Director of Career and Adult Education
Nassau County School District
(904) 548-4474 Office
November 17, 2017 11:00 a.m.
A little over two years ago, Noah Emmons was a sophomore at Fernandina Beach High School. He liked programming and was teaching himself Python, but otherwise he was bored with the traditional high school experience. Like many teenagers, he didn’t always see the relevance of the core high school curriculum. However, when he learned that the Nassau County School District (NCSD) was going to open a Java Coding and Application Development program at the Lewis “Red” Bean Nassau Technical Career Center, he became much more optimistic about the remainder of his high school years.
By the time Emmons started the program in August of 2015, he had already taken more initiative regarding his future than most students his age. Since the classes were held between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m., Noah would only be attending at FBHS for the last three periods of the day. While he would earn four high school credits in the Java program versus three credits he would have earned if he was at FBHS full time, he was only a junior and still had required courses. To make things work he enrolled in an online class to take care of a core credit.
In the meantime, school district personnel and business partners also put in quite a bit of time to create a special program. Brent Lemond, Director of Career Education, recruited business partners to form an advisory board that would continue to advise curriculum and assist with placements and other student opportunities. RJ McDermott of feature  was one of those initial partners, along with representatives from Wells Fargo and CSX. Most importantly, the program’s instructor, Kalvin Thompson, spent his summer in the most rigorous software development training program available in order to make sure he was up-to-date with all of the latest technologies.
Emmons would make his remaining high school years count, and recalls how the new NCSD program provided a unique opportunity. He recalled, “The class was taught in a way that would benefit beginning and advanced students. Since I had prior experience and I knew I wanted to be a software engineer, Mr. Thompson would give me extra assignments to develop my skills further.”
In the winter of 2016, Emmons was one of two students that was asked to present to the business partners at the advisory board meeting. He presented an application that he created to assist nurses in tracking insulin intake. His presentation explained how the application solved a problem, and he explained each section of his program’s code. The presentation impressed the business partners, but where feature was concerned it served to affirm prior contact with Emmons.
McDermott explains, “Feature had already known and been contacted multiple times by Noah Emmons regarding a position at feature. His persistence and desire did not go unnoticed, and we reached a point where we could no longer say ‘no’ to Noah. … he exhibited what we look for in our Candidate Engineers and Software Engineers: the drive to learn, deliver, and continue to expand his skillset beyond the normal expectations.”
When all was said and done, Emmons was offered an unpaid internship for his senior year. But there were still obstacles. Feature  is located in downtown Jacksonville, making a part-time scenario a tough commute. He also still had some graduation requirements to finish. Finally, there was one final snag – Feature  works primarily in the C# programming language. It is similar to Java, but would require additional learning.
Eventually Emmons worked things out to be at feature  on a full time basis. “I started around mid-June. I was given a list of books that I needed to go through to learn new technologies and was given some internal projects so I could apply what I was learning. I spent the first two weeks reading on new technologies and how the real-world flow of work goes. For example, I experience the process of submitting your work to a client for feedback and having to continually revise based on that client feedback,” recalls Emmons.
By the time he graduated, Emmons had not only acquired the necessary skills to start a career as a software engineer, he had proven himself. “Noah was the first high school intern we’ve had. He did and continues to show a penchant for learning advanced topics and applying them quickly, whereas many others at his level would get caught up or stifled by the gravity of the topics at hand,” explained McDermott.
Many of Emmons’s peers are taking the standard freshmen classes at a college. Some have an idea of what they want to do, and others plan to figure it out while they are in college. Many will still be trying to figure it out four years from now as they prepare enter the world of work, and some will also have to budget paying off student loans. Not Emmons! In four years, he will have whatever earnings he’s managed to save in that time and enough work experience to be well beyond entry-level.
NCSB’s Brent Lemond thinks more students should follow Emmons’s path. “So many people have the mindset that students either need to prepare for college or a career. Don’t we all need a career in the end? Noah is going to have so much of a head start when you consider four extra years of income,” said Lemond.
Best of all, students like Emmons still have many paths to a free education. Feature’s CEO, Mike Potts, shares Lemond’s vision alternate routes to education. Said Potts,
“I think it’s important to know, we’d still like Noah to go to college. In fact, we have a second High School Intern getting ready to start, and she’s from Robert E. Lee here in Jacksonville. Given our experience thus far with high school students, we’ve reached out to the Associate Dean at UNF to discuss how we do better for these students. We’re currently exploring how we might develop some kind of “work program” that not only employs high school graduates, but creates degree opportunities through the university, WHILE WORKING at companies like feature. This would mean high school graduates would be able to afford state colleges like UNF while earning real world experience. It also means that more promising students could go to college without the burden of waiting on scholarship dollars.”
The school district’s Java program is also continuing to make waves. Last year some top students, Raymond Pace and Nisha Patel from West Nassau High School, became Oracle Certified Java Associates a credential many college graduates have struggled to earn. Several other Nassau students earned AP college credit in the subject.
Business involvement is on the rise also. Ed Jenkins, Business Architect for Wells Fargo and founding member of the advisory board has increased his role by serving as a guest lecturer and recruiting other industry partners. Bill Frederico, owner and chief developer for Fernandina Beach based Logic Mountain, has joined and recently stepped up to chair the board.
When the NCSD Java program was just an idea on the table, Lemond spent a great deal of time trying to find the most qualified expert on training Java developers. This search led him to a renowned CIO, programmer and electrical engineer Bob Fortenberry from Memphis, TN. Lemond recalls Fortenberry often repeated statement, “We must teach students that they don’t have to wait until they are adults to do something meaningful.”
Beginning around the age of 14, Noah Emmons decided he wanted to be a developer and set out to shortcut the process. While in high school he blazed a trail for other students to follow and helped feature  create a model that can serve as an example for other companies. That’s pretty meaningful!