Go to college for four years, take out tens of thousands in student loans and hope that someone will hire you so you can pay off your debt. It may not be the American dream, but it has become the American standard. Flatiron School is hoping to change that.
Students at the New York City-based school pay $15,000 for four months of coding instruction. They leave with the ability to develop software, and according to Flatiron School, 99 percent of students get a job with an average starting salary of $70,000 a year.
Flatiron founders Adam Enbar and Avi Flombaum said they believe coding will be a form of literacy in the future.
“Just like you need to learn how to read and write, even if you’re not going to be a journalist, you need to learn how to code and wield technology if you’re going to be successful in the world,” said Enbar.
The idea to create Flatiron School came out of Enbar’s own frustration. After attending Cornell and Harvard Business School, he felt ill-equipped.
“I think the problem is not that we’re teaching liberal arts, I think the problem is that we’re teaching it at a price tag that puts people into debt and doesn’t give them an opportunity to pay it back,” Enbar said.
While working for a venture capital firm, Enbar began looking for ways to invest in fixes for higher education. He heard about Flombaum, a college dropout who had taught himself to code as a teenager. The skill allowed Flombaum to become chief technology officer at a hedge fund and, later, to start his own web-based business, DesignerPages.com.
After eight-plus years of work, Flombaum decided to take a break and began teaching people how to code at meet-ups and coffee shops. On the side, he was doing some contracting work and giving his most eager students a chance to help. Some of them were even getting high-paying jobs.
“I was like, wow, this teaching thing is really amazing,” recalled Flombaum. “That was a profound amount of impact to have on someone.”
Some of Flatiron’s students share Enbar’s frustration with higher education.
Jen Eisenberg was studying computer science as an undergraduate at University of Michigan, but changed her major after her first semester when her father asked if she could build him a website.
“I realized I couldn’t build anything tangible … it’s more theory and algorithms,” Eisenberg said.
Eisenberg received a degree in linguistics and Spanish, but then went on to complete Flatiron’s program. Afterward, she became a software engineer at Paperless Post, an online stationery shop. She helps write the instruction, or code, that makes the website function.
Flatiron School only accepts about 170 students a year, or 6 percent of its applicants. Demand is high, teachers are scarce and Enbar and Flombaum are determined to keep their nearly perfect record of employment post-completion intact.
Flatiron’s results may be unlikely to change any time soon as demand for people coding skills seems to be growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of coding jobs to increase as much as 30 percent between the years 2010 and 2020, while overall employment is predicted to grow by just 14 percent.
Enbar and Flombaum said they were out to prove anyone could learn to code when they started their venture. Their first class of about 20 students came from all walks of life: a construction worker, an investment banker, a professional poker player and a boxer.
“Our students have had lives,” Enbar said. “That is a dramatic competitive advantage compared to somebody who just, you know, went through the traditional education channels and never was actually exposed to the problems that they’re supposed to be fixing.”
The pair invested about $40,000 to get the school up and running in 2012. Thanks to its relatively low overhead, Flatiron was profitable for the first year and a half, but they have accepted more than $10 million of capital investment over the past year to purchase new equipment and expand course offerings.
—CNBC’s Andy Rothman contributed to this report.
(CORRECTION: Jen Eisenberg attended the University of Michigan and received a degree in linguistics and Spanish.)