Suncoast Developers Guild Training Goes Online: A Positive COVID-19 Story

March 27th, 2020

Suncoast Developers Guild

Suncoast Developers Guild (SDG), Tampa Bay’s leading non-for-profit coding school, announced that they would close their campus as part of extending their policy of following the Pinellas County Schools Board’s closures for weather emergencies to all emergencies, including health. The campus will remain closed for the period from March 16, until at least April 15.

While on-campus instruction has been put on hold, SDG, guided by its core values, quickly shifted to on-line instruction to continue to offer a high level of education to prepare their students to enter the tech community over the next few months. SDG plays a critical role in the workforce and economic development in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay and is ensuring that employers can continue to grow by continuing to offer training during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark in a Pelican Shirt

SDG Pressing Forward with Training

Cohort 17’s class t-shirt sports a brown pelican, St. Pete’s official bird, – a different animal is selected for each Cohort. This group of 17 students began their 12-week program on February 10 and are slated to graduate – on-time – on May 1. In the hope of keeping the students and staff safe during this troublesome time, SDG faculty and students quickly shifted to technology – Zoom video conferencing and continuing to use Slack, a team communication platform -- in order to maintain classes and live out the SDG core values of Universal Ability, Transformative Skills, and a Supportive Community. “All three of our values enabled us to hit the ground running in unexpected ways in support of community and students – it made the transition nearly seamless,” shared SDG CEO, Jason Perry.

The Pivot: Demonstrating Transformative Skills

SDG has always recorded their lectures – the twist now is that video chat is the means of delivering content and the historical recording. Gavin Stark, a longtime faculty member, notes: “A virtual class requires the instructor to be more conscious of how students are doing by checking in more often and observing them via the video chat window. The fun thing is that students have taken to Zoom’s feature of switching their background images to keep things interesting; this is helping to keep spirits up.”


Alumni and fellow students stepped up to be sure all had the encouragement and coaching needed to adapt. Students have started breakout sessions to work on projects and spend time together much as they were doing when physically on campus together. "It is nice to see that those traditions have translated to the online world. On Friday, many of the students got together for a virtual Suncoast Social and had a few beverages together," added Gavin Stark. Unexpected outcomes were noted by a student, “Despite lots of consequences [of the pandemic] being home has allowed me to focus on code with minimal distraction."

Meeting Challenges

The values lived out today by Suncoast Developers Guild have deep roots and the consistency of their approach engenders trust all across the Tampa Bay tech community.

Until late 2017, The Iron Yard operated a coding school in St. Pete that produced 150 alumni and had a staff of seven. Challenges that come with a national organization overtook this national chain and the school was closed. Several former staff remained and worked to reimagine what coding training could look like. Some key principles emerged from the group – it had to be a not-for-profit model and it needed to be founded via open-source approaches. The licensing process was lengthy and detailed. Bit by bit they assembled the school, opening in July of 2018.

"Succeeding at operating an immersive code school is tough work and sustaining a business model would be especially challenging if we had stakeholders looking for returns on their investment. At Suncoast Developers Guild, we never want to be in a situation where the interests of our students can be bought and sold," according to Jason L Perry, CEO. He added "The most important piece to our school’s success will be how we align with employers and the community. I think our team has already proven that what we do is working in Tampa Bay. As we continue to grow those roots, I am proud to say, Suncoast Developers Guild is a code school that serves people instead of profits."

What’s Next for SDG?

Next up for Suncoast Developers Guild is a 4-prong approach to building their future.

  • Suncoast Developers Guild starts its next part-time program on Saturday, March 28 and it runs for six Saturdays, from 10 am until 3 pm. Students will focus on the basics of front-end web development. Participants will learn the basic practices, fundamentals, and ideas behind creating dynamic websites with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The course – dubbed “Test Drive” – is exactly that, with a fairly narrow focus on front-end skills. Part-time classes are typically small with 4 or 5 participants, and some of these students usually go on to take the full-time program. Spring 2020’s part-time class is also being conducted via Zoom and Slack.
  • Recruiting is in full swing for the next full-time program starting May 11. SDG already has a number of students registered for Cohort 18. Until the end of the current crisis, we’ll be running the cohort online as well. Register or get more information on the class.
  • Hackathons are returning to SDG! The planned dates are June 20-22. Whether in-person or held virtually, SDG plans to reach out to several fellow non-profits to see what technical challenges they face and then showcase those as the “challenges” for the Hackathon. 30-35 participants are anticipated with significant cash rewards. SDG is on the hunt for corporate sponsors willing to drive their Corporate Social Responsibility investments toward economic and workforce development through strengthening local IT capacity. Learn more about how your company can fuel SDG’s growth.
  • Mark May 1 on your calendars as “SDG Demo Day.” This is a full day of celebrating Cohort 17’s graduation from the program and showcasing via a science fair-style presentation of the new graduate’s capstone project. Employers have found Demo Day to be helpful in finding the right junior programmer for their company. SDG staff is looking to see how they can use technology to conduct Demo Day in a virtual manner, if necessary.

What Does This Mean for Tampa Bay Employers?

Tampa Bay tech employers should mark their calendars for May 1’s Demo Day to find their next junior programmer hire but you don’t need to wait until then according to Campus Director, Katherine Trammell. Katherine oversees recruitment and student placements. With over two year’s experience, she has a good feel for what employers are looking for in new hires and with close working relationships with students, she has insight as to what may be a good fit for students. SDG has excellent student placement rates with most graduates employed within 3 - 6 months of graduation.

Get a sense of their development skills

Startups and established companies alike are choosing to move to the St. Pete — which is one of the top four high-tech employment centers in the nation — because of the ever-expanding, highly skilled workforce, according to the St. Pete Area Economic Development Center.

Suncoast Developer’s Guild is pressing forward to enhance job skills of local talent and place them with growing Tampa Bay employers. With full- and part-time classes in motion, Hackathons, and opportunities to support local businesses and nonprofits, SDG actively contributes to this area’s success.

Learn more about how you can support the mission of Suncoast Developer’s Guild.

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