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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Get with the program: the coders offering training for free

"It’s the must-have skill-set of the 21st century, yet unless you’re rich enough to afford the training, or fortunate enough to be attending the right school, the barriers to learning can be high. Now a movement of pioneering coders is challenging the stereotype by offering free training for all." writes Kit Buchan, freelance journalist.

Dan Sofer of Founders & Coders: ‘The bar is high, not in ability, but in commitment, enthusiasm, curiosity.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

‘Why are we not doing more to have coding colleges and technical, vocational education alongside university education?” This question, raised by Labour’s Yvette Cooper during an interview with the Observer in May, reflects a wide concern about the availability and equality of software training, an area with a reputation for being elusive, exclusive, expensive and overwhelmingly male.
Calls to improve the state of digital education in the UK have become commonplace, with new coding initiatives appearing all the time. The international Hour of Code claims to have given millions of Britons a taste of programming, while the government declared 2014 the official Year of Code. Female programmers can join Girls who Code’ or Ladies who Code’ programmes; the BBC recently launched its Make it Digital’ campaign; and even the online grocer Ocado has thrown its hat in the ring with a scheme called Code for Life’. But while the national curriculum now includes programming for children as young as five, there is still a dearth of affordable, vocational options in higher education, despite a rocketing number of well-rewarded jobs for software developers. A budding programmer can try to learn their trade online, tackling one of the hundreds of coding tutorials, or they can stump up the hefty tuition fees for one of the many private coding academies that have sprung up in the past decade.

Or, if they’re very lucky, they might be able to secure a place at a tiny, grassroots school with no funding and hardly any staff, housed in a cramped, concrete room in an east London backstreet. This is Founders & Coders, the first full-time adult programming school in the UK to offer its services completely free of charge.
Dan Sofer founded F&C almost by chance. Having worked for years as a developer on numerous major websites, including the Guardian’s in the late 90s, he found himself at a loose end and began enrolling in Moocs (massive open online courses) to sharpen his coding skills. Finding the solitary learning experience uninspiring, he began arranging casual meet-ups with fellow students, and these quickly snowballed into a series of popular workshops, from matrix algebra to game theory...

Natalia Baltazar, who took the F&C course last autumn. 
‘It’s daunting, but you end up loving that,’ she says. 
Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
One such novice developer is Natalia Baltazar, who took the course last autumn. Unable to afford paid training, she read about F&C in an “obscure online publication” and six months later was enrolled. Baltazar compares the learning experience to solving a vast but satisfying puzzle, with numerous tiny pieces to be fitted in place. “It’s daunting, but you end up loving that,” she says, adding that she struggled more with the school’s social ethos. “During the first weeks, I would show off and say ‘Look, I learned this first.’” After a gentle pep-talk from a mentor, Baltazar came to realise “that’s not what this place is about. It’s about making sure that when you rise up you bring everyone else with you.”

Source: The Guardian