Makers Academy: Creating coders in just 12 weeks

It is no secret that Europe is currently experiencing a significant shortage in skilled developers and programmers, where, according to some estimates from the European Commission, there are up to 700,000 unfilled jobs and declining competitiveness in the ICT sector. The government is doing what it can to rectify the problem by overhauling the current GCSE syllabus for ICT and computing, but there are also a number of private sector initiatives that are working to improve the skills of those looking to branch out into the field of technology.

Makers Academy is a start-up that is trying to do exactly that. Based in the centre of London’s technology scene, Tech City, Makers Academy was founded towards the end of last year and runs intensive 12-week courses that train people in Ruby on Rails, with the aim of delivering graduates that end up with the web development skills to immediately enter employment upon completion of the course.

Computerworld UKspoke to the co-founder of the academy, Rob Johnson, who realised when teaching himself how to code that there isn’t an easy way to learn the skills outside of doing a lengthy and costly degree. Makers currently runs its full-time courses at a cost of £8,000, with flexible payment plans available.

“I taught myself how to code and it was much more difficult than I had anticipated. There aren’t a great deal of resources out there for self-teaching and it was a long slog of about nine months doing between 20 and 30 hours a week in evenings and on weekends,” says Johnson.

“So I started to think, is a four-year computer science degree really necessary? Is that truly the most efficient way to teach people how to code?”

Johnson says that he sees a real shortage of programming skills in the industry and that from his experience of learning, the skills are difficult to learn in a part-time capacity. This led him to the idea of an intensive course that immediately created an employable coder.

“I know that when I taught myself, if I took a couple of nights off, when I came back to it I found it really difficult. It’s a perishable skill, it’s something you have to be using all the time. We wanted to make it a very intensive course, so it’s 12 weeks and it’s full-time,” he says.

He explains that he chose Ruby on Rails to teach students the fundamentals of web development and that the recent graduates have “absolutely loved” the teaching process. Johnson explains that those attending the course are now entering into employment across a variety of sectors.

“Employability upon completion of Makers Academy varies from student to student and how much work they put in. We can’t make people go home and study after they leave, but we’ve definitely had students leave and go immediately into positions. In fact, we’ve had people get hired before even completing the course,” says Johnson.

“When students finish the course, we want them to have the option to get an entry-level developer position, or to be able to build prototypes of their own.”

He adds: “The roles that people go into are as varying as the professions they come from – some go and build start-ups, products, whilst others go and work for companies in a junior role. Others go back into their old careers with a new knowledge of technology.”

Graduate Perspective

Michelle Brideau is one of Makers Academy’s first graduates and has since been employed by Enternships, a recruitment company that hires for small businesses and start-ups across the UK. Brideau has been working in the travel industry, but wanted a career change that didn’t require going back to university.

“I knew that I didn’t want to work in the travel industry and I was looking for a career that would be interesting and challenging. I’ve always had an interest in technology, but before Makers came along I really didn’t think I could be a programmer or a developer,” she says.

“I thought that if I did the course I would know at the end whether I loved it or hated it and I wouldn’t have to spend years getting a degree.”

However, despite successfully entering into employment with her new set of skills, Brideau says that the course isn’t for the faint-hearted and prospective students should be prepared to take on a challenge and put in a lot of long hours.

“It was a lot to cram in and I don’t think there was a day I left before 6pm. I then left every day to go home, study and prepare for the next day. You want to make the most of the time that you have with the experts around to teach you, so that you can bring something of value to where you get hired,” she says.

“For me the biggest challenge was at the beginning – I just felt overwhelmed. I could code in HTML but I had no other coding background, so there was a lot of new vocabulary to take on, a lot of new concepts. It involved piecing together a lot of different moving parts, then as they started falling into place I was able to pick up more.”

Enternships has taken on Brideau as an intern, where she says she is learning to apply her skills in a practical role.

“I felt more comfortable going for an internship after the course, so that I could gain some commercial experience without the pressure of it being a full-on role,” she says.

“I’m really enjoying gaining some practical experience in the real world. They are a small start-up, which means I’m exposed to a lot of different parts of the code, which is a great way to learn.”

Hiring out of the Academy

Enternships has developed a strong relationship with Makers Academy and is recommending other companies that are struggling to find programmers to consider looking at its recent graduates.

Rajeeb Dey, CEO and founder of Enternships, says that he believes people that from backgrounds outside the world of technology can also bring new drive and skills to a development team.

“I would absolutely recommend this to other companies – we have seen Michelle develop really quickly in the short amount of time she has been here. Bringing people in from different backgrounds who decide to come to coding later on have a real passion to put in a lot of work and get up to speed quickly,” he says.

“Depending on their background, these graduates can bring different skillsets, different perspectives and different industry views, as opposed to someone who has just completed a computer science degree.”

He adds: “I think it’s also good for our technology teams to have someone to mentor and nurture new talent coming in.”

For anyone interested in applying to Makers Academy, it is running courses in September and November, and will begin accepting new students again in the New Year. More information can be found here.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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