Forward with NACCE

Empowering Communities Through Tech Education: The CodeBoxx Approach

August 30, 2023
Forward with NACCE
Empowering Communities Through Tech Education: The CodeBoxx Approach
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. Corbin is talking with  Brian Peret, Program and Campus Director at CodeBoxx, about the crucial role of technology education in today's world. Brian shares insights into how CodeBoxx is bridging the gap in tech education, focusing on both entrepreneurship and workforce development. He highlights the need to redefine technology as an essential skill across industries and explores the importance of teaching not just technical skills, but also the philosophies and mindset that drive success in the ever-evolving tech landscape. As a champion of inclusivity, Brian discusses how CodeBoxx aims to make tech accessible to all, breaking down financial and cultural barriers. Join the conversation to discover how CodeBoxx's innovative approach is shaping the future of tech education and empowering individuals from all walks of life to thrive in the modern economy.

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Brian - 00:00:00:

There is not an industry in this world that is isolated from tech. Technology is ubiquitous. Every successful that wants to be successful has to have an element of tech to it. And we look to fill that need as time goes forward. So that not only means technologists, but entrepreneurs, salespeople, project managers.

Intro - 00:00:32:

Welcome to Forward with NACCE, Inspiring Entrepreneurial Action, a podcast that shares the stories of everyday entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial leaders, and the communities that support us. We hope that this diverse collection of stories brings you inspiration, inspires you to take action, and ignites entrepreneurship in your community as we make our way forward together. 

Rebecca - 00:00:56:

Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I'm Rebecca Corbin, President and CEO of NACCE, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, where we tell the stories of people doing amazing things in communities everywhere. I'm really excited to have a special guest in our studio today, Brian Peret. So he's got a really amazing company that he started and he's doing some really innovative partnership in an area where a lot of us need assistance. So, Brian, welcome and thank you for joining us today. How are you doing today?

Brian - 00:01:30:

 I'm doing great, thank you very much. 

Rebecca - 00:01:32:

That's great. And we chatted a little earlier this morning. So I know you're coming to us from Florida where it's steamy and it's very steamy here in North Carolina. But we're grateful and I would love to just kick off our conversation by you perhaps sharing a little bit about yourself, where did you grow up, just a little bit about your background so we can get a little insight into you as a person.

Brian - 00:01:54:

 Certainly. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you a little bit about my story. I'm a Midwestern boy, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That's where I was born and bred. Had some educators in my family, both my grandfather and my grandmother. Two very strong influences were both educators. My grandfather was a chemistry teacher and administrator. My grandmother was an English teacher and a guidance counselor. So they instilled in me at a very young age, the importance of education. You know, indeed they were, they were my saviors. If it had not been for that instilled in me, I would have gone the route that so many of my friends and classmates went. So I'm very grateful for that. My education continued on at the University of Wisconsin, where I got my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and my master's degree in biomedical engineering. And I was a full -fledged academic. I love doing the research and the teaching and the presenting and all of that. One thing I learned about myself is I really loved the teaching more than the research. And that's when I pivoted out of academia to look to get into some more teaching and industry jobs. Unfortunately, I did that in 2008 when the economy collapsed. And so I had to get into this whole other world of what do we do to survive? And that's where I really got a lot of the jobs that. Gave me a lot of the experience in the real world. I've been a roofer. I've been a delivery driver. I’ve been a Telephone guy, I've been a security guard. And the main thing that I did a lot was cooking and then ultimately as a chef.

Rebecca - 00:03:31:

 Oh, you're kind of the man of all seasons, right? You look back on those times. I remember well 2008, um, because I had just started my new job working at a local community college and my husband worked for a company for awhile as an engineer and all of a sudden his company just shut down and he had never experienced that in his life. And I'll always. Remember that, but I remember thinking about like just struggling to find meaning and understanding and came to think about it later as really. An experience of resiliency and you never realize sometimes how strong you can be. And some of the interesting jobs that we've all had, that should be an episode of our podcast because I had a dual role at one point. I was a maid. But I was a maid for very wealthy families where I would go into these homes and see these amazing things. And I was like you, a Midwestern or grew up in a little tiny house. And I was like, hmm. That kind of gave me some insight, which one wouldn't think. But anyway, back to you. I'm really excited to have this conversation because one of the things a lot of GenXers like myself struggle with is technology. And it seems to me that you took the path, studying very difficult systems. But what you're really good at, as I understand from my colleague, Andy Gold, is taking very complex things and making them understandable and turning them into sort of a toolbox. So let's start by talking about the portrayal of technology and innovation. And you had mentioned your family being in education and sort of that experience. What does that look like in the community college education space? 

