New coding school to debut in Indianapolis

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There's a new coding school opening in Indianapolis, and it's spearheaded by three tech and business leaders who want to deploy a model that spends a little more time with students than most coding schools do.

The school is called Kenzie Academy, and its co-founders are Rehan Hasan, Courtney Spence and Chok Ooi. Hasan is the former co-founder of Denver-based Galvanize, a co-working and coding school operation in seven U.S. cities. Spence heads San Francisco-based CSpense Group, a creative agency. Ooi is chairman of New York-based Agility.IO, a 250-person software development shop.

rehan asan mugRehan Hasan

The trio met a few years ago through the Aspen Institute, and the idea for Kenzie crystallized earlier this year. They decided to debut the program in Indianapolis partly because Ooi, a Malaysian-born U.S. citizen, studied computer science at IUPUI. Ooi plans to relocate to Indianapolis for Kenzie.

Kenzie's launch comes amid the pending closure of The Iron Yard—which has an Indianapolis location—and the shuttering of a handful of other coding schools around the country over the past year. But the co-founders said Kenzie is going to have a different model than most coding schools: It's designed to last one or two years, not just several weeks or months.

chol ooi mugChok Ooi

"If I want to refresh my skills, the boot camps are great for me … but if I come from a non-computer-science background, we feel like the time frame is too short," Ooi said.

"[Kenzie] is still accelerated and still intense, but the time frame is long enough that we're able to train someone who cannot just fill the job from day one, but eventually grow into a leader."

Kenzie plans to open its doors in October and start training about 24 people in January. It plans to target people between the ages of 19 and 40, but is open to all ages. It's looking to occupy space in the Morrison Opera building at 47 S. Meridian St., which is also home to The Speak Easy's downtown location.

Its founders said they've raised a seven-figure sum for the for-profit operation, but they declined to give specifics. They also said they're interested in state and local tax incentives. They're still finalizing the revenue model but expect it to include a combination of student tuition, scholarships and placement fees from businesses who hire its alums.

Here's how the program will work: Students who are accepted spend 40 hours per week learning software programming. There are group workstations instead of classrooms and an emphasis on projects over lectures.

At the end of six months, students will have enough training to be junior front-end developers. After another six months, they'll know enough to be junior full-stack developers, which implies front-end and back-end development expertise. They're welcome to take a break in between, Ooi said.

Once they complete the first two sessions, students can apply to be a "Kenzie Studio Fellow," a one-year program in which they'll get paid to work on projects for nearby companies. They'll come out as full-fledged software engineers.

"How do you set student up for success in a real meaningful way?" Hasan said. "Part of that is getting good, real-world experience. And so there's a lot of group-project learning … and students coming out will be able to have a real portfolio to be able to point to."

The school also will feature soft-skills training and extensive networking opportunities. It will start with just a software development curriculum, but organizers envision adding curriculum in DevOps, product management, user-experience and other disciplines down the road.

The Iron Yard is closing its doors in November, leaving Fishers-based not-for-profit Eleven Fifty Academy as the only in-person coding school in the region. While it's unclear exactly why Iron Yard shuttered its 15 U.S. locations, industry observers said coding school margins are extremely thin, and there's increased scrutiny on outcomes—job placement and retention.

Despite the challenges, the number of coding schools and their enrollment continue to grow. Industry tracker Course Report said in July that there were 95 boot camps in the U.S., up from 43 in 2014. The number of graduates is projected to jump from about 6,000 in 2014 to nearly 23,000 this year. For comparison, there were 79,650 undergraduate computer science graduates at accredited U.S. universities in 2016, Course Report said.

And courses are getting longer, likely because of a preparedness gap among coding-school alums. Course Report said the average boot camp program was about 10.4 weeks in 2014 but is about 14.1 weeks in 2017. In January, Eleven Fifty refashioned its nine-week program into a 12-week program that feeds into a 12-week internship and a one-year apprenticeship.

Kenzie founders said they've seen the tech industry thrive on the coasts and wanted to help boost a labor force that can support tech in the Midwest. And they think Indianapolis has a strong foundation for them to pilot their model here and, potentially, expand it to other cities.

Spence, who spent time consulting around workforce development issues in New Orleans, said geographic diversity and other aspects of diversity are at the heart of the Kenzie's mission.

"When I think about the need for diversity in tech, I'm talking about it in the broadest sense," she said mentioning gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity and economic background.

"And when we don't have people from communities designing solutions for those communities, there's just a lot missing. And it there could be a lot more advances in tech that are solving real problems in communities across the country when we involve more people in creating those solutions."

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