This coding school in San Francisco has no fees, no teachers
Students show off their year-end projects, from helping the homeless to products to edit photos. Source: Twitter/@holbertonschool

There’s nothing conventional about the Holberton School of Software Engineering.

For starters, the school does not charge tuition fees until after students have graduated. That’s when graduates have to give back 17 percent of their paycheck from their jobs or internships for the first three years after graduating. That cut is pretty big, but still cheaper than four years at a private college which can go over US$120,000 in tuition, according to Fortune’s calculations.

The brainchild of ex-LinkedIn engineer Sylvain Kalache and Docker’s former head of growth and community Julien Barbier, there aren’t formal teachers or lecturers at the school either. According to Business Insider, the students mostly work on projects and teach each other instead.

“Holberton School is a project-based college alternative for the next generation of software engineers,” its website states.

The school’s aim is to make the tech industry more diverse – that means more women and more representation from minority groups as well as educating people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get tech training.

Since its foundation in 2015, Holberton’s two-year-programme have graduated its first five batches of students, who have gotten jobs at the likes of Google, Apple, Tesla, Nvidia and Docker.

Kalache told Tech Crunch:

“Our students are competing with Ivy League candidates.”

Holberton now has the “validation of the tech industry”, according to Kalache, thanks to the school’s focus on fundamentals. At Holberton, students first learn C, which makes learning higher-level languages much easier for them later – tech companies are really interested in this form of curriculum, Kalache said.

“The caliber of the talent that we are training — they want more and people who want a high-caliber education now come to us,” Kalache explained.

Internships are a big part of the school’s success too.

“In their internships, students end up getting exposed to a pretty broad range of stuff at Google and that helps reinforce why they learned what they learned and why it’s important,” Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist for Google noted in an interview with Fortune.

But can a school survive without fees? Since the model banks on its students being hired for good jobs to be able to give back the required 17 percent of their salaries, Holberton has every interest in prepping their students to make it into giants like Google and Apple.

“Talent is everywhere, but with our education system stuck in a centuries-old training format, many are not even given the chance to try,” said LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, an advisor and investor in the project.

“And a lot of graduates are having a hard time keeping up with the rate of change once they become professionals. Holberton’s education model is attracting students from all walks of life, and is providing them with the skills they need to take on a job after graduation, and more importantly to be able to continually retrain their entire life to take on new opportunities.”

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