Galvanize's programming gSchool helps transition of Afghanistan war vet

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A long way from the Afgan outpost he applied from, former U.S. Marine Sgt. James Denman is transitioning from soldier to code ninja.

The first student admitted to Galvanize's gSchool, Denman began honing his ninja skills last week when Galvanize, Denver's start-up tech common workspace, launched its inaugural programming course, Ruby on Rails, through its gSchool.

"I was limited, by a useless degree in International relations, and (being) a Marine with a skill set that doesn't have any relation to a civilian job," Denman said of his motivation to apply.

Launched as the gSchool's first educational endeavor, the Ruby course goes beyond basic HTML. During the six-month intensive, students will build an e-commerce platform, data-mining program and real time chat system. Focusing on performance of each application, students work in four-person groups under three week deadlines to mimic real world processes.

Traveling by convoy, helicopter and a C-17 cargo plane from Kabul, Denman arrived in Denver days before classes started. A North Carolina native, he heard about the program when a friend e-mailed him the application link. Having dabbled with programming in his free time, Denman was quick to apply last fall.

Joined by 23 other students from the more than three hundred who applied, Denman is being taught by experts such as instructor Jeff Casimir of Jumpstartlab.com and Jumpstartlab.com. One of four full-time teachers, Casimir describes the curriculum as "spiraling complexity.

"We will start with basic data processing, searching, sorting, and calculating statistics," he continues. "Pretty quickly we move into a web context, building an e-commerce platform that supports multiple stores, like a very rudimentary Shopify, where each store has over one million products and all pages must respond in under 200 milliseconds."

The gSchool, started as the educational leg of Galvanize, aims to fill the demand for programmers in the Front Range and at the 56 companies it houses. Tuition for the course is $20,000 and does not qualify for federal aid. However, need-based scholarships have been provided to every student who needs one by Symplified, iTriage, Heroku, Icosa, BWBacon, the City of Denver and other national and local companies.

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics expecting a 30 percent growth for software engineers between 2010-2020 and Denver's average programming salary of $83,164, Galvanize plans to expand its curriculum to include mobile applications and user experience software.

"A big fear, is that they will get poached before finishing," says Chris Onan, Galvanize's managing director.

With Denman and his fellow ninjas-in-training sitting a little over twenty feet away from some of the area's fastest growing programming employers, it is a valid fear.

Galvanize is currently accepting applications for the fall 2013 course.

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