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Thinking Ahead: The Coding Economy

 |  NYCEDC

Flatiron Coders

This is the first post in NYCEDC’s Thinking Ahead series, which features editorials from New York City leaders and influencers across key sectors and neighborhoods to foster dialogue around the issues impacting our city.

The following post is written by Adam Enbar, who co-founded The Flatiron School in October 2012. The Flatiron School teaches passionate and creative people mobile and web development. Since October 2012, the school has trained hundreds of web and iOS developers, including this year's winner of the NYC BigApps Live and Best Connected Device Categories, Heat Seek NYC!

Boasting a near-100% job placement rate, The Flatiron School has partnered with the New York City Department of Small Business Services on the NYC Web Development Fellowship Program, which trains low-income New Yorkers in skills necessary to work as web developers.This year's Fellowship will focus exclusively on students between ages 18 and 26 who do not have a college degree. 

Enbar, a 2014 NYC Venture Fellow, explains here the importance of the coding economy, and offers a solution for fixing the disconnect between education and the current demands of the workforce.

We’re in the midst of a revolution where technology is changing everything.

One way to be a part of this transformation is to learn how to code. If you can code, you can help drive technology and the future of our economy.

How do we teach the coding skills needed for more people to engage with this new economy?

Unfortunately, higher education is not always the answer. Before Flatiron, I worked with Charles River Ventures, where I spent a lot of time looking at the data around the ROI of education. I found that the higher education of today comes with an out-of-control price tag and no certainty that debt-saddled students will be able to find jobs when they graduate.

One of the biggest goals of The Flatiron School is to give people an alternative to higher education—one that reflects the technologies we use and the reality of today’s job market. My co-founder Avi and I realized that there is a huge disconnect between the programming skills schools teach and the ones that are actually used in the workforce.

Even with record unemployment, companies are finding it hard to find skilled talent to fill key roles within their organizations.

The promise of better employment prospects and ultimately, the promise of a better life through higher education are not being fulfilled.

People start coding for so many different reasons. Code gives people a competitive advantage in whatever it is they do, even if it’s not programming. Technology has become so ingrained in our lives that every trade today is becoming inherently technical. A journalist can scrape data to write more compelling stories and a marketer can use databases to make their work more thorough and efficient.

More specifically, there are amazing opportunities for careers in software development. It’s such a relevant skill that the possibilities are essentially endless and you create and learn constantly. Code can be a personally satisfying career choice for so many different people, simply because of the power it gives them to actually build the things that make them happy.

1stdayofclass

First day of class! The Flatiron School offers 12-week courses in web and iOS development to train people for careers in software development. Photo Courtesy: The Flatiron School 

City governments can encourage more schools to adopt a computer science curriculum that reflects the reality of today’s job market. They can learn from cities like London, which mandates computer science for every single student. They have the power to provide the resources—passionate teachers, tailored curriculum, diverse environment, and space to interact—to grow amazing talent and make learning to code not just a skill but a lifelong creative endeavor.

We have found through our Pre-College Program that high school students are not only capable of learning the same material as adults, they also have the determination and the intellectual curiosity it takes to fall in love with the material. A computer science education can make a huge difference in their lives if they have access to good teachers, challenging and relevant material, and the freedom to exercise their creativity to pursue their individual passions.

When it comes to recognizing the need for improved computer science education and taking steps to bring it to even more students, New York is way ahead of the curve and setting a great example—but there is a lot more work to do.

NYC has taken the first step by identifying the need for more skilled programmers. NYC government has kicked off educational programs to provide more people than ever before with access to a computer science education. Without the Department of Small Businesses Services, we wouldn’t be able to teach the NYC Web Development Fellowship and provide a free programming education to low-income New Yorkers.

NYC has also helped us make the 2015 NYC Web Development Fellowship even more impactful. For this class, we will be focusing exclusively on students between ages 18 and 26 who do not have a college degree. This program will be a life-changing chance for everyone involved. Among the many improvements we’ve made to the program, every Fellow will follow the 5-month on-campus program with a 12-week paid apprenticeship with some of NYC’s best technology companies.

flatiron take the helm

Reddit founder (from left) Alexis Ohanian, Flatiron School Dean Avi Flombaum, and Co-Founder and President Adam Enbar, pictured at the 2013 Take the H.E.L.M. awards ceremony. The NYCEDC competition awards grants to startups expanding their office to Lower Manhattan. Today, The Flatiron School operates out of a 12,000 square foot campus in Lower Manhattan, and a 4,000 square foot campus in Downtown Brooklyn, where the NYC Web Development Fellowship is taught.

In addition to NYC’s efforts, individuals and organizations alike are serving as great examples of how education reform should be happening. Mike Zamansky spearheaded efforts to launch the Academy for Software Engineering. This Academy and organizations like Stuyvesant High School and the NYC Foundation for Computer Science are led by thought leaders at the grassroots level, with a focus on moving quickly and matching education to the needs of the real world.

This is what education should be: a way to excite people’s passions for learning and give them both a marketable skill and a career they can be great at—not just because it earns them money, but because it's what they love doing. It was out of this idea and the need to change how people learn to code that The Flatiron School was formed.

We hope that NYC will continue to pave the way for expanded opportunity and innovation in computer science education to help fix the disconnect between higher education’s promise and the demands of the current workforce.

Interested in applying for the 2015 NYC Web Development Fellowship? Learn more here and apply by December 31. You can also contribute to the discussion around NYC's growing technology workforce by following @NYCEDC and tagging #ThinkingAheadNYC on Twitter.

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