Austin's Makersquare offers alternate path into web development world [Austin American-Statesman :: ]
(Austin American-Statesman (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 19--
Aaron Hayslip was a recruiter and trainer for a local nonprofit when he decided to make a change.
"I had always wanted to do something creative, but I had never really pursued it," says 25-year-old Hayslip, who majored in religious studies at St. Edward's University.
"Every year I told myself, 'OK, this is the year I am going to buy the books and learn design.' Finally, I read one book and built a real simple website. I realized it was what I wanted to do, but I didn't know what the next step was."
Then, last fall, he heard about MakerSquare, an Austin startup that offers an intensive 12-week software coding web development program for non-techies wanting to break into the tech industry.
Hayslip got accepted into the September class. The timing wasn't ideal -- he and his wife had just learned they were expecting their first child -- but he quit his job, took out a loan and spent the next three months learning to write software.
The week after the course ended, Hayslip had seven interviews for software development-related jobs. Today he's an associate software engineer at Austin-based Spredfast.
"It's a dream job that I never would have imagined I would be doing," Hayslip says.
That's the goal of MakerSquare, which was founded 18 months ago by two University of Texas graduates and two friends from Chicago and New York. They put in $5,000 each, and raised about $70,000 from friends and family to get started.
MakerSquare graduated its first class of 20 students last June from its offices on Congress Avenue across from the Paramount Theatre. Nineteen of the students received full-time job offers with salaries ranging from $45,000 to $90,000, says co-founder Shaan Shah. Overall, 95 percent of students find jobs or launch their own companies within months of graduating, he says.
"There are so many people who want to learn how to code, and so many companies that would hire them, and we want to connect the two, " Shah says. "UT and computer science programs in general are very theory-based. It's hard to move as quick as technology is moving because every three months there's a new release or new framework that's coming out. We focus on what is the new technology and who's working with it, and our students leave our classes ready to start a new career."
The 12-week program costs $13,880. Classes start every six weeks, with an average of 18 students per class. MakerSquare also offers a part-time, 10-week course that focuses on website development and costs $3,380.
The average MakerSquare student is a college graduate and has been in the workforce for five years. Backgrounds include finance or marketing, as well as human resources, sales and recruiting.
The program accepts about 20 percent of applicants, and they complete one to two months of work before the program begins. The 12-week course includes lectures, programming classes and group projects as well as evening events with speakers. Students often put in 60 to 80 hours a week.
Damon Clinkscales, an Austin software developer and long-time mentor to software entrepreneurs, said MakerSquare graduates leave with skills that are in big demand by startup teams, which tend to be heavy on marketing talent and short on technical expertise.
"The pragmatic skills taught by MakerSquare are directly applicable to that kind of environment," said Clinkscales, who is an adviser to MakerSquare. "Earning a (computer science) degree is definitely valuable, but it's not a requirement to become a good programmer. We need more builders and MakerSquare is helping more people experience the joy of creation."
MakerSquare is making plans to expand, as more players are jumping into the fast-growing non-accredited coding school business. The number of graduates from coding bootcamp programs is expected to jump to about 6,000 people this year compared with about 2,200 last year, according to Course Report, an online data base of coding schools.
In June, education giant Kaplan said it was buying Dev Bootcamp, a two-year-old San Francisco provider of programming classes, for an undisclosed price. Kaplan is expected to expand classes beyond California, New York and Chicago.
"When we started, there were six or seven schools around the country, and now we count about 75 programs that fill a similar void," Shah said. "But we entered at the right time, and we're ready to grow."
MakerSquare, which had revenue of $1.5 million last year and expects to post $2 million to $4 million this year, is launching classes in Houston and San Francisco and is considering additional locations.
"We think demand is only going to grow as people with non-technical backgrounds realize that they can thrive in technology," Shah says.
For Hayslip, realizing that he could build a software development career even without a technical background was one of the biggest lessons he learned at MakerSquare.
"We had a speaker who said, 'Most people think that to be good at writing code you need to be great at math and science. But a lot of times, it's really the musicians and creative people who can do this well.' That helped me to not freak out so much. I thought, well, there may be engineering and there may be a little math, but really it's about being able to create stuff, and I can do that."
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