B.S. Mathematics ’99
Computer Science Advisory Board Chair
Hometown: Hood River, Oregon, and Anchorage, Alaska
Fun fact: Has been homebrewing for over 10 years, with specialties in English IPA and barley wine
One of the quickest ways to get to know Jeremiah Dunham is to read some of his blog posts on DesignPT.com . He’s the president of this community-minded IT consulting and services firm, but that doesn’t stop him from adding his own style of fun to the company’s communications, including cartoons (he drew), short stories (he wrote) and video (he produced).
“I’m exploring my artistic side,” he laughs. “I’m a math geek—a hardcore left brainer—I mean, how artistic can I be?”
You can tell he’s having fun with it, though, putting himself out there in a genuine effort to share what he is passionate about: community and technology.
It’s hard to know where to start with Jeremiah’s story and how he’s come to be a leading voice in the vision of creating a thriving technology sector in Alaska. His stint in the Air Force Academy after graduating from Service High School in Anchorage? His math degree from UAA? Earning an M.B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University while working full-time for Amazon.com in Seattle? Or maybe his claim to coding fame—Alaska Airlines’ Web Check-In ?
Those are all really just details. We should start with why he left Alaska in the first place after graduating from UAA and what drew him back to the state and to the university, with a specific mission in mind.
Ultimately, Jeremiah left Alaska in 1999 because it was the height of the dot com boom and he wanted to be a tech person, but couldn’t find a permanent tech job in Anchorage. He did manage to land a temp job as a computer technician, flying around the state fixing computers for Alaska Airlines, but he had an unfulfilled passion for programming.
Luckily, Alaska Airlines recognized his good work ethic and the smarts of a self-starter. They transferred him to Seattle so he could take a full-time job with the company. Less than a month later, they handed him the software development part of a $6 million project as the sole developer. He was studying computer science textbooks by night while learning skills on the job by day.
The position at Alaska Airlines gave way to a short stint at Microsoft, which gave way to almost two years at Amazon.com. He was rolling with the heavy hitters. He was done earning his M.B.A. by 2006, was married with his first child on the way, and thought of returning to Alaska.
But in order to return to Alaska, he had to face the original dilemma head-on: a lack of technology opportunities in Anchorage.
“The first approach I took to addressing that problem, in my mind, was to try to bridge the gap between the university and business,” Jeremiah explains. “So I became an adjunct professor in the computer science department at UAA while also running the Anchorage office of a computer consulting firm that was based out of Juneau.”
At the same time, he founded a professional association called Software Professionals of Alaska.
“The idea was to create a place where software development people, current professionals and students, could get together and network, talk about industry trends, etc.,” he says. “Between all that I had a vehicle for providing direct jobs for students interested in technology. I was deeply tied into the university—teaching kids who were going into the program—and I had this other industry connection by associating people together doing similar things, bridging the gap of what I perceived had prevented me from getting an opportunity.”
Jeremiah admits, too, that the lack of opportunity may have only been a perception on his part. Nonetheless, whether it had been eliminated in the time that he left and came back or whether he just hadn’t had the right connections in the beginning, he was now gaining traction and his eyes were opening to the local industry and its possibilities.
In 2008, Jeremiah was hired by DesignPT as the director of software development.
“A bit of a lofty title, considering I was the only software developer,” he muses.
After about a year in that position, he was promoted to vice president and made partner, buying out 25 percent of the business. The CEO, Orion Matthews, also transitioned most of the day-to-day responsibilities and decision-making to Jeremiah. At the time they were already working with many nonprofits but also doing a lot of enterprise software development.
“When I took over as president in 2010, I saw the writing on the wall,” he says. “We were as large as we’d ever been and I began to see a lack of focus around our identity and the volatility of the now-substantial part of the business. It was seriously threatening the entire existence of the company. So I made the call, maybe four months later, that we were going to exit enterprise software development altogether, adopt a new mission statement, and rededicate ourselves to service to our community.”
Jeremiah has since realigned everything at DesignPT to that mission of “building happier and healthier communities through the application of technology.”
Another thing he did was set a goal that by 2025 DesignPT will be operating in 100 communities nationwide.
“It’s what I like to call multi-local,” he says. “Not franchises, but a centralized administration of local operating offices that are able to customize themselves to the needs of their communities.”
Currently in Anchorage, Soldotna and Homer in Alaska, DesignPT just announced that they are expanding to their first out-of-state location in Prescott, Arizona.
Through all of this growth and change at a professional level, Jeremiah has continued to teach as an adjunct at UAA and was recently appointed as chair to its Computer Science Advisory Board. With goals like recruiting more students to computer science, increasing research and entrepreneurship, improving and updating curriculum and increasing graduation time and rate, he believes that a strong local university program begets a strong local tech sector through top-tier faculty and students. He wants to see Alaska diversify beyond oil and gas, tourism and the federal government as the mainstays of the state’s economy. He also sees a tremendous unmet need for nonprofit organizations like those that DesignPT serves—the need for more people who have the expertise, ethics and passion for technology that can in turn help bolster their missions.
“UAA could be a leader and catalyst for the whole thing,” he says. “Creating a creative class of technology professionals and a community to support that creative class.”
On the Web:
Watch Jeremiah present at TEDx Anchorage about his goals for a technology sector in Alaska and at Ignite Anchorage where he talks about 3DS Alaska, an intensive three-day weekend that brought college students and professionals together to launch new start-up ideas. GearSpoke.com was its recent brainchild, and most of the minds involved were UAA grads or current students.