HOLBERTON SCHOOL in San Francisco has proudly launched a coding course that promises to provide students with a grounding in the magical arts of full stack software engineering.
Classes start in the new year, so you don't have to rush out of bed for a place. However, it is probably worth making the effort and applying to enrol because this could be a popular thing.
On offer is a new style of doing things, one that is project-based and built around capable personalities. It's an alternative kind of coding academy, probably a bit like the performing arts school in the film. We haven't seen it.
The course has no formal teachers but pulls in heavyweights and offers regular appearances from bods who work at aspirational places like Facebook, Instagram and Google.
"There are no formal teachers or formal courses. Instead, everything is project-centred. We give our students increasingly difficult programming challenges to solve, and give them minimal initial directions on how to solve those challenges," said the virtual launch prospectus.
"As a consequence, students naturally look for the theory and tools they need, understand them, use them, work together, and help each other. They will also regularly interact with industry mentors from small to big companies, including Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn and Uber.
"Holberton School teaches problem-solving. Students learn whatever they need to accomplish an objective. They find solutions to problems using offline and online resources, imagination, creativity and communication. By doing so, they will be able to adapt faster to unknown challenges they will face in their career."
The school is named after Betty Holberton, one of the great women in technology. The school calls her a software pioneer and one of the six original programmers of the ENIAC, the first all-electronic digital computer. She is a very obvious influence on the course and the college.
"We believe that Betty Holberton is a good reminder that women are at the core of software engineering and that more diversity in tech would have a big positive impact," the school said.
"No matter the gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity or social status, everyone should be given the chance to become the next Betty Holberton."
We spoke to Julien Barbier, one of the founders of the school, about its intentions and ambitions. It is clear that this is a different kind of set up to the more established training facilities and one that could turn a novice into a capable engineer.
"The school and curriculum are open to total newbies. We will start with low-level programming because we think it is very important to understand how memory, pointers etc work, even if you end up doing high-level programming," he said.
"The best Python or Ruby programmers understand how it works behind the scene. First month will be full C-programming on Linux. It might sound odd compared to other types of curriculum but we strongly believe in this."
Barbier explained that, while some schools go for a restricted approach to learning, Holberton tries to engage and involve students while letting them get along with their work and their peers.
"At Holberton, you don't have to sit in a classroom for hours listening to theory that you will have to learn by heart and that you will forget a few days later. Actually, we do not have formal teachers. Instead, everything is project-centred," he added.
"Students have to solve increasingly difficult programming challenges, with minimal initial directions about how to solve them. And they also work on their own application. It makes it much more engaging and much more exciting for our students.
"It teaches them naturally how to work as a team and help each other. And the overall experience gives them the ability to be ready for the real world and find a first job and build a successful career.
"At Holberton anyone can join. You don't have to have a bachelors or a masters, and you don't have to have experience in programming. But most importantly we are not going to focus on learning a tool or the latest fancy framework.
"We teach our students how to learn so that they can adapt to the future challenges they are going to encounter, and so that they don't just find a job but build a successful career."
Barbier loved our idea of Holberton being like a Hogwarts for coders. Hogwarts is quite a diverse place, of course, and Barbier said that the technology industry is not, and that the work of Betty Holberton will hopefully inspire more women to break through the fug of Lynx body spray and make a mark in a very mannish industry.
"There is a problem for women. Only 12 percent of software engineers in Silicon Valley are women. If you think about everything women have accomplished in computer sciences, starting with Betty Holberton, you can only imagine what we are missing today. And the problem has worsened as the percentage of women studying computer science has actually fallen since the 1980s," he said.
"The problem is complex, and not easy to solve, as society/parents will push (without thinking of it) their girls to non-STEM careers. And it gets worse as the 'geek culture' gets mainstream with TV shows.
"If you look at The Big Bang Theory, the men code and the woman doesn't get it at all. Magazines talk about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It's also a role-model problem.
"Women are not ‘different' to men in computer science. The only difference is society making them think they are not the right person for the job. Which is totally false.
"Think about the women of ENIAC, think about who created the first compiler, think about all those successful women in tech. Why don't we talk more about them and show the girls, and the boys, that programming is for everyone?"
We can only assume that the sorting hat is of the propeller variety. Courses start in January. µ
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