FARGO — A much-anticipated milestone is giving a local coding school a reason to celebrate during an unprecedented time.

In just under three weeks, Emerging Digital Academy will recognize its first graduating class, launching 13 software engineers into a workforce in need of skilled software developers.

Four months ago, 13 students began tackling the curriculum of a brand new 20-week coding boot camp in Fargo, the first of its kind in the state.

Data released in 2019 showed North Dakota college graduates met just 20% of the statewide need for software engineers. Once the students reach the finish line, the soon-to-be EDA graduates are hoping to help bridge that gap.

In less than half a year, Clever Mukori will have gone from simply having an interest in programming to a full stack software developer.

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Emerging Digital Academy students from left, Hunter Scheel, Levi Carlson, Kent Worthington, Jared Lindenberg, Luke Johnson and Chris Neisen work in the Prairie Den space at Emerging Prairie in downtown Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
Emerging Digital Academy students from left, Hunter Scheel, Levi Carlson, Kent Worthington, Jared Lindenberg, Luke Johnson and Chris Neisen work in the Prairie Den space at Emerging Prairie in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

“Whether it’s being able to get a nice starting job that literally triples the entry-level jobs we’ve been doing; not bad in five months," Emerging Digital Academy student Mukori said. "Not bad at all.”

Emerging Digital Academy, North Dakota’s first and only immersive coding school, is a software engineering boot camp that prepares students for an entry-level career in software development, with a focus on web technologies and database back-end servers and front-end development, program director Blaine Booher said.

Before enrolling in the coding school, Mukori, 27, of Moorhead, was on the eventual road to med school. He swapped paths, taking advantage of the cohort's convenience.

“I didn’t have to go back to school and get tens of thousands more dollars in debt,” Mukori said. “I could right away in 20 weeks be right where I need to be. Just sacrifice a whole summer, go hard at it and just get it done."

The school, powered by local nonprofit Emerging Prairie, has a partnership with Minneapolis’ Prime Digital Academy, which places 85% of its graduates within six months of graduation, with an average 77% increase over their previous salary, according to a May press release on the program.

Blaine Booher talks with students at the Emerging Digital Academy in downtown Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
Blaine Booher talks with students at the Emerging Digital Academy in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Emerging Digital Academy mirrors the Minnesota bootcamp’s program, using its curriculum and process, just adapted to the Fargo market, Booher said.

The academy focuses more on practical application and less on theory. Students are coding, writing software and completing project-oriented homework from the very beginning, Booher said.

“Software is very different from other fields in the sense that the knowledge changes at such a fast pace,” Mukori said. “So as a result, the disadvantage with the traditional model of schooling is by the time you come out, the technologies have changed. The ground shifts too quickly while you're standing on it. That’s why EDA works. That’s why boot camps work, because they have a pulse on what employers want.”

Emerging Digital Academy was created in part to fulfill North Dakota’s need for software developers. It’s estimated there are currently over 800 unfilled software developer positions in the state, with another 2,000 jobs projected to be created in the next decade, according to EDA’s website.

Clever Mukori of Moorhead is a part of Emerging Digital Academy’s first graduating class. Photo special to The Forum
Clever Mukori of Moorhead is a part of Emerging Digital Academy’s first graduating class. Photo special to The Forum

The cohort is working directly with North Dakota employers and community partners to address the region’s growing demand, teaching professional and career development in addition to the technology component, said Liz Campbell, the head of student life and community engagement at EDA.

The cohort was a bit of a tough sell for Mukori’s classmate, Ian Johnson. He didn’t know what to expect from the brand new program. All Johnson, 30, of Fargo, knew was that this would be a different style of learning than the traditional university setting, one that he didn’t quite mesh with when he attended North Dakota State for a period of time for computer science.

“This is much more hands on. It’s 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day at least, where we’re doing the work that we’re going to be doing in our job,” Johnson said.

It was also a change going from a lecture hall to a virtual classroom.

The cohort had to alter its plans amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Pre-pandemic plans were to teach in-person out of a new space in the Black Building, 118 Broadway, but COVID-19 pushed construction back, and forced the cohort to go fully virtual.

 Emerging Digital Academy student Luke Johnson works at Emerging Prairie in downtown Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
Emerging Digital Academy student Luke Johnson works at Emerging Prairie in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

The first six weeks of the program, which began the first week in April, are online part-time anyways, making the transition a little smoother. The cohort still has some in-person meetups in Emerging Prairie’s Prairie Den space, but in general, takes place online.

The second-ever cohort, which begins in July, will likely be the same hybrid-learning model, Booher said.

“It’s been interesting, and it’s been a challenge at times.” Johnson said. “Getting used to the virtual workflow has been different for a lot of us. But at the same time, with the nature of the program, it’s come naturally and it works out really, really well.”

Before the first batch of students is celebrated at graduation Aug. 21, the “really big day” for the cohort happens in a couple weeks on Aug. 14 at Career Day. Students are slated to present the real-world client projects they’ve been working on at the event, as well as go through some speed interviews with employers in the Fargo metro area.

 Emerging Digital Academy student Hunter Scheel works on a project in the Prairie Den space at Emerging Prairie in downtown Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
Emerging Digital Academy student Hunter Scheel works on a project in the Prairie Den space at Emerging Prairie in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

“I always feel like I got a whole lot more than I bargained for in a good way,” Mukori said. “I didn't think I would get this much out of it.”

A third cohort is slated for November with an Oct. 23 application deadline. Entry requirements include a high school diploma or GED, and eligibility to work in the U.S.

“There's a lot in the program, so the more (prerequisite work) that the students can expose themselves to earlier, the better,” Booher said. “We encourage it, but not required.”

Soon-to-be graduate Mukori emphasized that “anybody can do this,” regardless of experience level or background.

Additional information on applying, tuition and financing can be found here: https://www.emergingacademy.org/

An architect's rendering of how the Emerging Digital Academy may look in the Prairie Den and Emerging Prairie space in the Black Building. Prairie Den and Emerging Prairie are expected to move to the Black Building in late summer 2020. Submitted by Emerging Prairie / Special to The Forum
An architect's rendering of how the Emerging Digital Academy may look in the Prairie Den and Emerging Prairie space in the Black Building. Prairie Den and Emerging Prairie are expected to move to the Black Building in late summer 2020. Submitted by Emerging Prairie / Special to The Forum