This Startup Pays You to Learn How to Code

Jeff Vincent Wistia

Learning the new literacy of the 21st century doesn’t come cheap.

Hack Reactor, a code school in San Francisco, costs a breathtaking $17,780 in tuition for 12 weeks of instruction. A semester at Cornell Engineering costs $23,525.

But if you learn to code, the rewards are great. Hack Reactor boasts a 99% graduate hiring rate at an average annual salary of $105,000. A fresh, 22-year-old recent graduate of the computer science from Cornell can expect a salary around $95,670. In short, learning to code is one of the most valuable skills you can develop.

Companies like Wistia are offering a brilliant way around the expensive world of software engineering education. Wistia actively looks to hire non-technical people who want to learn how to code, pays them to work in customer support, and trains them on how to become a software developer. In time, the skills they develop rival what they’d learn in school, the employees are in a position to become professional developers, and they’re well-compensated to learn and grow in a supportive, practical setting.

How Wistia Code School Works

Inside of Wistia, they run what they call Code School. Those who want to learn how to code sign up, and they’re paired with a developer to meet up for weekly one-on-one hour-long lessons over a semester  (about 4 to 5 months). Customer champions, for example, might learn Ruby on Rails, the programming language and framework that they use at Wistia, and Javascript.

Wistia Code School

Instead of culminating in a personal project or a thesis, they work on real-world problems, going straight from learning language theory to fixing actual bugs in the system.

What’s remarkable about the arrangement is that learning to code in a production environment is incredibly motivating to the student and it delivers tremendous value to the company. Before learning to code, the customer champion often isn’t able to solve customer problems. They have to file tickets and ask engineers for help. The best that they can do for customers is say, “I’ve filed a ticket — I’ll let you know when the issue has been resolved.”

It’s naive to think that, while learning to code, a customer champion will be able to fix bugs and solve issues for the customer totally independently. However, learning to code completely transforms the role of support and the internal interaction between support and engineering.

Instead of getting caught up in the process of transactional support — filing issues, closing tickets, and banging out emails — customer champions who learn how to code are empowered to work together with an engineer to find the root cause of problems and solve them. Together, they’re able to make issues go away forever, not just placate a customer until the next one comes along with the same problem. Not only does this process increase transparency and knowledge about the product and how things get done, students gain a gratifying sense of deeper involvement and contribution that spurs them to keep learning.

Starting Your Career as a Software Engineer in Test

It’s not uncommon for a fresh computer science graduate’s first stop out of college to be “a software engineer in test” as it’s called at bigger companies. It’s a great place to learn the basics of testing and producing reliable code, all real-world problems that you don’t often deal with in school.

From there, software engineers in test can get deeper into automation, productivity and testing, or they can move to the application development side as a software engineer.

Unlike hacker school grads who typically build their own small software applications, graduates of Wistia’s Code School cut their teeth on reliability and testing on a large-scale production application. They’ve been so successful that many of them are well-equipped to move on to becoming full-fledged engineers.

* * *

The tech world today isn’t unlike that of finance of the 1950s where opportunities abound for stock room clerks to rise to the top of the organization by picking up the skills they need on the job — where credentials and a past history of success doesn’t matter as much as a hustler’s attitude and a willingness to learn.

For employers, there’s a huge return for those who think long-term and invest in their team. Most startups are software companies, after all, so it’s extremely beneficial to the organization and the customer if everyone in the company can code. With that reality comes the opportunity for those wanting to learn how to code to develop their skills in an environment that’s richer than what school has to offer.

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  • http://twitter.com/#!/annelibby Anne Libby

    This is how people used to learn to code before CS degrees existed (though they called it “programming.”)

    It wasn’t all kids learning on borrowed time on the mainframe at school! My dad (corporate/military “Greatest Generation”) and sister (corporate, GenX) were both trained in this way.

    This is how the so called shortage of tech talent gets filled. Good job, Wistia.

    • Walter

      that’s really interesting — thanks for sharing, anne!