AIM’s Tony Veland in the news, congratulating 2021 Tech Award winner Event Vesta

AIM Institute Director of Business Development Tony Veland recently appeared on WOWT, the local NBC affiliate, to speak about how 2021 AIM Tech Awards Startup of the Year winner Event Vesta is helping improve the economy and quality of life in the Greater Omaha area.

Startups like Event Vesta, Veland said, are key to minimizing “brain drain,” the phenomenon of young professionals moving away from their hometown to seek career opportunities elsewhere.

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Women in Tech: Evelyn Espinoza-Macias

Growing up in a low-income, Spanish-speaking household in South Omaha, Evelyn Espinoza-Macias said she always struggled with a language barrier. 

Photo courtesy Evelyn Espinoza-Macias

Her parents, though supportive, could not speak English or provide the same level of help on schoolwork that many of her peers received. The Latinx young woman remembers spending countless extra hours at school working hard to learn English. Eventually, after a lot of work, she became fluent in the language and set her sights on life after high school.  

Evelyn had dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but her career plans would change markedly during her senior year. Upon hearing of the AIM Institute’s free code camp at Omaha South High School, and with encouragement from her teachers, Evelyn signed up. Though difficult, the class sparked a passion for coding and helped her realize the advantages of a tech career.

While learning how to code a website using languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the program mentors encouraged Evelyn to apply for Union Pacific’s tech internship program, a highly competitive, yearlong opportunity for college students to advance their technical abilities while gaining real-life work experience. 

Although she doubted she would get selected, Evelyn applied anyway. She received notice in the summer of 2020 that she landed the internship. Since August, she has been exposed to new technology concepts while working for the Fortune 500 company’s IT department—all while majoring in cybersecurity at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

“Evelyn has been doing really well,” said Addison Parker, Senior Project Engineer for Union Pacific. “She’s learning a lot about business and IT. I’ve got her working on some real projects that will add value to the company.”

Had AIM not offered the Omaha South High School code camp, Evelyn’s career path would look much different. The program inspired Evelyn to embark on a life-changing journey that will define her future and reveal her potential to be a technology leader. 

Thanks to AIM, Evelyn learned the foundational web development skills that earned her a prestigious internship at Union Pacific, a Fortune 500 company. Although she found the class difficult initially, AIM’s instructors worked with her until she understood the material. Now a freshman at UNO, Evelyn is the first in her family to attend college and looks forward to a challenging, lucrative, opportunity-rich career in technology. Her parents, who have always advised their three daughters to pursue work they truly enjoy, are delighted to see Evelyn flourish on her newfound tech career path.

Evelyn continues to grow her technical knowledge. Despite her ongoing academic workload and UP internship, Evelyn enrolled in AIM Code School’s Java Specialization course. In this class, starting today, Evelyn will continue to advance her web development skills by focusing on the computer programming language Java, a language used primarily for back-end development. This class will help Evelyn become proficient as a full-stack developer, something her mentors at AIM know she will accomplish.

“Evelyn is a bright and talented individual with strong leadership qualities, a truly dedicated young woman whose hard work will positively impact the world around her,” said AIM Code School instructor Vanessa Kasun. “It’s a real honor to have been part of her journey.”

It’s a journey that is important not only to Evelyn, but to the industry as a whole. Women make up just 26% of technology workers. Worse, women of color make up only 11% of the tech workforce. This lack of diversity perpetuates systemic biases and hampers the innovation that research has shown emerges from teams that operate with a diversity of perspectives and identities. 

Additionally, Evelyn recently joined AIM’s tech mentorship program, which will connect her with a mentor who will help her navigate her burgeoning tech career. 

AIM is proud to play an important role in dismantling the unique barriers faced by young women interested in a career in technology. To help AIM Institute continue building the tech community, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to our Youth in Tech program. Every little bit helps us increase access to the tech sector for hard-working, brilliant young women like Evelyn.

New chair of AIM Institute Tech Leadership Academy encourages representation, giving back

In Todd Campbell’s home recording studio, a Fender Telecaster rests against a small amplifier in front of a green-screen wall that doubles as a backdrop for the tech leadership classes he teaches virtually.

Whenever the application development senior manager for TD Ameritrade gets stuck on a hard technical problem and needs a respite from the analytical grind, he likes to let loose and work on music here, in his safe haven for creative expression. It’s a process that has given birth to two smooth-jazz-inspired solo albums and kept him grounded through a demanding career.

