“Berlin is proving to be an incredible tech ecosystem.” With campuses in Miami, Madrid, Paris, Mexico and Barcelona, Ironhack is launching their web development bootcamp in Berlin, Germany in 2018 to take advantage of the growing tech scene. We spoke with Ironhack’s EMEA Expansion Lead, Alvaro Rojas, about the Berlin campus at a WeWork space, how Ironhack is recruiting lots of local hiring partners, and what sort of jobs Ironhack graduates can expect to get in Berlin. Plus, as an Ironhack grad himself, Alvaro gives advice on where to start as a new coder.
What's your background and how did you get involved with Ironhack?
My background is in strategy consulting. I studied business in London, and then I worked in strategic consulting for tech startups in Spain and California. I worked for the Embassy of Spain in Los Angeles for a little while, and then I launched my own venture there.
I'm actually an Ironhack graduate. Working in the tech industry, I had always been interested in learning how to code. So I did some research online and I found Ironhack. I graduated from Ironhack around a year and a half ago.
I fell in love with the company’s mission and the community they were creating. You hear some really incredible stories when you're working with people from such diverse backgrounds. After graduating, I kept in touch with Gonzalo Manrique, one of the co-founders, so when they decided to expand in Europe, he contacted me about the EMEA (Europe, Middle Eastern, and Africa) Expansion Lead position. It was a no-brainer for me.
Did you attend Ironhack to become a developer or did you just want to pick up coding skills?
I wanted to pick up coding skills. I think everybody in the future should become literate in some kind of coding language, even if you’re not planning on working as a developer. Most jobs in the future will require a basic knowledge of programming, and I wanted to stay ahead of the curve. If you work in tech, understanding how software is built is a must, regardless of your position. Eventually, machines will dominate the world and you’ll have to speak their language!
You have this unique perspective of actually being a student before working as staff at Ironhack.
Absolutely. It's easier for me to explain the benefits behind Ironhack because I've lived through the whole experience. It's really great when we do events and prospective students ask me about Ironhack. The first thing I tell them is, "Look, I'm an alum, I went through the whole experience. I can tell you everything you need to know, and everything you'll go through." It was definitely one of the most challenging and rewarding times in my life.
Tell us about your role at Ironhack.
The first step when I started was working with the co-founders and the VP of Ops & Expansion, Alex Berriche, to make a strategy plan for Europe. We had various cities in mind and decided to take a structured approach and rank them according to factors we know to be determinants for success. We finally decided Berlin was clearly the next step for us.
After deciding on a city, I move there to set everything up. There are two main areas I’m responsible for. The first is Operations & HR – setting up the legal entity for Ironhack’s new campus, securing financing for our students etc, and getting together a dream team to run the campus.
The second key area is marketing. We tailor our strategy to each market. It’s all about understanding the different customer segments and building brand awareness – once people understand our value proposition they’re always convinced. We focus strongly on partnering up with cool companies like N26 or MoBerries, and doing free workshops and events for prospective students. It’s all about getting people excited about learning new digital skills.
Our first cohort in Berlin launches May 21, 2018.
What stood out about Berlin, Germany? Why is this city a great place for Ironhack to have a campus?
Ironhack already has campuses in Europe – Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris – so we want to continue to be present in the strongest tech ecosystems, and Berlin is proving to be an incredible tech ecosystem. Berlin is home to the single largest software market in Europe – that's around a quarter of the European market by value, which is pretty crazy. There are around 2,000 to 2,500 active tech startups here, including some really disruptive companies. The tech ecosystem is booming, and the city has the ability to attract and retain talented people like no other place. People are flocking to Berlin because they like living here and there’s plenty of job opportunities.
Also, the IT jobs market in Germany has a growing digital skills gap. There are a lot of new startups that demand developers and designers, along with traditional older companies who are going through a digitalization process. McKinsey released a study saying there would be 100,000 digital jobs in Berlin by 2020, so that was big data point for us.
Since students can go to university for free in Berlin, why would they want to pay to go to Ironhack?
Companies are demanding more people with digital skills, and four-year universities just can't cater to that market. Ironhack believes universities, regardless of whether they are private or public, are failing to adapt to the digital revolution. The university approach hasn’t changed in 100 years, and getting a job in this day and age requires a different, updated approach.
Ironhack provides high-impact, condensed educational experiences with one objective in mind – getting students from zero to job ready in three months. Because of this, we believe there will always be a gap in the market where we can provide value. Regardless, we are working hard to make it easier for students to have access to our programs by providing financing options through both private and public channels.
What will make Ironhack stand out amongst the competition in Berlin?
We are laser-focused on one objective: enabling students to secure a job within three months after graduation.
So how do we achieve that? Well, first we make our students employable. We constantly update our curriculum to ensure we teach the latest technologies that employers actually demand, and we hire professional instructors with real-world experience to teach them. We provide career guidance and support throughout the whole program, and students are prepared for technical interviews, behavioral interviews, etc. We believe in learning by doing, so students come out with three projects to show to the world once they’ve graduated.
