Iron Yard Sets To Ignite Tech Ecosystem With 12-Week Coding School

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 114 views 

It takes a big imagination when walking through the now empty offices of the future home of The Iron Yard in downtown Little Rock to see the possibilities of what will actually be taking place in a few weeks.

Located on the fourth floor of the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock’s River Market district at 500 Clinton Avenue Clinton Ave., the now vacant and stark future office space for the new Central Arkansas coding school will be in the midst of the area’s fast-growing tech community, said The Iron Yard’s recently hired Campus Director Mary Dunlap.

Dunlap was hired just over a month ago to lead the Iron Yard’s entry into the Central Arkansas tech and startup community. She is a public relations graduate from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and worked for a local PR firm before taking on the role of what she termed as part campus director, part “tech evangelista” for the new Little Rock coding school.

Founded in Greenville, S.C., the Iron Yard specializes in advanced education in software application development, web design, coding and engineering. Now the largest immersive code school in the U.S. and a viable competitor to Google’s Code School, The Iron Yard has 13 campuses across the U.S. that offers a 12-week coding program that Dunlap described as “sort of like boot camp.”

“It is an immersive program. You are pretty much here all today. You work really hard and you eat, breathe and sleep code, but that is really what it takes,” she said.

With few details about the program, The Iron Yard first announced in January that it was opening shop in Central Arkansas with the support of the Ark Challenge, Gravity Ventures and Innovate Arkansas.

The energetic, tech disciple believes that it is a perfect time for The Iron Yard to land in Arkansas, especially with recent announcements that the coding school will be located in the same space with top local tech companies that are intent on hiring coding and computer programming specialists in high-paying jobs.

Overlooking the Arkansas River, the school’s new campuses will be situated on the fourth floor of the Museum of Natural Discovery office building. Already, other tech-related tenants in the building include Hewlett-Packard’s Medicaid and healthcare solutions unit and Merkle’s CognitiveData subsidiary, a database marketing firm.

By fall, privately-held PrivacyStar and publicly-traded Inuvo Inc. will also be new tenants in the stylish office space only a few blocks from the Clinton Presidential Library and Acxiom Corp. The closely tied companies made joint announcements in early April that they plan to relocate their current Conway headquarters to the Museum Center in the River Market area in the fall.

Both companies also have future plans to expand their current labor pool of about 100 workers over the next 12 months, officials said.

Dunlap said The Iron Yard will fit perfectly within the region’s expanding “tech ecosystem” that is garnering national attention. “One of the things we will be doing is bringing students into that ecosystem that have never been involved in the tech community, or even known that it existed in Little Rock or Arkansas,” she said. “And we are also going to encourage them to get involved in that community, whether it is going to meet ups, events or whatever it may be.”

In addition, Dunlap said, The Iron Yard also has additional space in its new offices that will allow it to hold tech-related events, meetings and other get-togethers. “We want to do whatever we can in the most creative way to help to push that ecosystem and (give) it some longevity.”

Nationwide, Dunlap said The Iron Yard is filling a niche in growing startup and tech communities across the U.S. by immediately placing coding programmers into the workforce.

Students who graduate from the 12-week program pursue all types of programming careers, from work with small web shops, venture-funded startups and marketing agencies to established product companies and design firms, she said. A number of graduates also choose to pursue freelance or contract work once they complete the program.

Dunlap also mentioned the fact that the school’s mission dovetails perfectly with Gov. Hutchinson’s recent Computer Coding High School Tour, which has put his goal of having 6,000 computer coders each year at the forefront of his education and economic development agendas.

“It is definitely way past due for Central Arkansas and I am excited to see the amount of growth, and the amount of people who are willing and ready to invest in the community here in Little Rock,” she said.

Once the program begins at the end of June, Dunlap said she expects that many of the students enrolling in the program will come from “all walks of life.”

“We’ve had people who went to college and graduated and got their masters and went to work and decided this is not what I want to do,” she said. “We’ve (also) had people who worked for 20 or 30 years on their job, and then decided ‘I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life’ and had an interest in coding, and came to us.”

Currently, Dunlap is busy hiring instructors, and interviewing and accepting prospective enrollees for the inaugural class. As an added boost to help with enrollment and the $12,000 tuition, the Iron Yard and Winrock International announced Monday they are partnering to offer $60,000 in scholarships for incoming students.

Scholarships will be awarded based on short essay responses to the question: “What would you build for Little Rock if you learned how to code?” Submissions will be reviewed by Winrock International and The Iron Yard and 12 applicants will be selected and received full, half- and partial tuition scholarship in the amounts of $12,000, $6,000 and $3,000.

Besides the Winrock tuition grant, Dunlap said financial aid and other funding assistance is available to anyone who applies, including diversity scholarships for minority applicants.

Courses for the first class include Front End Engineering and .NET Engineering. Students will graduate with the skills to get professional, junior-level programming jobs, Dunlap said, adding that The Iron Yard has established relationships with several local tech companies who are interested in hiring Iron Yard graduates.

To learn more about the courses and the Little Rock Iron Yard, click here.