On a windy evening back in April, Betabeat took a Skillshare class with Designer Pages founder Avi Flombaum called, “Be One of the Cool Kids: An Introduction to Ruby on Rails.” We emerged a modicum cooler, with a much better understanding of Ruby, but nowhere near ready to touch an SDK.
“Does that make sense?” Mr. Flombaum asked repeatedly, thoughtfully checking in on whether his pupils understood why “hash is like a vending machine.” Once he got into the weeds, the best we could do without a programming background was nod politely and pretend.
That helps explain the need for his newest venture, the Flatiron School, which attempts to the close the gap between a dilettante and a skilled app developer.
Together with Adam Enbar, a venture capitalist at Charles River Ventures, Mr. Flombaum has bootstrapped the Flatiron School. It will offer three months full-time classes–as opposed to sheepishly ignoring those Codecademy emails–in app development for $5,500. In fact, it seems like one of the more practical–or at least immersive–attempts to address structural unemployment–where the labor force isn’t equipped to fill open jobs.
“By the end of the semester, students will have built and contributed to Ruby-based web and iPhone applications,” he told Betabeat by email, noting that the school will put a technical emphasis on the full stack–and finding students a job. “We’re excited about creating a talent pipeline not just of coders, but rather, professionals in general.” Considering Mr. Flombaum attracted enough interest as a SkillShare instructor to quit his CTO gig, he seems up for the task.
The first class, which starts tomorrow, has a diverse group of 20 students, including a lawyer, graphic designer, and poker player. “It was really important to us not to accept 20 bankers, even though I’m sure they’d make amazing programmers,” he said.
Mr. Flombaum compared the workshop format to creative writing courses, with an adaptive approach to finding the best way to instruct students, “whether I’m giving a lecture, or we’re turning to our educational partners CodeSchool and Treehouse for some unique content, or reading and discussing some of the great books O’Reilly donated, or bringing in some experts from the tech community in NYC.”
But all work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a bad coder. Hence incorporating classes on deejaying (paging Kevin Systrom!), knot tying, and dance. “Programming is really about managing complexity, about breaking things down into small parts and then recombining those individual pieces to make new things,” he explained. “That abstract talent can be flexed in a variety of skills, whether it’s seeing the individual phrases and beats of a track and how they can be overlaid and mixed into others when DJ’ing or about understanding the various tension points and loops in a knot.”
The cofounders’ presence in the startup scene will come in handy considering Flatiron School’s focus on career counseling. “Over the past year I’ve mentored and placed a handful of my Skillshare students,” said Mr. Flombaum. “I’m honored to have a pretty good reputation in the community and it’s been a pleasure connecting my students to some of the startups I love.”
But the scope of potential employers doesn’t look exclusively at startups. “When considering jobs for students, we’re looking for companies that invest in people,” he said, “And I don’t think that it is an exclusively startup trait. After that, it is really all about fit for the students. We want our students to be happy at work.”
To that end, Mr. Flombaum said Flatiron School will be hosting “a reverse job fair” on December 6th where tech companies can meet students and hear about their projects. “The dream is that they will all have offers by the new year,” he said.
The initiative seems more like a labor of love than the next General Assembly, which has expanded to London and Los Angeles in the past year.
Everything from the office lease on West 26th Street, to the 20 Ikea tables and chairs, to student scholarships were funded by the two cofounders. “We’re really not looking for outside investment,” Mr. Flombaum said. “I think education is all about quality. And I think venture capital is all about scale.” Local businesses have also offered donations. ErgoErgo has given the school 20 standing-desk-killers and the New York Health and Racquet Club has subsidized gym membership and planned fitness classe.
“I’m still trying to get a hold of Hill Country, as it is right across the street, about doing a weekly BBQ, but no luck (yet),” he said. “The idea is to create a decentralized campus, finding partners to provide the facilities and experiences the students need rather than sink millions into building yet another campus in NYC.”