New York is getting a new tech skills training academy. The twist it that the just launched academy is being created by a dev studio drawing on their existing expertise making apps for others to teach budding entrepreneurs the web development skills they’re going to need to turn their big idea into a big business. At a price, of course.
The dev studio in question, HappyFunCorp, says its new HappyFunAcademy stands out from other local players in the learn-to-code space — such as Flatiron School and App Academy — because of the real-world business experience it will be bringing to class.
TL;DR It’s a coding academy for people who want to make apps taught by people who actually do make apps.
Indeed, part of the incentive for HFC to start the academy is the difficulty it has in finding enough skilled developers to fuel a growing business, according to co-founder Ben Schippers.
“We can’t actually hire people fast enough,” he tells TechCrunch. “It’s a great business, it’s doing very well, it’s growing unbelievably quickly.”
HFC’s client roster includes the likes of American Express, (TechCrunch corporate overlord) AOL, Bloomberg, Citi, LinkedIn, McGrawHill, MoMA, Scribd, Verisign, Victoria’s Secret and The Webby Awards, to name a few. It’s planning to draw on that network to help graduates of its Academy find jobs at the end of their course — and, indeed, is likely to be cherrypicking promising candidates itself.
“Selfishly the tech industry is growing and so is HFC and so selfishly we are look at the academy to do a very very fine-tuned recruiting. You can look at that way,” says Schippers.
“The way in which we are going to teach you, if we do our job well… we should be able to hire people from the class. So we are really going to be under the spotlight for the first few classes to see how many of those students we can actually hire. Our goal will be to hire students from that first class.”
“It’s a no brainer for us to do this — then we can get pick of the litter and we can give them jobs,” he adds. “It also keeps us really honest because if we’re not able to pull from the Academy then we’re not really helping the services side of the business.”
Are we in a bubble? If app makers can’t put their hands on enough skilled staff to meet demand — and believe they can get non-techie folk to pay to be upskilled so that they can fill their own empty tech seats, then yes we’re in a bubble.
The new academy is not HFC’s first foray into teaching tech skills. It previously dipped its toes in the waters by teaching a “traditional engineering entrepreneur course” at Bates college in Maine. But Schippers says it wanted to try its hand at shaping an entire course without having to fit within a traditional academic curriculum so that the focus on skills learnt could be entirely within a business application perspective.
“Instead of working with all of these colleges to figure out how to write the curriculum for them, we said let’s just do it ourself. The class that we taught was the way in which we coach or teach entrepreneurs that come through HFC as a business. And we said there’s a really great opportunity here to take all of our learnings over the years of building the software and wrap a really great coding curriculum around that,” he says. “That is really a huge differentiator between what we do and what the couple of other schools are doing.”
“In our little world there are a couple of people doing similar things. In the grand scheme of things there’s not nearly enough seats to fill all the students. The demand is really high,” he adds.
“Within HFC we have product architects, we have visual designers, we have user experience designers, and we have all of the front end and back end engineers so within this large curriculum that we wrote what we’re going to be able to do is we’re going to be able to on a daily or weekly basis, bring in key stakeholders from the services business and have them actually go through real-life examples of problems that they have had to encounter on a weekly basis. And so it’s a very, very, very hands on approach to teaching software engineering.”
Schippers concedes that Thoughtbot is doing “something sort of similar” to its new HFC Academy — being as they are also an engineering firm “first and foremost”.
“They are really the closest to us but if you look at Flatiron or if you look at App Academy, what you’ll see is those curriculums are great, and they make a lot of sense, and a lot of what they’re doing were going to be doing as well — but the missing pieces in those curriculums are the inherent, day-to-day opportunities of the real-life exposure coming in to the academy,” he adds. “It’s a lot more learning by doing vs just learning.”
Discussing how the Academy compares with incubators or mentoring programs, he says the price point is “very competitive” (albeit incubator programs are usually ‘paying’ the startups to be part of the program via an investment) but also stresses that it’s more of a class environment than you’d get at an incubator.
“This is much more of a class. You’re paying to come in, to have a desk and from nine to 12 in the morning you, deep immersion, and then from one til five you work. So it’s a full time class commitment with these sprinkles of real world practitioners being brought in,” he adds.
“Y Combinator and Tech Stars… what they do really well is the exact opposite of what Flatiron does well. What Flatiron does really well is full immersion across the board. It’s just you’re learning how to code, and that’s really what you’re doing. With YC it’s ‘ok you already have a business idea and we’re going to help put people in front of you to help you push that idea through’. And with us, we’re saying we should blend both of those — and that’s what people are doing to be paying for.”
Who exactly is the program for? Schippers says the philosophical thrust is to serve a growing demand among graduates of liberal arts degrees who have found decreasing demand for their ‘soft skills’ vs the job market of 25 years+ ago — and who are therefore looking for ways to upskill after formal education, with a focus on gaining technology skills (and specifically skills that can help them get jobs).
“People are really having a hard time getting jobs, and that has been the movement of the learn to code movement. Technology has been one of these growth sectors where there’s so much growth right now and there aren’t enough people,” he says.
“It’s the people who are graduating from school or into their late twenties and thirties and they’ve realised that they graduated with some degree and they don’t really like their job anymore — and what they really want to do is they want to get involved in technology. That is going to be the demographic of the first couple of classes.”
“There’s a huge opportunity for these highly educated and motivated people to start making money in technology. They just need help getting started,” he adds.
“They will be learning all of the progressive tools needed to begin the conversation of getting a job in technology. To begin the conversation of continuing to learn in the field of technology — that is the whole mission of these classes. You should be able to graduate and a business for instance like HFC should be able to hire you. That’s the whole idea,” he adds.
HFC is taking applications for the first class now, and will be doing some selection — based on ensuring that a class has the right profile of participants, according to Schippers.
“We’re going to be looking at the class as much more of a unit [than other tech academies might]… We’re going to be trying to get those 15 students profiled the right way, so from different backgrounds, from different jobs, from different education areas,” he adds.
In January the length of the class is likely to extend to eight or ten weeks, and the Academy will be adding a scholarship program to help underprivileged inner city kids get places within the Academy — likely one or two seats per class will be offered on a scholarship basis, in partnership with the city of New York.
While the initial focus for HFC’s Academy is on New York, where its services business is headquartered, Schippers sees potential to spread the initiative to other cities in time — naming the likes of Austin, Texas as another potential “hotbed” for tech skills demand. The northern mid west is another possibility — “the Twin Cities, and/or Chicago and maybe even Boston”.
Also increasingly interesting in the tech skills demand area is the UK. “It’s really hard to ignore the UK right now,” says Schippers. “I think there’s definitely an opportunity there. People just need to do a little more research to figure out where the right pockets are to do something like this.”