Holberton School’s new Tulsa campus launches in January 2020 in Tulsa’s downtown Arts District. Libby Wuller, the Campus Director at Holberton School’s Tulsa campus, tells us why Tulsa is the perfect city for their new campus, the financial incentives they’ll be offering to attract and keep software engineers in Tulsa, and what the tech industry in looks like in Oklahoma. Plus, Libby’s favorite Tulsa meetups to dip your toes into coding!
What lead you to Holberton School and to Tulsa?
I grew up in Oklahoma but I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend George Washington University and study Political Science. I thought I would go into the government or advocacy space but I actually ended up spending five years helping build a tech startup in D.C.. After spending five years at that software company I felt a tug to come back to Oklahoma and contribute to the budding tech and entrepreneurial scene here. Holberton School is the perfect fit because I get to help scale a company with a strong mission that contributes to the Tulsa community.
Why is Holberton School launching a campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
It was the right time and the right place. There are some incredible foundations based in Tulsa that have begun to invest in entrepreneurship and the technology scene here over the last decade. They’ve identified a software engineering talent gap in the ecosystem and they were looking to fill that talent gap through education and adult skill development..
The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) is who championed bringing Holberton School to Tulsa. GKFF’s mission is to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in the community, and many of their initiatives include improving access to quality education. They have also been a huge help in bringing local institutions with similar goals, like the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF). Through the help of GKFF and CLSFF, we have been able to improve accessibility to Holberton’s life-changing education.
Tulsa is a great fit for Holberton. Tulsa is home to the headquarters and regional offices of natural resource companies, banks, aeronautics, industrial manufacturing, and other companies that need talented software engineers. With Holberton’s education, which is accessible to even those who have never programmed before and does not require any student loans or upfront payments, residents of Tulsa, or Oklahoma, or even the rest of the United States will be able to attend Holberton and become a well-paid software engineer..
How will Holberton make its education accessible to people who want to become software engineers?
At Holberton School, we know that Software Engineering is an incredible and rapidly growing industry. Our goal is to make the career accessible to anyone who has the will and the drive to become a software engineer, regardless of socioeconomic status or their ability to secure a loan. Now being in Tulsa, students will have an even lower cost of living, and in keeping with our commitment to make our education as accessible as possible:
Income Share Agreement: All of our campuses offer an Income Share Agreement (ISA). That means no payment upfront, no cost for the application, no hefty textbook fees, and all the other ways students get nickled and dimed at traditional schools. Students only start to pay back their tuition as a percentage of their income once they're employed in a job making at least $40,000. If a student is unemployed or making less than the income threshold, then no payments are due..
Income Share Agreement reduction incentive: Students will pay less if they choose to stay in Tulsa for 3.5 years after graduation (which is the duration of their ISA payment plan). If you stay and work in Tulsa for 3.5 years, then the ISA percentage drops from 17% to 10% of your salary, which means students who stay and work in Tulsa may see the overall repayment for their schooling cut almost in half..
Need-Based Living Assistance: Thanks to the help of GKFF and CLSFF, we are also offering a Need-Based Living assistance program. Students can apply if their annual household income is under $60,000 a year. If accepted, the monthly amount is $1,500 and operates like a zero-interest loan The student would pay back that stipend once they're employed unless they choose to stay in Tulsa. If the student stays in Tulsa for 3.5 years after they've graduated, then their stipend is completely waived and no payments would be due. To put the $1,500 a month in context, the average cost of rent in the city of Tulsa is about $600 a month. With the affordable cost of living in Tulsa, we expect many students would be able to use the living assistance to dedicate themselves to the curriculum and their new future.
With these incentives, we're hoping to fundamentally change the local economy. Regardless if we are bringing in new students from outside Tulsa, or Tulsa residents who want to have a more fulfilling and well paid career, we want people to stay and contribute to Tulsa’s growing economy and tech community.
What is the tech scene like in Tulsa?
There are industries like Energy, Oil and Gas, and Aerospace in Tulsa that have existed here for years and offer jobs in the technology sector. Oklahoma was once the oil capital of the world and was also the location of one of the first airports in the country. And then there are emerging industries like cybersecurity, in large part because of the best in class cyber program at the University of Tulsa. We have 4,000 open technical jobs in Northeastern Oklahoma right now. And because of Tulsa Remote, we're starting to see big tech companies like Google and Mozilla hiring here in Tulsa. We're expecting the local tech scene to grow in even more with the arrival of Holberton School.
What types of companies are you expecting to hire Holberton students? Do you have any partnerships in place?
Graduates of our other Holberton campuses have been employed at a wide variety of companies. Some of them are traditional technology companies like Apple or Google, but we also have folks working at Change.org, NASA, and Tesla. Tulsa has a strong energy industry, aerospace industry, and healthcare sector, so we have roles to fill in all of those industries.
Because of the way remote work is changing across the country, especially for software engineers, there is an infinite possibility of types of jobs and industries that students might be able to take on after they graduate from Holberton. Our career placement specialist will be building relationships with employers so that they know our students are coming and we know what they're looking for.
Why does Tulsa need a school like Holberton School?
The University of Tulsa is wonderful education institution, but it’s a private university and they only offer four-year programs, which are not a fit for every student. On the other end of the spectrum you have very short, 10-12 week bootcamps that are specialized and limited in their curriculum.
