Imagine a school where students were excelling so quickly that they were getting hired halfway through the curriculum by top tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Pinterest. Hardly a “dilemma,” this rapid student success is a common phenomenon at sf.citi member Holberton School, a software engineering school that helps people launch careers in tech without the cost of a traditional four-year college degree.
Since opening in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood in 2015, Holberton has enrolled some 500 students into its project- and peer-based software engineering program. Offering a two-year curriculum, Holberton’s program is longer than many degree-defying engineering bootcamps. And unlike full-time universities, Holberton does not come with a lifetime-of-student-debt price tag. Holberton students enter an Income Share Agreement, which commits them to paying tuition for three and a half years, and only after securing well-paying employment. In case you were wondering, the average starting salary for Holberton alumni is over $100,000.
Even more remarkable is Holberton’s graduate employability statistic: 100 percent of Holberton alums have secured employment within three months of graduating and 96 percent of those graduates end up in technical roles. In fact, almost half of Holberton students get scooped up by tech companies (and sf.citi members) before even completing the program.
MODELING THE TECH STARTUP ENVIRONMENT
Walking into Holberton’s San Francisco campus feels very much like entering your typical tech office. We at sf.citi should know, having toured many of our members’ sleek, modern workspaces. Reflecting both the school’s commitment to inclusivity and tech’s shift away from executive corner offices, the Holberton campus disrupts the notion of hierarchy. Very few of the rooms are staff-only, encouraging near-constant interaction and collaboration between students, instructors, and staff.
Holberton’s peer-to-peer style of learning also mimics the work environment of tech companies and startups. Working in small teams, Holberton students tackle a series of projects with increasing difficulty, building upon previously learned skills. Throughout the curriculum, they develop and launch solutions to real-world coding problems. The education program is also extremely scalable, as students find their assignments and schedule through an interactive intranet and submit completed projects to the school’s proprietary Checker (Checker is an exclusive tool that allows Holberton to not only check the quality of the code, but also quality of documentation, adherence to coding standards, and more). Gathering in Holberton’s collaborative spaces, students who excel at, or glean particular insights through their research, mentor their peers and practice the same group-leading skills they will use as top software engineers.
Through this methodology of learning by teaching, Holberton graduates bring more than programming skills to the workforce. They develop the ability to quickly master new technologies in the fast-changing tech world. For Co-Founder Sylvain Kalache, Holberton’s “learning to learn” philosophy is the key to the school’s success.
It’s impossible for any of us to understand what the workforce will need in a few decades. The best thing that we can do, in my opinion, is to get people to retrain and retool. Learning the craft of software engineering will get you a job in the short- and middle-term. Learning how to learn is very valuable in the long-term.
– Sylvain Kalache, Co-Founder, Holberton School
Kalache explained how Holberton uses a framework to help students work through issues on their own, as well as understand when to ask for guidance. To further prepare students for programming in practice, Holberton staff works closely with advisors from tech companies and startups to update the curriculum and ensure Holberton students learn the skills necessary to be effective software engineers.
ADMITTING FOR THE ABILITY TO LEARN
Holberton students are diverse, to say the least. They have been homeless, fresh out of high school, chefs, dancers, and people in their fifties looking to change careers. Kalache hopes the Holberton student body will eventually mirror the country demographics of its campuses.
There is a huge lack of talent in the tech industry because we are excluding a large part of the people who could be filling the spots.
– Sylvain Kalache, Co-Founder, Holberton School
Although Holberton’s admissions process is “blind” and does not take into account race, gender, background, or even ability to pay, the school proactively reaches out to communities historically underrepresented in tech. This commitment to diversity has attracted the support of celebrities like singer, songwriter Ne-Yo and actor Priyanka Chopra.
Getting into Holberton, however, is no easy feat. During the admissions process, applicants begin learning the basics of coding by completing a Holberton-style project in which they build their own website. Requiring no prior programming knowledge or technical expertise, the process tests applicants’ ability to learn and apply new skills. Even so, just three percent are accepted into the program. Does this rigorous admissions process select for the “cream of the crop,” so to speak?
“We are selecting for a certain kind of student,” says Charles Bathel, Community Manager at Holberton San Francisco, but not the kind people generally “recognize as the ‘best’ or ‘most successful out of the gate.’” He elaborates, “We’re looking for, and want, people that can learn and apply . . . We’re looking for people who have the untapped potential.”
RECRUITING THE NEXT HOLBERTON COHORT
Want to join Holberton in changing the face of tech? Holberton San Francisco currently is recruiting its tenth cohort for September 2019. Apply here.
You can also tour the Holberton campus and learn more about Holberton’s innovative tech education model and curriculum by contacting Charles Bathel at firstname.lastname@example.org.