Coding in Mississippi: Instructors hold the hack to success

By: Taylor Lewis

 

In Water Valley, Mississippi amidst the few stoplights and quaint southern shops, 11 students sit in front of their laptops in a large room with four walls and a white board.

All of them closely following the hand of their instructor as it glides across the whiteboard’s surface, which is caked with debris from earlier lessons.

Looking around the room you wouldn’t think that these 18 – 19 year olds from Mississippi would be almost proficient in computer software

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Base Camp Coding Academy is located in downtown Water Valley, Mississippi. It is nestled between several historical buildings, including BTC Grocery, a Water Valley favorite. 

coding, but they are.

Base Camp Coding Academy, situated in a historic building in downtown Water Valley, is on the verge of completing its first year open and graduating their first group of students.

Kagan Coughlin, co-founder of Base Camp Coding Academy, describes the program as being “a non-profit vocational training program for Mississippi-based students that have graduated from high school and they don’t necessarily have a path ahead of them.”

But this program is special, not just because of the intriguing location, but because of the founding principles and the instructors situated inside the classroom.

“This is a program that was founded based on two principles; that we have bright young people in Mississippi who don’t have opportunities ahead of them right now, and we have a strong business and philanthropic community that is ready and willing to invest in these young folks,” Coughlin said.

Through the strong philanthropic community, Base Camp Coding Academy has been able to provide its students with a yearlong education program that is not monetarily driven.

“If we feel that this program could set them on a very positive life trajectory, then they get a full year of education … and at the end of a long 12 months they will be high-skilled entry level software developers at zero cost to them,” Coughlin said.

Students not only receive free laptops and t-shirts, but they are also provided with qualified instructors that have a passion for the program and the industry.

“Both of our instructors took pay cuts to come and do this, which means their motivation had to be something other than money and that is a rarity,” Coughlin said. “They are the reason why that information is getting crammed into those skulls and practiced and honed and refined.”

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Sean Anthony, director of Base Camp Coding Academy, sits at his desk between classes.

Sean Anthony, director of Base Camp Coding Academy, is one of two instructors given the
responsibility of educating these students in computer software, but he came into technology on a bit of a different route.

“My degree is in mechanical engineering, then I went into education, and then got back into STEM and tech from there,” Anthony said.

Anthony, having been a part of Teach for America for several years, never lost his passion for education and was excited for the opportunity to educate students in a field he was very experienced with.

“At some point when our funding started to take shape and we understood our staffing requirements, Sean actually walked up the hall and knocked on my door and said ‘I think I want to do this,” and he is so over qualified,” Coughlin said.

Anthony said that the decision to join Base Camp wasn’t easy, but the selling point for him was to have the opportunity to see a direct impact in each of the students at the end of the program.

Since knocking on Coughlin’s door, Anthony was given the position of director and the task of helping 11 high school graduates become proficient in computer software.

“So my role is, in part, instruction and then, in part, making everything else just kind of happen,” Anthony said.
Anthony said that he spends his time making sure each student demonstrates mastery of every skill and that at the end of the year every student has a portfolio that they can direct potential employers to.

Complimenting Anthony, Nate Clark is known by the students as the quirky technical instructor, who is able to keep challenging students as the year progresses.

“Nate, the other instructor, he’s our technical director and
he focuses on the specifics of programming … to provide a deeper level of content knowledge to the students,” Anthony said.

Adam Tutor, a Base Camp Coding Academy student from Pontotoc, described the key difference between the two instructors.

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Base Camp Coding students (left to right) Martin Guzman, Adam Tutor, and Keegan Faustin posing together after a long day of classes.

“I’d say that both are good for separate things. As far as technical questions, Nate is and the person to go to for design questions or for the front-end of designing websites it’s usually a Sean question,” Tutor said.

Martin Guzman, a Base Camp Coding Academy student from Oxford, said that the differences between the Base Camp instructors have prepared him to become a good software developer and employee.

“The instructors were awesome. I don’t think that Base Camp could’ve found any other better instructors. I think that, if it wasn’t for them, the motivation that I really got now it wouldn’t of happened without them,” Guzman said.
Over the 12-month span of the program, the instructors assign all the students with a typical skill set to become a software developer of a company.

“We are focused on web-application development so we worked with employers to find out what skills they wanted to see from new employees for them in the future,” Anthony said.