With over 30 years working as a Black man in technology, Campbell has a lot to express. He does so with gusto, humor, and a born-storyteller’s knack for captivating an audience.

These are the qualities that have made him a role model and mentor for hundreds of students in AIM Institute’s tech leadership academies, where he has taught classes on leadership development for emerging and established IT professionals since 2017. (AIM is a not-for-profit working to remove barriers to tech education, increase equity in the IT workforce, and help Omaha become a place where anyone can pursue a rewarding career in technology.)

Now, he has just taken on the role of chairman for the steering committee of AIM’s leadership academies. His vision? To encourage knowledge-sharing among the committee’s membership—made up of leaders in Omaha’s tech community—about the most important issues IT departments will face in the near-term.

“In the next five to seven years, the biggest thing that we’re going to be dealing with is cultural issues and diversity,” Campbell said.

While an increased focus on representation at work might sound like an obvious move to younger generations, this mindset-shift is a major evolution in the workplace.

“In the last ten years, things have really turned,” Campbell said. “People now realize successful companies have to be diverse—however you want to categorize and define that. I think everyone already knew it, but I don’t know if they could quantify it. But now, if you have a diverse company, there are stats that say you’re going to be more successful than the company where everyone looks the same.”

It’s a long way from how things were when Campbell was getting ready to launch a career. Early on, the self-described “geek at heart” received some challenging advice from his computer programmer father.

“Growing up, it was different,” Campbell said. “I remember my father saying to me, ‘Listen, if the scale is from one to eight, you gotta be a nine. If everyone else is getting B’s, you gotta get B-pluses or A’s, because you’re a little bit behind.’ And I didn’t know what he meant.”

He soon found out. After taking a gap year to tour as a guitarist, Campbell enrolled as a computer science major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Upon graduating, he took a programming job for a few years before joining TD Ameritrade as a software developer, where he continued to notice a distinct lack of color in the echelons of business. 

Campbell lays down tracks in his recording studio. Photo courtesy Todd Campbell.

“In the first 10 to 15 years of my career,” he said, “it was a struggle for me to look at all senior management and see no people of color. I’d think, ‘Wait a minute. I have aspirations to be a great leader. How am I going to do this?’ Because I don’t see any people of color. I don’t see any women. I don’t see anything but older white men. I’m not going anywhere.”

Not only did he notice the lack of diversity in leadership, he felt a pressure that many Black professionals feel in the workplace, one that white people have historically never felt: the pressure to seem as non-threatening as possible.

“In the first 20 years, I almost was subdued,” he said. “I’m 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, big bald Black guy, and I didn’t want to be this overbearing kind of person. So I almost was either subdued, or very laid back, or I just used humor because I didn’t want people to be overwhelmed by me. I tried to make light of things.”

As times change, however, Campbell said he has felt freer to be himself at work: the left-brain, right-brain geek leader who loves heavy metal, martial arts, problem-solving, storytelling, conversation and social connection. 

In fact, a couple weeks ago, Campbell said he felt a little teary-eyed with gratitude during a routine standup meeting he was leading. A year deep into a devastating global pandemic, layered with the change brought about by TD Ameritrade’s recent merger with Texas-based financial services company Charles Schwab, Campbell was impressed with how everyone was adapting to the background noise of unpredictability. He told his team that he loved them, something he said he would not have felt safe to do earlier in his career.

From heads-down software developer to team-building tech manager, Campbell’s ability to cultivate genuine rapport with people has supported his rise.

“Todd is a great community builder, tech advocate and leader,” said Monika Philp, director of tech leadership development for the AIM Institute. “He’s a wonderful teacher, beloved by his students and colleagues alike, and AIM is grateful for his support; he’s the perfect choice to head our leadership academies’ steering committee.”

And in an era of civil unrest, his expertise and perspective are more in-demand than ever. 

He said he thinks now is the perfect time to be a leader, to bring people together, find common ground and construct an environment of inclusion and connection.

“I think people are always looking to connect,” he said. “I would not be where I am without my abilities to tell stories and to relate and to connect.”

