code-for-a-living March 4, 2020

“You need someone to show you how to teach yourself.”

We spoke to Alexandre Plennevaux, Head of Pedagogy at BeCode, the coding school on a mission to close the skill gap by providing accessible, seven-month inclusive bootcamps across Belgium and recruiting students through illegal streaming sites.  You run an intense, seven month-long, full-time bootcamp. Students need to be highly motivated. Why are you advertising on…
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We spoke to Alexandre Plennevaux, Head of Pedagogy at BeCode, the coding school on a mission to close the skill gap by providing accessible, seven-month inclusive bootcamps across Belgium and recruiting students through illegal streaming sites. 

Alexandre Plennevaux, Head of Pedagogy at BeCode.

You run an intense, seven month-long, full-time bootcamp. Students need to be highly motivated. Why are you advertising on ‘time-wasting’ hubs like movie streaming sites?

We are looking specifically for the people who have the skills to be coders but have never considered it, people who have fallen through the cracks of the system.

This includes school drop-outs, unemployed people, or people stuck in low-income jobs, refugees, people with challenges at home, or with a handicap. They are usually not reachable using traditional advertising. So we advertise on sites where they might hang out if they have no job, no money, and are bored. We have to get creative to reach this audience. Running banner ads on streaming sites has proven to be successful.

“It motivates me every day. But there is also a sadness to seeing all these talented people succeeding with us. It just proves they have been let down by the system in their previous lives.” 

Your communications are aimed at a young audience as well. I saw a poster targeting people who “hate math.” Is that targeting the right people?

We can see that it is. People who hate math don’t always lack the intelligence or aptitude for it. They might have been failed by the system. Not having good grades can be because of a million reasons. Same goes for being a school drop-out. Many times education has to do with stigma, people might write themselves off or self-exclude, because nobody in their family finished school, nobody spent the time unlocking their skills. 

For example, we had this young guy who was 22 when he joined us and had been working as a removal man since dropping out of school at the age of 15. We were going through the typical cycle every programmer faces multiple times a day: from “This is impossible” to “I am the best programmer in the world.” 

For him, however, it was the first time he experienced this. As he came in, you could see he was already writing himself off. So to not lose face, he kept saying, “PHP, what is this? This is for intellectuals. I am no intellectual!” 

Guess what? He ended up finishing the exercise first in the group, and you could see he had grown an inch: “Turns out I am an intellectual!” We provide a space for him to let his guard down and try something new. To help someone who spent seven years moving boxes, seeing him learn that about himself was a gratifying moment as a coach.

“We don’t teach developers; we provide a safe environment for people to discover they already have everything they need to learn to code.”

Is that what your class does, create a place to fail?

It’s how you learn to code from the start. Trial and error. Looking for the best solution without fear of failure, but by embracing it. If our students learn to keep pushing, to move a project across the finish line, they have all the skills to take on a project in a professional setting and continue their growth inside the company. 

How much do people pay to attend your classes?

It is entirely free! That is the whole point. We are supported by industry donors and public funding. In order to be truly accessible, the entire program is free.

You mentioned you train students who might not be used to such an intense learning environment. Can everyone be turned into a success story?

With our alumni, we aim for an employment rate of 80%, for students to land a job after six months or take on a more “classical” training in IT: in both cases, it means that reskilling in IT was successful. Of course, a tricky part of the job is that we sometimes have to ask people to leave because they are disturbing the learning environment for others. 

Overall, people are adjusting super quickly. That’s the beauty of programming. The one thing they have to learn is: fail and fail again. So they can do this on day one.

What qualifications do you look for in a trainer?

Our bootcamp is all about accessibility. Not only do we believe that there are a lot of dormant software developers out there, but we also think that the best way to become a trainer is to start training people. All the better if you have had that experience in your past. If you have completed a few coding projects in a professional setting and would like to mentor people into becoming coders, we will support people to set them up as trainers.

What do you teach in seven months?

Our first module is learning not to be scared of the terminal. Then follows markdown, Git, front end, and later back-end development. The last weeks of the training switch to an “outboarding” phase where the students focus on learning by teaching, working on projects (personal or client), and finding an internship or job.

You also work with companies to get people into the workplace, tell us more about that.

Since it is our goal to keep classes 100% free, we rely on sponsors. There is some government funding now, but the initial funding came from private investors. In Belgium, 70% of employers blame inadequate training for the shortfall in skilled workers. So some of them were ready to put their money where their mouth is. 

We then help the trainee find an internship at the end of the program. And we do make sure we give them career advice as well. As part of the curriculum, they need to give a presentation, lead a session, become trainers themselves, if only for a day. So we make sure everyone gets a good picture taken in this scenario. And then we promote them to our network on LinkedIn: “Check out student X giving a great talk today.” So they get a real boost to their personal brand.

Do you introduce people to Stack Overflow as part of your course?
No need to. Students will google a problem and end up on a Stack Overflow site anyway. We strongly encourage students to become independent problem solvers. We do mention to pump up their profile on Stack Overflow and set their job search status as “active” on our list of tips to get a job.

Learn how BeCode found trainers through Stack Overflow Talent in the Case Study.

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