According to an article in Mississippi Business Journal, “knowing how to develop software suddenly puts an entirely new arsenal of skills at your disposal. This is a skill set that companies, even those outside the tech sector, are willing to pay top dollar for.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that software development is one career that is expected to increase by almost 17 percent, which is 1
0 percent greater than the average job growth in the Uited States.
Anthony’s main goal for the year is to do whatever it takes to get 100 percent of the students hired upon graduation, which is accomplished through the academy’s structure.

“The legacy that I’m trying to set up with Base Camp is making it seem that their first day on the job is a lot easier than their first day here,” Anthony said.

During, the first two months, instructors provide students with coding basics and then the rest of the year is spent in more of a workplace setting.

“We prepare students to be job-ready from day one, given our structure, I expect it to be a pretty smooth transition to the workplace,” Anthony said.

Since this was Base Camp’s first year, Anthony said that it went smoothly with the exception of a few challenges.

“Navigating in that time frame too the difference in speeds in which people pick things up, that’s been another one of the big challenges,” Anthony said.

Despite a stretch of time when Anthony was feeling overwhelmed with the workload himself, Base Camp Coding Academy’s first group of students have proved to be successful due to the structure and instructors.

“The result for this first year is that we have 100 percent placement of our graduating class and 70 percent of the class had multiple companies vying for them and these are 18 to 19 year old young folks from Mississippi,” Coughlin said.

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Base Camp Coding Academy students wrap up their studies for the day. 

Tutor, along with the majority of the other students, said that he came into the program with zero computer experience as far as coding, but now he can create responsive websites from scratch.

Guzman, who is now proficient in several computer languages as well, said that he has not only been given the computer skills, but he has also been given skills that are necessary for the workplace.

Both Tutor and Guzman will miss the Base Camp Coding Academy, but value the friendships they’ve made and the skills they have learned.

“In general, just the setting and the classmates. I’m the only one from Pontotoc, so I didn’t know anybody in the class, so over the year … you get some pretty good friendships,” Tutor said.

Guzman will also miss receiving constant exposure to new programs.

“Just the learning experience. I’ll be missing learning new things and getting my hands on new stuff and the new stuff coming out,” Guzman said.

As Guzman and Tutor prepare to move into the workplace, Coughlin and Anthony are beginning to look to the future and ways to improve next year’s program.

“This is our first year and our numbers are really good and I hope we can keep hitting this because they exceeded all of our expectations,” Coughlin said.

Anthony believes the success of the program is due to the lengthy planning done before the program began.

“This year we put a lot of thinking on the front end, into what we wanted at the end of the year and what we assumed would be the best way to get there throughout the year, and for most of those assumptions we were wither on the spot or pretty close,” Anthony said.

Going into next year, Anthony is excited about the success because that means that the program is able to just be tailored instead of being completely overhauled.

Anthony reflects on his first year as Base Camp Coding Academy director as one big personal learning experience and he feels like he learned a lot from the students.

“It really taught me that to be successful really isn’t that complicated, it’s just you have to be willing to put in the time and put in the work and if you trust in the right things then it will hopefully pay out.”

Link to video:

Coding in Mississippi video

Sources:

Adam Tutor, 18, from Pontotoc, Mississippi

atutor@basecampcodingacademy.org

 

Martin Guzman, 20, from Oxford, Mississippi

mguzman@basecampcodingacademy.org

 

Kagan Coughlin, co-founder of Base Camp Coding Academy

kagan@basecampcodingacademy.org

 

Sean Anthony, director of Base Camp Coding Academy

sean@basecampcodingacademy.org

(662) 616-2706

 

Twitter List:

Base Camp Coding Academy – @basecampcoding

The Clarion-Ledger – @clarionledger

The Oxford Eagle – @OxfordEagle

The Daily Mississippian – @thedm_news

Hotty Toddy.com – @HottyToddyNews

The Mississippi Daily Journal – @DJournalnow

Kids Code Mississippi – @KidsCodeMS

C Spire – @CSpire

Mississippi Business Journal – @mbjournal

Mississippi Today – @MSTODAYnews

 

Facebook List:

Base Camp Coding Academy – @basecampcodingacademy

The Oxford Eagle – @oxfordeagle

The Clarion-Ledger – @clarionledger

The Daily Mississippian – @thedailymississippian

The Mississippi Daily Journal – @djounalnow

Kids Code Mississippi – @kidscodems

C Spire – @cspire

Mississippi Business Journal – @mbjournal

Mississippi Today – @MSTODAYnews

Science Daily – @sciencedaily

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