Makers Academy :: Q&A

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It’s hard to image a time when reading and writing wasn’t valued as an essential part of education, or life. Literacy — the ability to identify, understand, interpret and communicate language — empowers individuals and provides the knowledge to participate in society. Today, new languages are evolving but not all of us are keeping up. And while some of us still think the internet is made up of lasers and magic, others are decoding the future.

Technology is redefining literacy and code is the future’s alphabet. While our traditional education systems have been slow to implement new programs, industry has propelled itself into the future of software development — affecting every aspect of our lives. Unlike when reading and writing first began, coding is a democratised skill that anyone with internet access and a computer can learn.

Founded by Rob Johnson and Evgeny Shadchnev, Makers Academy hopes to teach people how to code by bridging the gap into industry our educational systems have created. Evgeny gives some insight into what the future is really made of. Spoiler alert: it isn’t fairy dust.

Q) Tell us a bit about Makers Academy.
Makers Academy is an intensive, twelve-week course in web development for those who’d like to begin a new career. We teach complete beginners to code and then help them get jobs as junior software developers. We help our students to change careers and to build their own web-based products. We enable them to create new things. It’s a bit like having a superpower.

Q) We hear you taught yourself to code. What was that experience like?
I have two degrees in computer science, so it’s not exactly fair to say that I am self-taught. However, my university courses were focused on theory and missed practical focus. When I started my career as a software developer, I had to learn how to use the latest tools and languages on the job. Still, learning new technologies is never easy even for someone who’s professionally trained like me; it’s even harder for complete beginners.

Q) Did your own experience [learning to code] influence your decision to start Makers Academy?
Absolutely. I spent years studying at university to learn how to code and paid a lot in tuition fees. It’s not the cheapest or fastest way to become a software developer. I could have taught myself to code but that wouldn’t have been easy either. I know many self-taught developers who had to work for years in the evenings and weekends before they got their first job. I knew there had to be an easier way, so I started Makers Academy to teach complete beginners to code in just 3 months at a fraction of the cost of university fees.

Q) In a technology driven sector, why is it still important to learn how to code in a classroom setting by a real person?
There are many reasons. One is that learning to code is really hard and being part of a classroom makes it much easier to stay motivated and get help when you’re stuck. Another is that some aspects related to teamwork and communications have to be learned in a social setting. Many people assume that getting a job as a software developer is all about coding but it’s not. It’s important to know how to be part of the team, how to communicate with other developers and how to collaborate.

Q) Some say the language of the future is Mandarin others say it’s French, could the language of the future actually be C++, Java or Ruby?
It’s not about the language specifically; it’s about understanding and controlling computers in general. Software is eating the world; someone will need to write that software. Every company is a software company, whether they know it or not. We’re already seeing a growing gap between those who know how to code and those who don’t, irrespective of their profession.

For example, it’s important to know the basics of coding in digital marketing because a lot of it will involve updating websites, integrating analytics solutions, creating Facebook apps, etc. We should stop treating coding as a specialist skill and expect it to become a new literacy. It may sound crazy but just a couple hundred years ago some would have argued that reading and writing weren’t necessary for most professions.

Q) Technologies and software developments are advancing faster than educational institutions can design and implement practical curriculums. How can classrooms keep up? What does the future of education look like?
Classrooms will find it hard to keep up. A massive change is coming to our education systems and universities are rightly worried. To keep up, the education system needs to reinvent itself. Today we’re collaborating online, we’re much more mobile, we may switch careers every few years, we’re learning all the time, not just at university. In the future, education will be much more engaging with a clear link between the training and the requirements of a specific job. Higher education will be integrated much more closely with the industry.

Q) How are MA students utilizing code to shape their futures? What trends have you seen develop?
Most of our students come to us to kickstart a new career in software development. However, more and more are joining because they want to fulfill their dreams of building a technical business. With open source software and cloud computing technologies the monetary cost of creating a new business is dramatically reduced compared to what we had just a decade ago. Our graduates went to build businesses such as Seederboard and Bean and Ground themselves, instead of hiring others to build the software.

Q) Software development is a fast growing industry with no signs of slowing. How is this impacting self-starters and businesses today?
The explosive growth of the software industry, in particular open source software, makes it significantly easier to start and operate companies. In just a decade software, from operating systems to small programs, has become dramatically better but also cheaper or even free. In a sense, this is a generative cycle: more, better and cheaper software makes it easier to start and operate companies that go on to train developers and build even more software.

Q) Coders are shaping our world through the software they develop. Is there a sense of social responsibility being shared in the coding community?
In general, I find the software development community has a good sense of social responsibility. It’s fairly standard to see companies offering free or heavily discounted products to charities, educational institutions or even small companies, instead of making money on large companies that can afford to buy their software. I also see regular hackathons where developers come together to build software for charities or other good causes, completely for free.

Q: Can coding and software development be taught in developing countries without readily accessible Internet? Will a lack or resources create a further gulf? Or can it be a leveller in the future?
It’s definitely a leveller. To learn coding you don’t need the fastest internet connection or the latest Apple hardware. The main thing one needs to learn software development is a basic computer, an internet connection and lots of motivation. The schools and universities largely don’t know how to teach software development efficiently but they are getting better and at some point will learn how to be more efficient.

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