A couple years ago, freelance web developer Josh Stroschein had the idea to create something that would further educate those in similar fields as him. But, like most passionate and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, he was thinking of his community as well — a place that was ready to listen and willing to learn.

Today, as he strives to build a network of hardworking, ambitious developers in the OTA region, he’s hoping the rest of us will pay a little attention, too.

And we should.

Josh is the co-founder and instructor of South Dakota Code Bootcamp, an educational workshop that focuses on web development. The 12-week curriculum includes hands-on learning and group-based activities, coding and web development skills.

He and his co-founder, Will Bushee, hosted their first bootcamp last summer, and applications are now open for this summer’s camp as well, which will begin in May.

It’s a rigorous program that no doubt produces highly skilled developers in a short period of time. They come out more knowledgable and eager than ever, but what we need to take with us today is that Code Bootcamp is so much more than that. Whether we are moved to participate in a future Bootcamp or not, we need to realize that this sort of alternative, technology education matters to all of us — no matter what we do, no matter who we are.

Because of our ever-growing, technologically-savvy and connected world, Josh’s work has a place in yours. And the more we lean in to his work, the better off — and more aware — we can be.

“We’re only going to get more connected,” Josh says. “There’s only going to be more things that we interact with on a daily basis that have technology in it. So, why not understand it?

“Free yourself to explore!”

Technology in your life

From my perspective, this all begins from an intentional separation from the tech world. We believe that, if our careers are not centered around some type of computer programming, why would it be necessary to know about such things? We could go on — if my career has nothing to do with repairing car engines, do I really need to know how to repair my car engine?

Well, why not? To me, it’s more than acquiring knowledge. It’s about a respect and understanding for the world that ticks around us. There are so many wheels turning — so many people and products and ideas and businesses — that bring ease and joy and comfort into our lives, that doesn’t it just seem right to at least know a little bit more?

To at least reach out and ask, Can you enlighten me on what you do?

“It seems to me that a lot of the frustration around technology just comes from a lack of understanding,” Josh says. “That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to learn how to become a programmer, but I do think taking some time and really studying technology and maybe even exploring some programming can really help a person maximize their use of technology and the potential for them — in whatever they’re doing. Let’s alleviate some of that frustration so they can manage all the stuff that’s out there a bit easier.”

And — perhaps you’ve noticed — there is a lot out there.

“There are certainly people who don’t interact with technology on a daily basis,” Josh concedes. “I know people in my life who really don’t leverage technology more than the cellphone in their pocket. But if you look at a lot of organizations and businesses — in Sioux Falls alone — with almost all of them, you deal with technology. Either they have a web component that they are a part of maintaining or providing information for, or they are using it as a tool for recruitment.”

And without some sort of understanding of how the tech side of a business works, communication can be difficult.

“Developers look at projects and problems a little bit differently than their manager does,” Josh says. “So it’s always helped me when I’m better able to put myself in someone else’s shoes or try to understand their perspective to better relate the technology.”

Along with running Code Bootcamp, Josh teaches at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. So he has a ton of experience in not only working with others, but in relationship building.

“I try to base a lot of my teaching off of my own experiences, working in programming and dealing with team dynamics,” he says. “I also try to look at it from my experience as a student. What was it like when I was first learning this? I find that for a lot of people, small doses of new material aid in the ability to apply it.”

Compassion and empathy are important here as well. Especially in a field that has a reputation for being cut and dry.

“The tougher classes just expect you to figure it out, which is a very traditional computer science mindset, but I think that has changed a lot over the years, and I just want to try and be engaged with the student. I will watch for eye contact or verbal clues to know if I’m making sense or not.”

His own enthusiasm and love and for technology makes for an easy way to connect, too.

Reaching younger demographics

Along with the summer camps, Code Bootcamp also offers shorter workshops throughout the year, like the Database Bootcamp that begins February 1 as well as gaming bootcamps for kids.

Reaching out to younger students is an intentional move to create more exposure.

“They seem to be pretty under-served right now as far as technology,” Josh says. “The high schools and junior highs and elementary schools are very hit-and-miss with what they are able to offer. There are just not getting enough exposure at those younger ages, so we want to help with that. Even a three-day camp might be enough to plant that seed in them, that perhaps down the road, they will want to pursue that.”

Young students participate in a recent gaming camp.
Young students participate in a recent gaming camp.

And working along that younger energy is just fun.

“Fundamentally, it’s a way to share our enthusiasm and passion for tech and for programming,” Josh says. “It’s been kind of odd, too, because you don’t normally associate high energy with programming. It’s just a very different type of high energy!

“These kids grow up playing games on all sorts of devices, and now they’re actually able to see that it’s not that complicated — that you can make games, too,” Josh says. “You’re not going to make the next Angry Birds in three days, but it’s also not as hard as you thought.”

Personal development

Josh simplifies all of this work by likening it to problem solving, something we absolutely use in our daily lives without even really realizing it.

“When you get down to the core of it, it’s a lot of logical thinking,” Josh says. “Even that is a good exercise for me — just going through some of the ways in which to tackle a problem or a project.

“In programming, that’s the satisfaction you get out of it. You have either trivial or complex challenges, and you’re primary goal is to find ways to make things work. The secret is to not let the scope of it get too large. They are all just little problems. People have done this before, so there are ways to solve it.”

He says having a strong network of peers who are going through the same experience — and being able to rely on that support and feedback — helps to break down projects into a manageable, exciting process as well.

It’s why Code Bootcamp is so meaningful for those who have participated — and especially to Josh and Will. It’s important to them that personal development, a work / life balance and networking opportunities play just as big of a role as the curriculum.

“Once students are done with the camp, they facilitate socials or networking events, and some of the them get together on a regular basis just to talk about issues they are working through or projects they are working on,” Josh says. “I probably Skype with at least one person at least one hour a week, if not more.

“But that’s a big part of the experience. We’re here for you, as much as you want to engage.”

He’s referring to his students, of course, both past and future, but if you listen closely enough, he’s talking to you, too.

He’s here for you, ready to help you better understand a not-so-scary world of technology, as much as you want to engage.