Brian - 00:05:10:

Sure, you know, currently. We're not doing a great job at society teaching technology. Right? At the extreme, you have these two very different and disparate ways of teaching tech that aren't quite serving the job. On one end, you have the four -year institutions, the old institutions, they're big, they move slowly. So they're never gonna be quite up to date in serving the populace. On the other end, and the more community college and personal program, and you have these boot camps, right? Where you have the boot camps where they supply the technologies and some exercises and some theories. And that's kind of a sink or swim model. And so, like you said, if somebody has the resilience, they may get through that. One of the challenges with a approach like that is it pre-selects out many of the populations who wouldn't otherwise be able to make it. We have this thing we recognize in CodeBoxx, like life happens. And somebody shouldn't lose their transition into this new career just because life happened, whether it be a hurricane or they're just coming back home from being incarcerated or they have kids. We recognize that there are other ways that people can have troubles getting these programs and the community college and the boot camp models aren't quite doing that.

Rebecca - 00:06:33:

 That is such a good point, yeah. 

Brian - 00:06:36:

And I think there's one thing in there that we've been missing. I'm really happy at CodeBoxx. I've had an opportunity to search and figure it out. It's this idea of... Philosophies over technologies.

Rebecca - 00:06:52:

 Oh, I love that. Yep.

Brian - 00:06:54:

 When I first got this role as program director and I was given the mandate to evaluate our full stack development curriculum, I had the opportunity, the awesome chance to go out and interview some of the tech leaders in our community, the senior vice presidents, the senior engineers, the heads of tech. And I asked them, what makes an attractive candidate for hire for you? I asked this question naively thinking I'm going to hear about tech stacks and programming languages and all this stuff that I thought. To my surprise, what I heard back, what I heard over and over again, had little to do with tech. I would hear things like, give me somebody who's accountable. Give me somebody who is vulnerable. Give me somebody who's a strong communicator. Give me somebody who shows up and has passion. You know, we can work on all the other things. We can work on the techs. And in reality, no matter what tech you study, reality is in tech in three years, you're gonna be working on something new and different anyways. So that's where I learned like it's philosophies, not technologies which separate somebody. And the kill and so that's what we focus on. 

Rebecca- 00:08:05:

I think that's so smart because I remember thinking about that too, you know. One of the gifts that I know that you have, I'm just meeting you now, but just that I know from my colleagues. Is sort of that gift of bringing people along. And what I see technology, particularly in rural areas, which I know is an area of focus for you, is that sometimes people are left behind and the world is moving so fast. And - At NACCE, we've done a lot of work over the nine years that I've been in this role in Appalachian states like Kentucky and West Virginia and areas like that. Uhm, You know, you can't get a more different experience being in a rural part of West Virginia versus being. In Times Square in New York City. Just the pace of life. And I think people like you that are willing to be leaders and with, you know, great degree of knowledge and technology, but saying it's not just the technical skills, but it's what people don't like the word, but the soft skills, right? People that can work in a team, people that can communicate with others, people that can include people with differing abilities, because, you know, if you think about technology. You know, there's a segment of entrepreneurs that fit into the neurodiverse category. If you just looked at them in terms of doing certain skills, you'd say, well, This person can't do this, they can't do that, but they can be. Really excellent in certain areas. So I thank you again for the work that you're doing. You talked a little bit about how community colleges sort of teach tech and that was interesting. And I'd like to move into talking about the future of working with college leadership and faculty. As you know, and you are on our list to be a part of this, The entrepreneurial college of the future was a proof of concept that we did last year. We're actually working on a program to really build that out and bring additional colleges into the mix. I'd love to have you share a little bit. About that, what you see into the future and the roles of colleges. 

