In the past few weeks, you might have read numerous tweets and blog posts rejoicing, “The Iron Yard is coming to Charleston!” Aspiring programmers and tech companies in Silicon Harbor are excited for good reason.
The Iron Yard just opened the doors of its newest code academy in Charleston, where instructors will transform coding newbies into professional programming ninjas. While the opening of a new code academy in Charleston’s growing tech scene is plenty to be excited about, it is the Iron Yard’s unique approach,culture, and network that make this a huge addition to Silicon Harbor.
GROWING PAINS FOR CHARLESTON STARTUPS
With the number of tech startups rapidly growing in Charleston, companies are expanding faster than their talent can scale and have to recruit from other tech hubs such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Charleston startups are struggling to find enough workers with the skills they need to grow their business and retain talent. The Iron Yard has developed a solid program to educate students and connect them to these companies so they can hit the ground running in developing software and even launching their own startup. This will certainly improve the talent pool of programmers available for hire in Charleston and help keep them there.
CODING NEWBIES WANTED – NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
The Iron Yard Academy is a sweet deal for aspiring programmers. Ever dreamed of developing cool apps and working at a hot tech startup, but didn’t have the time or funds to invest in a university program? Coding newbies with zero programming experience can choose from intensive programs covering Front End, Rails, or Mobile Engineering and graduate as a junior-level programmer in just 12 weeks.
Unlike many university programs and other code academies that consist of traditional lecturesand scripted assignments, the Iron Yard utilizes live code-based lectures where instructors demonstrate and explain how to build actual software applications during the class so that students will develop muscle and visual memory and gain a concrete understanding of the concept. Homework assignments are purposely open-ended, encouraging students to solve complex problems without preset parameters.
Chief Marketing Officer Eric Dodds says this approach equips students with the mindset of an engineer. “Most companies will tell you that their most talented employees have an ability to digest a large problem and break that problem down into functional, actionable items that they can build features around,” Dodds says. “So we don’t do any scripted assignments, and almost every assignment is geared toward developing that sort of mindset in our students, which employers have told us is extremely valuable. It’s very important to us that our students learn how to think and not just write the syntax of code.”
Upon completion of the program, students are guaranteed a job offer within six months or their money back. They will also get assistance preparing a portfolio, writing resumes, and performing interviews.
THE IRON YARD ADVISORY BOARD
The Iron Yard has also formed an advisory board comprising tech leaders from local software companies to learn about what kind of talent and people they are looking to hire and continue to reinforce the academy’s curriculum. Companies such as SPARC, Jack Russell Software, Amazon, Google, Blue Ion, and Benefitfocus are already on board.
Calvin Webster, front end engineering instructor, believes this network is key for producing graduates with the right skill sets to get them hired. “You can have a school, but if you don’t a have a community or network around it, it’s hard to place them,” he says. “I have interviewed a lot, and it’s pretty hard finding the right people. Companies have said that we need more knowledge workers in the Lowcountry. There’s just not enough manpower in the Southeast. Building that relationship and creating the advisory board has been the focus in getting the tech leaders and local software companies on board and help us to understand what they look for in a high-quality junior programmer.”
The Iron Yard will also launch classes for kids in Charleston this spring. The classes, led by both Iron Yard students and volunteers from the local tech community, will teach kids ages 8-18 programming skills for free. Kids will learn coding concepts with the help of a program called Scratch, which uses digital Legos to build mini software programs and games.
Dodds emphasizes the importance of exposing kids to programming early, saying, “We have a very holistic view of a tech economy, which is why kids’ education is so important to us. In an increasingly digital world, it is very important for us to play a role in exposing students to programming, and the ones that show aptitude or interest in it, continuing to give them opportunities to learn because they will be the people that our companies will hire tomorrow. Some of these kids will never have the opportunity to be exposed to these types of technology. With the costs of college and debt, some of them may need a career that allows them do something at a professional level without going to college. Programming is a great career, and lots of people have extremely successful programming careers without having to go to a traditional four-year degree at a university.”
THE IRON YARD ACADEMY SCHEDULE & COSTS
• Length: Three-month courses in Front End, Rails, or Mobile Engineering.
• Schedule: Classes are held Monday through Friday. Mornings consist of live coding sessions with the instructor, and afternoons are for labs. Friday is a workday for projects.
• Class size: Capped at 15 students.
• Tuition: $9,000 without computer; $10,000 includes 13-inch MacBook Air.
• Other requirements: Grit and drive to work really hard.