Coding School Boots Up In Fair Haven

Christopher Peak PhotoA computer programming school is betting New Haven could become the next Silicon Valley, only without the Bay Area’s crushing cost of living.

The Holberton School, a training program for aspiring software engineers, plans to open its second campus early next year inside District, a new tech campus on James Street in Fair Haven.

Within a few years, the school could attract up to 1,000 students on site who want to learn to code through a hands-on method without any lectures from instructors, the co-founder said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Unlike some short-term boot camps that harp on one skill for three months, the for-profit Holberton School covers the “full stack,” meaning every aspect of software engineering, over its two years.

Pointing to graduates’ recent hires at Apple and IBM, Julien Barbier, the co-founder and chief executive officer, said that tech companies want a deeper level of experience that’s needed to keep up with an ever-changing industry.

“The fourth Industrial Revolution … brings us a huge challenge. We have to rewrite what education should be. We have to rethink everything. This is a massive challenge, it’s very complex,” Barbier said. “But we also have a new opportunity. This time, we can make sure that everyone has access to high-quality education.”

Wearing a T-shirt and a hands-free microphone, Barbier ditched the podium at Tuesday morning’s press announcement and paced in front of the audience like he was delivering a TED talk. A native Frenchman, Barbier founded three startups before starting the school. The school is being backed by a $13 million investment from multiple venture capitalists, plus eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and former Yahoo chief executive Jerry Yang.

The sleek press conference felt like a debut for the latest smartphone or music-streaming service, complete with a video-recorded endorsement from the Grammy-winning singer Ne-Yo, a teary testimonial from a graduate, and a predictions of an economic boom from officials, after companies like Alexion Pharmaceuticals left the state last year.

“Aerospace, defense, insurance, finance, healthcare, digital media and pretty much everything in between in this great state: tech is disrupting everything. All of these companies are going through digital transformations,” said David Salinas, the co-founder of DISTRICT, whose non-profit arm will host the school in a renovated bus depot. “No matter the industry, no matter the size, startups and major corporations need technical talent in order to grow, to face the challenges of tomorrow and for Connecticut to be competitive.”

At the school, which is named for Betty Holberson, one of the six staff who worked on the ENIAC, the first programmable computer, created by the U.S. Army in 1943, students learn by collaborating on projects, which ratchet up in difficulty throughout the term. Staff might help troubleshoot, but otherwise there’s no teacher giving directions. That model of project-centered peer learning fits with what their jobs will eventually be like, Barbier says.

Students don’t need any background in computer science to enroll, and the application doesn’t ask about any demographics, including gender, race, current income or zip code. Through an algorithm, the application process instead looks at teamwork and persistence.

“Today, everybody wants to be an entrepreneur or software engineer because it’s cool. The problem is that it brings a lot of people who are not built for that. You need to sit for an entire day, every day, in front of a computer, thinking about very abstract stuff like what is a pointer, memory allocation and a loop,” Barbier said. “We want to make sure, during the application process, that this is good for them.”

Only 2.5 percent of applicants get a spot, Barbier said.

So far, about one-third of the students are female. Three-quarters are racial minorities, including 45 percent Asian-American and 20 percent African-American.

Barbier said that he expects that New Haven’s campus, midway between Boston and New York City, will actually be more diverse than San Francisco. The goal will be to draw students from Hartford, Bridgeport, New London and other nearby Connecticut cities, Salinas added.

The program offers two payment methods. Students can pay either $85,000 up front over the two years, or they enter into an income-sharing agreement, where they pay back 17 percent of their salary over three years after they start their career.

Every graduate from Holberton has found a job, Barbier said. The average starting salary is $105,000, which is expected to drop to around $90,000 outside the red-hot job market in Silicon Valley, he added.

Currently, about 18 percent of students drop out before completing the program, Barbier said. Some realize a job in coding isn’t right for them, while others run out of savings. He said that the expansion to New Haven, where housing costs will be far lower, could help improve their success rates.

“Looking at the price of living in San Francisco, that’s a very big problem for a lot of candidates who can’t come to the school because of the price,” he said. “New Haven is a great city, with tons of students, but the price of living is like a third of what it is in San Francisco. Going back to our mission of providing education to the most, we thought that this is a really great city and state.”

Holberton is finalizing its licensing to teach classes and permits to build out the space. Applications are being accepted now, and the school is expected to open in January, Barbier said.

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posted by: NHPLEB on September 4, 2018  5:14pm

Training students for jobs that will be done for a fraction of the salary in India and China.  A trade would be more useful—-  cooking/nutrition,  carpentry,  electrical,  plumbing.  Please don’t call it lowered expectations——  when your toilet is clogged who do you call?  A coder?

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on September 4, 2018  10:13pm

I keep hearing that computer science jobs are going to be outsourced to India and China. It’s the same story I’ve heard since I was in college in 2000. Yet here we are, and the job is more in-demand than ever.

