Founders & Coders pooling developer talent through free education course

Employers testing students’ skills through freelance projects instead of paying recruitment agency fees

A community of developers named Founders & Coders are creating a pool of talent for IT employers to cherry-pick via its own peer-led, free education course.

Based in London's Mile End, the 16-week course in software development for the web aims to give students with no previous technical experience sufficient skills to find employment as a software developer.

Graduates are already working on major projects with a local authority, a publishing company and early-stage startups, among others.

Founders & Coders founder Dan Sofer is a long-time software developer and tech industry veteran.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, he said: “Instead of employers spending around £5,000 with a recruitment company, they can spend a fraction of that for a project they need completing and get to see the work of one of our graduates at the same time.”

For employers it is like testing the water on new recruits, said Sofer: “They can take on one of our graduates after they have completed a project for them if they like the work they have produced. Camden Council is working with us in this way.

“I find the traditional recruitment process a bit adversarial. Many employers are in need of new talent but are wary of investing in training for staff as it is expensive and there is a good chance the employee will leave after they have received the training. This way they get to test out talent and get the value back in their project too.”

Searching for more graduate employers

The graduates are currently working on a variety of paid post-graduate projects, including a major new website for Camden Council and web apps for two early-stage startups. The community are searching for more employers willing to offer the graduates projects to work on.

Sofer started Founders & Coders when he realised he was finding it difficult to study on his own, so he started arranging meet-ups at the British Library for those who wanted to learn. 

“I was holding about three a week and it was starting to take over my life," he said. "It was exciting to see that even those who worked 40 hours a week still found the energy to learn further.

“I wanted to create a community around me to help with my learning. I’m lazy on my own, but I’m motivated by others.”

After contacting Collective, a creative initiative in Camden Town, Sofer secured space to run his first course in September 2014. “I started out by using online resources for my curriculum, however it’s now more peer-led and project-based. I realised the people in the room are more interesting," he said.

Our aim is to continue to find work for all of our current cohort of graduates, provide an amazing course in January 2015 and expand our network of employers that are willing to give us projects to work on

Dan Sofer, Founders & Coders

“We would pick a topic, for instance Twitter’s application programming interface, and go off and learn everything we could on it. It was really amazing and powerful the amount of things that we could build.”

The course runs for a total of 16 weeks and is split into eight weeks of training and eight weeks of working on projects the community has found through freelancing. Founders & Coders plans to run four courses a year, with students working in four teams of four. Students take turns to deliver seminars, run code reviews and manage projects.

“It’s a beginner’s course on how to enter the industry," said Sofer. "The majority of the students had never written a line of code and now all of them could now work as software developers."

Discussing the previous cohort (pictured), he said 16 students started in September 2014 and 15 finished, with one leaving for employment elsewhere. Two students secured jobs immediately and 12 have decided to go to the new campus to continue learning and work on projects for clients.

Sofer said: “It was just me a few months ago, but now the whole cohort from Camden decided to come with me to the new location. The aim is for everyone to be paid the London living wage."

There are no academic requirements to apply for the course, but Sofer said applicants need to show they are self-motivated, prepared to work long hours and committed to collaborative working. Every course applicant is asked to make a video on why they want to take part.

He added: “We had nine men and seven women join the course without even trying. If we’re not charging for the education we have to make sure we pick people who will really make the most it.

“Most of them have degrees – some had startup ideas and realised they needed to learn some skills themselves. The people are changing slightly. Those who applied previously were just curious and wanting to learn some coding skills, but now they’re more ambitious.”

Crowdsourcing for new premises

Founders & Coders are running an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign with the aim of reaching £10,000. Sofer said the organisation decided to run the campaign to pay the rent on the new place in Mile End and they have so far reached the deposit.

“We had a crisis of space in Camden," he said. "We have the wind in our sails, so we needed more space to run the course in January 2015. We couldn’t bear to not run the course in the new year.”

None of the Founders & Coders teachers are paid for their work, with the group supporting itself through the freelance projects they receive.

Sofer said: “Our aim is to continue to find work for all of our current cohort of graduates, provide an amazing course in January 2015 and expand our network of employers that are willing to give us projects to work on.”

Anyone above the age of 18 can apply for the Founders & Coders course. Classes run from Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm, with the campus open extra hours for further studies and freelance projects.

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