Dugger digs out of tough situation with tech career support from AIM Institute

July 24, 2017

David Dugger is used to living one step away from homelessness. At his closest point, he was down to his last $70 and living in a crowded storage room of a mobile home in North Platte, Nebraska. Completely surrounded by boxes, he only had enough space to roll out his makeshift mattress — a six-foot- long by two-foot- wide yoga mat.

Despite being in a circumstance where his immediate needs could have easily overridden his long-term goals, Dugger never stopped searching for the path to become “someone of influence,” and an email he sent in desperation to the Nebraska Department of Labor connected him to a not-for- profit organization that changed his life.

His informational meeting with Shonna Dorsey, the co-founder of the AIM Institute’s Interface School in Omaha, was the first surge from a tidal wave of opportunities that have followed him since he started learning web development at the nonprofit dedicated to building the tech community in Omaha through education and career development.

“Shonna has been and continues to be a great mentor to me,” Dugger said. “I simply wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. When I was a student and didn’t think I belonged, she helped me get there. When I didn’t think I was ready to apply for jobs, she encouraged me that I was ready to take that next step. She can see potential and knows how to bring it out of people.”

Since September 2016, by way of crashing on couches in strangers’ basements to get to Omaha, and without any prior web development experience upon arrival, Dugger has learned three programming languages, developed an intranet training website that is used daily by 700 employees from a large private company and is now an instructor at AIM Brain Exchange, where he teaches coding to underrepresented and sometimes socioeconomically disadvantaged teens.

Drawing on his own personal experience, he helps students work through the same frustrations and challenges he faced, and then eight weeks later he is rewarded when he sees that anguish turn into pride when they leave the program as architects of fully functional websites they created from scratch, armed with ready-for- hire web development skills that could lead to high-paying, fulfilling careers in technology.

“I grew up in a relatively low-income family, and ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be influential in some kind of way,” Dugger said. “To see that influence directed toward such a positive potential outcome, specifically their economic mobility – that impact gives me the greatest joy. And they don’t even understand that part yet, but they’re going to find out soon.”

Soon, Dugger will continue to live his dream on a trip across the country. He is one of a handful of Nebraskans boarding the “Startup Bus” bound to New Orleans with a team of strangers who have the shared goal of conceiving and launching a business. The annual competition is designed to empower the tech community and is equal parts road trip, hackathon and global community.