AIM Institute in the news, December 2020

2020, while no doubt a challenging and unprecedented year for everyone in our community, highlighted the collective resiliency and importance of a vibrant tech sector. At no other time in history has the ability of technology to keep us connected and moving forward in the face of adversity been more evident. At AIM, we are proud of the way our team and community partners continued to work together, pivot and innovate so we could still offer life-changing programming and career development events and opportunities to students and tech professionals in the Silicon Prairie. 

Here are some recent examples of our community outreach efforts that highlight a few of the many reasons we are grateful for your support and proud of what it makes possible:  

In the Dec. 18 issue of the Midlands Business Journal, Monika Philp, our Director of Tech Leadership Development, reflects on how the pandemic spurred AIM to deliver its programming in a virtual format and reached more tech professionals by offering its three flagship events (Heartland Developers Conference, Infotec and the AIM Tech Awards) on the online Hopin platform. In total, AIM reached 55,000 tech professionals through our 2020 training events. Read more here.

The tech industry is expected to grow by 24 percent in the next five years, but in order to meet the increasing employment needs of the tech sector, the existing skills gap must be addressed. Locally, AIM has identified a shortage of 1,200 tech workers, with an estimated negative economic impact of more than $102 million annually. During an appearance on MetroTV, Maria Brady, Membership Development and Retention Coordinator, recently highlighted the importance of creating access to careers in technology to individuals who have historically lacked it. Two out of every three participants in AIM’s in-school, after-school and coding education programs are low-income, first-generation students. To learn more about the “Million Dollar Decision” that can change the trajectory of an individual’s life and improve diversity and inclusion in the tech sector locally, tune in here.

As a trusted mentor, committed volunteer and champion of the Latino community, we knew when Itzel Lopez joined our team nearly seven years ago her impact would extend far beyond our locus of influence. Earlier this year, Lopez was honored by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development with the Community Impact and Involvement Award as part of the organization’s inaugural Young Nebraskans Awards. Itzel’s community impact will broaden in 2021 with her appointment to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Council, which advocates for change, inspires visionary collaboration and ensures new-to-market professionals are introduced to the metro’s many opportunities for young workers, ages 20 to 40. More information on the Young Professionals Council is available here.


Last night, the AIM Institute held a virtual ceremony for students graduating from AIM Code School’s accredited courses, including Full Stack Java and Foundations of Web Development classes and the fourth module of the Callers to Coders program (a custom corporate training partnership developed between Physicians Mutual and the AIM Institute). 

A diverse cohort of 14 students graduated, including six Physicians Mutual call center employees currently developing coding skills as part of the Callers to Coders program, and a current high school student who balanced her Code School coursework with her regular homework. All classes had been held virtually.

Hosted by AIM Code School Director Emily Matis, the ceremony featured congratulatory words from instructors and members of Omaha’s tech talent community who emphasized the importance of the graduates’ accomplishments.

“I couldn’t be prouder of where they are, who they are, and where they’re going,” said AIM Code School instructor Vanessa Kasun, who taught a Foundations of Web Development course.

Full Stack Java instructor Jordi Becceril—who also works as a technical specialist for Mutual of Omaha and is himself a graduate of AIM Code School—echoed Kasun’s sentiments.

“Sometimes the steep learning curve is hard to get over, but you just have to stick with it,” Becerril said.

Matt Payne, describing himself as “a longtime Omaha guy” who has worked full-time as a programmer since 1988, the attended the graduation to show his support for the latest crop of tech talent. Payne frequently blogs about coding on his website and was a recipient of an AIM Innovator of the Year award in 2001.

“The world needs more computer engineers, software engineers, software developers, whatever you want to call us,” Payne said. “I think it’s great that people can get into the field without putting down the money for a four-year degree.”

At the end of the ceremony, students had the opportunity to share some insight about their experiences in class. A recurring theme: instructors were crucial for helping students overcome roadblocks.

“I was not a fan of Eclipse,” said Full Stack Java graduate Craig Pounds, referring to the integrated development environment often used to build projects in Java. “Jordi got me over it. Now I love Eclipse.”

Congratulations to the most recent cohort of AIM Code School graduates!

Celebrating Graduates:

Finally, AIM Code School wishes to acknowledge the valuable contributions of partner organizations Physicians Mutual, Urban League of Nebraska, Ralston Public Schools and Heartland Workforce Solutions.

Interested in learning more about AIM Code School? Contact a Tech Navigator today.