CodeCraft Lives

Posted by Andy Mendelsohn

Five months ago it was an idea, but now it is a reality: CodeCraft is alive and running. Eight students intensively training for 12 weeks, learning web application software development and practices from the ground up. Learning the craft of software development in a commercial environment, with experienced developers teaching students how to write code. It’s an apprenticeship of sorts with learning that incorporates real-life, paid, professional practice and experience.

codecraft lives!
We would have a better photo than this, except the codecrafters have all left for lrug!

The course is designed and run by Mal Pinder who, as well as being a great practitioner, is a great teacher and has already been running a regular in-house Ruby evening class. But, we’ve also encouraged every member of the development team to contribute a few hours of their time to presenting a class. Three members of the tech team have already contributed 1-2 hours of class teaching, presenting classes on ‘the apprentice pattern’, Javascript, and HTML & CSS. We have all levels of expereince getting involved in the teaching: the trainers so far have comprised of one Junior/Mid, one Mid/Senior, and our UK VP of Engineering. Hopefully this is a trend that will continue over the length of the course - I will be running a class next week as will Helene, our TPM (Technical Project Manager).

Having our own practitioners as trainers doesn’t just benefit the course students, it also benefits the trainers. If you want to get better at something, start teaching it to someone else. to quote the oft-quoted: ‘the best way to learn is to teach’.

That’s what’s so cool about Funding Circle. Come up with something that people believe ‘has legs’, and we are willing to try it. And, it’s obvious that the idea and concept of CodeCraft has legs, and it’s obvious where it works for us as a tech business and it directly enhances the Tech Team.

Should we have to do this? Should we be able to find good developers without having to nurture and train them ourselves? Maybe. There are a whole ton of arguments about this. Quite clearly we (as a society) weren’t educating enough young people from infants right through to university level, in way that would fit current demand for these skills. And maybe there wasn’t enough cultural drive or peer-group social encouragement. Has there ever been? Perhaps it’s just a lack of foresight, or the fact that we are in such a fast-moving industry and opportunities have been missed, and it’s simply that the rush of businesses to be part of the ‘tech-city’ revolution has sucked the life out of the developer market.

But this is the “Year of Code”, and the drive is on to better educate our young people to help feed our technological growth and digital creation needs; to get people who’ve never coded into code; to open that door of opportunity. Whilst this is a great initiative, many of the “Year of Code” initiatives aren’t going to help us today, right now, when we are so hungry for skills. So, rather than wait for the inevitable bearing of fruit, this is our contribution to the initiative because we are a Giant that needs feeding!

I believe that there is great value in us giving back to the community in this way. It feels good to teach and many of us are self-taught, having learnt from sources as diverse as magazine listings, other developers, blogs and conferences (and of course, books). We want to be a centre of excellence and learning and for our growth as a tech team to be organic, maintainable and sustainable, or at the very least be highly strategic.

I often compare managing a development team to managing a football team. It’s about finding the right players and putting them in the right positions and then getting them to work as a team - and it’s about depth of quality in your squad and being able to mix things up, changing them about to get the best result. And, to continue the metaphor, many of the best, most successful football teams have academies. With an academy, the team has the ability to train up players as they’d like them to be trained, identify and nurture talent, and then, select the best. At the same time, the trainee is provided with an environment that enables them to ‘learn from the pros’; to learn what they don’t know; to pursue excellence; to find out if they have what it takes and the kind of brain that does well at this. It’s a win-win situation. If the trainee isn’t quite what the team are looking for, then they’ve gained some further education and taken another step towards becoming a professional should they still want to. And, that’s as far as we’ll go with the football metaphor. I’m no Alex Ferguson, and there are no hairdryer treatments in our tech team. We don’t rule by fear (like anyone would ever be scared of me ;). The Funding Circle Tech Team are a group of smart, valuable, highly valued and respected people and I love ‘em all!

And I believe CodeCraft, and similar initiatives, work for every member of the team - they all have a vested interest in our success and in working in a great environment, with smart, well-educated people. It’s the ‘want to go to work’ factor. Stuff like this helps.

Will it work? I am confident it is the right thing to try for Funding Circle and the London tech community. I am confident that it will work. I’ll keep you informed.