Cultivating an Ecosystem of Talent

This is peer-to-peer project-based learning, because that's what the work environment is like in technology today. Our students learn how to learn.

Holberton School New Haven Director Nadine Krause, Marketing Manager Caitlin Mullen and Founder David Salinas in front of the school at District.

Digital Surgeons founder David Salinas built a successful digital marketing business by driving demand for his customers. With his success came no shortage of clients of his own. His only problem was that he couldn't find enough talented software developers to keep up with the demand for his company's services

Instinctively drawn to solving problems, he began looking for ways to close the talent gap in much the same way he found solutions for his customers — by evolving his thinking as he searched for answers. Salinas saw that his job postings were competing with thousands of other software engineering vacancies that existed every day at other companies in Connecticut and metro New York. The problem was in the supply.

Traditional four-year college programs, he believed, were too expensive, took too long and offered too few computer classes. Coding boot camps taught computer languages, but did not offer an onramp for novices to become software engineers. The education market needed a different model of school. And Salinas had just the location for it.

Salinas and a partner had won a public bid to redevelop a brownfield in New Haven. Inside a massive brick garage building that once housed a fleet of 100 public transit buses, they were building out a cutting-edge coworking space for high tech start-ups called District. They also decided to set aside a large space for a coding school.

Salinas' search for education partners brought him to the San Francisco-based Holberton School. In January, a year after the first companies began setting up shop in District, Holberton School New Haven opened its doors to its first cohort of 20 students.

"I never wanted to build a school," Salinas says. "I wanted to improve the talent in tech for Connecticut. I tried to solve a problem, and it led me down this path."

The two-year Holberton program teaches "full stack" software development, a complete set of computing skills that is in high demand across every industrial sector. Salinas is quick to point out that Connecticut has 7,500 open jobs in computing. It is a gap that he thinks can only be filled by making the education accessible to every possible person over 18 years old who wants
it, especially minorities, women and those who cannot afford higher education.

Holberton works around the affordability problem by charging the students no money until they land their first job that pays at least $40,000. It also has an application that removes bias by not asking about a person's background. Rather, it tests for an applicant's willingness to learn. More than 650 applications have come in and two more cohorts are scheduled for 2019. In five years, the school has a goal of placing 1,000 graduates in technology jobs.

"The magic of this program is that there are no teachers," Salinas says, adding that an education lead is on -site part time to help mentor students, facilitate discussion and help them enter the larger world of the online developer community. "This is peer-to-peer project-based learning, because that's what the work environment is like in technology today. Our students learn how to learn."

Just across the hallway, Holberton students can see for themselves what that environment looks like in real time at District, home to more than 50 high tech start-up companies. They are all part of what Salinas sees as a growing ecosystem of high tech talent and business in Greater New Haven.

"This building is meant to create a culture shift," he says.

The Community Foundation made a mission-related investment in the development of Holberton School New Haven.