Students gain first-hand tech experience at Dyn’s Hackademy weekend

Dyn Hackademy (Photo credit: Katlyn O'Hara)
Dyn Hackademy (Photo credit: Katlyn O'Hara)

Contributed piece from Ali Rafieymehr, of Manchester, New Hampshire-based Dyn, on a recent program to give local college students hand-on tech experience.

The tech industry has a unique crisis on its hands. While more and more startups are popping up across the United States, the number of qualified students fit for those jobs is decreasing. Computer science student participation at the high school level is decreasing. Associates degrees in computer and information studies plummeted 11 percent between 2003 and 2012. And the majority of those who do graduate in the field move to places like New York and Silicon Valley.

So what’s a growing Manchester, New Hampshire tech company with a serious appetite like Dyn to do?

The answer is right in front of us, in our local community. However, we need to do more than just pull students from classrooms. Tech is a hands-on field, and while colleges and universities are wonderful places for learning, they’re not always great for doing.

For companies like us, the best future employees are local students who have hands-on experience in the tech world. Understanding this fact, we strive to create opportunities for New England area students (yes, we consider New England local!) to not only study the leading technologies, but also experience how they’re being used and deployed.

Dyn Hackademy is a perfect marriage of the two.

Our four-day event provides selected college students from the surrounding area the opportunity to learn about tech as well as see it in action.

To begin with, the students attend software development workshops and learn about new and exciting technologies. Then, attendees are given the opportunity to put their theoretical knowledge into action and compete in teams to develop something – this year it was mobile iOS applications for local New Hampshire nonprofit organizations. We mix in a few fun events (Marshmallow Challenge, anyone?) and give our participants a long weekend to remember.

This year, 20 students from throughout New England took the Hackademy by storm. At the end of the event, in front of a crowd of representatives from non-profit organizations, our invited guests, friends and family of some of the students, as well as some Dyn employees and leadership team members, the student teams had 7-10 minutes to talk about the non-profit organization that they were assigned to, showed a demo, and discussed the features that they implemented in their app.

At the end of our event, while not everyone takes home an award, all our students and non-profit participants are winners, as (perhaps selfishly) was Dyn.

It’s in our best interest, and the best interest of all tech companies, to support our local communities. Nonprofits help keep our cities and towns strong, while the local student population will (hopefully) one day become our new employees. The more we can do to lift each other up, the better we’re all destined to do.

And who knows, Silicon Valley may be the country’s biggest tech hub today, but who’s to say Manchester, New Hampshire isn’t the next great technology town? It’s all up to the next generation of programmers and engineers to decide — and right now, we’re the ones they’re hacking with.

Ali Rafieymehr, Dean of Dyn University and Director of Instructional Design at Dyn, an Internet performance company.