UNO Documentary: Operation Spark

What: Operation Spark

Film By: UNO student and documentarian Marvas McCladdie

Editor’s Note: NolaVie partners with students of UNO professor László Zsolt Fülöp, pairing them with artists, non-profits, environmental groups, and cultural entities to facilitate a live curriculum, that results in a short documentary. Filmmaker Marvas McCladdie interviews three staff members at Operation Spark. Operation Spark is a nonprofit software training center that aims to provide skills training and help students of their course gain high-wage careers in tech. 

[Read the full transcript of the interview below]


[Operation Spark is a nonprofit software training center, based in New Orleans, on a mission to provide opportunities for upward mobility through skills training and job placement in high-wage tech careers.]

Amika Kali: My name is Amika. I work in the Outreach space on the Student Success team. I work at the beginning phases of admission. I greet people at the information session, I go out into the community to talk to people who might be interested in careers in tech, are learning more about tech and what Operation Spark brings to the table, and then once they’re in our program after we get them into prep, they work with another member of our Student Success team and I take what we call our qualified students which are our Junior and senior students and then I work with them to ensure that while they’re getting ready to cycle out the program towards graduation that they’ve set themselves up for both personal and professional success.

Johnnie James II: My name is Johnnie, I am the operations coordinator here at Operation Spark. My primary responsibility besides keeping John from going ballistic is to oversee our expansion to Georgia with a little bit of a focus on the Atlanta metro area. Before I started working here I was a student. I also have been a donor for many years so I really believe in the program. It’s awesome.

John Fabroni: I’m John and I started Operation Spark back in 2013. I have a background in music and in software development in general but I was working in the video game industry before starting up Op Spark down here in New Orleans. Over here what I do, I don’t know I started the organization and I’m still captain of the ship I guess. CEO is What my title is but you know basically I clean toilets.

[What’s the total time investment?]

John Fabroni: The actual seat time is six months basically but the calendar time is a little bit longer because of the breaks and holidays and then call it like hurricanes and holidays or the interruptions. Anywhere between seven and eight months right now that a student can go from the very start of the program like from the info session, to I got a job.

[How difficult is the program?] 

Johnnie James II: I always tell people that it’s like baseball right. So if you hit the ball three times out of ten you’re in the Hall of Fame, but that means that seven times out of ten you didn’t hit the ball. So it’s not that it’s hard, it’s new. When you say hard, it’s hard because most people aren’t used to failing seven times out of ten right? So there’s a mental fortitude and a grit that is required more so than an intellectual capacity. It’s not hard like people would think with quantum physics or something. It’s not intellectually that it’s just so out there; it’s just that it’s new. It’s new every single day, the time commitment is significant and you just have to be resilient enough to understand that I’m not failing, I’m in the process of succeeding. It’s no different than learning how to ride a bike, you’re not going to do it right the first time you’re going to fall down you’re going to get hurt but that’s actually a part of the metamorphosis to someone who can ride a bike.

John Fabroni: Yeah and I’ll add that I think the program is challenging for sure, but that’s by design and I don’t apologize for it. And the reason is I want people to leave on the other side of this and feel like they’ve graduated from the Harvard of code schools.

[Can you offer any advice to a prospective student?]

Johnnie James II: I would just tell people to take all the information very seriously. Try to make sure that you know when you go to the info session there are resources that are recommended for you. Do that. Do as much work before the class begins as possible. Practice as much as you can before the program and then practice as much as you can during the program. That’d be my advice. Just to work harder than everybody. 

John Fabroni: I think that the opportunities like Operation Spark are a once in a lifetime type of engagement. Think about it that way. Value that time that you have to commit to a program like Operation Spark that would encourage people to come in here and explore and be a little patient with themselves. You may discover ‘nah I don’t love coding’, but I would also differentiate that between ‘yeah this isn’t for me I realize I don’t love this’ or making sure that you’re not giving up when things get hard or there’s challenges or there’s homework or there’s whatever. Because the program really does work and you have to realize what it is that we’re proposing. You’re going to come in here with zero knowledge and if you graduate seven months later you can walk into a seventy thousand dollar job. And if you’re coming from a low income situation, it’s likely we’re going to support you financially in some capacity through the program. You may get a full scholarship for tuition, you may get living stipends, you might get child care support. In other words you’re coming in here, zero knowledge, very little debt, and then you’re going to launch a fantastic career as a junior software developer, jump into a seventy thousand dollar job and never have a problem again ever finding employment in the highway sector in six or eight months. And you show me a university or college program that can do that. That’s what we’re proposing. So is it challenging? Yeah, but think about what the end result is. It’s not possible to do that in six or eight months unless the program is kind of immersive and challenging.


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That cannot be accomplished in a duration of six or eight months unless the program is exceptionally rigorous and immersive.

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