Brian - 00:10:15:

Yeah, I think this is something that's really exciting, working with the community colleges going forward and this program that we're delivering. So there's two different tracks that we can take, right, when it comes to tech. And this is in recognizing the diversity of experiences of our students where they are and where they wanna go. First thing I want to talk about in Dispel is this idea about what tech is. I have this notion, everybody that I talk to has this notion of tech as this narrow notion. We see these programmers in these cubicles coding. Tech is so much bigger than that. And that's something that we really want to tap into. There is not an industry in this world that is isolated from tech. Technology is ubiquitous. Every successful that wants to be successful has to have an element of tech to it. And we look to fill that need as time goes forward. So that not only means technologists, but entrepreneurs, salespeople, project managers. These are all roles which are going to need to have a tech component going forward in the modern economy. And we see ourselves partnering with that with community colleges in two different tracks. An entrepreneurial track for one, where we really set to develop that entrepreneurial mindset, the independent learning, the ability to see value in your work, the ability to communicate with technologists to help you advance yourself. Whether you're a solopreneur or an entrepreneur, we help you get to there. Let me talk briefly how we do that. You mentioned how often people don't have experience in tech, but there are certain baselines which we all have these days. Many people have laptops, almost everybody has a smartphone, right? That gives us a starting point, right? The most important thing that I've learned in teaching is that you have to speak a common language, right? And many times that common language is this right here. It's our smartphone. So by starting with our smartphone, by starting with websites that people look, we are able to incrementally add skills and provide exercises that either directly leverage or indirectly require these specific skills to advance. And we're kind of incrementally tricking people into learning by doing these simulations which require and develop these skills. Some of these include developing your own websites, learning how to use modern AI technologies, going in the back and learning how to work with teams to collaborate on tech decisions, learning the fundamentals of computer programming languages without actually having to dive into the syntax. These are all things that people can do that give them value in tech and will also help them as entrepreneurs without actually going into the depths of tech, right? That's the entrepreneur side. Parallel to that is the workforce development track. Now that's all the entrepreneur stuff plus a deeper dive into the tech. That's where we start to get into some HTML, some CSS, the languages on the backend. And that's to help develop somebody who really wants to go into that route and set them up for success long -term. Again, we do that through business simulations. We do that through the incremental integration of increasingly harder skillsets. So I'll just pause right there because I can get excited and go on forever. 

Rebecca - 00:13:35:

You can get excited and I think it's really empowering when I think of the vision for NACCE, which is very bold of equity and prosperity for all, you know, we'll probably not achieve that in our lifetimes, but I think we can really make an impact in transforming opportunities. And so I think a lot of what you said sort of, you know, when I was working at a community college, overseeing workforce development, we used to talk about career ladders and it's a very linear path. Okay, you climb up a ladder, maybe you stop and then you go to the next rung. And we started to kind of rethink that in terms of maybe it's more of a jungle gym, you know, you know, maybe you sit on the swing for a while and then maybe you jump up and And there's different pathways. And I think what you're offering through Code Box, as I understand it, is really that opportunity for community colleges to get on board, to experiment with the tools, to learn the practices, and to kind of do the proof of concept. Because one of the things that we're excited about within this network of 1 ,100 community colleges is really sort of the reshuffling of, what's important, right? You know, 10, 12 years ago, it was really strongly an academic focus. Now academics are still important, but it's the speed by which we can get people, you know, into a community college, get them certified, hopefully get them a job. And if we do our job right, hopefully bring them back so that they continue to learn and grow. Throughout their life. So I wonder Brian, if you would just share with us a little bit people that are listening, some of them are our members, but many around the world are not. What kind of do you hope to get out of this pilot program that we're doing? And I can just kind of explain it to the audience that you generously have come to the table and provided the funding. So there are going to be four colleges around the country that are going to be selected for this program and they're going to be implementing the Code Box training. So it sounds to me like you got a webinar on the 24th, which is exciting. We'll promote that through NACCE. But tell us what you kind of hope to accomplish through this pilot?

