Celebrating Three Years of Dev Catalyst
Written by Felicia Ingram
Dev Catalyst, formerly known as CO:de Catalyst, is an initiative to encourage growth of the West Tennessee region by providing web coding instruction to high school students in much needed areas. The program recently completed its third year with its annual trip to California’s Silicon Valley. Though it has expanded and even rebranded, the mind behind the program stays the same.
“When the program started three years ago,” Molly Plyler, Dev Catalyst’s Educational Outreach Coordinator, explained, “it started out of the need [for] more professional developers and coders in the area. We had companies wanting to come into West Tennessee, but they just could not find the talent to buildthese positions they had.”
Today, Dev Catalyst plans to do much more. Plyler said that the goal is not only to develop future coders but also future business owners and entrepreneurs.
“We’re finding that the students particularly have interest in a lot of different tech areas,” Plyler said. “So it’s our vision that as the program continues to grow, they’ll have some options for some other back end development. Perhaps getting into other technology fields, the other STEM areas, because all of those fields right now are so crucial to an area’s economic development.”
Stand-out Dev Catalyst student Hailey Yodushock was exceptionally enthusiastic about the trip. “This experience overall was one of a lifetime,” Yodushock said. “This was a trip that I’ll never forget. I met new people who have the interest in technology as I do and got to see places that I would have probably never had the opportunity to see otherwise.”
They rubbed shoulders with “Googlers” at Google, sat face-to-face with thinkers and coders at Pivotal Labs, and ate with the folks at LinkedIn. The trip played perfectly into the day-to-day scheme of operations for Dev Catalyst schools, students, and teachers.
Joseph Grapes, teacher at Liberty Tech High School, who is among others on the front line of daily student development, said that Dev Catalyst is “fun, challenging, and rewarding for students,” calling it “everything school is supposed to be.”
“By far the best thing about Dev Catalyst is getting to open up a world to students who, oftentimes, would never have even thought about the code that is used to make their phone work,” Grapes continued. “They leave us not just knowing how to code, but they have been exposed to real jobs in computer programming and development and attainable future jobs for kids from Jackson. Every day is what I like to call a ‘light bulb’ day where they learn something new, and you can see things start to click.”
Grapes, Plyler, and Yodushock mentioned their favorite and memorable moments—one mentioning Alcatraz, another the difference in work culture in the West Coast, and most, if not all, the food.
For Plyler, however, Ping-Pong tables and plush couches for creatives wasn’t her most memorable moment. It was seeing lightbulb moments in San Francisco that brought her the most joy.
“[Y]ou see a student who realizes that not only they’ve discovered their passion, but they realize that they have the talent to truly develop this passion into a full-time career [. . .],” she said, “and when you take students that have that spark, and you expose them to these companies and all of these individuals who are doing the students’ dream job, that’s a neat thing to see those lightbulbs and energy and to realize that this trip is something that these students will remember for the rest of their lives.”