Teaching Miami to code

During a recent Pitch Day for the students of Wyncode, a mass of people gathered at The Lab Miami. In the crowd were investors, hiring partners, tech enthusiasts, and past and future students alike — the makers and movers of Miami tech. They came to watch a diverse group of students pitch not just their final projects, but themselves as future employees.

This represents more than just one coding bootcamp graduating cohort. This represents a movement emerging in Miami that’s also spreading across the rest of the country. This community was virtually non-existent 5 years ago, but is now starting to bloom. Coding schools and the ecosystems they help create, can serve as alternatives to traditional education, training students of all sorts of backgrounds to enter the job market as computer programming professionals.

Miami is going through quite a boom in coding schools, including Wyncode, Ironhack, 4GeeksAcademy, along with the more affordable nonprofit LaunchCode. 

These code intensive programs range from five to nine weeks in duration, and can cost upwards of $10,000. Students can expect to have five days of instruction per week, with many hours of commitment required to completing their coursework. Prices vary depending on the school, with specializations such as Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and IOS development.

For Ironhack lead instructor Nizar Khalife Iglesias, who went to school for Computer Science in the University of Puerto Rico, the differences between traditional university degrees and coding bootcamps are quite clear. “The main thing is that you’re not doing the computer science as much of the time,” he explained. “In college, I wasn’t taking half of my courses in computer science — it was a few courses of computer science, and the rest were something else. In a bootcamp, your day is completely saturated with content and coding.”

The value proposition of these coding schools is premised on the idea that graduates will be ready to work at an entry level programming position right after graduation. It’s not possible to master coding in a few weeks, but these programs say that the skills you walk away with will prepare you to take on entry level development tasks. And that narrow focus means coding bootcamps are more nimble than traditional schools. “The curriculums in colleges just can’t update as fast,” Iglesias said. “There’s a lot of theoretical stuff in college programs, which I found really interesting, but not everybody does. Whereas bootcamps focus on the practical side of things.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual wage for computer programmers in the United States is $82,690. But according to Indeed.com, computer programmer salaries in Miami are 5% lower than the national average. While this might seem disheartening, consider that computer programming jobs are estimated to grow exponentially through 2020. The code bootcamp market is estimated to churn out around 16,056 graduates in 2015. This is an increase from the 6,740 graduates in 2014. Yet even at current graduation rates, shortfalls in the skilled labor force will leave many jobs in tech unfilled.

According to Ironhack Founder Ariel Quinones, “We’ve hit an inflection point where the community has momentum.” Quinones was working on his MBA in Philadelphia when he decided he wanted to start a coding school. Growing up in a house filled with educators, he always knew he wanted to do something in the education space. After attending a 3-day workshop in San Francisco, Ariel says he was blown away by the potential of coding bootcamps. As he put it, “You have the story in the U.S., and all over the world, of an economy that is becoming more digital.”

Ironhack launched in Spain, with classes in Madrid and Barcelona, then opened a new Miami school in Building.Co, right in the heart of Brickell, in January 2015. They were the first school in to provide classes in Spanish, and as Quinones said, “Miami will be our hub for the Americas.”

Johanna Mikkola
Johanna Mikkola

Johanna Mikkola of Wyncode also came to Miami from elsewhere. Originally from Finland, Johanna has a professional background in corporate management. Johanna and her partner, who happens to be her husband, also have a history of working with community organizations with great success. From the very beginning, they knew they wanted a strong community focus as part of their plan for success. More than that, she describes that they wanted to go “somewhere where they could make a significant positive impact.”

Wyncode hired locally to ensure their growth was coming from the community they now call home. This extends to the subtle design of the curriculum. Johanna described Wyncode graduates as “Miami-made, catering to South Florida.” She added, “My hope is that everyone stays here and builds something together.”

At their best, coding bootcamps can foster a continuous flow of people with the practical skills to enter the tech community. However, as they attract people from so many different backgrounds, it can be a challenge for individuals to catch up. In the end, as with any form of education, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. “You have to be willing to get frustrated and work through your own frustration,” Iglesias said. “Everybody gets frustrated. You need the tenacity and extra drive to get things done. It’s about how you handle that frustration. Tenacity is the thing that I’ve seen be most successful.”