Learning to Code at Holberton School

Imagine graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology or wanting to start psychology and religious studies at university and ending up as a Software Engineer in the heart of the Silicon Valley? Seems hard to believe, yet that’s what the Holberton school has helped achieve for five Scality engineers: Electra, Dora, Jay, Bennett and Philip. Let me explain.

The Art of Problem Solving

The Holberton School was started by Julien Barbier and Sylvain Kalache in January 2016 in San Francisco. Together, they wanted to create a project-based alternative to college for the next generation of software engineers. Quite an ambition. Bold, one could say. The school has no formal teachers. It uses a peer to peer teaching method instead. Students learn how to learn and help each other achieve success. Holberton founders believe that the world is moving so fast that no one can predict what skills will be needed in the coming years. At all times during their future career, successful professionals will have to adapt to unknown challenges, and that is what Holberton is teaching them to achieve. Students from the school are now landing jobs at Apple, Tesla, NVIDIA, Dropbox, Docker…. and Scality.

Holberton and Scality

Scality’s collaboration with Holberton started early on when the first batch of students were just finishing their first nine-month training period. 15 Holberton students from this first “batch” came to Scality for mock interview sessions. Initially, we were only to give them feedback on their interview and give them tips on how to improve their interviewing skills. However, these students were so good, and we were so impressed by their achievements and personalities that it was out of the question for us to let them go! So we asked five of them to come back and actually hired three of them!

Meet Dora, Electra, Bennett, Jay and Philip

That’s how Dora, Electra and Bennett – Holberton students from Batch 0 – joined Scality in October 2016. Dora was the one holding a Bachelor’s of Science degree in biology. Electra was a linguist student in Clermont and Bennett was working for a non-profit in Berkeley after studying psychology and religious studies. All three of them needed another challenge, a hands-on experience to solve complex projects, an opportunity to join a fast-growing industry.

Whether they heard about Holberton through a friend, a newspaper article handed over by their father or simply by discovering it on the web, they felt it was a unique chance for them to get a foot into something fun and intellectually challenging. For Bennett, the recruiting process alone was a highlight. He originally completed the application for fun. The process got him to learn how to create his own website on a remote server – he hadn’t even started the school yet. This got him going. For Dora, who was working in a grocery store before starting Holberton, it was the variety of projects and the in-depth knowledge acquired during the course in such a short period of time that got her interested. Both Dora and Bennett agree with Electra, who says her experience at Holberton was everything she had hoped for, engaging, stimulating and fulfilling. All of them admit that it was an intensive course, staying days on end at the school and learning things they had never even heard of before.

A feeling shared by Jay and Philip, Scality’s latest recruits from Holberton. A civil engineer and former broker in Chicago, they were both looking for a new challenge. Philip had completed a coding boot camp earlier, but felt he needed more time to boost his confidence before joining the industry. Jay, on the other hand, had never done any coding and felt Holberton offered the right curriculum. Both agree that the conceptual part of the program was sometimes challenging to grasp but the peer learning undeniably helped them through.

This peer learning system is what helped all five of them feel at home quickly at Scality, knowing where to find answers and being able to pick up on any coding language such as node without being intimidated by their younger experience. There are now full time Software Engineers with one of the leaders in software-defined storage, and they are based in San Francisco – not so far from Silicon Valley. In the words of Jay: “Holberton changed their life!”

Continuing on this path

The reason Dora, Electra, Bennett, Jay, Philip joined Scality is because they know that they will be working on complex projects seeking to disrupt the industry in every possible manner. The challenge for Scality now is to maintain this environment and ensure that will want to stay with us. Remember that there are over 220,000 open positions for software developers in the U.S., these recruits are spoiled for choice!

At Holberton, the curriculum doesn’t focus on programming only. It ensures that students are trained to become well-balanced engineers who can thrive in all types of environments. For this, the school organises all types of ancillary events. For example, each morning, one student gives a five-minute speech in front of his/her peers on any subject he/she wants, whether it is about the concert they went to see the night before or a technical project they have been working on. This helps the students develop their speaking skills. At least once every week, the school hosts a mentor for a meet-up session. The mentor delivers a speech on their career path and stays afterward to chat with the students. All of them are from the Tech industry and serve in different roles: Software Engineer, investor, recruiter, journalist, product manager, designer, CTO, and CEO, among others. This type of interaction helps the students develop their networking skills. Holberton ensures everything is done to empower its students. Every few weeks, the school organises an offsite visit, to places such as the offices of Salesforce, Docker or Airbnb. This allows the students to know and understand what to expect in the professional world.

The fact is Holberton is constantly triggering its students’ curiosity, whether it be via the projects they are working on with their peers or by organising extra events to challenge them and ensure they must get out of their comfort zone. This is a great example to follow, and we need more schools like Holberton. They are the only way individuals who may not have known about coding or computer science when they were 18 and had to choose their university major may be able to gain a foothold in the industry. Scality is willing to assist those giving these projects a chance. This is why we will be partnering with Google and Accenture to offer a scholarship to students who cannot afford to join a university or another school that will give them a chance to join such a challenging—and fun—industry.

Top photo left to right: Philip, Jay, Dora, Bennett and Electra

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

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