A new kind of school tackles the software engineering talent shortage

What do you do when the colleges don't produce enough programmers? Top executives from Apple, Docker and LinkedIn have decided to train up their own: The Holberton School.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Is a computer science degree worth the trouble? What about IT certification? You can argue about these issues for forever and a day, but one thing everyone in tech agrees on: There's not enough software engineers.

It's only going to get worse. By 2020, the US Bureau of Labor estimates that there will be 1.4 million new developer job openings and only 400,000 computer science graduates to fill them. What to do?

A group of industry veterans from Apple, Docker, LinkedIn, and Yahoo decided to start a new hands-on education program called the Holberton School for training software engineers. To get the school started with a bang, and to foster diversity and equal opportunity, the school's inaugural class will attend tuition-free.

Anyone can apply from ages 18 to 128. Students don't even need to be high school graduates or have any programming experience. The selection process is based only on talent and motivation. The school is committed to diversity and equal opportunity and is named for Betty Holberton. She was one of the first programmers for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC).

The Holberton School is an alternative to college, online courses and coding boot-camps. It will train up full-stack software engineers in two years by using a hand-on, project-based, peer-learning alternative to college. This method, project-based learning, is an alternative to the traditional teacher-led classrooms. It's been proven in Europe to scale to graduate thousands of elite engineers a year.

Holderton School will be using France's European Institute of Technology as its model. Project-based learning supporters claim that it results in a greater depth of understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and social skills, enhanced leadership skills, and increased creativity.

Who's going to pay for all this? The Holberton school is being funded the Silicon Valley way: Venture capital.

The school's cash comes from a $2 million seed round. This is led by Trinity Ventures. Its supporters include Jerry Yang, co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo!; Solomon Hykes, co-founder of Docker; and Jonathan Boutelle, co-founder of Slideshare. The school also boasts more than 70 mentors from companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, Instagram, LinkedIn, Netflix, Uber and others.

Why would a VC invest in a school? "Funding a school is not a familiar venture for us," explained Dan Scholnick, a Trinty Ventures general partner, "but investing in talented entrepreneurs? We know all about that."

"There is a great need for software engineers worldwide, and in the US particularly," said Julien Barbier, co-founder and CEO of the Holberton School in a statement. "Holberton School uses a proven system that more closely replicates real-world employment. In this project-based and peer learning system there are no formal teachers and no formal courses. Instead, everything is project-centered."

Specifically, Barbier, formerly a senior director at Docker, continued, "Students have to solve increasingly difficult programming challenges, with minimal initial directions about how to solve them. As a consequence, students naturally look for the theory and tools they need, understand them, use them, work together, and help each other. And, by the way, they love it -- I know because I am a graduate of the same system."

Applications are open now for the inaugral January class. So, what are you waiting for? Apply already and good luck.

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