Preface: Where a traditional degree may provide stimulating theory, it can often fail to equip you with the knowledge you need to excel in a job you love in a company you love. Makers Academy addresses this problem in the computer programming space through an immersive 12 week web development and computer programming bootcamp. Makers Academy provides students with the skills that they need to be high impact entry level developers. After the course is completed, students are prepared for interviews with technology companies in London. Alumni have achieved placements in companies like Deloitte Digital, Shutl and JustGiving.
What gave rise to Makers Academy?
My friend Rob and I had a chat in a taxi about both how hard it’s to hire developers and how in demand you are if you’re a good dev. Rob had experienced the pain of learning to code on his own and I have informally taught friends to code, so we thought that it would be cool to build a company to help lots and lots of people to learn to code.
How does Makers Academy stand out from other competitors in this space?
We really care about the results our graduates are getting. I’m very proud that our graduates work in top companies in the UK and abroad – ThoughtWorks, Deloitte Digital, TechStars, PivotalLabs, Ministry of Justice, CompareTheMarket, etc – and this attracts more and more new applicants. We don’t teach for the sake of teaching, our work doesn’t stop until our graduates sign the contract.
What excites you about the education space?
Your education is one of the very few things that you can’t invest too much in. More skills, better skills give you significantly more opportunities in life. However, it’s really broken right now, at all stages, from kindergarten to university. Our education system doesn’t set us up for success as well as it should. You shouldn’t graduate with a five-digit debt and then struggle to find a job that pays the mortgage. So I’m excited that I’m taking part in fixing something so important yet so broken.
What challenges have you faced as you have grown and how have you overcome those?
The biggest ones were internal: believing in myself, pushing myself and learning to adapt. The fact that I was born in an unremarkable city in the Soviet Union but decided to move to London and be a tech entrepreneur there gave me vast opportunities to learn how to set and achieve my goals.
The phrase ‘values driven organisation’ is one that is being used more and more frequently. What are the guiding values of Makers Academy and what impact does having them have on the way that Makers Academy is run?
Trust is the guiding value at Makers. Everything we do is rooted in the belief that we are a team of smart and responsible individuals acting in the best interests of the company. This implies transparency: we share all financials and other data, decide what to offer to new hires together as a team, encourage giving feedback, especially the critical kind. This also implies that instead of having managers that choose what to do, we have a ‘no-manager’ structure in which people are expected to figure out how their skills are best deployed and then explain what they’ve done to their colleagues and how it benefitted the company. I may be a CEO and a founder but I can’t ask anyone to do something they don’t want to do: I have to get their buy in first.
You have a Chief Joy Officer. What is the role of the Chief Joy Officer and why did you feel it important to create this role?
Learning how to code in 12 weeks is challenging and stressful. When you’re under pressure for weeks on end, you can really benefit from a friendly chat, yoga or a meditation. You may have a disagreement with some of your teammates or concerns about something unrelated to the course that are preventing you from learning efficiently. Dana, our amazing Chief Joy Officer is looking after the well-being of the students, making sure they’re in the best mental shape to learn efficiently. She takes care of everything from counselling, to games of jenga in the evening, to motivational quotes on the walls, to making sure student snacks don’t have too much sugar.
You have a bell in your office that rings on occasion. What does it signify?
We’ve got a gong that we ring every time our graduate gets a job – it’s always followed by a round of applause from staff and students. When it happens a few times a day, it’s a good day! Today it sounded twice – our students got jobs at CompareTheMarket and Deloitte Digital!
What are your interests outside of Maker’s Academy?
I spend way too much time at work but when I’m not, I’m either at the gym or riding my motorcycle. If I can take some time off work, I always take an opportunity to travel to a new destination!
Are there any books that have impacted the way that you see the world? Why were they profound?
They are many! Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman helped me to understand how to manage my emotions (critical skill is you plan to work with other people). Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is a controversial one but I’m glad I read it because it helped me to appreciate the importance of doing your job well for the sake of it and the dangers of lying to yourself. Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer helped me to understand the meaning of vocation and how to find it. Principles by Ray Dalio explained to me why it’s so important to always say the truth to yourself and others. Reinventing Organisations by Frederick Laloux is a gem that explains what’s wrong with most modern companies and how to build businesses that are both profitable and pleasant to work at. This book had a bigger effect on how we’re building Makers Academy than any other book! The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is the missing manual for all CEOs, you cannot afford not to read it if you’re starting a business. I could go on and on!
What suggestions do you have for entrepreneurs to help them keep focussed?
Think not in terms of ideas but in terms of problems to be solved. Find a big problem that is really important to you, that touches you on an emotional level. You need to have the right motivation to succeed, to persuade others to join you, to invest you. If you’re motivated by ego, by money or by fame you’ll probably break at some point when it gets really hard, as it will. Having a problem you care deeply about will help you to stay focused on it long-term.
What’s next for Maker’s Academy?
We’re on a mission to help as many people as possible to learn to code and get a great job as a developer. As long as there’s unmet demand for developers, we’ve got work to do. We just launched an online bootcamp – Ronin – that will help hundreds of thousands to learn to code and get a creative, well-paid programming job from the comfort of their own home. So the next step for us is to make it available to as many students as possible.