the Nashville Software School

The cover story in the City Paper this week is on the Nashville Software School. It’s a great read, and it’s about a great program.

The NSS is a game-changer for technology and education in Nashville. I’m immensely proud of everyone involved of it and incredibly thankful to John Wark for his tireless efforts to get it going. Years ago, Nashville’s first ISP, Telalink, had an intern program that accepted anyone and everyone for weekly meetings to teach and discuss just what this whole “Internet” thing is, anyway. I learned about everything from ISDN channel bonding to CGI programming (in C, no less, until I discovered Perl). I am forever indebted to Thomas Conner, Bill Butler, Tim Moses and everyone else at Telalink that helped us out back then. The roster of people that came through that program (me notwithstanding) is a veritable Who’s Who of incredibly smart people here and abroad. Nick Holland (also a Telalink intern) and I tried to revive a similar program years ago (and I believe a young Eliza Brock was a member!). It fizzled, eventually — frankly, due to the hustle of running a small biz — a testament to the time and energy required for something like this. I had wanted for years to start something up again and I’m delighted that I don’t have to (yay, laziness!). The NSS has done all that and more.

I’m a product of the Nashville public school system, and an aborted failure of our country’s higher education system. A year into it and roughly $17k in loans later, I learned that if I was going to learn anything about technology, it wasn’t going to be at a university. So, I’ve been in the private sector ever since. I would have killed for something like the NSS to have been around then. It fills a huge gap in our education system, and it makes me tremendously excited.

Some ideas I’d like to see emerge from the success of the NSS in years to come:

  • The resurgence of an intern program more suited to younger people — something to get high school-age students started and funneled into the NSS (or something like it).
  • Something more accommodating to people still working full-time — either a less aggressive courseload and/or after-hours courses.
  • More advanced parallel tracts of schooling: systems engineering/devops, network engineering, and so on. These are all areas where schooling and expensive certification do exist, but pales in comparison to the education via the school of hard knocks. Something like the NSS could serve this demographic as well.
  • Local business/govt-sponsored scholarships. I realize that giving out money for education is a hairy business once you get into trying to decide how to hand it out (merit vs. need vs lottery vs who-knows-what), but it could be done well.
  • Failing that, or in addition to it: A way for federal money (Pell, Perkins, et al) to be available to students of the NSS. This is probably a long-shot for a variety of reasons, but it’d be nice to see this money redirected to grassroots programs like the NSS that are actually generating real skills and real jobs in a relatively short turnaround rather than padding the bottom line of elephantine institutions of higher learning.