Owners of up-and-coming software design and programming firms are
boosting their revenue by teaching the tricks of their trade to eager
students -- who may then go on to become something akin to competitors.
And the 20-something instructors who teach these week-long classes
seem to demolish other long-held business models for training. They may
be more concerned with students having fun in and outside class than
they are with handing out grades for the coursework.
One thing is for certain: the new style software training seems to
be an outgrowth of the gig economy, encouraging unemployed individuals
to remain fluid and launch their own successful enterprises.
“We already have the instruction part down,” says Daniel Morrison, 27, president of Collective Idea in
Holland. “That’s top-notch. So let’s have some fun with it. We do
something where we take people out the first night, or we’ll do a beach
barbecue or whatever people want to do. Some guys want to go golfing.
The training doesn’t end at 5 o'clock.”
The Knowledge Economy
says Collective Idea started offering its four-day training sessions
under the brand name Idea Foundry last year, the offshoot of a training
session that his team developed and held on-site for a San
“We felt we could do it on our own, and do it a little better, so we
decided to do it in Holland with our own little take on things,” says
Morrison, who attended Hope College. He runs Collective Idea with two
other full-time employees to create custom websites and software
Individuals who sign up for an Idea Foundry training session may pay
nearly $1,000 for a four-day session, depending on various factors. In
return, they receive hands-on instruction in applications like the
content management system Expression Engine or the open-source web
framework Ruby on Rails.
Former student Lauren Gray won a scholarship from Collective Idea
for a training session on Expression Engine last year when she
submitted the winning entry for the company's essay contest. Once she
completed the session, Gray and a Colorado-based partner went on to
form their own web development company, Flip Box Studios, which Gray says is doing well.
Gray’s opportunity to undergo Idea Foundry training followed her
recent layoff from her previous job. “I received news of a scholarship
the day after I was laid off," says Gray, 25. "The training gave me the
knowledge and tools I needed to establish my own brand and work for
Thirty-one-year-old Torey Heinz also came to Idea Foundry after
being laid off from his position as an IT and web administrator at
International Material Control Systems Inc. in Holland. While he did
not receive a scholarship, Heinz says Morrison and his team worked with
him to come up with an affordable financial arrangement.
“The training I got from those guys gave me some practical
application to what I’d been learning in books,” Heinz says. “I had
come to a point where I needed to talk with someone real-life, in
Trained to work with Ruby on Rails, Heinz parlayed his newly developed skills to launch I.H.S. Web Design, which he says is doing so well that he is "swamped.”
“Because I was new, I had set a low rate, but now I’m getting so much work, I’m getting ready to double my rate,” Heinz says.
What’s more, Heinz has been inspired by Collective Idea’s training
venture to possibly offer training of his own, but in a different
field. Rather than training people in web application, Heinz says he
would like to offer programmers and developers insight on how to use
their skills to become successful entrepreneurs. But that vision may
be a few years away from becoming reality, he concedes.
A Confederacy of Geeks
Heinz says he found out
about Idea Foundry training by meeting with the Geek Group, an informal
technology-based group that gets together in Holland. One of the
leaders of the Geek Group is Aaron Schaap, self-described “mastermind”
at Elevator Up L.L.C.
in Zeeland, which also offers workshops designed to familiarize local
professionals with applications and skills they will need to succeed in
believes that West Michigan software developers are coming to see their
market as national and even global, which breaks down resistance among
“competitors” to working together on such ventures.
“It’s kind of like learning by people you respect,” Schaap says. “So
when you’re actually getting to talk to the people who do these kinds
of things, it’s people who are personally passionate. You’re going to
see them online at 2 a.m. working away at this stuff.
"Within West Michigan, people are saying: ‘You know what? The whole
idea of competition isn’t that big a deal because we’re kind of working
on a national level. So why can’t we get together and work on things?’”
Indeed, one training partner for Collective Idea has been Mike Boyink, owner of Boyink Interactive,
who has launched a successful side venture called Train-EE. Boyink
collaborated with Collective Idea on some recent training, but also
conducts his own, which he says earns extra revenue while helping to
form client relationships for his primary company.
Boyink has done two training sessions on Expression Engine – one in
Holland’s City Flats and one in San Antonio (“We wanted to go somewhere
warm in the winter,” he explains), and plans a second City Flats
session this week. Boyink says he takes advantage of a close
relationship with Ellis Labs – the developer of Expression Engine – in
making the sessions successful.
Work and Play
Morrison and Boyink agreed – as
did Gray and Heinz – that a fun atmosphere was part of the attraction
for this new brand of training.
Boyink says the winter location of San Antonio was chosen in part to
take advantage of that city’s famous RiverWalk, which is teeming with
things to do after the sun goes down.
“We look for spots like restaurants and bars – stuff you can walk to,” Boyink says.
Not all alternative training focuses on a market of displaced individuals, of course. Grand Rapids-based Atomic Object,
which has earned a reputation for its strong application development
skills, recently began offering training sessions in the writing of
code and applications – as opposed to the use of existing applications.
For his clientele, Atomic Object President Carl Erickson has largely looked to the corporate market.
“What we have found is, over the course of eight years of doing
custom software development for a lot of local customers, those who
have engineers and developers on staff will look at the way Atomic does
stuff, and they’ll say, ‘I want my guys to do that and get those
results,’” Erickson says.
“We had a half-dozen guys from Lockheed Martin come last summer, and
they were here for a week and we put together a customized curriculum
for coding custom software development.”
Each course is customized to the customer’s need, Erickson says, but
the key is working hands-on with the client and being available for
But Morrison says there appears to be a subtle shift in underlying
reasons for those who pursue training, which traditionally is tied to
requirements for current job at the request of their employers or to
add value to their current positions.
“We are now seeing people that have been downsized in their current
jobs and are looking to one: learn new skills, or two: increase what
they already know, so they can start their own business or do freelance
work,” he says.
Dan Calabrese is the co-founder and editor in chief of North Star Writers Group and
previously owned a West Michigan public relations firm by the same
name. He has written for the Macomb Daily, the Royal Oak Daily Tribune,
the Journal Newspapers in Wayne County and the Grand Rapids Business
Brandon Keepers, Dan Morrison and Brian Ryckbost of Collective Idea – Holland
Daniel Morrison, president of Collective Idea , photographed at City Flats Hotel - Holland (2)
Aaron Schaap, one of the leaders of the Geek Group - Zeeland
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved