Holberton School – a two-year, peer-driven school – is launching a new campus in New Haven, Connecticut in January 2019! We got the details from the Director of the New Haven campus, Nadine Krause, and Holberton’s Co-Founder, Sylvain Kalache. See how this campus compares to Holberton School’s first location in San Francisco, and what the team has in store for new students looking for jobs in Connecticut and along the East Coast (and Connecticut businesses starving for tech talent).
When will the New Haven campus open?
Nadine: Construction on the new space started this week and we’ll open in early January – the first cohort starts January 29th.
Why did Holberton School decide to launch a new campus?
Sylvain: Holberton School’s mission is to provide high-quality education for all. We’ve been operating for over two and a half years with 100% of our students who graduate, finding a job in the tech industry, and working all over the world. A lot of them are in Silicon Valley at companies like Tesla, LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, you name it. And interesting to note, a full 75% of our students who have not yet even completed the program too have jobs or internships.
We wanted to expand this goal to more Americans. If you look at the big picture today, there are more than half a million jobs open in the tech industry. Overall, this trend is accelerating and according to the Bureau of Labor, it will grow to one million unfilled jobs in the US tech industry within the next decade. And only 10% of those jobs are in Silicon Valley – we need to serve the 90% outside of Silicon Valley.
Why did Holberton choose to expand to New Haven specifically?
Sylvain: New Haven’s economy is doing very well and there are big companies like IBM, Thermo Fisher, Black & Decker – all these big organizations are going through digital transformations where they now need software talent and are struggling to find it. Connecticut is not necessarily known for their tech sector, but they actually could use a lot of tech talent – there are over 1,000 tech jobs unfilled in Connecticut.
One of New Haven’s big advantages is that there’s a very nice student scene, and the cost of living is much lower than Silicon Valley. Even though Holberton School is free to students until they find a job – and that goes a long way in terms of accessibility – students still have to factor in the cost of living in Silicon Valley. We wanted to remove that barrier by opening a campus in Connecticut. More people can attend because the cost of living is much lower.
Nadine: I want to highlight that New Haven is a very convenient location for not only the state of Connecticut but for the Northeast region. There is a really efficient train system and public transportation system that exists around New Haven, partially because it is a city with a lot of students. There’s access to New Haven from the shoreline in Connecticut, New York City, all the way up into Springfield, MA; and then to Boston and Providence, RI, etc. So in terms of location, it's a very convenient campus area that creates a lot more access.
New Haven is known for universities like Yale – do you envision Holberton School will be an alternative to those traditional universities?
Sylvain: I think any type of education in the area will bring value. Yale is obviously one of the best institutions in the US, but they are struggling with students who want to become Software Engineers. Today, being an entrepreneur and running a business means you need some technical knowledge. While Yale is training great entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs cannot find the Software Engineers they need to grow their businesses locally. A lot of these Yale graduates have to move to New York or Silicon Valley instead of growing their ventures locally – that's a huge issue for the city.
We’re very excited about bringing highly skilled Software Engineers to help develop businesses in New Haven. It's going to be a melting pot of high-quality talent in both engineering and entrepreneurship.
Nadine: Connecticut actually has one of the highest number of students with loan debt. What's really great about Holberton School is that we provide high-quality education that’s free until you find that full-time job. It’s tailored to the types of talent that companies are looking for, including soft skills, so grads can hit the ground running on day one.
So when we talk about access – it's the quality of the education but also the financial accessibility. In New Haven, a reduced cost of living becomes an even more powerful part of what makes Holberton School different.
What types of students are you looking for at Holberton School?
Sylvain: At Holberton School, you don't need any prior experience in software engineering whatsoever. We don't care about your GPA. We don't look at your past, whether professional or academic. We are looking for motivation and innate talent for this type of education, which brings a very diverse group of students. So far we have 35% women, and more than 50% of our students are POC. Our students are aged from 18 to 58 years old. And we have students from all walks of life – high school graduates, college dropouts, and previous careers. We believe a lot people in the state of Connecticut and New Haven will be able to benefit.
Our application process is completely free, automated, and blind. It's three levels where candidates start building a simple website in HTML during the level two. We provide a lot of guidance at the beginning, the more we go, the less guidance we provide. It's a great way for candidates to understand if software engineering is something for them.
Will the campus in New Haven look and feel the same as the one in San Francisco?
Nadine: In terms of the student experience, New Haven will look and feel almost the same as San Francisco, and it’s intentional. What’s unique to Holberton School is that we don't have teachers, and we don't have classrooms. The space in New Haven is much like a space in San Francisco, the layout will be different, but it’s designed to allow students to really collaborate, which is core to the education model at Holberton school. It will provide different spaces that are very mobile and fluid. So students have different size breakout rooms, and there's a lot of technology that enables the learning experience. There's open workspace and mobile desks.
In terms of the actual location, our campus is in downtown New Haven, in the former Transit Station. It was vacant for years, and just last year, the city of New Haven partnered with entrepreneurs and investors looking to really turn this space into a location that would fuel the Connecticut economy, create jobs, and incubate businesses. So the broader campus is a part of the coworking space that includes an awesome athletic club and lots of opportunities for community building – both in terms of engaging with a local community and investing in community as well. Public transportation is nearby, and there's also a restaurant on site, an amphitheater, and nice patio.
How many students and mentors will you be able to accomodate in New Haven?
Nadine: To reiterate, there are no instructors at the school. So we have our staff, students, and mentors (the mentors are volunteers from local businesses and are not “housed” on campus). Our goal is for the first three cohorts in 2019 to have 30 to 50 students. It's comparable to the way San Francisco grew.
Sylvain: A big advantage at Holberton School is that we have a network of mentors who are professionals working in the tech industry. Mentors have two roles – to make sure the curriculum is always up-to-date and designed for our industry needs, and to share experiences with students. Mentors come on a regular basis for Q&A’s, side chats, and one-on-one sessions. The space in New Haven will be geared towards accommodating interactions with mentors and industry professionals – whether it’s one-on-one meeting rooms, or larger spaces for the community-at-large.
What types of companies make up the New Haven hiring network?
Nadine: The demographics of the employers in New Haven are very diverse. The main industries are advanced manufacturing, anything from jet engines, nuclear submarines, and defense contracts in bioscience and medicine. And there's a lot of research happening in partnership with universities.
Digital media and sports media are key industries in Connecticut. Green technology is also on the rise. And insurance, financial, and health services are prevalent. There are about 6,700 tech companies in Connecticut that contributed up to $16.2 billion to the Connecticut economy in 2017. We also have 19 of the Fortune 500 companies headquartered here. Some of the big ones are General Electric, United Technologies, Aetna, Cigna, Xerox, and Stanley Black & Decker. There are also a lot of startups, so there’s a range of employment opportunities for students. We already have corporate partnerships with organizations like Cognizant, Stanley Black & Decker, and Eye Devices, acquired by Hubbell.
Are most Holberton graduates staying in San Francisco or moving? Do you anticipate your New Haven students may move away from Connecticut to land jobs?
Sylvain: We have two types of students – students who come from San Francisco and generally want to remain here. Many of our students want to end up at Tesla, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Dropbox, all these hot startups. We also teach students who travel from other states, and want to get closer to their family. So some students start their career here, get the Silicon Valley experience and then go back to their roots. Because the vast majority of jobs are outside of Silicon Valley, it makes a lot of sense for students to move. We have strong excitement from companies around here that want to hire our students, so when they get a job offer in Silicon Valley, and it's very cool company, it's hard to say no. But, as we grow, we see more and more students moving.
Nadine: In Connecticut, our expectation is that a high percentage of students will stay after graduating. There are many different types of companies that are struggling to find the right tech talent. The tech job market in Connecticut is very hot right now. To Sylvain’s point, their roots are in the region, they will want to stay. There’s going to be really great jobs available right here in Connecticut, and slightly beyond.
Is the curriculum going to be the same at the New Haven campus? What is Holberton School looking for in prospective students?
Sylvain: Yes, the curriculum is the same in New Haven as it is in San Francisco. Ultimately, the two things we are looking for in Holberton students – whether it's in San Francisco or New Haven – is motivation to become a Software Engineer, and the innate talent for the type of education which we provide – projects and peer-learning.
Holberton is not passive learning where students listen from an instructor telling them how to do X, Y, Z. Students at Holberton learn by working on projects and collaborating with their peers, which is what you need to do when you are a Software Engineer working in the field. Companies pay Software Engineers so that they can solve problems. There’s no instructor on the job saying, "Hey, today you are going to do this. This is the solution." So we train students on how to problem-solve through projects.
What advice do you have for people who want to learn to code at a school like Holberton School?
Sylvain: A lot of people think, "To be a software engineer, you go to school, you make six figures, and you work on great project." Yes, very true – but it's also a job where you sit in front of a computer typing lines of code all day (which I loved personally). It’s important for students to understand the job.
Do you enjoy the project-based peer learning approach? Some people love being taught by a teacher and tutor. In that case, Holberton School is not for them. My biggest advice is to try it out. Try out our online project and if you have a blast building your website, and you love the model, then there’s a high chance that Holberton is for you.
Holberton is ultimately about providing opportunities, providing access, and helping develop well-rounded individuals on their career path.