At Holberton School, we're the best of those two worlds. Holberton School is a two year program so we can give students a wealth of information that you simply can't pick up in three months. Our two year curriculum also helps students get into the job hunt sooner than a four year degree, which helps have immediate positive impacts on people’s lives.Our curriculum is also completely focused on software engineering and the skills needed to maintain a job as a software engineer, so Holberton students find themselves very prepared for the high tech workforce. And unlike some bootcamps, Holberton doesn’t require prior coding experience. Our curriculum was designed to teach people who have never created a line of code and to help them graduate as an employable candidate.
What is the neighborhood around the Tulsa campus like?
The Holberton campus will be located in the heart of the Arts District in downtown Tulsa. There has been a ton of private and public sector investment in the downtown area in the last decade. Most of this new growth surrounds our campus within walking distance in the Arts District. This includes music venues like Cain’s Ballroom, the Performing Arts Center, The Brady Theater; new breweries like Prairie Brew Pub and our new neighbors at Welltown Brewing; museums like the Philbrook downtown and the Woodie Guthrie Center.
What will the Holberton campus be like?
Our campus is under construction right now, but when we launch it will be very “Silicon Valley”. Open space, whiteboards on the walls – we designed this space to be collaborative and feel like the environment that software engineers will find themselves in. Our curriculum is dependent on our students working together and helping each other work through different aspects of Holberton. We want to build a physical space that aids in that.
Will the curriculum be adapted at all for the Tulsa campus?
We will use the same curriculum that all of our other campuses have. That's one of the benefits of going to school at Holberton. Our students in Tulsa will be working on the same projects and working through the same materials as our students in Silicon Valley, New Haven, or in Columbia. So not only will students be able to go through the same curriculum that has gotten Holberton students hired by top tech companies, but they will get to collaborate and get real-world experience in working with a global team.
We give students a strong foundation in computer science to make them fantastic Software Engineers. That starts with 9 months of our Foundations curriculum, which builds skills and capability in not only programming, but in DevOps and project management. After that, students can choose to do a Career Sprint where they focus on resumé prep, technical interview prep, and get ready to enter the job market or they can enter another 9 months of specializations like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Machine Learning, low level algorithms, and web stack development.
What is the student:teacher ratio at this campus?
We don't have traditional instructors. We will have a Software Engineer (sort of like a hybrid Teaching Assistant and Academic Advisor) onsite to answer questions and be a support system for the students, but the core of the curriculum teaches through project based learning, where the projects themselves provide the instructional lessons. Along with our peer learning methodologies, students get practical training in not only the technical knowledge to secure a job as a software engineer, but also training in the personal training and development skills that will help maintain their new career.
Our classroom will have the capacity for 30-50 students in each cohort.
Tell us about the professional advisors who will be supporting students at Holberton Tulsa!
We will be building relationships with businesses here. We intend to build out a professional advisor network made up of people in Tulsa-specific industries to meet our students on-site, build relationships with them, and give them advice about the ways to present themselves in technical interviews.
Tulsa is a small town. Not just in population (about 450,000 people in Tulsa proper), but also in the spirit of helpfulness. We've had nothing but a fantastic reception to the campus from employers and from people who have watched the Arts District and Tulsa transform over the last decade. There is a lot of excitement from the High Schools and the educational community – after the cohort starting in January, we’re looking forward to accepting many graduating high school seniors for our June 2020 cohort.
What backgrounds or experience should the ideal student have when they apply to Holberton in Tulsa? Are the admissions standards the same as San Francisco?
We will have students from across the board – from zero exposure to coding to people who may have been coding for decades to those who are looking to accelerate their careers.
You can be a student right out of high school who had an interest in coding. Maybe you could have an arts background or really creative mind and want to build websites. Or maybe you’re someone who has worked in a different industry for years who wants a change of pace and increase in income. Our unbiased application process brings us a lot of variety in students' backgrounds and all ages.
Do you need to be a Tulsa resident to apply?
No! Right now our applicant pool is mostly local to Tulsa and the surrounding communities and suburbs – Northwest Arkansas, Witchita, and Kansas City. But we also expect to have students moving here from places like San Francisco, New York City, and across the country. The lower cost of living is attractive, and because of the financial incentives that we've created, we do expect to see many people move to Tulsa to take advantage of those.
Do you expect most students to stay in Tulsa after they graduate from Holberton School?
We certainly don't expect 100% of our students to stick around after they graduate, but if you build strong community with people while they're here, we hope many would like to stay and launch their careers here. The Tulsa Remote program has seen really cool success – they’ve extended offers to 100 people to move to Tulsa and I believe over a dozen Tulsa Remote participants have purchased homes. This shows that when people come to Tulsa and see what we have to offer, quite a few want to plant their roots. We also know that there are a lot of job opportunities nearby in the region. Whether you go to North Arkansas and work for a company like Walmart or look to the healthcare industry that's strong in Kansas City, I do think we will see people stay local, even if it is not Tulsa.
What are your favorite Meetups in Tulsa for beginners?
Techlahoma is a fantastic organization with a strong presence in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. They run free code camps, workshops, and host an annual conference. Another great place to dip your toes in is on the Holberton Website. Our application is essentially Module 0 of our curriculum. Try it, and if you enjoy that process, then Holberton might be a good fit for you.
Anything else you want to add about the new Tulsa campus?
Tulsa was actually a trading post in the 1800s and the entrepreneurial spirit of those early settlers is still in the DNA of the city. It's exciting to be a part of Tulsa coming into the 21st century and beyond with the same grit and spirit as some of the city’s earliest entrepreneurs. Training software engineers is a critical piece of the puzzle. We are thrilled to be in Tulsa and we are excited to have our first cohort of students when we open in January.