Stuck in a rut? Want to change careers? Amsterdam is home to plenty of tech academies where you can learn to code and kickstart your career as a programmer. But now, with the pandemic and all, is it the right time to invest in a drastic change of course? Codam, SALT and Techionista are three of them, all aiming to solve the severe lack of developers, as well as the severe lack of diversity in the tech world. We checked in with them to see how they fare during the past couple of months.
Tough times for tech academies?
A recent report from StartupAmsterdam made clear that COVID-19 already had some impact on the more than 20 tech academies in the Dutch capital. Without naming them, some of them mentioned a dip in revenue of financial woes, partly due to less students bringing in tuition. That is however not the experience of Lisa Stamm. She is head of communications at Codam, based on Marineterrein in the heart of Amsterdam. “Since the coronavirus, we’ve seen an increase in applications. Many people see this as an opportunity to learn a new skill. I understand other tech academies have a tough time right now, because many are paid. If you’ve just lost a job, you probably don’t have an extra couple of thousand euros lying around. But at Codam, learning is for free.”
Codam’s free programming courses are the brainchild of Corinne Vigreux. After successfully co-founding navigation giant TomTom, she wanted to tackle the lack of good developers. Finding inspiration in the tuition-free French self-study schools of 42, she decided to set up a similar concept in Amsterdam to give everyone, no matter their background, the opportunity to become a developer. Codam is a foundation, funded by Vigreux, with a fully equipped building in the heart of Amsterdam. Everyone over 18 can sign up, no matter their knowledge of programming. After an initial selection, an introduction and a month of getting thrown into the deep end during the piscine (French for ‘swimming pool’), those that make it will enroll in a 3.5 years curriculum in which they learn the tools of the trade, as well as cooperation, teamwork and the need to keep on learning.
Despite coming out of a nationwide lockdown, Codam is continuing its courses. Stamm: “We’re currently in our second selection process of the year and we are fully open, just not 24/7 like we used to be. We’ve also created more space around the computers. This means we do have less workspaces.” Codam solved this capacity problem by allowing students to follow the course online, leaving ample room for people currently in the selection process.
SALT fastracks developers careers
Meanwhile, over at School of Applied Technology, or SALT for short, they did feel the pinch of the lockdown for a bit. “Before Corona, everything went super,” says Joel Lopez, responsible for sales and partnerships at the tech academy. “But combined with the summer in the middle, we did have to postpone some talks with companies we were in touch with. With everyone back from holiday, that is picking up now.” The original Swedish academy has also switched to remote working for the time being.
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SALT, which is based in Amsterdams ‘house of digital innovation’ Epicenter, has not seen a slowdown in applicants. According to Lopez, they have about 1,000 people registering. Quite a lot, since they only select less than two dozen people to enroll. Just like Codam, they offer their curriculum for free. SALT does require some coding background however. After four months of intensive learning, containing over 500 hours of coding, they can confidently bump up a junior or hobby coder to a medior-level developer. The 12-months that follow after the bootcamp, has the student working on a payroll with SALT. After that, a good paying job at a software company is basically in the pocket.
Techionista gets women into ICT and tech
To speed up the process of having an equal share of women in ICT and tech, Techionista Academy focuses solely on women. There is a long way to go, says Tamira van Roeyen. “Last year, only 16 percent of people working in IT in The Netherlands were women. Compared to the world or the rest of Europe, we’re dangling somewhere at the bottom.” After co-founding Techionista 4 years ago together with Vivianne Bendermacher, they built a strong female network by organising meet-ups and coding classes. After partnering with Microsoft, they were able to offer a full-time, 4 month Microsoft Azure Certified Data & AI-track for women to launch their career in tech. Besides the necessary ‘hard-skills’, Techionista also develops soft-skills to navigate the business world and offers a job fair to connect employers with female talents. 95 Percent of the students land a job.
Other than Codam or SALT, Techionista does charge tuition. The full four months course costs a student €3,500, which doesn’t fully cover the costs, admits Van Roeyen. “We ask the companies hiring our graduates to pay for the remaining amount after the course. If not, we carry the risk.” Techionista decided to move its entire course online due to COVID-19. A drastic change from the previous courses, but one that works out really well so far, says Van Roeyen. “The fact that 100 percent of our students graduated was mostly due to the strong sense of community during the course. It is great to see that this also works online. And with online courses, we can also enroll foreign students.” For Techionista, this offers the opportunity for international growth, something Van Roeyen is actively aiming for: “The sky is the limit.”
The importance of diversity in tech
A push for more diversity is the reason Van Roeyen co-founded Techionista. “The more diverse your team is, the better it works”, she says. Techionista offers courses solely to women to tip the scales in a male-dominated tech world. Van Roeyen: “We have anyone from sociologists and microbiologists or marketeers signing up. It’s a broad group of people, also in age.” According to Van Roeyen, students ranging from their early twenties til well in their fifties have taken the plunge to learn a brand new trade at Techionista.
That same drive for diversity lives at SALT, where they are actively striving for diversity, Lopez says: “We’ve had students from 33 nationalities since we started. Our current class consists of 35 percent women. It is something we really want to push, we also see that diversity is more important for the companies that are looking for talents. If you have teams consisting only of men in the same age, then everyone offers the same way of thinking. With different backgrounds, ages, nationalities, genders they can offer different solutions to a problem. You can then pick the best.”
At Codam, Stamm is also working in the same direction. And with result: nearly 50 percent of new students are women. Stamm: “Society is also 50/50, so the programming world should be the same. We do notice that women need more convincing to pick up programming. They miss role models in this world. So we spent a lot of energy to get more women to join. If we didn’t, I think 90 percent would still be men.” According to Stamm, the current lack of diversity could affect real life. “All the new AI-applications are written by human beings. If you only have a certain group of people writing those algorithms , they’ll have biases built in. In the end, this could mean people get left out of society.”
Featured image: Tamira van Roeyen, Techionista