while UNC Charlotte offers a six-month course and a more intense three-month boot camp.

Students who successfully complete either of the boot camps receive a certificate of completion, showing the programming languages the students have acquired. In addition, the boot camps hold employer job fairs to match students with North Carolina companies. Both Savino and Dubarau secured jobs before they had even completed the courses.

Asher Haines, director of Continuing Education at UNC Charlotte, said the courses are designed to be comprehensive.

“We focus on workforce relevance and applicability in our continuing education programs so participants can accelerate their careers,” he said. “Trilogy is a tremendous partner for our coding boot camp because we are able to leverage the scale and scope of Trilogy’s services as well as their national network of top tier universities. By pooling curriculum input and expertise from our instructors in Charlotte with those at the other universities, we deliver a comprehensive curriculum that is current with the latest technologies and practical skills needed in today’s fast-moving digital economy.”

Charlotte is steadily becoming one of the nation’s leading tech sectors, Haines added. He noted a recent “Forbes” article, which said the city’s tech businesses expanded their job count by 62 percent from 2006 to 2016. The city’s 18 percent growth from 2014 to 2016 is the fastest in the nation.

Rob Bruce, director of the Friday Center for Continuing Education at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the center was looking to expand its professional development offerings, and with tech companies such as Red Hat, SAS and Lenovo in the Triangle area, computer programming was an obvious need.

Bruce said he vetted Trilogy through its partnerships with the University of Texas at Austin, Rutgers University and Northwestern University before deciding to launch a small pilot program last summer. By August, nearly 100 students will have completed the course, and Bruce hopes to double that total by next year.

“It’s very intensive; this is not an easy program,” Bruce said. “Over 90 percent of our participants have gotten jobs. The first ‘Demo Day’ for students to show their projects, we had 75 companies show up to see them.”

Bruce said the majority of the students have some coding experience, but it’s not extensive. The youngest student to register is 22, while the oldest is 62. Demographically, the classes are about 53 percent male and 47 percent female.

“That’s something we were happy to see,” he said. “There’s the general idea that there should be more women in tech, and this is something that can help that.”

Beyond the lessons themselves, Savino said her instructor and teaching assistants were extremely helpful. She landed a systems engineering job with Avalara Inc. in Durham, along with three other students from the boot camp.

“We had amazing support from our instructors,” she said. “They are very nurturing, with free tutoring. They were super supportive.”

As for Dubarau, who could barely type before he began the boot camp, he learned his lessons well and now works as a teaching assistant with the current UNC Charlotte cohort.

“It’s about how much work you put into it,” he said. “You have to do a lot of coding. But you are changing because you want to do something better with your life, so it’s an investment. It’s an amazing experience, and I’m really enjoying teaching right now.”