Scotland’s first coding school is due to open its doors to students in Edinburgh next week.
It’s a problem CodeClan hopes to help solve. Its founders hope the coding school will boost Scotland’s ranks of programmers by about 200 a year, according to CEO Harvey Wheaton.
“We’re trying to give people who haven’t come through the traditional route – science, maths, university – a chance to get the skills to work in the tech sector,” Wheaton tells Techworld.
New student Iwona Sztorc, who is due to start the 16-week training course on Monday along with 15 others, exemplifies this perfectly.
She previously worked in digital marketing but got interested in learning how to code after observing one of the developers where she worked build a website.
“Coding looked scary. I didn’t know what it meant. But then I saw the results and thought ‘it’s amazing, you can learn a language and it can do all of this stuff for you – wow!’ That was about three years ago,” she tells Techworld.
Iwona learnt how to code in HTML and CSS in her spare time, but six months ago decided she wanted to make it a full-time career. She applied to a scholarship for CodeClan after being tipped off by a friend, went through the rigorous three-stage application process, and won a place.
“It was amazing news for me. It has given me so much more confidence. Having someone else believe in me really helps me to believe in myself,” she says.
“I obviously need to decide which job to do while I’m training – I want to be a software or web developer, or develop mobile apps,” Iwona adds.
The advantage of CodeClan is that it is open to people of all walks of life: Iwona’s cohorts include people who previously worked in banks or in customer assistant roles.
“We’ve got all sorts of people applying. On Thursday we had a bus driver come in, a receptionist, the other day we had a Mum and her son come in to apply,” says Wheaton.
‘It won’t solve the problem on its own’
The team will be ‘singularly’ focused on getting the students into jobs – largely junior developer roles. The first employer networking session will be held in the very first week of the course, he says.
“It’s a great step forward for the industry but it won’t solve the access to skills problem on its own,” Purvis admits.
There are other schemes underway to try to close the skills gap, by attracting young people into the sector and also by trying to get a restrictive immigration visa cap lifted, she says.
“We have to increase the current cap on visas, at least until we can get more of our young people coming through to industry. We won’t solve the skills crisis without access to people,” she adds.
CodeClan consulted with Dublin’s Digital Skills Academy, Flatiron School in New York and other coding schools in London and Berlin, according to Polly Purvis, chief executive of tech trade body ScotlandIS, who was instrumental in helping to set it up.
“They were all really helpful. The idea was to take the best practice from all as they are clearly working well in these global capitals, tweak it a bit for the Scottish market, where the focus is more on software than web development,” she tells Techworld.
‘We don’t yet have a gender balance and it’s unacceptable’
Purvis hopes CodeClan will help to deal with another problem in tech besides the skills shortage: the lack of women. The team (which has a 50/50 gender split) aim to get women to make up at least 40 percent of every cohort.
The fact it is open to people later on in their careers should be a big advantage on that front, she says.
“It’s an issue the tech sector is struggling with. We don’t yet have a gender balance and it’s unacceptable. Look at India and Vietnam, half of the tech workforce is often female, so there’s no reason why women shouldn’t be involved in these roles,” Purvis adds.
“I’m determined to address the problem. Our stated aim is 40 percent women but I’d personally like that to be 50 percent. The female coders I have worked with have been amazing, but they are so few in number. We need to figure out how we make sure we appeal to them,” Wheaton says.
Part of that will involve trying to shed an often “intimidating, nerdy” image of coding and make the tech sector seem as approachable as possible, according to Purvis.
Although it hasn’t opened its doors to students yet, CodeClan already has plans to expand. The team plan to open up classrooms in Glasgow next year then look to launch another location in the north of Scotland, such as Inverness or Aberdeen.
“Scotland is a world-class digital nation, but we’ve got to keep pace. It is such an exciting place to be. And much of talent we need is already here,” Purvis says.