School in Silicon Valley aims to train more software engineers

School in Silicon Valley aims to train more software engineers

A new software engineering school is hoping to solve two problems at once: fix the nationwide shortage of IT talent and get more women on board.

The dearth of qualified tech talent available to fill federal IT jobs is a major challenge in government. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million open jobs in software engineering and only 400,000 computer science students to fill them. Online courses and 10-15 week coding boot camps have risen to the challenge of trying to close the gap. Now a group of tech wizards are taking matters into their own hands.

Industry veterans from Apple, Docker, and LinkedIn opened the admissions process for the Holberton School in late September. Located in San Francisco’s financial district, the school plans to be an alternative to both colleges and coding boot camps, training students to become software engineers in two years. Unlike most coding boot camps, students don’t need bachelor’s degrees.

The Holberton School will use a project-based, peer-learning system modeled after the European Institute of Technology in France where co-founder Julien Barbier graduated in 2006.

“We believe we offer a program that is a very good alternative to college for a lot of people -- who like us when we were students -- found school boring and did not want to sit for hours in amphitheaters, but rather spend most of their time creating and building applications,” Barbier said.

Barbier, who worked for the startup Docker, said he and the other co-founders Rudy Rigot -- a former Apple engineer -- and Sylvain Kalache wanted the Holberton School to give back to the tech community based off learning methods that worked for them.

“When we started talking about this system that we have updated and adapted to Silicon Valley to engineers and potential students, most of them were super interested and excited about it,” Barbier said. “What the U.S. doesn’t have is this method that is project-based.”

Students will take classes on-site at the school where they’ll work with mentors and learn from each other doing group-based projects. The admission process involves three levels. The first level tests a prospective student’s ability to read a problem and solve it, the second involves a project and the third is an interview.

In a sample application, the first level asks applicants to follow the Holberton School’s Twitter account and send a tweet. Barbier admits it’s a relatively simple task, but it’s designed to show students can follow instructions and do basic research, because they’ll need to be able to look up solutions on their own.

Named for Betty Holberton, one of the original programmers of the early computer in the 1940s and 1950s, the Holberton School also hopes to recruit more women into tech. So far, Barbier said they have 20 women engineers as mentors.

The school is getting funding the Silicon Valley way -- from venture capitalists. Dan Scholnick of Trinity Ventures led a $2 million seed round. Jerry Yang --  the co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo!, Partech Ventures, Solomon Hykes (co-founder of Docker) and Jonathan Buotelle (co-founder of Slideshare) have all backed the project.

“By helping get Holberton School off the ground, we feel we are not just helping the school, and not just the thousands of companies around the world desperate for software engineers, but everyone who will benefit from the technologies these students will help create,” Trinity Ventures’  Scholnik said in a statement.

Barbier said the inaugural class in January will be 32 people strong and tuition-free. It’s an enticing prospect at a time when many students are dealing with staggering student loans.

“We’re not only training good engineers, but it scales really fast,” Barbier said. “We could train thousands of software engineers with this method.”

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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