To the tourist, Las Vegas is best known for its casinos, nightlife and entertainment. But to Vegas residents, the city – while sprawling – is tight-knit with a vibrant tech scene and boundless energy.
Gabe Shepherd joined The Iron Yard’s team as Las Vegas Campus Director earlier this year and hit the ground running. He has one cohort already under his belt and another in full swing. Gabe has worked hard to enhance the sense of community students, instructors and Iron Grads feel when they’re on campus and to make sure The Iron Yard is a trusted partner within the Vegas tech community.
Below is a little bit more about Gabe and what he brings to The Iron Yard, in his own words:
I like to look at the campus director role as the leader of an orchestra. I bring together instructors, members of the tech community and employers to help our students learn the skills they need to start a career as a developer and to give them an accurate picture of what that job will look like. To continue the orchestra metaphor, all sections of the orchestra are important but you don’t fully hear the music until they are all playing together.
Everyday I come to work thinking, ‘How can I hustle to help these students achieve their career goals?’ That can be anything from making an introduction or bringing in a hiring partner for a guest lecture. Day-to-day we focus on making sure they have the hard skills they need to succeed, but I think building soft skills are just as valuable and important to becoming a developer.
How did you begin your career?
I started my career in hardware at a local retailer. I got certified to be a Microsoft systems engineer, which led me to become passionate about startups and software. Software is the engine that pushes hardware to its limits. I then started my own software company to do custom apps.
How did you first hear about The Iron Yard?
I first met The Iron Yard’s CEO Peter and CMO Eric a few years ago as they were launching some of The Iron Yard’s original campuses. We stayed in touch and I ran into Peter pretty regularly at different events and conferences. A year or so ago, we ran into eachother at the airport and he mentioned the possibility of The Iron Yard coming to Vegas. Now, a year later, I’m thrilled to be leading the Vegas campus.
How would you describe the Vegas campus culture?
We have a really unique culture. Las Vegans take offense when you say New York is the city that never sleeps. Without a doubt it’s Vegas. Our startup ecosystem is round-the-clock; we’re innovators and we think outside the box. You can’t tell us something can’t be done – we put casinos in a desert and now it’s one of the biggest destinations on the globe.
This mentality definitely carries over into the tech scene and The Iron Yard’s campus as well. There isn’t anything we can’t do.
What do you want people to know about the Vegas tech community?
I want people to recognize that what they see in the movies and see in pop culture, isn’t even half of what Las Vegas has to offer. We have a strong culture and sense of community, and are always willing to help each other out.
For instance, there is a big company in town that we wanted to approach to join our local advisory board, but my contact at the company had recently moved to a new job. I posted on Facebook and within hours I had 26 responses from other people in the tech community offering to make introductions. Vegas is still a small town in a lot of ways.
What has been your favorite moment so far as campus director?
There have been so many good memories, but my first Demo Day really stands out. The students graduating were individuals who didn’t really know how hard it was going to be when they first started the course, but they fought through the tough times and persevered. This group didn’t just make it to graduation, they were phenomenal. Watching people who were introverted speak in front of some of the biggest companies in town, knowing that they’re now taking lunches with huge companies and in a lot of cases, making more money than their parents, was absolutely huge to me. It also made me remember my history in tech – I got lucky in a lot of ways. This cohort of grads are people who really fought for what they wanted and that just tells me so much about their character.
What advice would you give to prospective students who are thinking about code school?
I would tell them to find someone who is a developer for a living and interview them. At The Iron Yard we can teach you how to code, we can send you pre-work to see if you like coding and set you up with the skills you need to be successful, but the closest thing you’ll get to knowing what it’s really like is by asking a developer what their job and lifestyle are like.
What else should we know about you?
It’s a funny story. Fourteen years ago I came to Las Vegas thinking I’d just stay for a few years. I only had $3,000 to my name, a beat up car and a pre-paid stay at a budget hotel behind the old Stardust. My first night in town I blew all $3,000 on a craps table – all of it. For the next three weeks I walked up and down the Strip trying to find a job and nothing happened. On my very last night, I was packing up my car, ready to head back to LA to move back in with my parents when I got a call from Robert Stevenson asking if I was still looking for work and how soon could I start. I told him I could be there in 15 minutes. I came into work the next day, he gave me an advance on my paycheck and I’ve been in Vegas ever since.
I met my wife in Las Vegas, I’m raising my daughter here. Robert went on to become my mentor, and he even came to my wedding. That’s what people don’t know about Vegas. It’s an incredibly tight-knit community.