Decoding growth at Zip Code Wilmington

Melanie Augustin was a D.C. attorney when her husband’s transfer brought them to Delaware, and gave her a shot at the nonprofit work she’d long wanted to pursue.

“I’ve got to say this is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” said Augustin, exeecutive director of Zip Code Wilmington, the coding boot camp that is the darling of the tech-based entrepreneurial movement in Wilmington.

In October, the nonprofit moved into new digs at The Mill co-working space in Wilmington, and applications for 2018’s February’s cohort have topped 400, double the number of applicants when they first opened their doors in 2015.

Its core offerings are the same — Java and Java script language coding in an intensive 12-week program that lands more than 85 percent of graduates a job with a number of Zip Code’s regional corporate partners.

But once finished, graduates don’t exactly cut ties with the program, according to Augustin.

“I don’t think any of us expected how strong the connection with alumnae would be. It’s incredible.” At the nonprofit’s October ribbon cutting, nearly all 140 alumnae attended, said Augustin.

“Part of it is that they’re working incredibly hard, 80 to 100 hours a week, while they’re here,” explained Augustin. That intensive schedule has also produced a pain point for the organization, whose unique financial model demands a three-month, full-time commitment, leaving many students who can’t afford to quit their jobs or pay for childcare, out of the running.

The organization recently received a grant award from their partner BlackRock, which will allow them to provide stipends to students with a financial need. Those funds will be available next spring, according to Augustin.

In the meantime, the team is culling through applications for the February cohort, which will be a class of between 25 and 35 students.

“We tweak everything constantly,” said Augustin, who added that the organization benefits from the involvement of its corporate partners who have seats on the steering committee.

“We talk with them before every cohort and ask, ‘How should we refine the process?’ We’re teaching to the job. If there’s not a job there, we’re not going to be teaching it.”

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