Brian - 00:15:53:

Sure, there are a number of different goals, right? Some are personal, some are professional, some are community, some are global, right? The big why is to increase ourselves as a country capitalize on our most precious resources, right? The talents that we have, the people that we have every day. But more than that, we want to learn about how we can best take our curriculum and our programs, which have worked for our people in our area here in Florida and our other partners, but take that and spread that to other populations. Right? So how can we best take this and serve rural communities? How can we take this and best serve urban communities? So one goal I have is to really learn how to make this accessible for all people. I believe there is a space for everybody in tech. I look in my neighborhood and I see people who aren't in tech and I think about the reasons why they're not there. And I want to shift that a little bit. I want to reduce the barriers in tech. I want to reduce the financial barriers. I also want to reduce the cultural barriers. There is this barrier that I can't do it, that it's not cool. I want to shift some of that. And one of those barriers is to make it accessible, right? And that's one of the things we hope to do through the community college partners is make it more accessible to more people at many levels. And also to that. Always got to keep coming back. The most important thing in all of this is the student going through these programs. Like that's by far the number one concern. So I want to provide value to those students. Right? I want to make sure that a student that comes out of one of our programs is able to take the skills that they've learned and apply them to advance their career, either as an entrepreneur or as a nascent developer.

Rebecca - 00:17:43:

 I love that. I can't wait to see. What happens? I know one of our colleagues here at NACCE. Who also is a former educator, has worked with, You know, thousands of students over time and I think a lot of times people underestimate the possibility of even young kids, middle school kids and high school kids to really get charged up and empowered and learn the language of technology and entrepreneurship, which You know, in my strong belief, and I think you might agree with me on this, is the fastest path to the middle class and beyond from people from disadvantaged communities. So.

Brian - 00:18:26:

 That's all I got here. I grew up poor, You know, and I withstood the collapse in 08. And the only reason why I'm safe and have my own house and my own career is because I pursued a career in tech in tech. I'm very grateful for it. It's empowering. It's why I take this job. It's why I speak with such vigor because I think about all the people in my neighborhood, in my community who could get to where we are, right? And we have this opportunity to do it. There are so many big problems that we encounter every day that we just can't do anything about. This is something we can do something about. We have an opportunity here and now in tech with the way it's growing, with the way tech is kind of just agnostic to your past. It doesn't care about where you came from. It only matters what you can do now. And I also believe everybody that I've ever met has the potential to succeed in this career. And so when I put those two together, like let's match that up and take advantage of this chance that we have here. 

Rebecca - 00:19:29:

Well, let's do it. And I would love to bring you back when. You know, we're often running with the pilot to maybe share some stories. And I know we're gonna get a chance to see you in Nashville. There's another affiliated partner that we actually helped incubate here at NACCE, the Rural Community College Alliance. So this is a network of a couple hundred rural community colleges. So we're gonna be talking with them more, but just looking at the space where we can really connect entrepreneurs, passionate people like yourself, directly with these colleges, and together we all prosper. So Brian, I wanna thank you so much for joining us today. I love this conversation. I just feel filled up for a Tuesday. So thank you for that. And I don't wanna leave without you sharing, how can people find out about CodeBoxx? Do you have a website? How can they get in touch with you? 

Brian - 00:20:26:

Yeah, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to share CodeBoxx and what we do. So if everybody wants to go to CodeBoxx with two X's dot com, you can learn more about us and our programs and all the things that we do. CodeBoxx is a whole ecosystem. We provide solutions, we provide education and we provide services for our communities. We're really looking to expand our name and do some awesome and good things in this world. So I'm very happy and honored to be able to share this with you all. I look forward to having the opportunity to share it with you in Nashville and partnering with you guys in 23, 24 and beyond. Well, thank you. 

Rebecca- 00:21:06:

Thank you so much, Brian, and we wish you and everyone listening a wonderful day. 

Brian - 00:21:12:

Amen. Thank you.

Outro - 00:21:16:

Thank you for joining us today. We hope that you will continue to explore the many ways to define entrepreneurship with NACI as we celebrate opportunity, failing forward, and success, learning from one another along the way. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite platform and follow at NACI on social media and learn more about us at naci .com forward slash podcast. Stay tuned for a new episode each week. We look forward to making our way forward together with you.