At New Holberton School, French Trio to Train Software Engineers from Scratch

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In case you haven’t heard, there’s a huge need for software engineers in the US. If you can’t find a decent-paying job right now, it might be because you spent your undergrad years studying something other than computer science. Don’t despair, double majors in French and philosophy, there may still be hope for you in the form of the Holberton School.

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Betty Snyder (foreground) program the ENIAC in building 328 at the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL). Date circa 1947 to 1955 Source U.S. Army Photo
ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Betty Snyder (foreground) program the ENIAC in building 328 at the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL). C. 1947 to 1955 Source U.S. Army Photo

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Located in San Francisco and named for Betty Holberton — one of the programmers of the ENIAC, the first pre-programable computer in the world — the Holberton School is the project of French techies Julien Barbier, Sylvain Kalache, and Rudy Rigot. Fresh from gigs at Docker, Linkedin and Apple, their new focus is to become a bridge between US businesses who need skilled technicians, and America’s untapped talent.

“It makes sense for us to create a school at this point,” says Kalache, “After we founded TechMeAbroad [a job-search platform for the tech sector], we were thinking of what the next step might be. We realized we needed to train people. It’s the answer. It’s the moment. We know exactly what the needs of American businesses are.”

The need is huge and growing: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of “computer occupations” in the US is expected to increase by 18% over the next 6 years. There’s plenty of faith in the Holberton School as evidenced by substantial investment from Trinity Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and Partech Ventures, as well as Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Slideshare co-founder Jonathan Boutelle, and Docker co-founder Solomon Hykes.

Located in San Francisco’s Financial District, the school will train general “full stack” software engineer in two years. “They’ll be able to program systems, networks and security,” explains Kalache. The school aims to fill the depressing gap between high-tuition universities and lightening-fast boot camp training that they feel leaves participants with an incomplete education.

So what can students at the Holberton School expect to find? No lectures — and no professors. “It’s going to be the opposite of a classical education,” says Kalache. “Instead of absorbing knowledge in order to apply it later, we’ll begin with practical exercises and it will be the students’ jobs to find ways to use their knowledge, with Julien, Rudy and myself to guide them. We’ll be accompanied by 70 mentors who’ve all worked in the tech industry so that we can make sure we’re always teaching on the cutting edge.”

“We want students to do the actual work that they’ll be doing in their future jobs. For example, they’ll be responsible for their site, and if it crashes in the middle of the night, they’ll get a phone call and have to go repair it!” Kalache continues. The other pillar of their educational philosophy is collaboration rather than competition. Students are encouraged to help each other out and share their notes.

Oh yes, and we should mention:  the first class will get their training completely tuition-free. The school is set to open in January of 2016 with a class of just 32 students from a range of backgrounds. For the first round, there will be no tuition. Interested candidates must simply fill out an admissions test on line and no technical experience is required. “We are accepting people based on their motivation, their passion, and their ability to follow a training program like ours which relies a lot on self-instruction,” says Kalache.

Almost 600 people have already started the sign-up process. “We have a 29-year-old mom from Ohio who wants change careers, but also a young, passionate aspiring engineer who started out by taking apart his Playstation…” says Kalache of the breadth of candidates. For those who do not make it in to the free class, do not panic! New sessions open every three or four months.

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