Karen Scott set up futureCodersSE to Help People without a Software Developer or STEM Degree get their Dream Job
Finding your first job as a junior software developer can be a real struggle. Karen, co-founder of futureCodersSE, knows this well. That’s why she set up her organisation: to help you become a software developer without a STEM degree.
I think that our grads should know about what futureCodersSE do, so I sat down with Karen for a chat over Zoom. This is how it went.
Hi Karen! Can you start off by talking about why you set up futureCodersSE?
“So I’ve had a career in software development followed up by a long career in teaching. I started teaching further education in 1992 and as time went on, I noticed a marked reduction in opportunities for my students.
“In the 2000s it felt like the opportunities to move from education into work in a software-type environment – or even just in digital – had disappeared completely. It felt like there were no opportunities.
“We’ve gone from there being lots of opportunities in the digital sector at school leaving level, to a situation where university was the only way in. But at the same time, computer science graduates were finding it difficult to get jobs – so even university wasn’t the answer.
“I spoke to lots of employers and they gave the impression that having a software developer degree wasn’t necessarily that important to them. They were more looking for enthusiasm, willingness to learn and the motivation to teach yourself.
“So I tried to match the two together: to create opportunities for people to learn hard software skills and also show their motivation and soft skills.
“So we set up our virtual work experience programme to help young people gain software engineering experience by creating an app for a charity or community group. They start off on a learning programme and once they’re ready, join a team of other students and professional developers creating an app with a social purpose.
What has your career in software development been like?
“I started off in the 1980s, working in data and very very early software for the Macintosh computers – they were like a little box with a screen!
“I moved from that and worked for another company developing their software, but I was actually – ahead of my time – working from home. But we didn’t have video calls or anything and I felt so isolated. I left after two months and looked for a job that was more social, and so I ended up lecturing at a local college for 25 years.
“I eventually joined a group called Women Hack for Nonprofits. It was absolutely brilliant because teams of volunteer developers came together to create apps for charities. The only problem was that we all had jobs, so nothing was ever finished!
“FutureCoders is actually based off this idea.”
How is your average course laid out?
“They are always based around an app. We start with a hackathon day, where everyone comes up with ideas about design, user and user experience. Everyone then puts together a presentation about how the app will work and look – our clients, the people we’re creating the app for – are there for that.
“That’s followed by a learning programme that’s geared towards the app. The students learn about all things related to coding the app before actually doing it.
“We start every day with a stand-up meeting where we talk through our plans. We also work in sprints – this is where everyone aims to reach a certain part in the course by a certain time.
“This process continues until the last week where we develop the app with our professional developers. And finally we showcase our work to our client.”
What kind of skills do people learn on your programmes?
“All employers are looking for that person that’s so infused that they go away and keep learning. So now we have programmes in place to support people all the way from just starting to ready to go into the workplace.”
“Everyone on our learning programmes is involved in the project of building an app – no matter what level they are at.
“They work with a team in an Agile way, using Scrum and participating in our learning sprints.
“So it’s not just about learning to programme, it’s about teamwork and communication too. Every course covers a wide range of stuff that’s really useful in the workplace.”
How has Covid-19 changed the way you do things?
“We’ve just moved online. That means that we’ve lost one aspect: the office working. We used to all come into the office and work together.
“Now we work in a Zoom call, constantly, for six hours a day.
“This means that we can keep an eye on each other and help each other when we get stuck. It’s just like the office in that sense.
“But we’ve gained a lot from the move too. We can now work with people from all over the UK – and that’s huge. We now have a bigger range of abilities in every team.
“And on our last two projects, we included people in the team that would directly benefit from the app we made. So we created an app for people with autism and the majority of the team building it had autism.
“And looking into our next one – based around young offenders – we can actually include young offenders in the team designing the app.”
That’s amazing. Can you tell me about your successful students and where they are now?
“We’ve had two or three that have gone on to do apprenticeships with big companies. We’ve even had smaller, local businesses interested in starting up a degree apprenticeship programme with us.
“Unfortunately the person – the student of mine – they offered it to ended up going to university instead but it was still a real breakthrough for us. He’s now gone from being a shy, homeschooled guy to completing a placement scheme in Hong Kong. It’s been amazing to see that transition.”
How can people get involved with futureCodersSE?
“They can sign up to our courses. Our latest – Be More Digital – starts this week. Our programmes last three months but they aren’t full time. They’re usually only evenings and weekends so you can still work around them and earn money.
“They can also become a volunteer if they’re already skilled. By being a volunteer mentor you can help others learn.
“We’re always encouraging non-technical degree graduates to get involved and see if they’re interested in becoming a software developer.
“We also have some big plans coming as part of the government’s new Kickstart Scheme…”
I would really like to thank Karen for talking with me. If you’re looking to improve your skills and start your software developer career, check out futureCodersSE.
If you’re interested in finding more opportunities – or even working with futureCodersSE – they hire through DigitalGrads! Keep an eye on our jobs board to find their next vacancy.