Can a New School Churn Out Devs Faster?

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Demand for software engineering talent has become so acute, some of the best-known denizens of Silicon Valley have contributed to a venture fund that promises to turn out qualified software engineers in two years rather than the typical four-year university program.

Based in San Francisco, Holberton School was founded by tech-industry veterans from Apple, Docker and LinkedIn, making use of $2 million in seed funding provided by Trinity Ventures to create a hands-on alternative to training software engineers that relies on a project-oriented and peer-learning model originally developed in Europe.

Holberton School co-founder Julien Barbier says the for-profit educational institution, named after Frances Elizabeth “Betty” Holberton, one of the early pioneers of programming, will use some of that funding to train the inaugural class of 32 students free of charge. In the Holberton model, students are given projects to work on alongside their peers and instructors, resulting in a more immersive way of training students to become software engineers.

Barbier believes the Holberton School model can be used to train thousands of software engineers much faster to fill high-paying positions that have remained open because of the shortage of software engineering talent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates that, by 2020, there will be some 1.4 million open software engineering jobs and only 400,000 computer-science students to fill them. The average salary of a software engineer, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $93,350 per year.

As long as the graduates from programs such as the Holberton School have demonstrable skills, recruiters and talent managers think there should be no issue connecting them with jobs. “We absolutely could place those candidates,” said Anthony Curlo, CEO of IT recruiting and staff augmentation firm DaVinciTek. “When it comes to software engineers, companies are a lot more interested in recent relevant knowledge than anything else.” Software certifications and experience in working in a business environment, Curlo added, are more important than the actual degree.

Similarly, Blake Haggerty, the “talent guy” at CoreOS, a provider of a distribution of Linux, notes that some of the best software engineering talent at CoreOs either never finished or, for that matter, went to college at all. A two-year program, he said, might yield more qualified engineers than a traditional four-year university program or any of the short-term “bootcamp” type training courses that only last for a couple of months.

“A lot of the people coming out of boot camps only know the simple basics of building, for example a mobile application,” says Haggerty. “They don’t really understand how the application can affect the underlying system.”

Holbeton’s Barbier says the school will turn out “full-stack” software developers who not only understand how an application might affect the overall system, but are also trained to think in terms of how to build the overall system. Using an educational model that has already been proven in Europe, Barbier thinks Holberton School graduates will not only be a better cultural fit within most organizations, they will also better understand how to go about solving software engineering challenges.

Naturally, there are still many organizations that insist qualified software engineers need to have a four-year degree. But at a time when “software is eating the world,” most of those companies risk becoming less competitive in years ahead than the organizations that demonstrate some flexibility in sourcing their engineering talent.

Image Credit: Morrowind/Shutterstock.com

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