How You Can Learn to Code and Change Your Life in 3 Months

Have you ever found yourself wishing you could go back in time and study software engineering instead of whatever else you did at university? There’s no shame in wanting to become a developer now, when technology is seeping into every aspect of our lives, and coding is one of the most sought-after skills in the job market. It’s not a fad, it’s a guarantee that you’ll always have a job (a good one!), and you can find work anywhere in the world.

But what if you don’t have another five or six years to spend in a classroom? What if you have an amazing startup idea that needs developing right away, before someone else snatches it? If you’re truly determined, and willing to “quit your life” for three months, there’s a solution for you. It’s called Codeworks, it’s in Barcelona, and it’s the number one JavaScript coding bootcamp in Europe. We chatted with CEO Alessandro Zanardi about their story, what distinguishes them from other bootcamps, and how you can get in (hint: it’s not easy, but it’s worth it).


Coding Bootcamps Are Here to Change the Way We Tech

Tell me about your mission. What do you guys do here at Codeworks?

We are trying to create opportunities for the European tech scene to grow. One of the core problems that tech companies face is the lack of talent: engineers are a key part of a tech company’s success, and they’re the ones that the tech scene needs, in order to be able to grow. For the longest time, the only way that you could become a software engineer was to go to university, spend several years studying, then find yourself in the job market without knowing how to use the tools and technologies that you need to actually work in a software engineering team. You would have to acquire these skills somehow once you started working. Then came coding bootcamps, and suddenly university was not the only option anymore.

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How did you come up with the idea of starting a coding school?

I was working in San Francisco four or five years ago, at the time when the first coding bootcamps started to appear as a reaction to the increasing demand for engineers. People in Silicon Valley started questioning the traditional system, and asked themselves: why don’t we try to imitate the way that intensive language courses work, and do something similar for coding students?

The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it, to live in an environment where you’re constantly surrounded by native speakers, where you’re forced to practice every day. Progress happens much faster in these circumstances. So why not create a similar environment for people who want to learn how to code? Coding is a language, after all.

I saw these amazing bootcamps being set up in Silicon Valley, and when I returned to Europe, I started thinking about how we could build one here that is as good, or even better. There were hardly any in Europe, and none even close to the level of the bootcamps that were popping up in Silicon Valley. And that’s how my co-founders and I decided to create Codeworks here in Barcelona.


“It’s one thing to be able to create an app, and another to be able to create Uber.”


Today, there are lots of different kinds of bootcamps out there. How is Codeworks different?

“Coding bootcamp” has become an umbrella term that encompasses many very different things. Some bootcamps are barely enough to get you started, others are targeted at a professional outcome. At Codeworks, the course takes 12 weeks, 6 days a week, 11 hours a day. It is a commitment. We believe that full immersion is the only way to go if you want to learn coding in such a short time, and you need to be 100% focused the whole time. This is why we don’t do part-time or evening classes, like other bootcamps do. You need to get into a certain state of mind to be able to progress so fast. Anyone who wants to take the course needs to be willing to make some sacrifices – and it’s not just about paying for the course (9800 euros for 3 months).

It’s also about dedicating some time to it, which might mean that you have to quit your job or move to Barcelona from the other side of the world. Finding a job in this sector is not an issue – our students have a 100% hiring rate. Companies are fighting for them before they even finish their course, and there is a hiring day at the end of each course, with our hiring partners, like Typeform, Trivago, eDreams, ThoughtWorks and Vodafone, just to name a few. The longest it has ever taken anyone to find a job was two weeks.

There’s also a difference in the quality of our students and students of other bootcamps. We want our students to be actually able to contribute to the ecosystem here, not just to, say, build a website. It’s one thing to be able to create an app, and another to be able to create Uber. You can split our students down the middle based on why they come to us: half of them come because they want to switch careers, or get a better position as a developer, and the other half are entrepreneurs who come with a startup idea. They are smart enough to know that they themselves need to know how to build their own product, instead of trying to find a perfect founder-developer match. We only take in people who know exactly what they want.

How You Can Learn to Code and Change Your Life in 3 Months - Codeworks Barcelona
Juan Carlos Garcia (Software Developer and Instructor), Alessandro Zanardi (CEO) and Natalia Rizzi (PR Manager) at Codeworks

OK, so here’s the big question. If you can really learn to code in just three months, then why do people still go to universities?

Universities and bootcamps are not in opposing corners! It depends on what your goals are. If you go to university and you’re passionate enough, you’ll probably come out as a good engineer – especially by doing a lot of side projects. But it’s a very slow, very traditional environment, and many university programs are built on technologies that are outdated. They’re still the best places if you want to do advanced, complex scientific research, but since technology is moving really fast, they don’t teach you how to contribute to a software engineering team and build an app, for example, in real life. If you want to get started as fast as possible, either because you want to get hired by a tech company or you want to create your own, then a bootcamp is a better choice.


Got a Startup Idea? Learn to Code!

You’ve mentioned before that you don’t just take in anyone. What’s your selection process like?

