27 Oct THE CODING GROUND
During October last year, two smart software craftsmen approached me to talk about a vision they have for developing software skills in South Africa. Mandla Magagula and Theo Bohnen shared with me how they had spent the previous two years teaching software craftmanship to school students from Diepsloot on a part-time basis. Theo and Mandla believe that it is their life purpose to help people within this country develop their skills. This resonated with all my core values and without hesitation I offered to help the cause. The first order of the day was to be clear on our focus. Our focus is upliftment. We reach out to people from townships and underdeveloped areas within Johannesburg who have the cognitive ability but not the necessary funding to pursue a career in software.
One morning during our daily planning around the breakfast table, the concept and brand around The Coding Ground (TCG) came to life. The naming was co-created by Theo, Mandla, Deidre (Deidre Wolmarans Consulting) and myself. The Coding Ground is about more than just coding, it is a set of grounded values and principles for solid software craft. The Coding Ground is a software craftsmanship academy which is focussed on equipping students with in-demand technical, leadership, interpersonal and workplace skills. Our software engineers are well-rounded individuals who are teachable, have the emotional intelligence to work well with others, and, most importantly, are grounded by values. This is the vision and the dream.
So, we started the journey. Mandla, then Theo, resigned from their jobs within weeks to pursue the cause – it was sink or swim, no half measures here. Besides this new vision I still had my dream job, Head of Engineering at RMB FOUNDERY. As such my role was to provide some start-up funding to support the guys as well as play a directing role at the school. On starting we had elaborate funding plans around how the school would be funded and run, but soon came to realise that the real world had plans different to our own. After much deliberation, we optimised for full autonomy and chose to self-fund the academy by doing some part-time consulting work. What we needed next were students and premises. We quickly found amazing premises at Riversands Incubation Hub, our focus then shifted to finding students.
We put in play a campaign to reach townships. The campaign relied on bush telegraph and our extensive network within the townships that were already in place. The prospective students were tasked with submitting written answers to cognitive tests, the results of which filtered the initial eighty applicants down to fourteen. Once the fourteen were identified, we held an evaluation day on the 1st of July 2017 at Riversands during which we selected the final six students, from the fourteen. We selected three girls and three guys, a perfect and unusual balance for software people – often there are far fewer girls.
What we have learnt on this journey so far is that real life brings real situations, and that if you don’t stick to your values you will be shifted to fit into a norm and even mediocrity. The journey has not been without challenges, we’ve faced many life, financial and directional challenges. In hindsight, meeting these challenges has been worthwhile as we are reaching, inspiring and changing the lives of six young people. Software is after all a great career. The current students will complete their curriculum by June 2018, ready for our next intake of students in July 2018. We certainly don’t have all the answers and don’t have everything figured out, what we do know is that we are shaping South Africa and changing lives.
Come and walk on the ground with us at http://thecodingground.com/
LEARN TODAY. CRAFT YOUR FUTURE.
The Coding Ground aims to teach software craftsmanship to young people aged between 16 and 25 years of age who demonstrate an aptitude for software development and who have a positive attitude towards learning. Students are not expected to have any formal computer literacy training but should have the natural aptitude for computational reasoning which would make them naturally adept at software development.
Students are accepted into the training programme at no initial monetary cost to them. The Coding Ground will partner with several companies, who will sponsor tuition fees. In return, the students are expected to work a minimum of 12 months for the sponsors, as apprentice software developers. This arrangement creates the opportunity for companies to refresh their development teams and innovate with the right kind of technical skills