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Posted on July 17th, 2020 in Community, Eleven Fifty Academy
Helping the Indiana Tech Community Thrive: An Interview with Dewand Neely

Every day Dewand Neely, Eleven Fifty’s Chief Operating Officer, helps provide “structure and efficiency” to the EFA team of approximately 40—a small but mighty team compared to the more than 400 he oversaw while serving as the Chief Information Officer for the State of Indiana. 

“It’s about learning the teams, how they operate, and getting them to jive and become close together to get that perfect package,” he said.

The Elkhart native has forged an unexpected path since his time studying technology at Purdue. He had every intention of leaving the midwest. But the September 11 attacks during his last semester of college led him to stay, first at an Indianapolis-based IT staffing firm, then to the State of Indiana.

“It was not meant to be a long term deal. But once I got in there and got a knack for public service, I ended up really liking it. I started thinking it was going to be tough to find another career that gave that level of satisfaction,” he said.

Then a happenstance breakfast with Scott Jones, Eleven Fifty’s Founder and President, to discuss his state team training on the EFA Cyber Range turned into a job offer. 

“I thought, A) here’s an opportunity to work for Scott Jones and learn from him, and B) I could still have a giveback perspective in the field of technology. Here’s an opportunity right in front of me, and if I pass it up, who knows if I’ll ever get something that fits my wheelhouse again?”

As someone who has seized several great opportunities in his career, we chatted with Neely to get his perspective on Eleven Fifty’s role in communities, job opportunities in tech, and why Indiana is a great place to grow a career.

How does your passion for public service align with Eleven Fifty’s vision?

The first thing I’m passionate about is cybersecurity, one of Eleven Fifty’s tracks. I really want as many people as possible to learn cybersecurity, and to make the normal layman aware that many people are getting used and taken advantage of. They don’t know what’s real and not anymore. It’s only going to escalate and grow exponentially.

Second, our model where we go into a community and work with the employers and chambers, it really works to help them grow their community from within. We’re not training students and sending them out west or to Chicago. What we try to do is create a talent pool so local employers can say “we have a great talent pool right here where we are, right here in Indiana.” 

Then the last side of it is seeing how people’s lives have changed through an Eleven Fifty program, whether it’s an opportunity for a new high-value and high-impact role, having a more stable career, or doubling or even tripling their former salary. The more graduates I’ve been able to speak with, and the more I hear the stories, the more fulfilling it is to see that impact.

What does the process of building a community from within look like? 

It starts with the state Economic Development Corporation. We work closely with them to identify spots that need a kickstart to grow. Then we talk in-depth with city officials, the local Economic Development Corporation, and their largest employer.

As a not-for-profit academy, we’re more nimble and flexible so we can adjust the curriculum to a community’s specific needs. It’s a matter of listening to those employers and asking, “Where are your gaps? Will you need to grow in a year? What do you really need to get a competitive advantage?” We want to make sure we build a pipeline that fits their needs so that when students graduate, they leave with skills that make them immediately hireable.

We keep those employers on our advisory board going forward because technology changes. We make sure we’re doing routine reviews of our curriculum. Keeping that two-way dialogue going forward is important.

Eleven Fifty recently received CARES Act funding to help cover tuition for those facing unemployment. Why is this such a special opportunity?

First, it shows how dedicated our state is about getting Hoosiers back to work. It’s really putting money behind one of Governor Holcomb’s agendas to create a 21st-century workforce. The Department of Workforce Development, EmployIndy, and WorkOne offices have given huge collective support to help our state’s unemployed and underemployed people get back to work. The New Level Jobs and Rapid Recovery programs in particular have helped Eleven Fifty grow and impact hundreds of Hoosiers–many being minorities, women, and veterans–by helping them transition into higher paying jobs.

Second, this helps us remove financial barriers for people who want to make a career change. It’s great to be able to give individuals the opportunity to pick the right course for them, especially people who are unsure of what the future holds and want to hold onto their savings.

What do you see for the future of tech in Indiana and how is Eleven Fifty playing a role?

5G is going to continue to grow, and it’s going to grow in a very fast way. 

In our new headquarters downtown, we’re partnering with the Indiana 5G Zone. 5G is going mainstream very soon and it will enable a lot of Internet of Things (IoT) technology. They’re out there now, but they’ve struggled due to bandwidth limitations and 5G is going to make that wide open. 

With more IoT hardware and exponentially more data, software development is going to continue to grow around this, and I think the combination of cybersecurity with software development will be a huge opportunity. We’re starting to do that a little bit, but we will get more focused on making sure our coders have a strong idea of what it means to be a secure coder. Building that security influence from the start is a lot easier than trying to pack it on later. And if they graduate with that skill set, they will be very valuable and marketable.

Why is now a great time to explore a career in tech, especially in Indiana?

The state of the world right now is one reason. Many folks, especially those in hospitality and service industries, are unfortunately going to find out that their job may not be there after COVID-19. A lot of small businesses are unfortunately not going to make it through. Individuals may want to train and skill-up right now so they’re prepared for a new career in a field that’s known to be in high demand. 

For Indiana in general, we’re still going through lots of growth, and there’s still a shortage of talent. There’s a domain to fill here. The jobs are here, and there’s still lots of opportunity for growth if we can build the talent and attract the right companies. 

What would you say to someone, especially someone younger, about why they should stay in Indiana?

It’s easy for me to say it’s a great place to live, but you can look up the cost of living and the quality of life within the area and it’s pretty unmatched. 

Particularly for my path, I’m really glad I tried state government for a bit. I think you get a whole different viewpoint and perspective. It really is an eye-opener and we have a great state government. There’s stability and there’s a forward-thinking mindset for our government and our Economic Development Corporation. There’s lots of potential still to come to the state.

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