Operation Spark is a nonprofit coding bootcamp in New Orleans that provides opportunities for upward mobility through skills training and job placement in high-wage tech careers. Generational poverty is an issue for many in New Orleans, and Operation Spark provides access to tuition assistance, grants, and academic and social support to students who need additional help. These days, Operation Spark is seeing an increase in participants who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdown and are ready to retrain for new a career in tech – and IT developer Miguel Peter is the first graduate of the program to join Ubisoft.
When Ubisoft came to New Orleans last year to (virtually) present career opportunities in IT to Operation Spark’s students, Peter, who had recently graduated the program, immediately applied.
“Ubisoft is such a huge company,” Peter says. “Everyone knows Assassin’s Creed and the Rabbids!”
Videogames have always been a big part of Peter’s life: at the public high school he went to, he was not only able to learn a trade – computer maintenance and networking – but he also applied these skills to creating an online gaming community using the school’s internet connection.
“Don’t tell them I shared that!” he says, smiling, as he remembers playing Halo and Counter-Strike for hours with his schoolmates.
Peter’s story is intertwined with the disastrous hurricanes that regularly hit Louisiana and Texas. In 2017, he couldn’t finish his degree at Houston Community College because Hurricane Harvey severely affected the city’s public transport system, making it impossible for Peter to attend the few classes that were not canceled. (Even as he received the call from Ubisoft last year confirming he got the job, another hurricane swept his neighborhood and abruptly cut the line when the power went down for good.)
After Hurricane Harvey, Peter was working as a temp in an Apple store when he learned about Operation Spark. The school had opened its doors in 2013 and become a nonprofit, providing access-for-all literacy in software creation for youth and adults in Louisiana.
"Across New Orleans, we saw thousands of young adults, ages 16 to 24, out of school and unemployed," recalls John Fraboni, CEO and founder of Operation Spark. "Meanwhile, New Orleans companies were starved for software talent. I founded Operation Spark to help bridge that divide. Six years later, nearly 200 Operation Spark grads work as software professionals in 62 companies worldwide, with an average salary of $62,500.
"Currently, the majority of students in our adult Immersion program come from Greater New Orleans," Fraboni adds. "However, our service area is growing, and people from across Southeast Louisiana are now enrolling in our online programs."
The final stage of Operation Spark's training program is a four-month immersive experience that runs 11 hours a day, six days a week. Peter had saved enough to live on while he embarked on this adventure, learning to code using industrial tools, writing actual apps, and working closely with a team. At the end of this journey, he had the opportunity to teach at Operation Spark while he began his job search. When COVID hit, Peter had already sent out 300 applications. It was around this time that Donald Havas, associate director at Ubisoft IT, and three other colleagues came to present Ubisoft at Operation Spark.
"I have always considered diversity and inclusion to be a fundamental topic in IT,” Havas says. “If I look at my team, for example, I know there is not enough diversity. I wanted to do something concrete to tackle the issue. That's why we started working with Operation Spark.”
This is just the beginning of a long-term partnership with the school, as Havas and his team are currently interviewing a second wave of candidates from Operation Spark. Fraboni is optimistic: “We hope to learn more about Ubisoft’s talent needs, (and) then identify ways we can help Ubisoft find great applicants while providing talented New Orleanians with an opportunity to join the Ubisoft team!”
In December, Peter started working remotely in Denver, Colorado. "Ubisoft is a big, loving community; everyone is friendly. Like at Operation Spark, my colleagues are very supportive and give me great feedback," Peter says. Leaving Louisiana was a big step for him. Still he says, he wanted to make the most of this opportunity to see the world. Being alone and far from home is not easy every day, but he is discovering a new city and learning how to be independent as he begins his career in IT.