New Endeavor Aims To Enrich Youth’s Tech Skills

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OCEAN CITY — With more and more jobs everyday relying on computer literacy, Digital Youth Experience (DYE) Director Eric Belardo is looking to teach students everything from game development to security programing with the hopes of bringing “family-supporting jobs” to Worcester County.

Starting with a modest space and a lot of ambition, DYE is attempting to become something unique on the Eastern Shore: a technology-based business that first trains students in everything from programming to marketing and then recycles those same students by offering them jobs. Those jobs should be sustainable in the long term, said Belardo, and though they just had their first student orientation last week the DYE crew plan to be moving at full-tilt by next year.

“I am hoping within one year we have an active development environment where we have at least anywhere from 10 to 25 developers and hopefully about 60 students,” Belardo said. “Within two years, I would like to have a core of anywhere from 50 to 100 developers working on a major software release title.”

DYE will focus on three different learning “tracks” that will cover the most sought after skills in the current marketplace, according to Belardo.

“So we have a programing track, a securities track, and a robotics track,” he said.

Programing will be the most flexible and will include developing applications for smart devices mostly using the Android operating system as well as games for a variety of media. Being able to build games from the ground up is a dream for a lot of young people, said Belardo, and generating apps allows a lot of room for creativity. The thing that sets DYE apart from other training centers, however, is that once the game or app is made that’s when the real work begins.

“Basically, what we want to give is real world experience,” he said.

With all apps and games there is a “global target,” meaning that modern technology allows greater opportunities for independent developers now than ever before. No longer does a thriving software company need a skyscraper and west coast real-estate to impact the market, Belardo promised.

“While in the past a lot of enterprises had to be centralized in a certain area now there’s not a need to centralize, say for instance, Silicon Valley in California,” he said.

With the software market today something like the Wild West, there’s room for a small programmer with a unique idea to go from unknown to a household name in months.

“You never know what can happen in this marketplace so some little application could become a global phenomenon,” said Belardo. “Or a game from an unnamed company can become a major player in the industry.”

He pointed to websites like Twitter and Facebook which are now multi-billion dollar giants but started from next to nothing. Even more telling is the app Instagram, he added, a digital photography tool that was started by a handful of motivated developers and became a billion dollar property within a year once they were acquired by Facebook.

“We might be training the next Twitter, the next Facebook, somebody from this organization might come up with the next big idea,” said Belardo.

Even if students don’t regularly churn out billion dollar games or apps, the programing skills taught at DYE are valuable across the board and the cyclical style of the organization, turning students into trainers, should provide lasting jobs in the area.

“We are hoping that the people that we train and we bring in here will generate family-supporting jobs in Worcester County,” Belardo said.

The securities field for example, while not as glamorous as game development, is an under-tapped market. In fact, Belardo got the idea for DYE while working as a senior project manager for the World Bank, which is still his day job. Despite dozens of interviews, Belardo revealed that he recently was unable to locate a qualified programmer for a World Bank venture, leading him to realize that there are huge gaps in people trained in programing versus the jobs available.

On the local front, Belardo noted how DYE fits in nicely with the push in recent years by Worcester to encourage Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Despite the county having some of the best public schools in Maryland and by association the country, a long-standing complaint in the area is that students are moving away after graduation.

“And all of that great education we’re giving our kids is not staying in the county and supporting it,” said Belardo.

Though not currently working with any schools in the area, Belardo confirmed that he has spoken to educators in Wicomico and Worcester and would welcome partnerships in the future.

“We are not, right now, working with any of the school systems but we hope to,” he said.

For more information on Digital Youth Experience, located off Route 611 in West Ocean City, visit www.digitalyouthexp.com or call 443-355-4393

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