Building Software, Serving Communities and Guiding Careers

As featured in the January 2020 Accelerate Magazine: Brad Zepecki
President & CEO, Octavian Technology Group

It’s no secret that Wisconsin has a brain drain problem, especially in the tech industry.

College graduates are fleeing the state for lucrative and prestigious jobs elsewhere, instead of staying put to advance their careers.

So, how do we curb the trend?

I believe that high school students in the greater Milwaukee area should have access to high-quality computer science education and professional job experiences. These are the resources needed to ensure their success in tech-related fields.

Because of this belief, in 2017 I co-founded Code the Way, a 501©3 organization. We have since been actively working to reverse the “bright flight” exodus and promote diversity within southeast Wisconsin’s technology industry.

Code the Way increases opportunities for future technology workers and shows students how to give back to their communities in a meaningful way. These young men and women become junior developers, build software and complete real-world tech projects that are desperately needed by Milwaukee-area nonprofits. So far, the students’ combined efforts have provided more than $250,000 in free tech services.

In our first year, we were just cutting our teeth and I’ll admit, there were times when we didn’t think we could build the software. But the 10 bright students enrolled in the program were dedicated – some of them worked weekends to make it happen. We produced a mileage tracker for the nonprofit Life Navigators (www.lifenavigators.org), where today, they can better help disabled clients maintain their independence and quality of life.

The following year, we quadrupled in size with 45 students joining Code the Way. Heroes for Healthcare (www.heroesforhealthcare.org), an organization that “adopts” veterans until they find a job, needed us to reconfigure their data storage and information tracking systems. Some of their key data had been stored in a notebook. No longer. Now the director can apply for grants electronically from an app on her cell phone.

In 2019, we partnered with the Convergence Resource Center, (www.convergenceresource.org), a nonprofit that serves victims of human trafficking with housing, medical assistance, clothing, counseling and overall support. The students rebuilt the CRC website making it more responsive and user-friendly for these men and women as they seek to reconstruct their lives.

Aside from the support to these wonderful non-profits, the upside for the students has also been incredible. They master the essentials of web development, better understand company culture, and boost their team and people skills through our program. And they have a great product to show for it in the end.

So far, high schools in Brookfield, Waukesha, New Berlin and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) are signed on with Code the Way, but to engage the students, we need more teachers involved. Microsoft sponsors a philanthropy program, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), that helps serve as a catalyst in connecting high
school teachers with tech-industry volunteers to develop computer science classes, and spark the students’ interest and education in the field.

Want to make a difference with Code the Way? If your school district is inspired to partner with us, we’d love to hear from you. Consider volunteering as a student mentor or coach, sponsoring resources for the team, or donating to support our efforts at www.codetheway.org.