Evgeny Shadchnev is a classically trained software developer, with undergraduate and post-grad degrees in computer science. As he started assembling development teams, he was struck by the lack of qualified developers on the market. In response, he co-founded Makers Academy in London to turn beginners with an interest in code into job-ready Junior Developers who could hit the ground running. Evgeny tells us about the ideal applicant and student for Makers Academy, preparing to launch their online immersive program, and why bootcamps are only a piece of the education puzzle.
Tell us about your background.
I’m a software developer by training. I have both my undergraduate degree and post-graduate degree in Computer Science. I was trained in building computer systems and I worked as a software developer for a few years. That experience taught me how in-demand developers are, because I was getting a lot of attention from recruiters.
Was your background as a developer mostly in Ruby on Rails?
I was doing web development and Ruby on Rails was just one of the technologies that I was using.
At the same time, I was trying to build my own teams. Hiring developers proved to be difficult because there weren’t enough on the market. It was also difficult to hire junior developers because even if you get a junior graduate right out of the computer science department, they would lack basic necessary skills to hit the ground running on Day One.
That experience proved that this was a real problem. As an industry, we don’t really know how to teach people how to code. And my co-founder and I started Makers Academy to solve this problem.
After being in business for about 2 years, how many students have you graduated?
Does Makers Academy also offer part-time classes?
We only do full-time immersive courses because we haven’t found a way to teach people well in a part-time setting. There is nothing wrong with part-time courses run by other companies, but they serve a different purpose. We are in the business of taking complete beginners and getting them their first job in software development. It’s different from running a short course that gives you a taste of what software development is like.
If you want to go from no experience in software development to actually being employed as a software developer, it’s going to be difficult, even if you do it full time for a few months.
What do you mean by “beginner” student? Who is your ideal applicant?
The ideal student is someone who has a bit of experience with software development. Not professionally, but someone who realized that coding is something they want to give it a try. An applicant should have done something like Codecademy or another tutorial online and has done some basic work.
Here’s an example of my ideal applicant: a person who has been working as a project manager or accountant, was working with developers and thought the dev side was cool. They’ve built their own website, then maybe a second website for their local football team, and realized they wanted to make it a career. But they didn’t know how to get from amateur to professional.
This is the gap that we’re covering: how to get from someone from basics all the way to being a professional – a junior but still a professional developer.
What your acceptance rate at Makers Academy?
On average, for every 10 applications, we accept one person into the course. But I must say that it’s more complex than it may sound. For 300 students that graduated so far, we received between 2,000-3,000 applications.
Do you have students from outside of London at Makers Academy?
A significant portion of our students come from other countries. From the US, France, Germany, Venezuela, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia; you name it.
So we know that we have to compete with the bootcamps worldwide, not just in London.
Which technologies do you cover in the Makers Academy curriculum?
Frameworks and libraries come and go, whereas the ability to think like a developer stays with you forever. This is why we’re much less keen on teaching these features of Ruby on Rails and much more keen on helping the student understand why a piece of code is elegant and beautiful or horrible and ugly. We see what we are doing as teaching people how to write code in principle, how to be good developers. We are teaching them how to think like a developer rather than how to use all the features of Ruby on Rails.
It sounds like your experience has allowed you to iterate on the curriculum; what else have you changed over the last year?
We’ve started giving fewer lectures than when we started. I was teaching for the first year and I would spend several hours a day standing in front of the students trying to tell them everything I know about software development. We realized that wasn’t optimal, and instead started setting challenges and goals, showing them overall direction and then helping them get there. Basically, acting not like teachers in school but more like personal trainers.
Is the curriculum more project-based now?
Yes, and not just project-based. We started working with external organizations, encouraging our students to work on real world projects.
For example, two weeks ago we invited several charities to come to Makers Academy where they pitched their ideas and projects.
Have you thought about expanding outside of London?
We are experimenting with an online immersive course that we’re launching very soon; we are trying to figure out how to make Makers experience scale.