We also focus on giving our students access to those opportunities, by securing hiring partners and organizing a career week where students get to meet prospective employers at the end of each cohort.
What types of applicants are you looking to enroll in the Berlin campus?
We're looking for career changers. There are so many talented people in Berlin who have moved here looking for opportunities. Ironhack gives you the possibility to specialize and land a job in three months. We cater to anyone who realizes the importance of learning new digital skills and has a passion to learn.
How many students does Ironhack plan to accommodate at the Berlin campus?
We're going to have three cohorts in 2018. The first one starts in May, the second one in July and the third one in October. For the first cohort, we're looking at about 20 students. We don't like to have cohorts much bigger than that because we want to guarantee quality. Moving forward we will look to grow our team and number of cohorts, always ensuring students have the best possible experience.
How do you source new instructors? What will be the instructor: student ratio?
We hire real professionals who have worked in the tech industry. Our lead instructor for Berlin was working at the Ironhack Paris campus as the lead instructor for a year and he wanted to move to Berlin. He's one of those people who has been coding his whole life. He started his own company, and he's worked in the industry as a lead developer – he has a very impressive background. And he already knows the Ironhack bootcamp and our course, so that's always a plus.
At Ironhack, a lead instructor leads the whole program, and then we have teaching assistants, who are also coding professionals, for every eight students, to provide support and guide students through the course. For example, in the first cohort, if we have 20 students, we would have one lead instructor and two or three teaching assistants. Having gone through the bootcamp myself, I feel the teaching assistants play an incredibly important role because they provide valuable assistance throughout the whole bootcamp.
Will the curriculum at Ironhack Berlin be the same as other Ironhack campuses?
We're in contact with a lot of startups, so we make sure our curriculum is exactly what employers need and demand. We make a point to keep the curriculum consistent across all campuses. This allows us to have a feedback loop at every campus and ensure consistent quality. So we’re sticking with the same curriculum in every campus for now, but always looking to iterate and make it better.
Tell us about the Berlin campus. What is the classroom like?
As with most of our new campuses, we'll be located at a WeWork co-working space, a new building called Atrium Tower right on Potsdamer Platz. The space itself is a big room which holds around 40 students. When we visited the space about a month and a half ago, we fell in love with the facilities. The campus is accessible from anywhere in town because of its central location, and it has an incredible terrace at the top.
When you're going to be learning for three months in an incredibly intense program, being in a nice space with amenities – coffee, snacks, really nice views – is something really important.
What are some examples of the types of jobs you envision your Berlin graduates landing after bootcamp?
We have a very strong reputation worldwide, with a global community of alumni and partners. For example, we just signed up N26, a mobile bank to be our hiring partner. We’re in talks with several Berlin companies to sign them up as hiring partners too. At the end of each nine-week course, we prepare prospective employers to meet with the students. Like I said, we're very focused on career changers and ensuring our students get a job within three months after graduation.
In the past, we've had companies like Google, Twitter, Visa, Rocket Internet, and Magic Leap hire Ironhack graduates. So in Berlin we're looking for the same profiles. Those are global companies we already have partnerships with, so our students already have access to that pool of employers. Then locally, we are looking for the most disruptive companies that are ready to hire entry-level junior developers.
Do you envision Berlin grads staying in Berlin? Is your focus to get people hired in the city where they studied?
We have a big focus on having a global community. So we really like the idea that our students can access all the communities in all our cities. For example, I recently passed on the resumes of two graduates from the Madrid UX/UI course to Berlin-based N26. It’s up to each graduate to decide which city to work in.
A lot of people want to stay in their home city and others don't, so we cater to both. We try to give opportunities to go abroad, and options to work in the local market.
What would you recommend a complete beginner do to learn more about the tech scene in Berlin?
I would recommend going to as many meetups and events as you can. I always tell people that you never know what opportunities could arise if you put yourself out there, and start talking to people. We actually just wrote a blog post about How to Land the Tech Job in Berlin, and one piece of advice is to mingle. Just network.
Then, of course, I would recommend going to the Ironhack meetups. There are a bunch of workshops in Berlin and our informal network is huge. We're doing one free workshop every week and we'll do some bigger events as well.
What advice do you have for someone who's thinking about attending a coding bootcamp in Berlin and considering Ironhack?
Form my experience as an alum, I think it's all about the attitude. When you go into a coding bootcamp, there's always this feeling where you're a little bit scared because it is something really demanding. People have a natural tendency to be resistant to learn something so technical. But just start coding! It's not as difficult as it may seem, and having the right guidance is key. We’re actually launching a cool challenge in Berlin - a free online course to encourage people to get their feet wet with coding.
A lot more people than we believe have the aptitude for it, and actually become really good programmers. You just have to take a leap of faith and commit to three months of very intense work. We have a 90% placement rate and while we do have a rigorous admissions process, the majority of our students get hired. I recommend people to just go for it. I can guarantee that if you have the right attitude, you'll succeed.