Founded in September 2018, San Diego Code School (SDCS) provides its students with a 16-week program that prepares them for careers as developers. The Escondido-based school was founded by Michael Roberts Jr who has over 30 years of coding experience under his belt and has helped launch over 100 careers, including ones in the local tech ecosystem. SDCS provides students not only with the knowledge they need to become successful developers but also with guidance in the job search process that ensues. As the school's website states, "We are fully prepared to take you from step 1 to job-ready. Every part of what we're teaching is directly related to getting your first developer job, helping you with the search process, and making sure you succeed. We work harder than anyone to get you into the software industry."
When SDCS officially began operating in October, the school was entirely remote. Today, the school operates out of Escondido's Synergy Centre coworking space, which is at the heart of downtown, making it within walking distance to coffee shops, restaurants, and more. The flexible program - which has the time commitment of a full-time job - gives students the option of working from home or onsite. "You could potentially work part-time but you wouldn't be able to hold a full-time job and go through this program. It's very intense," Roberts said.
The coding school has already graduated a cohort of students since beginning enrollment in October, and with rolling admission, plans to have graduates every few weeks moving forward.
Location is Key: When first figuring out where to base the school, Roberts looked into locations around the region, thinking a central location in San Diego County would be ideal. After weighing the pros and cons of that, the team saw a lot of risk in starting out at what had the potential of being the wrong location for SDCS. "The coworking spaces at were available were not nearly as good as the opportunity that we had here at Synergy. We've been able to interact with some of the other local businesses in the coworking space and it just really felt like a smaller, more welcoming, and more inclusive environment when we came in and had a tour. It's a beautiful building and facility. It just checked all the boxes," Roberts said. "Our plan was just to stay here for a short while until we figured things out, and it just has grown on us to the point now where I don't envision us ever leaving Escondido, and this really seems like a permanent home."
Working at Synergy Centre has not only been a positive experience for SDCS to start, but also an excellent place to grow. "It's been awesome. We started with a small space and it fit our needs at the time. Now we've been able to expand into the space downstairs, which has provided us a way to quickly transition the business into the space that we need to grow for the future. It's been super awesome in terms of flexibility," Roberts said, adding that the versatility of the coworking space has allowed the business to expand its office while remaining in the same space.
"It's also turned out to be an ideal location, being in North County," Roberts said. He initially thought the school would only operate there temporarily before relocating to a more central location like Mission Valley after a few months. However, after finding success in Escondido, the choice to start there has proven successful.
"We found a good number of students who either live in Escondido or really prefer the fact that we're in a place that is serving a different market," Roberts said. "This gives us a good position to reach businesses that are in this area. The location and the ability to get started quickly in Synergy Centre has been super helpful."
Hands-on Learning: As part of the coding program at SDCS, students are able to gain hands-on experience by working on a coding project for a real-life company. "We're always looking for companies that have maybe an MVP (minimum viable product) or something that they're not able to get greenlit, even if they're a large company," Roberts said.
SDCS reaches out to businesses and offers its services to see if it could be a mutually beneficial project for both the students and the company. "We typically have a few projects for the students to pick from. They then iterate on it, build it for four weeks, and then hopefully deliver some value," Roberts said.
The real-world projects SDCS students work on deliver some sort of functionality to the company and, according to Roberts, "It's something that will be in production, so it's going to be built to production-grade. It's going to be accessible to the public." One of their practice clients is Yellow Line Digital, which operates out of a neighboring office inside Synergy Centre. "We told them if there was something they could identify for us to build that we'd be more than happy to do it. It just turned out that it was a great fit. They have a need for a portal for their customers, and so, the first group (of students) went through and built that first portal," Roberts said. "We've actually had a couple of different groups pick up the project and take it just a little bit further. And that's not atypical; I've done that in the past with other students."
Escondido Tech Scene: The fast-evolving tech scene in Escondido has been changing the game for local startups like SDCS. "Just recently - especially with the San Diego Tech Hub - there's becoming an increased awareness that there are a lot of engineers who work remotely in Escondido or are working on small startups. And now, with Synergy being here, there's another place for people to come together and have those serendipitous connections where you'll bump into someone and you'll be able to make that natural connection that you might otherwise not be able to make," Roberts said. "We're only in the early stages of businesses discovering what's been going on in North County and how they can best work together and collaborate on things. The more we can connect our initiatives, like with the ones through San Diego Tech Hub and Innovate78, is going to really be helpful."
One of the ways SDCS bridges that gap as an institution is by constantly reaching out to companies and inviting them to attend its job fairs and connect with some of its students. The school also encourages companies to consider creating entry-level roles to offer opportunities to people who come from a non-traditional education background.
"We can be a unifying force in the community by being a place for people to come together for job fairs or demo days, or watch our students pitch projects, and start building a more tight ecosystem around people entering the marketplace and the workforce. There's a lot of talent and oftentimes, startups need some more senior talent, but they could also be places where people early on in their career can have the opportunity to touch a lot of things at a startup and get a lot of experience that they might not otherwise get with a larger tech company," Roberts said.
Inclusive Institution: Students of all sorts of backgrounds are encouraged to attend SDCS. Anyone who has the desire to work in software is welcome to enroll. The school has a diverse group of students. Roughly a third of the institution's students are seeking to change their careers. "They may have identified that they're just not happy in their career or that they don't see a step up from where they are. Once they identify that, they're usually looking to transition to a space where there will be those opportunities," Roberts said. About another third of SDCS students range from eighteen-year-old high school graduates to individuals in their mid-twenties who are going through the program currently until they are certain about whether they want to go to college. The remaining third of SDCS students are veterans who want to return to San Diego. "We see a lot of returning vets that are entering the job force and they just know that there are a lot of tech careers and that this would be a good place to jumpstart their careers," Roberts said.
The school's first graduate actually was a veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. "He did a little bit of work in finance as a compliance officer, and he took the program and recently got a job with Red Hat. He's making $80,000," Roberts said, adding the hefty salary comes from a mere $2,500 investment in the 16-week program at SDCS. "To have that significant of a jump in salary is a true testament that these kinds of programs can work and large companies like Red Hat are willing to hire these graduates," Roberts said.
The many satisfied graduates of the rigorous program have gone on to work at local companies like Ezoic, MindTouch, Nixon, and Galley Solutions. SDCS graduates have also left a number of testimonials on the school's homepage. One student writes that "Michael went out of his way to help me in my career transition and advanced learning above and beyond the scope of the course. He was encouraging and supportive during a stressful time." Another student shares that Michael is "great at getting things organized, leading a team of developers, and explaining difficult concepts to others."
Prospective students can get started right away and are encouraged to tour the office to get a feel for what they do at San Diego Code School.
You can also keep up with San Diego Code School on Facebook and Twitter.
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