Anybody who has ever tried to outsource software knows there is more than one time of cost. There is the cost of shoddy work, of poor communication, of a team that doesn’t share your time zone, or understand what you really want.

The world needs plumbers and cooks and yes, software engineers as well.

posted by: MohitAgrawal on September 5, 2018  12:01am

I understand that a huge amount of work went on behind closed doors to help bring this opportunity to New Haven, so congratulations and thank you to all involved. “Coding” involves a wide range of tasks, but full stack engineers are absolutely critical to basically any firm (the not-so-secret truth is that almost all firms are tech firms now), including biotech and other startups. Discrete coding tasks like app development are more likely to be outsourced than the work that full stack engineers do.

The cost of tuition at this coding school is not affordable, so hopefully major potential employers will offer scholarships and New Haven Promise will cover the cost for local students. I would also encourage state universities to set up articulation agreements with Holberton so that graduates can continue on to complete a full four-year degree if they so choose. Holberton will be a great addition to the growing startup ecosystem in New Haven.

posted by: anonymous on September 5, 2018  8:01am

“after companies like Alexion Pharmaceuticals left the state last year.”

Did Alexion leave the state, or just move its executive team to where the CEO lives?  According to Alexion’s careers page, there are over 40 job openings at Alexion in New Haven, more than any other city in the world except Boston (which has about 80 openings).  Combined, New Haven and Boston have about 2/3rds of all of Alexion’s job openings in the world.

posted by: s093thead on September 5, 2018  8:46am

So the real question is what is the tuition and is there financial aid. What will two years really get me beside 90k to 105k that’s great but will I still be paying student loans up the wazoo.

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on September 5, 2018  9:41am

This is a great opportunity but damn, will there be any kind of financial assistance? “Some realize a job in coding isn’t right for them, WHILE OTHERS RUN OUT OF SAVINGS.” What an utterly depressing prospect.

posted by: DSalinas on September 5, 2018  9:55am

s093thead/ The article mentions tuition and financial aid. The school’s success is based on the student’s success, so much so that they offer an option to pay when and only if you get a job.

posted by: Fairhavener on September 5, 2018  10:07am

This is one of the coolest things to happen in #FHV (it is in Fair Haven proper) in a while. The fact that the other office is in San Francisco is a likely indicator that they had several places they could have chosen to open up a second site.

posted by: HewNaven on September 5, 2018  1:05pm

Tech bros have pretty much ruined the Bay area. Amazon killed off the last of the small retail businesses. Google and Facebook have openly admitted to selling your data for profit and analyzing the use of their products in order to predict future behavior. But, cool… a coding school! It’s like the future!!

posted by: NHNative on September 5, 2018  3:52pm

This is a very interesting development for New Haven.  It combines the area’s traditional strength as a center of education with its relative low cost in order to tap into the potential offered by high tech.  It could provide New Haven and Connecticut with long term dividends in the form of talented labor. Sounds like an all-around win-win to me.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 5, 2018  4:24pm

A computer programming school is betting New Haven could become the next Silicon Valley, only without the Bay Area’s crushing cost of living.The Holberton School, a training program for aspiring software engineers, plans to open its second campus early next year inside District, a new tech campus on James Street in Fair Haven.

Again Snake-Oil and Three Card Monte Being Sold. The Cost of living will go up.Just Like it did in Silicon Valley.

The tech industry is forcing gentrification in major US cities- what can we do to fix this?
Techies have recreated areas in their own image, driving out the locals and their culture.Tech companies should take responsibility for the gentrification they’ve created.

Who Gets to Live in Silicon Valley?

Google and San Jose hope to make the city more affordable for working- and middle-class families, but they make matters worse.

posted by: urbancarpenter on September 5, 2018  5:20pm

What is wrong with all of you haters? There is a coding school coming to New Haven with a 100% job placement rate for graduates! Coding is a fantastic skill with real world applications in a growth industry. You want a plumbing school? You want it to be free? This is a two year program with a possible six figure entry level salary and you think that’s not good enough? What would be better, a lottery ticket?

I am sorry so many of my neighbors are jaded. This is great thing and should be treated as such. Congratulations to all those involved in this new addition!

posted by: Dennis Serf on September 5, 2018  9:03pm

This is great for New Haven. Too bad there are so many haters posting negative comments.

posted by: JCFremont on September 6, 2018  12:28pm

A school like this, and taking a chance that they will be paid through the gamble the student will get a well paid job that will enable the student to pay back the chance the student will repay the tuition, the school will only take the brightest, and who would be deemed able to learn coding. Some very bright people don’t I’m sure don’t get it. Think of the brilliant writer who can’t balance a check book. This is a specialty school I don’t think they are going to waste time on philosophy’s or fuzzy concepts, it’s hardcore engineering your code either works or it doesn’t.