Our selection process is actually pretty tough. If you’re undecided about what you want to do, it’s basically impossible to get in – we can only get up to twenty students per class, and at the moment, we have a 2% acceptance rate. But, if you’re determined, and you get in the mindset of “I can do it, because I know what I want”, then you’ll get in. Maybe commercially it would make sense for us to just let everyone in, but that would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to do. We’re OK with sacrificing short term revenue for quality and reputation. What we want is to make sure that our students are ready to be hired or build their startup once they finish the course. Also, the question of who we take in has an impact on the experience of the students, because if you’re surrounded by passionate, motivated, inspiring people like yourself, it’s much easier to learn.


“This is supposed to be a tool that people can use to change their lives.”


So, what tests would you put me through if I wanted to get in?

The selection process has three stages. First, we have an intro chat to get to know the applicant. We are looking for people who have set goals in their lives, and have reached those goals, either in their studies, work, sports or any other hobbies. The program is immersive, and it’s an investment. So we want you to enjoy it and get the most out of it. We don’t want to sell it to you just to get your money. If we cannot deliver an amazing experience, what’s the point? This is supposed to be a tool that people can use to change their lives. To be able to deliver on this promise, we have to check their background, see what they’ve done so far, what they want to achieve with the bootcamp, and what they want to do after. And we have to make sure whether they can really dedicate three months to it.

How You Can Learn to Code and Change Your Life in 3 Months - Codeworks Barcelona 06
The sunny terrace at the new Codeworks campus, close to the beach in Poblenou, Barcelona’s innovation district

The second round is a tech interview where we check the applicants’ coding skills. Yes, you do need basic coding skills to be admitted to the course. But then again, you don’t. Here’s what I mean. On a scale of 0 to 100, most bootcamps focus on teaching people the 0 to 60 part. Whereas we try to do 20 to 100. We think that 0 to 20 is easy, and it’s something that you can do by yourself. We could take your money for it, but honestly, it’s not a good use of your money. So when people come to us, we give them a basic curriculum of the best resources that they can use to learn the basics. There is so much good stuff out there on the Internet to help them get started. And once they’ve covered the 0 to 20 part on their own for free, they’re ready to do the tech interview.

The third part of the selection process is a little coding assignment. Applicants have to build a simple app, to show us whether they can overcome obstacles, work autonomously, respect deadlines, and so on.

The students that get in all start from the same level. This way, we can progress faster and we can get further.

Students from all over the world come here to study, right?

We’ve had students come from Australia, India, the US… Even from San Francisco. It may sound surprising, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense financially. If you live in San Francisco, and you want to quit your job and start learning coding, a top bootcamp alone will cost you 20 000 dollars. We actually help all our students get a 6-month student visa, so they have time to get settled, and look for a job if they want to stay once they’ve finished the course.


Technologies Come and Go, Skills Stick with You

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Why JavaScript?

Before we even say JavaScript, we have to stress that we focus on one language. The truth is, in three months, you want to do one thing, and do it really well. Once you’re proficient in it, you can teach yourself whatever you want (we’ve had students who were hired at companies for other technologies, like Scala or Java). The reason why we chose JavaScript is because it’s ubiquitous, and it’ still the most used language. Actually, we are language agnostic. JavaScript makes a lot of sense now, but most importantly we teach our students to be good engineers, and we appreciate that there are different tool for different purposes. We teach them a lot of things that are independent of coding languages, like computer science, data structures, algorithms, and complexity analysis. These skills are very important, because languages may change, but these skills stick with you. And JavaScript is great because you can use it on the server side, you can use it on the client side, and you can even build native mobile apps with it. Lots of companies are embracing it, like Twitter, Airbnb, Uber, to mention only the biggest ones. And job opportunities are great, too.


“Technology is one of the sectors that will drive this change. It’s something that people can do. You don’t have to wait for something bigger than you to make it happen.”


Do you feel like you’re a part of the tech and startup community in Barcelona? You host all sorts of events here in your office, right?

Twice a year, we host Product Hunt in Barcelona: it’s one of the top platforms in the world for new startup ideas. We also host lots of social events here in the summer, to provide a place to get together, maybe meet your next co-founder, or somebody that you’ll eventually hire. We also organize Digital Makers, which is a meetup where anyone can pitch their startup idea, and our students can build a prototype for them. We have had students from business schools IESE and ESADE officially join these events. There are over 800 members in our group, so we can reach quite a lot of people.

What’s your ultimate goal, what drives you?

We want to help the tech scene here grow. Unfortunately, people have gotten used to the post-crisis state of the economy, but it wasn’t always like this in Europe. And it doesn’t always have to be like this! Technology is one of the sectors that will drive this change, because, as opposed to other sectors, it doesn’t require huge investments from the top. It starts from the bottom up, with a few people that have a good idea, and who have the skills to execute that idea. And if they can get traction… Just look at Typeform, or Glovo. They started out as small startups and now they’re employing hundreds of people! And this can happen with the help of goodwill, courage, determination and passion. And it doesn’t require a huge master plan from the government. It’s something that people can do. You don’t have to wait for something bigger than you to make it happen. That’s why we believe in it.

Also, we love being in Barcelona. We’ve just renovated a bigger campus. So for now, we want to grow vertically, bring more talent here to Spain. Once we can’t fit any more people in here, we might open a school in the US. We want to keep building that bridge between Barcelona and Silicon Valley.