Disrupting [Tech] Education: Two Air Force Veterans Start Edtech Startup
Terry Kim and Jacob Hess, both former Air Force IT instructors, decided to quit their high-paying corporate jobs to start an IT training edtech company called NexGenT (short for Next Generation Training). The reason? Well, they were (and still are) sick and tired of seeing people get ripped off by the system. Motivated by the rising cost of education, the current student debt crisis and the inability of the educational system to properly prepare students for the real world, they set off on a mission to empower people of all ages and races to break free from the chains of educational obsoleteness.
Their driven personalities and thorough experience called the attention of Carine Magescas and Thomas Korte, the founders of one of the most renowned startup accelerators in the United States, Angel Pad. Initially, when they had just started going through this program, Terry and Jacob wanted to provide their training fully online to minimize costs for students. Nonetheless, Carine and Thomas pushed them to incorporate in-person training to their educational system. After all, they fully understood the power of in-person learning from years working side by side with extraordinary entrepreneurs, and knew that it was essential to creating a remarkable experience.
NexGenT was founded on the belief that education is for everyone, that the ideal educational system should be based on real-world problem solving; that it cannot leave people in debt with degrees that don’t teach them the required skills needed to succeed in the workforce, and that it should prepare people to be field-ready just like military training does. Not an easy task, whatsoever. Not even for two ex-military guys with tons of real world experience.
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Even with all that passion, motivation and drive, and with the unconditional guidance of extraordinary people like Thomas and Carine, there were many things that needed to be flushed out before creating a system capable of honoring that statement. Of course they knew, from their experience as instructors in the military and in corporate IT, exactly what needed to be done and how it needed to be taught in order to get a person fully ready to perform in the workforce. After all, they graduated over one thousand engineers during their time at the Air Force, many of which went on to set up network communications for the U.S. military all over the globe. However, fitting everything together in an accelerated and affordable training program, remained a big challenge.
At first they intended to adjust the Air Force teaching model to the accelerated in-person learning style that many coding bootcamps are currently using. Nevertheless, even though their past teaching system yielded the highest quality of engineers, and coding bootcamps claim that most of their graduates get jobs shortly after finishing their programs, they knew that this in-person system wouldn’t be ideal for providing affordable education, which is one of their main priorities. Not only that, but they wouldn’t have an efficient way of addressing each person’s skill set before meeting in person, possibly leading to one of the same problems conventional education has always faced: classes tend to move as fast as the slowest person in them.
It must be a “combination of online learning, which helps with minimizing costs and ramping up people’s skills; and in-person learning, so we can guarantee that people are actually capable of performing certain tasks through hands-on learning”, said Jacob to Terry, as they were driving across the country from Atlanta to Silicon Valley, where the company is currently headquartered. After further analysis and deliberation, they settled on a hybrid model between online and in-person learning.
This sounds a lot like flipped learning, an educational approach that is being implemented by several schools, in which students do school work at home (lectures) and homework (hands-on work) at school. But Terry and Jacob took it a step further and enhanced their training program by incorporating project-based learning to provide students with a clear understanding of how projects are deployed into an IT infrastructure, which is crucial for any prospective engineer.
In addition, they equipped the NexGenT platform with a leveling up system, a discussion section where users can post and answer technical questions, and a mentorship program that enables students to receive live one on one guidance from some of the best engineers in the world, which is essential to understanding the big picture of the industry and making the best career path decisions.
Their learning approach allows them to make sure their students are skilled enough to attend their 5-day in-person boot camp, and go through a significant number of topics, without holding the class back. That said, whether people succeed at the end of the bootcamp, and earn the coveted Full Stack Network Associate title, or not, depends on the extra time and effort they put in to study and practice all the concepts covered in Zero To Engineer (see syllabus here), the online portion of the training.
Terry and Jacob moved to Silicon Valley to immerse themselves in the tech scene even more. They are helping many students level up their IT skills, and are running 5-day in-person certification boot camps consistently. It is evident from student feedback and testimonial success stories that this innovative approach to IT education, and perhaps education in general, is starting to yield positive results.NexGenT’s innovative approach to IT training is very promising. It is practical and affordable, relative to conventional education and many other alternative options, and it pays strict attention to getting people job-ready. Perhaps Terry and Jacob are right, and this approach to education is much better. Maybe their decision to quit their high-paying corporate jobs isn’t that crazy after all. Who knows? To find out we’ll have to wait and see what NexGenT’s alumni accomplish over the next few years.