DMACC Perry rolls out new software development program

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Edwin Martinez, software engineer at the DMACC Perry VanKirk Career Academy, tests a virtual reality setup in the lab. Martinez holds a holds a Master of Science degree in human-computer interaction and has particular expertise in virtual reality.

Edwin Martinez

Silicon Valley had better watch out. Some of the high-tech, high-dollar jobs found at the heart of America’s technology capitol might soon start cropping up in the Perry area as the DMACC Perry VanKirk Career Academy unveils a Computer Languages Academy starting this fall term.

The Perry campus is offering a 30-credit, one-year diploma program in the high-demand, high-paying software development field. DMACC Perry VanKirk Center Director Eddie Diaz said the goal of the private-public initiative is to empower, energize and encourage young people to build high-tech skills that allow them to pursue high-paying careers without leaving their home communities.

Crucial to the deployment of the Perry program has been the hiring of Edwin Martinez as the full-time computer languages instructor at the Perry VanKirk Center. Martinez will teach many of the new classes, including C# Developer, C++ Developer, Java Application Developer, Python Application Developer and SQL Application Developer, all of which have been approved for the fall semester at the Perry campus.

Martinez, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, spent the previous four years as a software developer engineer at Source Allies in Urbandale, where his clients included some of the largest agricultural and financial services companies on the planet. He holds a Master of Science degree in human-computer interaction and has particular expertise in virtual reality.

VanKirk Center Director Eddie Diaz said attracting Martinez to the Perry campus was a stroke of luck. More than 20 students have already expressed interest in enrolling in the new Computer Languages Academy, Diaz said.

“The seeds have been planted for a new crop of talent in rural Iowa, and we’re excited to see how much it can grow,” Diaz said.

With its new computer languages and software development program, the Perry DMACC joins the communities in the Lincoln Corridor — a stretch of Lincoln Highway between Ogden, Jefferson and Carroll — in forming a kind of Silicon Prairie, born from a partnership between DMACC, Iowa Central Community College, the State of Iowa, Corteva Agriscience,  Pillar Technology, now part of Accenture, and others in creating high-tech jobs in rural Iowa.

Last September, a grand opening was held for Accenture’s Rural Forge, a global technology company that opened a software development office in Jefferson. Des Moines, Columbus, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, are also homes to Forge locations.

Diaz said the target audience for the new Perry program is high school students from area school districts, such as Adel-Desoto-Minburn, Dallas Center-Grimes, Ogden, Panorama, Perry and Woodward-Granger. He said adult students from the surrounding area are also encouraged to apply.

“There has been significant interest from students,” Diaz said. “Students are excited about having the opportunity for a career track that was not as open to them before, especially given the fact that it will be low or no cost to most of them,”

He said the program is eligible for the Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship, which covers any tuition gaps not covered by other federal and state grants for eligible Iowa residents enrolled in targeted, high-demand career and technical programs at DMACC.

Additionally, in support of this initiative, the Rural Forge Scholarship was established in 2019 in support of the collaboration between Accenture and Corteva Agriscience to educate and train students in rural Iowa in high-demand, high-value software technology skills.

Diaz said most students in Perry will be able to take advantage of these programs and complete the program with no cost to them.

“It is an unbelievable opportunity to combine a promising career, accrue zero or very low student loan debt and stay close to home,” Diaz said. “Most students believe it must be too good to be true.”

Here’s how Diaz foresees high-tech jobs being created in rural Iowa: Once students complete the Perry program, selected graduates will participate in a four-month commercial software development training program at the new Rural Forge in Jefferson, where the company prepares the future workforce by further developing their programming skills.

Diaz said at the conclusion of the four months, the young professionals may be invited to be interviewed for jobs with starting salaries in the $50,000 to $60,000 range and sometimes quickly ballooning to six figures in the high-demand, high-pay industry.

DMACC Carroll Campus Provost Dr. Joel Lundstrom said a lot of the drive behind this project comes from Accenture Rural Revitalization and Inclusion Lead Linc Kroeger.

“Linc created the vision for the project, coordinated the Rural Forge Scholarship, and has continued to support students throughout this process,” Lundstrom said. “This program, with Linc’s involvement, may change the future for rural communities like Perry, Carroll and Jefferson. He sees the potential and has rallied other influential players to deliver on the project.”

DMACC President Rob Denson acknowledges that Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has been a strong advocate for supporting public-private partnerships like the Forge which will result in high-paying career opportunities for small town Iowa residents.

“DMACC thanks Accenture, Linc Kroeger, Congressman Khanna, and the Governor for their unwavering support of the economic development of rural Iowa. Accenture made a large commitment to Iowa, starting in Jefferson and we intend to deliver,” Denson said.

Another major player who hopes to bring Silicon Valley-type jobs to rural Iowa is U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA), who represents the Silicon Valley area of Northern California.

“Governor Reynolds has just been a delight to work with,” Khanna said in a video conference call with DMACC administrators, students and community members to talk about the new Perry Center Computer Languages Academy and working with Iowa’s Republican Governor to launch the Forge. “I’m committed to making this succeed,” he said. “whether it takes two years, five years or 10 years. And I will make sure everyone knows about your success.”

Khanna said he wants to keep American tech jobs from moving overseas. He also said the cost of living is so high in the Silicon Valley, that many high tech jobs could be created and blossom in rural Iowa for a fraction of the cost of those jobs in his home district.

That’s good news for Perry native Justus Williams, who graduated from Perry High School in 2018 and said he plans to take the Perry Computer Languages classes this fall. He said it’s “definitely awesome” that scholarships will pay for nearly all of his tuition at the Perry VanKirk Center.

“Just talking with the president of DMACC and Congressman Khanna in a Zoom meeting was very cool,” Williams said. “To have a conversation with two influential people like that was awesome.”

Another person interested in this new program is Zane Danger, a 2013 graduate of Perry High School. Danger said Eddie Diaz called him one evening out of the blue.

“He described the program and I was immediately hooked,” Danger said. “I’ve had an interest in computer programming for some time now. I’ve been searching for an opportunity to gain more knowledge in that subject, and this is exactly what I’ve been hoping for.”

Danger said he has had some experience coding, mostly using C# and C++.

“The job opportunities that are possible through this excite me very much,” he said. “This would be like a dream come true to me if I were to get a chance at this amazing opportunity.”

For more information on the Computer Languages Academy, contact Eddie Diaz at ediaz@dmacc.edu or visit the DMACC website.

Dan Ivis is media liaison at the Des Moines Area Community College.

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