Alberto Marcos

Ironhack: Time to Change Tech Education in Europe

This post was written by Ironhack co-founder Ariel Quiñones, originally published in September of 2013.

The idea behind Ironhack was inspired by one of those cliché business stories of our generation. Two business school, non-technical guys. A “great” idea for a tech product. BUT, no clue how to build it. “We just need to find technical talent or get someone from e-lance.” Yeah, good luck with that buddy.

We initially started Ironhack for ourselves. We wanted to learn how to code. From the best teachers and using the best resources. All of this in an environment that was challenging, while being fun and supportive. And we were sure that, like us, many others had the same sentiment. So here we are.

BUT WHY SPAIN? WHY NOW?

Gonzo, my Spanish Co-Founder, will give his own answer to this question on a separate post which I suspect might be a bit more patriotic than mine. As a non-Spaniard, this is probably the question that I”m asked the most by friends and colleagues from outside of Spain (and actually, even by many Spaniards). I get it, I get it – the macro story is not so “hot” (I”d rather not call it a clusterf#ck). To us, however, this is the ideal environment to start an education company with an innovative model. When people realize the current trajectory is unsustainable and mindsets start to shift…it”s time to move in.

Spain is also great in many ways: a lot of talent, it’s a hub for international students and there are a number of great resources for entrepreneurs that I haven”t seen anywhere else in the world (these resources are unfortunately incredibly poorly marketed to foreign entrepreneurs).
OUR MISSION (REVISITED)

Although the two business guys still want to become great coders, our journey over the last few months has expanded the scope of our mission.

We now want to do 3 things with Ironhack:

1. Reduce youth unemployment in Spain

Most of us are aware of the insane figure of 50% unemployment in people under 30. Meanwhile, according to official figures, the IT/tech sector unemployment is in the single digits. We’ve spent the last few months talking to dozens of tech employers in Spain and the story is the same everywhere: “we are dying for technical talent!”. From our vantage point, tech unemployment is closer to 0%. There are tons of unfilled jobs. This disconnect is mind-blowing to us.

The economy is clearly moving in a different direction and people need retraining. If there are no roads and bridges being built, that unemployed civil engineer should consider a new career as a software developer. If there are fewer newspapers in circulation, that print illustrator should consider a career as a User Interface designer for digital products. You get the point.

We are confident this “calibration” of workforce skills and employer needs is doable and that people don’t need to go back to college and spend another 5 years to get retrained. In fact, even if they wanted to and had the resources to do so, they probably shouldn’t. Our view is that traditional higher ed institutions are doing a TERRIBLE job of educating people in these emerging technologies and roles. Many are teaching technologies from the 80s or way too focused on theory. Students are just not learning the skills that matter.

Education startups like Ironhack have the potential to help in this transition, complement the traditional education institutions and add a bit of dynamism to the Spanish economy.

2. Close the tech skillgap in the EU

Of course, Spain is not the only country facing this issue of scarcity of technical talent. For instance, despite the 26 million unemployed people across Europe, the European Commission estimates that there are 700,000 IT jobs unfilled in the EU. This number isexpected to grow 100,000 per year, while the number of skilled IT graduates is flat (or decreasing in some countries). At Ironhack we want to close that gap by producing new talent, as well as by “recycling” talent from other industries that have excess labor capacity.
Having said that, we’re going to be selective. The people that we work with have to be passionate about programming and technology. We want students, teachers and partners who believe in continuous learning and see coding as a craft. The type of people that are committed to raising the level of code that comes out of Spain and Europe.

3. Promote coding / tech literacy

For us, this issue is much larger than the professionals that are going to be coding every day. We think that for every developer, there is a need for 100 non-technical professionals that are code literate. We’re not only talking product people or other non-technical folks at startups, we’re thinking much broader than that. As technology becomes a more integral part of every industry, tech literacy is going to be crucial in all departments and at all levels of organizations.

There’s been a healthy debate on blogs on whether this means that everyone has to learn how to code. Initially there was a lot of vigor on the “yes, everyone needs to learn” camp. Lately the pendulum has swung the other way and even a lot of techies are saying that coding is not for everyone.

Does everyone need to learn the basics of coding? Probably not. The same way that not everyone needs to learn English or another second language. However, would we say that learning English opens a world of opportunities for personal and professional development? Absolutely.
We feel that learning the fundamentals of coding has the same effect. It will make you a more versatile professional in an increasingly tech-centric world. It will give you a foundation that will allow you to use technology and innovate in your day-to-day in ways that previously you would have thought impossible. And the sooner you acquire these skills, the better.
WE NEED YOUR HELP – WE CAN’T DO THIS ON OUR OWN

These are lofty goals. And we know it. We’ve been fortunate to have the early support of a good number of people: developers, mentors and corporate partners who “get” the problems that we are trying to tackle and share our vision. We’re incredibly grateful for their contributions thus far and look forward to continuing working with them.

If you’re interested in contributing in any way, please reach out to us at hi@ironhack.com. We need more people to help us accomplish our goals.

Disagree with something (or everything) that I’ve said? Have ideas on how we could solve some of these issues? Jump into the conversation by commenting! We’re believers in the open-source movement and the wisdom of crowds, so we definitely value your input.

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