Rak Chugh and Richard Hu have been working with Byte Consulting, a research, analytics and technology firm, for 15 years. When it became clear that there was a demand for technologists in the financial sector, they founded Byte Academy, a 12-week immersive program to transform students into financial technology programmers. We talk to Rak and Richard about their unique curriculum, the importance of Python in the financial industry, and the types of jobs their graduates can expect!
Tell us about Byte Consulting and why you started the Byte Academy.
Rak: Byte Academy is an affiliate of Byte Consulting, a consulting firm for research, analytics and technology in the financial industry since 1999.What we recently found was that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find good technologists to work in the financial industry. A lot of clients wanted to hire people and they were just not able to get the right folks. We spoke to a number of our clients and they showed a lot of interest in having an educational institute focusing on finance and technology. That was the impetus to start Byte Academy.
Are you both involved in developing the curriculum and very hands-on with the actual Byte Academy?
Rak: Richard is the main person on our side developing the curriculum, but many other people from our team at Byte Consulting are involved in making sure that the academy takes off in the right manner.
The first classes will start in September but the pre-work will start soon, right?
Rak: Exactly, and we’ve also launched a few evening workshops on finance and technology. These workshops could be anywhere from an hour and a half to 4 hours or so depending on the curriculum. These workshops will be held pretty much on a weekly basis, and we’re expecting that the first class of the boot camp comes together at the end of September. In addition, we will be starting evening part-time courses for people who can’t attend a full-time session.
How many people will be in that first class?
Rak: We are still going through the admissions process for the first session. Our goal is to make sure that we get the right candidates. It’s one thing to get applicants who just want to pay and attend a boot-camp, but if we can’t see those applicants being successful and able to get jobs then it defeats the purpose.
We’re being somewhat selective in making sure that the right candidates are admitted. It’s not only their educational backgrounds but also their experience and their drive to learn that counts.
Do you envision that your graduates will get jobs in the finance industry or in a tech company working on the finance team?
Rak: It’s both. When we look at the financial industry, a huge majority of the open jobs are technology jobs. Now the problem is if you’re a technologist it’s very difficult to get a job in the finance industry unless you’ve got some finance training or finance experience. In addition to that, what we’re seeing is that a lot of technology companies, especially the larger ones, have various plays in the financial sector. For example, eBay has almost half its revenues from the payments sector. Pretty much any of the larger technology companies have financial plays of some kind or other.
Our aim is to educate people on both finance and technology.
Could one of your applicants be a complete beginner in both finance and technology or do you expect that they’ll have some understanding of either realm or both?
Richard: I think from an application perspective they can be completely new to both finance and programming. However, by the time we’re done with them, they will be fully capable of working in finance as programmers. That’s what the pre-boot camp is for; so that everyone will start off the session with some basic grasp of programming from the pre-camp portion.
We would also love to get people who are engineers or people with mathematical backgrounds.
When you look at the face of technology today, women are pretty largely underrepresented and I would think that women in finance technology are even further underrepresented. Are you all doing anything proactive to attract women and minorities into the program?
Rak: It’s interesting that you mention that because most of our advertising is focused on women. I think you’re absolutely right; women are underrepresented. We hope that our bootcamp can help close that gender gap.
Who are your instructors?
Rak: Both Richard and I are teaching and we’ve also got great professors from the industry who are going to be giving daily lessons.
In a typical day, we may have an hour or two of lectures and education from established professors but most of it is hands-on programming and building projects. We’ve got a few instructors that are going to be helping the students in our boot camp. We’re aiming to have a ratio of 7 to 8 people per instructor so that the instructors can help on projects.
Richard: We’re going to be able to offer very specialized projects that can really be an advantage in finding more finance-related jobs. So that’s when Rak and I will get involved. But for all the day-to-day instructions and programming, we’ll have dedicated instructors.
Can you talk about the three sections of the course and how you defined those?
Richard: The first section will be the first month. That’s when we get everyone up to speed to make sure they’re all on the same page and they have a good understanding of all the basics.
By the second month, we really hope to start people off down the right track with the projects that they want. That’s when we’re going to start teaching them the additional finance, and other object-oriented programming technologies which would complement Python. So we’ll teach them a little bit of Java just so they’ll be able to understand everything in the tech world. In the second section we’ll also start to work with full-stack technologies. We’ll go into more than just Python. It will include front-end development, the user interface and also the back end where they can start just understanding where all the data is coming from in the databases.
By the third section, the third month, we’re envisioning that everyone will understand the big picture and we’ll have a list of maybe 10 or 12 cool projects that they can work on. In the final month, this is when they can really take all the things that they’ve learned and start working on a final project that they can try to showcase for future employers.
Is Python a popular language in the finance world?
Rak: It’s used a lot. I don’t think a bootcamp can train someone to be an expert in Java or C++ in 3 months. So what we’re doing is introducing Java workshops to the people who are attending the bootcamp but also we’ve got workshops for finance. So there’s going to be really 3 things that people come out with. They will be learning Python, they’re going to be learning Java as an object-oriented language and they’re going to be learning finance. The combination of these three technologies along with other full-stack technologies is going to be used for the final projects.
Our expectation is that pretty much everyone graduating will be able to build something from scratch integrating both the front and back ends.
I know that you haven’t completed your first cohort yet so you haven’t dealt with job placement but how are you planning to prep students for job placement? Will there be an emphasis on soft skills and mock interviews and things like that?
Rak: Byte Consulting has an established business in providing consultants and full-time placements to a number of our clients. So they will definitely help anyone graduating out of Byte Academy. Our major focus is to get people jobs. During the last month, there will definitely be an emphasis on skills and final projects and also intensive preparation for how to go about getting jobs.
In addition to that, a number of the companies that we’re working with have expressed an interest in recruiting. We’ll be inviting them for various demo days so that they come and meet the graduates in the bootcamp and see their final projects.
Are most of the companies you’re working with in New York?
Rak: Most of our clients are in the tri-state region, so New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. If you think of any large financial firm, it’s definitely in New York. Also, it’s great that so many technology firms have now set up in the Silicon Alley in New York.
Do you expect most of your students will come from New York or are you looking for students outside of New York?
Rak: Our students can be from anywhere as long as they can spend 3 months with us. If a student is coming from elsewhere, we’d be very happy to have them.
Is there a plan to scale outside of New York at all?
Richard: We are pretty well established in New York. We want to be very successful in New York and then we’ll probably scale out. Our focus right now is to build out New York as well as we can.
Having said that, some of our clients are looking for training programs outside of New York so there may be some training elsewhere down the road.