No Single Person Makes NSS Happen | 500 in 5

Another post in our 5th anniversary series of posts - looking back, taking stock, looking forward. Check out our other posts in this series.

Saying Thank You to Some Important “Co-Founders” and other Unindicted Co-conspirators

John Wark receives NTC Hall of Fame honor As we post this today, I am being honored by the Nashville Technology Council at their annual meeting and inducted into the NTC Hall of Fame. I’m very honored to be so recognized and even more proud to represent all of the NSS community in accepting this honor. I thank the NTC for honoring me and through me all of those that are part of the NSS story.

That is the only way that I can look at such an award - as recognition of what we all have accomplished at NSS. Recognition of our instructors over the past five years, recognition of our operations team, and most of all, recognition of our graduates and their importance in helping to fill the tech workforce needs of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

No single individual makes something like NSS a success. And on this day when I and NSS are being recognized, I’d like to make sure a few people who were instrumental in supporting the launch of NSS are remembered and thanked for their help in getting NSS off the ground back in 2012.

First, my tech community friends and compatriots who helped inspire and support me during the ideation and planning that led to NSS. There were dozens of conversations among a fluid line-up of developers, CTOs, hiring managers, etc. that helped shape and guide the vision of NSS. There is simply no way that NSS would have happened without their encouragement, support, beer, ideas, beer, and enthusiasm for the possibilities. I hesitate to start naming names for fear of leaving someone out and inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings so please excuse me if the passage of time has dimmed my memory (or it could have been the beer).

Some of the folks who were most heavily involved in the autumn/winter of 2011 during the ideation that led to NSS include Matt Mueller, Chris McIntyre, Christopher Parks, Brendan Wovchko, and Scot Clausing. I have always credited Scot Clausing as being the person that sparked my thinking and got me looking down the path that ultimately led to NSS. I think that conversation was in August of 2011, might have involved a meal, might have involved a beer, but definitely involved discussion that got me thinking about how motivated adults, with aptitude, can go a long way on their own in learning to code, but how mentoring, some good instruction, and relevant projects can really accelerate learning. In my mind, Scot was the catalyst that started the reaction that led to NSS.

Matt, Chris, and Brendan, along with many others, worked with me to help challenge ideas, provide insights and their own ideas, and generally helped push the process along. During this stage, no one did more work than Matt Mueller in helping carry the load. And a constant inspiration during this time was what Christopher Parks, Chris, and Matt and the entire Change Healthcare startup crew were doing - it didn’t directly relate to training devs or anything like that but it was living example of what a motivated small team with a strong vision can accomplish. After five prior startups (NSS being my sixth), you’d think I’d already know that, but there’s nothing like being reminded what’s possible.

Around this same time in late 2011 and early 2012 the general shape of a business model for a non-profit, non-traditional, immersive vocational school was taking shape. It was clear that we weren’t alone in seeing this opportunity given the announcement and launch of the early pioneering coding bootcamps (not quite called that yet) like DevBootcamp, Flatiron School and a few others in NYC, Chicago and San Francisco. Around that same time we started to go out more actively into the Nashville community to try to recruit support for our vision of NSS among the developer community and selected tech employers.

Two of the first places we went to start to engage the broader tech community were the Nashville PHP user group/meetup and the Nashville Rails meetup. These were two of the very few monthly tech user groups/meetups that were live at that time and were two of the most active. Both were incredibly welcoming and very supportive of what we were trying to do. Folks in the PHP community like Jacques Woodcock, Cal Evans, Ben Ramsey, Bill Israel, Jason Myers, Luke Stokes and many others were hugely helpful in making connections, reviewing our plans, and just generally supporting what we were trying to get off the ground.

The Rails user group also got heavily involved with us at around the same time. Again, that entire community was supportive of the idea of NSS and helped sanity check some of our thinking, helped us make key connections, got involved in helping to shape the original design of our curriculum, etc. Josh Crews was the organizer of the Rails group at the time and was hugely supportive. The entire Centresource crew, which was a huge critical mass of Ruby on Rails talent but also a great group of people, spearheaded by Brandon Valentine, also started to get engaged and was critical to helping us make forward progress. Others in that group that I remember being very helpful at that time included Pete Brumm and Daniel Nelson. And even more critical to the successful launch of NSS, we first got introduced to Eliza Brock through the Rails meetup. Eliza become our first server-side instructor (Ruby on Rails, naturally) and in a very real sense our founding instructor.

I was also working with the Nashville Technology Council’s workforce development committee during this time. Several individuals on that group were interested in the potential of NSS and were helpful in moral support, connections, encouragement, and in one case even money as noted below. Some of the people we met through this channel were Katherine McElroy from c3/consulting, Bryan Huddleston who was still at Microsoft at this point in time, Vic Gatto and John Kepley.

All of the above, and the many others that I’m sure I am forgetting to mention, have my deep gratitude for helping make NSS a reality. The entire Nashville tech community owes all of you a debt for your support for the idea of NSS at a critical time in our gestation and launch.

The First Seven Donors

One other group of folks also deserves appreciation and thanks from all of us for their help in launching NSS. And that’s the seven individuals who answered a call and stepped up and made $5000 donations to help seed the launch of NSS. While in all senses NSS was a bootstrapped effort, that $35,000 in donations to a brand-new, operational but unproven concept was an incredible vote of confidence and support from influential and visible people in the community. It also created some degrees of freedom in operation that would not have existed if we had remained dependent only on my checkbook during the first training cycle.

The big thank you and all of the credit to getting these donations lined up goes to Mark Montgomery. Mark and his team at Flo Thinkery were big supporters of ours during our launch phase in 2012 and into 2013. Mark himself took the initiative to round up all but one of the donors. This came after Mark was convinced (through “spirited” dialog and much drawing on whiteboards - you’d have to know Mark to understand) that while our business model was unusual and risky that there was a reasonable chance it would work and would really be a benefit to the community if it did. And in typical Mark fashion, once Mark got convinced, he didn’t screw around. He got on the phone, told everyone they were going to come to a meeting and hear about NSS, and that they should just bring their checkbook because they were going to write us a check - just like he was. And sure enough, that’s what happened.

The motley crew Mark rounded up for that first and last meeting of the NSS Launch Advisory Board pulled out checkbooks (in a couple of cases literally, mostly they mailed checks in later, but everyone pulling out checkbooks around the table is a better story) and wrote us checks for $5000 after listening to a presentation of what NSS was all about. In no particular order, the folks around that table who donated were:

  • Julia Polk, my comrade from mentoring at Jumpstart Foundry
  • Adam Solesby, at that time CTO of StudioNow
  • Townes Duncan of Solidus
  • Joe Glaser, music tech inventor, guitar whisperer to the stars
  • Ralph Shulz, Nashville Chamber of Commerce CEO

Those five, plus Mark, made $30,000 and John Kepley donated a week or so later giving us $35,000 in donations to provide some welcome working capital.

And I must note that Joe Glaser, through his family foundation, has continued to make a donation to NSS every year-end, which goes into our scholarship fund and is much appreciated.

Again, my deepest thanks to all seven of you for stepping up and helping make NSS a reality. Your generosity has made it possible for us to go on to serve 502 graduates with many more to come.

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