What we are doing today at Makers Academy is great, but it’s only the first step towards solving a much larger problem; how to teach thousands and thousands of people to be professional developers and do it at a fraction of the cost that we’re charging now.
When you launch the online immersive course, will it be the same curriculum with mentors? What’s the approach there?
The approach is to use a very similar structure and to run it in parallel with our main course with the same goal. We’re still starting with complete beginners and getting them all the way to job-ready, but doing it remotely. It’s going to be the first pilot for our first online immersive course. We’ve got more questions than answers ourselves but yes, it’s going to be the same curriculum, same structure, very similar projects, with online support instead of in-person support.
Who are the instructors at Makers Academy?
We’ve got a team of developers from various backgrounds. Our head of education, who leads this team, is a professor of Computer Science at the University of Hawaii. He’s got great experience both in software development in the real world and in academia.
How many students do you have in a cohort?
For the past few cohorts we’ve been averaging around 25 students per cohort.
We’ve been limited by the office size for quite a long time. We’ve just moved into a new larger office in December and now our capacity is slightly higher. We can comfortably take up to 30 students if necessary so the numbers may grow over the next year.
At the same time, we consciously decided not to massively increase the numbers even despite the demand, because we want to really nail the experience.
Do you make efforts to get more women and underrepresented minorities involved at Makers Academy?
We do make an effort to help by giving discounts. The ratio of women to men on our course is much better than the industry average. In 2014, off the top of my head it was around 25% women. It’s still a far cry from a 50-50 split but we had one class where we managed to get 40% female students. Our aim is to get closer to 50-50.
Do most Makers Academy students want to get jobs when they graduate or do some people want to start their own products?
Two–thirds of the students want to get a job. About one third want to either learn a new skill for the sake of learning it or start their own business. Out of people who want to get a job, a small number want to freelance even though we strongly discourage it, as we believe that as a junior developer you really need to get more experience working with more experienced developers for a couple of years before becoming a freelancer. But still, some students choose to do it.
Then there is another small number of people who want to get a job but not necessarily as junior developers. For example, project managers realize that knowing how to code is going to help them to be better project managers so they learn for that reason.
Finally, some people want to get a job as soon as possible. And some people are much more relaxed. There are different urgencies between different students.
Have you been successful in achieving the outcomes your students want?
The overwhelming majority of students actively working to get a job will get one within a month of graduation. Having said that, we can only help them find a job, we can’t place them. We’re trying to do what we can but we also expect the students to work really, really hard.
Do you have relationships with formal hiring partners?
There are some companies that we’ve placed several students into so there is an ongoing relationship. At the same time, not a single company has a commitment or obligation to hire our students.
Do you take a referral fee when you do place a student?
Yes. We charge a 20% placement fee when we place our students and we think it’s really important because it aligns the entire company around the goal of placing the students as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What tends to happen is that our placement team gets feedback from the hiring partners. They can relay that feedback to the teaching team if there are pieces that we’re not teaching, and we can incorporate that into the curriculum.
Having said that, I must stress that our foremost priority is doing the right thing for our students. Let’s say a student has two job offers; if one has a referral fee and the other company can’t afford to pay a referral fee, we’ll always do the right thing for the student. Our placement team is not receiving a commission for placements. They’re judged on how many students they place, not on how much money they make.
Is there anything else that you want to add about Makers Academy or bootcamps in general?
Over the last two years I’ve realized how broken the education system is. What we are doing as a bootcamp is cool, but it’s really just the beginning. Education is a massive industry that’s going to be disrupted in the next years and decades. There is so much potential for going forward.
Learning how to code is a wonderful thing but it doesn’t have to be as hard or as expensive as it is today. So as much as I like the bootcamp model, I see it as the first step. We are actively working and trying to figure out what the next step is going to be because I think there is going to be a 10x improvement in terms of efficiency and cost for the students.
To the best of my knowledge, no company in the world actually cracked this problem, even though quite a few, including Makers Academy are trying to find the solution.