- Players: Yossi Hasson, Justinus Adriaanse, Arlene Mulder, Camille Agon
- Company: WeThinkCode
- Established: 2015
- Contact: +27 (0)73 50 1935
- Visit: borntocode.co.za
No classes, no teachers and no tuition. That’s what WeThinkCode, a peer-to-peer tech academy launched last year, offers courses to anyone between the ages of 17 and 35. In partnership with Ecole 42 in France, WeThinkCode opened its first campus in Johannesburg in 2016.
The ground-breaking initiative is the product of a collaboration between founder of Synaq, Yossi Hasson, former Private Property CEO Justinus Adriaanse, Arlene Mulder, previously of RMB Investment Banking, and Camille Agon, who set up the global Breteau Foundation that brings digital education to poor children.
Students don’t need previous education, not even matric. WeThinkCode identifies and trains people for free to become world-class programmers in two years, creating their path to employment.
The first intake of students totalled 120. That will be scaled to 1 000 in the next few years. The aim is to source and develop 100 000 coders in ten years. Given South Africa’s ongoing IT skills crisis, and that 50% of South Africa’s youth is unemployed, the programme has the potential to make a real and significant impact.
Growing a corporate sponsor base
“WeThinkCode is built on a disruptive model that has broken completely with the 19th century factory-model classroom,” says Agon.
French entrepreneur Xavier Niel created and funded Ecole 42 in France. In the absence of a local patron, the founders in South Africa have developed a business model based on corporate sponsorship.
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WeThinkCode partners with business to train developers for their companies, Hasson explains. “We raised R12 million from founding sponsors First National Bank, BBD, and Derivco, who immediately bought into the idea. Costs will be kept to a minimum, around R50 000 per student per year. Corporate partners are requested to sponsor for two years, with the students completing an internship with the sponsor company.”
Significant benefits for all
There are several benefits to this model. Sponsor companies derive value from the internships, while the students gain work experience. Both parties can assess whether they have a culture fit before the relationship becomes one of permanent employment.
From a BEE perspective, that is great news. Sponsors, which are quickly signing up, have the opportunity to upskill and empower disadvantaged young people who are highly motivated to achieve, and they can employ them at a fraction of what it costs to hire and train programmers.
The founders have also put together a life skills component for the programme to help participants acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to thrive in the workplace, and in life.
Hasson and Adriaanse, among the tech industry’s most influential entrepreneurs, are passionate about growing local skills.
“We wanted to do something positive to develop programmers and technology businesses of the future. When we came across the 42 model, we were sold. What we love about it is that students learn the latest, most relevant skills. So often, people graduate from university without knowing how to programme, whereas this course is entirely practical. Also, students work with each other to solve current tech and business problems.”
Students are sourced and selected after completing an online test to see if they have the potential for programming. To make the test widely accessible, WeThinkCode partnered with social development NGO Afrika Tikkun to make computers available in Soweto, Diepsloot, and Braamfontein.
Those who pass go on a four-week boot camp to determine whether they have what it takes to learn and be self-motivated.
“Aptitude is distributed everywhere,” says Mulder. “Opportunity, however, is not. We aim to help close the gap, enabling anyone who proves that they can solve problems to become a top-class software engineer.”
Modern technology is disrupting the workplace. Isn’t it time that the classroom model followed suit? By rethinking the way we teach people, we can empower those who previously would
not have had an opportunity to better themselves.