On stage announcing the creation of a Software Engineering Academy this afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg revealed that the high school had the support of Fred Wilson and the city’s tech community. Betabeat has learned a little bit more about how that will work.
According to Department of Education spokesman Frank Thomas, Mr. Wilson has committed to financially supporting the school and to raise money for the school from the tech community at large. We have heard from other sources that Mr. Wilson’s financial commitment will be philanthropic and that the goal is to raise around $1.25 million, although that number has not been confirmed.
No other private investors have yet been named, but Silicon Alley insiders have been involved with the initiative from the get-go. A plan for the school has been in the works for the past six to eight months, said Scott Schwaitzberg, a principal policy advisor on the school, who recently left City Hall for the startup world to join Anil Dash as vice president at Activate. Mr. Schwaitzberg said the idea started with a round table discussion with folks like Mr. Wilson, Foursquare’s Naveen Selvadurai, Dogpatch Lab’s Matt Meeker, as well as Mr. Dash.
Even as discussions to build a graduate school of applied sciences were ongoing, the city was itching to do more to support the tech industry and education in New York. The schedule for tech campus offered more of a long-term impact. The EDC had also make roadway in supporting incubators for existing startups, but “We were missing that critical middle of investing in the two to five year time frame,” said Mr. Schwaitzberg.
Mr. Selvadurai, Mr. Meeker, and company urged them to think younger. “They kept saying, you really need to start training these kids earlier, you really need one program that delivers on that.”
Independently, Mr. Wilson had heard about the program Mike Zamansky was running out of Stuyvesant High School from some of Mr. Zamasky’s graduates and Mr. Wilson reached out the city about it. “We realized it was a great opportunity for a our model of public-private partnerships,” said Mr. Schwaitzberg.
With the tech community in full support of the software engineering high school, it would be easier to “fast up” the design, he said. Also on the advisory board were heads of engineering teams at a bunch of startups as well as the hackNY.
Getting the Union Square location was also key, said Mr. Schwaitzberg, because of its proximity to the startups and tech companies in the area. Both in terms of having students of the academy involved at, say, General Assembly, or Google, or Foursquare, as well as having engineers visit the school as instructors.
“We got other computer schools out there, this is about creating software,” he said. Not about starting companies, Betabeat wondered? “And potentially companies, we don’t expect every single graduate to go and launch the next Foursquare, we do expect them to have the tools to make working code.”
The impact, Mr. Schwaitzberg predicted, would go beyond just the students at the academy. School principals, he noted, have a lot of leeway in adding programs that work to their curriculum.
Another big ancillary benefit of the school, he noted, would exposing engineering to a more diverse student body and “getting kids who are representative of New York City” to code.