Pay it Forward: Brad Zepecki founded nonprofit to train teens in tech

Brad Zepecki (second from right) and Brookfield Central High School teacher Ryan Osterberg (third from right) work with students Nabil Hussaini, Anja Logan, Aaron Melcher, Thomas Harmeyer and Rhea Ramachandran.
Brad Zepecki (second from right) and Brookfield Central High School teacher Ryan Osterberg (third from right) work with students Nabil Hussaini, Anja Logan, Aaron Melcher, Thomas Harmeyer and Rhea Ramachandran. Credit: Jake Hill

Brad Zepecki
President and chief executive officer
Octavian Technology Group
Nonprofit served: Code the Way
Service: Founder

When he’s not running his own startup, Brad Zepecki, president and chief executive officer of Octavian Technology Group, leads a nonprofit organization that trains high school students in software development while providing area nonprofits with free technology services.

A few years ago, Zepecki, who at the time was CEO of software development and management consulting firm SafeNet Consulting, was looking to give back to the community and began exploring the idea of training students in the Elmbrook School District in advanced computer science by having them work on real-world projects. Around that same time, he met a representative from Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization Life Navigators and realized the potential to achieve two goals at once.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we have the kids write software for the nonprofits?’ because some smaller community-based nonprofits are in need,” he said.

In 2017, he launched Code the Way with its first cohort, a group of 10 Brookfield Central High School computer science students. The students worked with volunteers to write an application that would track expenses, mileage and hours for Life Navigator employees.

The program takes students through a three-week masterclass that includes a crash course on software development and overview of the project, followed by six weeks of building the application. Volunteers serve as technical leads to help students troubleshoot, along with liaisons who communicate between the nonprofit client and students.

“Not only do students learn the programming language, but they’re learning … application development methodologies that they wouldn’t be getting in high school,” Zepecki said. “They get that through having real professionals facilitate the work so they can get the full spectrum of application development experience. So they’re way ahead when they’re done with the program.”

In its second year, the program grew to include 45 students from both the Elmbrook and New Berlin school districts, who built an application for Milwaukee-based nonprofit Heroes for Healthcare. This year, students wrote an application for the Convergence Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps survivors of human trafficking, that streamlined the organization’s management of volunteers, events and donations. 

Code the Way, which recently received its 501(c)(3) status, plans to expand to serve Milwaukee Public Schools students and to run multiple projects for nonprofits simultaneously. The program has received support from Hydrite Chemical Co., Northwestern Mutual and Park Bank. 

Zepecki, a Milwaukee native who attended Milwaukee Public Schools, said he wants to see more students inspired to pursue technology careers here, while also giving them a leg up in their college studies. So far, two former Code the Way students have gone on to land internships in college with Facebook and Google. 

“That’s where I get my energy,” he said. “It’s when I work with the kids and that gives me the fuel to do Octavian. It’s so rewarding to see them achieve things they didn’t think they’d be able to.” 

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.