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Coding academies offer fast track to good jobs

Economics correspondent Paul Solman visits New York's Flatiron School, one of numerous coding bootcamps online and around the country that are designed to help graduates land jobs in a high-demand industry.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now: becoming a professional computer programmer in just weeks.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story. It’s part of our ongoing reporting Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    What’s making this drone fly? Not a remote-control gizmo, but computer code written by students at New York’s Flatiron School, one of numerous coding boot camps online and around the country designed to land their graduates gigs in perhaps the hottest field in America right now, Web development.

  • AVI FLOMBAUM, Co-Founder and Dean, Flatiron School:

    I think that, if you program today, you’re a man that can see in a blind man’s world.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Programming is big right now, says Flatiron co-founder and dean Avi Flombaum, and it will be even bigger in the future, which growth in coding jobs forecast to be double that of job growth overall.

  • AVI FLOMBAUM:

    There’s just such a demand for these kinds of skills that, if you are competent and you are passionate about this and you are a self-driven person, there are more opportunities than we can possibly fill.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Twelve weeks of immersive coding, no experience required, at a cost of $12,000 to $15,000. But, at the end, 99 percent of Flatiron graduates get jobs as developers, making, on average, $74,000 a year to start.

    Armando Amador graduated a year ago, after losing his marketing design job in 2013.

  • ARMANDO AMADOR, Flatiron School Graduate:

    I remember being unemployed, and I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find — not even an interview. People wouldn’t respond back to the e-mails. And once I finished the program and I changed my job title to software engineer, just like that same hour, my inbox was full of messages, just like people send you e-mails and calling you.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    How did you feel?

  • ARMANDO AMADOR:

    I felt like I was on top of the mountain. I just felt like powerful, like, where were you guys a couple months ago, when I was looking for a job?

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    At Manhattan start-up Wizard Development, Amador now makes double what he used to. It’s jobs like his that drew current student Geraldina Garcia to Flatiron. She dropped out of college to attend.

  • GERALDINA GARCIA, Flatiron School Student:

    I kind of got into the tech industry and realized how unimportant a college degree really is.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Garcia, who had majored in computer science, joins a growing chorus of those questioning the value of a degree from a traditional four-year university, especially if it means assuming debt.

  • WOMAN:

    A lot of my friends that graduate this past year and the year before are still looking for jobs. I think part of the reason for that is, is that they know a lot of the theory, but they don’t have hands-on experience.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Maybe that’s why college didn’t work out for classmate Lewaa Bahmad.

  • LEWAA BAHMAD, Flatiron School Student:

    I took two intro to programming classes at the University of Michigan. I failed the first time and then I failed again the second time. I thought, I’m not a programmer. I’m definitely not cut out for this.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    But he went online, started learning how to code on his own, then applied to Flatiron.

  • LEWAA BAHMAD:

    Why go to college for four years and work up a corporate ladder to get in the position to do something great, when you can just learn to create something great?

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Now, the dropout and code approach isn’t for everyone. After all, the unemployment rate for those without a traditional college degree is double the rate of those who graduated. Moreover, few applicants get into Flatiron at the moment. Its 6 percent acceptance rate rivals Harvard’s, but, insists founder Flombaum, literally anyone can learn to code.

  • AVI FLOMBAUM:

    So, right now, we’re looking at your Web site, Making Sense. You can view the page’s source and immediately see the source code that is describing the instructions to the browser for how to make your page look. If I want, I can change this text to say, “Welcome to Flatiron School, Paul.”

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    I see. These are just all instructions.

  • AVI FLOMBAUM:

    Everything — yes, that’s what code is, just instructions. We call this, as programmers, the joke, string theory, because all the World Wide Web, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, your Web site, they are just giant strings of code.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Flombaum’s own interest in coding began in elementary school with a computer game called Nibbles.

  • AVI FLOMBAUM:

    Eventually, I got so good at that game that I could just beat it every time. So, I opened up the source code to try to make the game harder and make it move faster.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Flombaum went on to teach himself how to code, although it wasn’t easy.

  • AVI FLOMBAUM:

    The way in which I learned how to program was one of the darkest times of my life. I was in high school, and I was all alone, and I had no support. And it was really a struggle. So, with all the beginners that come through Flatiron School, we very much talk about what the process of learning something difficult feels like, and not to give up, to just continue struggling through it, because, one day, you will understand it.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Thirty-seven-year-old Natacha Springer was in biotech, but left the job market to raise two children. When she tried to go back:

  • NATACHA SPRINGER:

    They thought I was out of the market. Maybe I didn’t really have the same skills anymore. So they — they wanted to offer me a job at entry level.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    So she applied to Flatiron and now creates Web sites at Dow Jones.

    So, if I — if you clip on Benoit Thomas…

  • NATACHA SPRINGER:

    It mails that person.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Oh, there’s an e-mail. I see. Oh, that’s cool.

  • NATACHA SPRINGER:

    This was my first project when I got here, and this is my team.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    But you’re the only woman here.

  • NATACHA SPRINGER:

    That’s right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Well, why is that?

  • NATACHA SPRINGER:

    In the tech industry, it’s mostly men, a lot of, like, 25-year-old men.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    And it’s not just that the field is dominated by young men. On TV, and in reality, most of them are either white or Asian.

  • WOMAN:

    Normally, the tech world is 2 percent women. Guys, these next three days, 15 percent.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    We heard many explanations for the lack of diversity.

  • ARMANDO AMADOR:

    You see Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, and you don’t see people that look like you.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Growing up in the Bronx, Armando Amador couldn’t afford a laptop.

  • ARMANDO AMADOR:

    I just didn’t have the resources to play around and hack and around just really learn all about technology.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    The well-known digital divide may help explain some of the minority exclusion, but what about women?

  • WOMAN:

    Boys like to play more video games, so it might have something to do with how they have grown up in the culture of video games.

  • AMY GIMMA, Developer:

    I think it’s a confidence issue for girls, because they expect it to be a boys club, and it’s hard for a woman to get into a boys club.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    But whatever the historical reasons, a young boys club it has been for years. There are efforts under way to make the coding community more diverse. For instance, Amador attended Flatiron as part of a New York City-sponsored free fellowship for underrepresented groups.

    And Francis Gulotta, Amador’s boss at Wizard Development, says that, for his company, diversity is a market opportunity.

  • FRANCIS GULOTTA, CEO,Wizard Development:

    Everyone has got a different approach to solving problems.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Gulotta believes his company has a competitive advantage, hiring programmers who look and think differently from young white boys like him.

  • FRANCIS GULOTTA:

    I am representative of most mid- to senior-level developers right now, but I don’t think that a team of me would make very good products.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    For example, Amador was confused by a calender Gulotta had made for an online bakery order form.

  • FRANCIS GULOTTA:

    Why we were doing what we were doing didn’t make sense to him, when it made perfect sense to me. And, of course, it made sense to me because I came up with it. The same problem he was having is the same problem I imagine most of our users are going to be having.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Meanwhile, the jobs are there for pretty much everyone these days, so many Web sites, so much software, the programming pool will simply have to grow to keep up with demand.

    This is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting for the PBS NewsHour from New York.

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