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Trailblazing Alumni Chris McCauley July 18, 2023

While growing up in Oak Grove, Alabama, Adam Aldrich was determined to become a computer programmer. Although the computer science resources were limited in his hometown, he still found creative ways to build his skills.

“I found books at the thrift store and just asked teachers [about programming],” said Aldrich, U.S. Country Manager for UnoSquare. “By the time I was 15, I really knew it was what I wanted to do with my career.”

Adam and Dixie Aldrich holding hands in front of the Disney castle at night. Aldrich’s determination and vision led him to S&W Mini Computers, a small business in Hueytown. At the age of 15, Aldrich walked in the door and offered to clean their warehouse and cut the grass, free of charge. In return for his work, he simply asked the team to teach him to code.

“I worked for free there,” said Aldrich. “I did whatever I could do so they’d let me sit with the programmers at night and learn how to program… and that turned into an actual job.”

Sadly, a devastating tornado struck Aldrich’s hometown on April 8, 1998, destroying his high school and displacing all of the students. Soon after, he found himself attending classes at Gillmore Bell Vocational High School and co-oping at S&W every Friday afternoon. That hands-on experience helped him build the foundation for his future coding career.

After graduating from high school, he continued working at S&W and started night school at Jefferson State Community College. According to Aldrich, it was the best option for his budget and goals at the time. That said, he had his sights set on the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I always wanted to go to UAB. I always wanted to see Birmingham be better… I felt like I could be part of that,” said Aldrich.

He continued to exercise his determination and, eventually, made his way to the burgeoning UAB Department of Computer Science in 2003. At the time, it was a small, tight-knit community of students and faculty. The department has since skyrocketed in enrollment, with over 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students as of Spring 2023.

“I’ve loved watching the growth of UAB,” said Aldrich. “I was in the very, very early stages of computer science at UAB, and I see now what Dr. [Yuliang] Zheng is doing and he’s telling me how many hundreds of kids are graduating every year from computer science. It’s so much growth.”

Aldrich is a major part of the department’s story too. After graduating with his B.S. in 2008, he accepted a position at Daxko, a software company in Birmingham. While there, he met a like-minded developer named Trent Kocurek. Together, they decided to start their own software company, Airship, and contribute to the growing tech ecosystem in the city of Birmingham. Although the decision was exciting, it was also risky. For Aldrich, every bit of uncertainty dissolved when he consulted with his wife, Dixie.

“When I asked her about it, she didn’t even hesitate—she was all in and believed in me,” said Aldrich. “She knew we would be able to accomplish it together. Knowing that she was on board and supporting me was a huge confidence boost to make the decision.”

Airship opened their first office in the Innovation Depot with a five-person team, then moved to Pepper Place, then, after growing to 30 team members, they relocated to a new facility located a few blocks from UAB and Railroad Park.

“We’ve always really tried to hire Birmingham first. That’s always been our goal,” said Aldrich. “We want to build up the tech talent in Birmingham. We take chances on people—we have had tons of people in our company and this is their first programming job.”

And their strategy is clearly making an impact. In December 2022, Airship was acquired by UnoSquare—one of the largest independent nearshore digital engineering companies—a major win for Aldrich and Kocurek, as well as the broader Birmingham tech community.

Aldrich sees endless opportunities on the horizon, and, at the same time, he is actively reflecting on the ways in which he can support the journeys of other computer science-minded students from his hometown.

“When I grew up in Oak Grove… [we didn’t have] access to computers or the internet. There are a lot of brilliant kids out there with good engineering [and scientific] minds,” said Aldrich. “They don’t know how to… get out into the world and realize, ‘Hey you could be a computer scientist—you could write software.’”

As they’ve done throughout their lives together, the Aldrich’s—who met in Oak Grove—have now teamed up with the goal of reaching students in their hometown and helping them find their way to UAB’s Department of Computer Science. To reach this goal, they established the Dixie and Adam Aldrich Endowed Scholarship in Computer Science, which aims to support first-year computer science students—especially those who attended high school in Oak Grove—as they explore their interests and consider what the future might hold. It’s a scholarship that Aldrich himself would’ve likely pursued.

“We are a team, and we wanted to help kids get access to things. We felt like this was a good start by telling them, ‘We’ll try to help pay for some of your school if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone,’” said Aldrich. “The scholarship is designed so that it promotes schools in areas like Oak Grove, Pleasant Grove, and Hueytown.”

Moving forward, Aldrich plans to visit with students in Oak Grove—and surrounding areas—so he can talk to them about his career and the value of computer science and entrepreneurship. And, of course, he plans to promote the scholarship too.

“It’s the start of something we want to do more of,” said Aldrich.

The College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Computer Science thank both Dixie and Adam Aldrich for their generous gift.

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