In my last article, I discussed how coding bootcamps are starting to shut down across the United States. In this article, I wanted to explore alternatives to coding bootcamps, starting with the Holberton School. I had a chance to chat with Sylvain Kalache, Co-Founder of the Holberton School, and we discussed the main differences between his school and coding bootcamps. We also dived into his methodologies for teaching new software engineers or anyone who is looking to join the technical industry. So, let's get started!
The Holberton School Is Not a Coding Bootcamp
The Holberton school is a two-year program broken into three learning periods:
- 9 months of intense training on software engineering fundamentals.
- 6-month internship or fulltime position.
- 9 months of on-site or remote study in a specialization of choice.
They found that two years was a good fit to give students enough time to learn software engineering and get to apply their new skills in the workforce as well. The curriculum focuses on teaching students through projects and peer-learning instead of a lecture-based system of learning. Through projects, students are given difficult programming challenges with minimal directions on how to solve them.
Kalache felt this project-based learning represents what happens in the real world. When you're working with a team, you're given a project and you must find a way to accomplish it. Teaching students how to teach themselves prepares them for this environment and the quickly-evolving technical landscape. By creating thinkers instead of information processors, they hope to teach skills that can be applied to any aspect of their student's lives, not just software engineering.
According to Kalache, "soft skills are the difference between a great software engineer and a leader." When you're in product, it's not just about writing code, you need to create strategies with your team and convince investors to walk with you. This requires strong communication skills and the ability to articulate one's ideas well. While the students at the Holberton School learn coding, they also learn how to pitch their ideas, talk to users, write technical articles, and engage with industry leaders.
Holberton School students engage with real software engineers and industry leaders on a regular basis. These leaders act as mentors and are on-site frequently to help students become familiar with the technical industry. This helps students gain connections in the field and learn how to build their network further as well. Kalache stated that the mentors are also there to guide the school's curriculum by adjusting the focus and keeping it up to date. After all, they are the experts in the field and the ones that will most likely hire the students as well.
Diverse Acceptance Process and No Up-Front Costs
The Holberton School is open to anyone and requires no prior programming experience to apply. In fact, the selection process is about talent and motivation, with no consideration given to gender, nationality, ethnicity, or social status. They are able to find their talented and motivated students through an automated, four level selection process:
- Level 0 - Fill out a short online form about yourself (~2 to 10 minutes).
- Level 1 - Small online projects and tests that you can do at your own pace (~2 to 10 hours).
- Level 2 - A step by step challenge during which you will create your first website, with a specific deadline (2 weeks).
- Level 3 - Onsite or Skype interview.
The Full-Stack Practitioner
Kalache tries to train his students to be more than software engineers by introducing them to a bit of everything (low-level programming, web front-end, back-end, scripting, databases, mobile development, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, reverse engineering, security, and more.) He also likes to engage students' minds with marketing challenges such as, "How would you sell a platform like Docker?" or "How do you explain a container to a consumer?" Through this, he hopes to give his students an understanding of the bigger picture that pushes them to be adaptable engineers with a wide skillset.
So far, the Holberton School has helped many students land jobs at top companies like Apple, LinkedIn, NASA, Tesla, and Dropbox. It goes to show that a methodology that focuses on project-based learning, peer learning, programming challenges, soft skills, and networking can lead to higher paying positions. By not focusing on a single programming language, framework, or tool like coding bootcamps, they better prepare their students with a diverse toolkit of skills that can handle the modern day challenges of a quickly evolving technical landscape.
What are your thoughts about the Holberton School? Was it something you wish you had the opportunity to do or know someone who might be interested? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and more.