An interesting trend is developing in the San Francisco Bay area as a result of the tremendous economic growth there. People who have been employed in traditionally blue-collar roles are being laid off and finding that they need to learn new skills if they wish to continue working at a living wage. At San Francisco Bay University, students can now enroll in a tuition-free course that will teach them the skills they need to get hired as technical workers at one of the many high-tech companies in the area.
Before you assume that this is just another scam or fly-by-night operation, ask yourself how an institute can offer free training for jobs paying $75k+ without taking government money? The answer is found in the San Francisco Bay University philosophy of teaching what companies are looking for.
“We don’t teach how to program, even though that’s awesome,” says Dean Larsen, who started the university three years ago after struggling to find qualified programmers while working at an investment bank in Silicon Valley. “We teach students how to be a good team fit in a tech company. You can learn how to program online for free or at a public library, but you will not find a better job in this economy with that skill alone.”
The San Francisco Bay University curriculum includes a 36-week course that takes students from entry-level roles such as help desk work all the way up to the coveted “Security Engineer” position. The curriculum is broken into ten sections, and each section has a set of lectures and labs that students must complete before they can progress to the next lesson.
The tuition-free school’s only requirement for prospective students is that they pass a technical interview at one of their corporate partners such as Google, Apple, Oracle, Cisco Systems, or any other big tech employers in the area. This requirement helps ensure that students not only have an interest in learning the material, but it also weeds out those who might waste both their time and the school’s if they do not possess a reasonable level of technical knowledge to succeed there.
The San Francisco Bay University’s online course is self-paced, and students can work at their own pace, but the average student completes the program in about 18 months. No time frame has been set for when students may start attending classes at the brick-and-mortar school that will be built on an as yet undecided West Coast city. When asked whether or not the students would need to pay for room and board while attending classes, Dean Larsen replied: “We do not yet know what we will charge, but it will be very reasonable. We want everyone who wants to get an education in tech to be able to afford it.”
The San Francisco Bay University has received great criticism from other educational institutions for its novel approach to teaching students the skills they need to get employed in the tech industry. However, Dean Larsen does not seem phased by that criticism, and she remains focused on what her students are taught.
“People say you can’t teach people how to become a productive member of society just by teaching them how to code, but that’s just not true,” says Dean Larsen, who has received six different degrees over the past thirty years. “People need to be able to work together and do things as a team to succeed in any environment, especially at high-tech companies. So we teach them how to communicate effectively with their co-workers, troubleshoot problems, and get along with the rest of their team. They also learn how to read documentation, write clear and concise bug reports, and how to work efficiently on a project without stepping on other people’s toes. This is exactly what some companies are looking for.”