Full-time courses in software development do not usually come cheap. Even at the lower end of the market students are likely to be hit with fees upwards of £8,000 – but Founders and Coders, based in London’s Miles End, do things a little differently.
Their eight-week full-time course is as free as open source software. And upon completion, graduates are not simply sent packing with ambitions of seeing their ‘gold code’ becoming reality – or struggling to differentiate their KLOC from their KISS Principle.
Out of 15 students who completed a Founders and Coders course in November, nine are working full-time on freelance projects secured by the very organisation that delivered the learning in the first place. And the graduates can also become a member of the growing army of freelance web developers who make up Founders and Coders.
The current workforce is made up of 11 apprentice developers and course graduates, and three software-savvy mentors. Founders and Coders is a worker co-operative, with each member having an equal say in the business, while all profits are ploughed back into the organisation.
William Fisher, aged 22, is a Coders and Founders developer. He said: “We are a community, rather than a conventional business. There is no organisation that we know of that offers anything like the same opportunity or makes it more accessible to anyone prepared to work hard and work co-operatively.”
In addition to their full-time courses – which are more akin to apprenticeships – Founders and Coders take on commercial projects. The organisation specialises in web development with a particular focus on content management systems, E-commerce and online business productivity. And work is flooding in.
The 22-year-old said: “We have a backlog of work ready to be started on as soon as a freelancer finishes on one. We are very low cost. Apart from the rent, there are no overheads. This means that both the risk is low and it requires very little for us to make a profit. All profits are reinvested back into the model and help spread free learning.”
Founders and Coders have also enjoyed a welcome cash boost after being named one of five Young Co-operators Prize (YCP) winners
on Thursday (26 March). Applications for the YCP, delivered by Co-operatives UK and AltGen, were judged on innovation and replicability, viability, team strength, and co-operative values and principles. And the Founders and Coders model delivered on all counts to scoop a cash prize of £2,000 plus a programme of support.
Ed Mayo, Secretary General for Co-operatives UK, the national trade body for co-operatives, said: “The judging panel was hugely impressed with the strength of the Founders and Coders application. It is a wonderful example of a young co-operative which is having a major impact on people’s live. Co-operative principles are at the heart of all their activities. It ticks all the YCP boxes.”
One of those boxes is an age bracket of 18 to 29 for the majority of the team. Founders and Coders mentor, Dan Sofer, fails to meet that particular age grade – but was instrumental in setting up the worker co-operative, whose membership has an average age of 25.
The 50-year-old said: “This whole thing developed through doing an online course to build up my own skills. I found it hard to discipline myself.”
Dan took it upon himself to co-ordinate learning session for likeminded software development students. He said: “It was like turbo charging my own learning. The motivation was there now that I was co-ordinating things. I’d have felt like a bit of a plonker if I didn’t do the homework!”
That experience evolved into running free coding courses through the Camden Collective before setting up Founders and Coders last year. And free education remains at the heart of the organisation’s aims – with the YCP money key to sustaining graduates.
Dan said: “It’s tough when you’re learning to be a software developer. It takes a long time before you are able to earn your own keep. We want to find small projects for students to work on that will enable them to improve their skills. It’s great to have a pool of money to fund the students in this way.”
Those students then enjoy a clear pathway to becoming Founders and Coders members – and future course tutors themselves – in a naturally evolving, self-sustaining model. It is fast becoming the ‘gold code’ for a unique co-op business.