The Free Coding Academy Model — How To Teach Our Next Generation Of Programmers

Author

Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor

August 14, 2015

The world needs more trained software engineers; it’s a basic fact. The world also urgently needs more of those trained software engineers to be female from an equality and diversity perspective; this is also a basic fact that is (thankfully) increasingly widely acknowledged. Many university courses and professional study programs exist of course, but could the open model of collaborative involvement and essentially ‘free knowledge share’ teach us something?

A peer-led coding co-operative

Founders & Coders thinks the answer is yes. The firm is a non-profit social enterprise based in the UK’s capital city that exists as a free school. The team behind it raised around $16,000 on international crowdfunding site Indiegogo to make the project happen. The organization calls itself a London-based co-operative of coders and says it takes people with little or no coding experience and turns them into professional ‘full-stack’ web developers.

Its services are completely free of charge.

A similar model operates at École 42 in Paris, France — but at what is undeniably an already greater scale, running a three-year program for up to 1000 programmers per year. Comparable initiates also exist at The Recurse Center in New York and the Ada Developers Academy, a free school in Seattle devoted to closing what it calls the ‘yawning gender gap’ in software application development.

Founding director of Founders & Coders Dan Sofer began experimenting with web development courses in the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses) back in January 2014. Sofer has said that he found the MOOC experience too solitary — so this led to him arranging social meet ups with fellow students.

This snowballed into a chain of workshops (which focused on everything from matrix algebra to game theory) and this eventually drove what he calls the ‘supportive learning environment’ that has resulted. By moving away from MOOCs towards group-based projects and student collaboration, Sofer claims he has developed a highly effective model for learning.

“What set me on this path a couple of years ago was excitement about the growth of online resources and the possibility of applying them in a classroom environment. Now, the whole ethos of the course is project-based and peer-led. The effectiveness of the students taking control of their own learning has been far beyond expectations,” said Founders & Coders director Dan Sofer.

The current training programme is divided into two parts: an eight-week foundation course in full-stack web development, followed by eight weeks working on real-world projects, allowing students to hone their skills and build a portfolio.

FULL-STACK DEFINED: For the record, when we talk about full-stack software programming, we mean all the following technology layers: server, network, data modeling, business logic, API layer, user interface, user experience and onward to customer requirements and the way a particular application or system will be used.

All profits reinvested back inside

In January 2015, Founders & Coders established itself as a worker cooperative and experienced web developers Nelson Correia and Ines Teles joined the management team. Today the team says that many graduates of the training programme join the organization to work on a range of charitable and commercial projects, while also helping to teach the next cohort of students. Crucially, any profits go back into running the school.

According to the organization, “Founders & Coders consists of exceptional men and women who recognise that coding is an increasingly essential skill in the modern world. Ultimately, Founders & Coders would like to run web development courses in schools, prisons and other institutions, where the positive impact of its teaching methods may be even greater.”

A new learning model?

Will the co-operative learning model now prevail in anyway displace traditional (more commercially driven) educational courses and initiatives? Equivalent courses cost upwards of around $10-15,000 dollars per year, so obviously there will be a natural element of pull here — as long as the quality and professionalism of the learning experience is up to scratch, which it appears to be at all of these free academies.

Will the co-op free model help close the gender gap in programming? Well by sheer weight of numbers and by the more community-focused approach it has to help. Let’s also keep talking about women in technology and groups like Girls Who Code in line with the trend shown here and we might help evolution happen the right way around for a while.

This article was written by Adrian Bridgwater from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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