Given the growing shortage of computer programmers, lots of companies are coming up with different ways of teaching people the language of computers. A recent addition is SoloLearn, an Armenia-based startup which competed at the Seedstars World 2015 final in Geneva in February.

SoloLearn puts together videos and exercises to teach coding skills

Nowadays companies in all kinds of different fields need to have computer programming skills on board. People who know how to write computer code are very much in demand on the job market, as there is a definite shortage in this area. However those who set out to learn programming languages on their own are usually embarking on a long, often tedious, journey. With this in mind, Sololearn – a startup which is incorporated in the United States but operates primarily from Armenia – has launched into providing online courses to teach the rudiments of coding. Co-founded by David Kocharyan, a young Armenian entrepreneur, Sololearn also offers courses in web design, Excel, and even courses in make-up and table etiquette, but teaching computer programming is the central focus. The product is based on an interactive mobile app, which provides a lively mix of theory and practice. ″We started out from the premise that there are lots of resources available free-of-charge online, but they’re often difficult to find, as they are all jumbled up together. What we do is sort through these resources and provide the best YouTube videos via our platform. Each is very short and focuses on a single topic,” explains Kocharyan.

Just twelve hours to start coding

Sololearn does not however limit itself to just aggregating available video content, Kocharyan points out: ″We then design exercises to test the knowledge that has been acquired. The tests are interactive. Sometimes users are asked to answer multiple choice questions, but they also might be asked to enter pieces of code in the right places, type a line of code themselves, guess what using a given formula would display on-screen, and so on.″ In addition to this interactive dimension there are also strong gaming featues, with a levelling system, points awarded, targets to be attained and the option of comparing yourself online with other users. Kocharyan claims that this formula will get you up and running very quickly: ″Twelve hours is enough for a person who starts out knowing nothing about programming languages to be able to start coding his/her own programmes.″ The app is completely free of charge and has no premium version, nor any advertising. To generate revenue, Kocharyan is planning to put a database of programmers on the Sololearn website; each software developer will have his/her portfolio there, listing the various jobs s/he has done. Companies looking to recruit people with the specific skills to meet their needs will then be able to obtain access to the site on a subscription basis. ″We will thus be helping people to learn to code, to carry through their own projects and also to find work,” underlines Kocharyan. Further down the line he is also planning to enable companies to devise their own tests and integrate them into their recruitment processes. ″This is how some large firms such as Google and Facebook already work. They post a problem online and recruit the person who is able to solve it.″ Hackathons are another way of approaching this.

Learning to suit the individual

Now that software programming skills are increasingly in demand on the job market, there has been a growing number of initiatives designed to make coding accessible to all. penClassrooms (previously known as ‘Le Site du Zéro’) is one of the largest French companies in this sector. The website offers many online courses which are open to everyone. They focus mainly on teaching a range of programming languages, incorporating a range of exercises. The premium version also gives you the option of taking a test to obtain a certificate stating that you have acquired certain skills (although this does not carry official diploma status). The top-of-the-range premium-plus version – at €300 per month – even gives you videoconferencing sessions with a private teacher. Companies in the US with a similar focus are Codecademy, and Codeavengers. A French coding school for entrepreneurs, Le Wagon, offers an intensive training seminar, this time in real classrooms. The teaching programme comprises nine weeks of classes with projects to be completed, masterclasses with prominent guest speakers, and all sorts of dinners and events. The teachers are all entrepreneurs who have successfully completed web projects and each participant is mentored by a professional software developer throughout his/her training. The basic approach of the young founders of Le Wagon is to train up students rapidly by plunging them into a stimulating environment. They undertake to provide every participant with the skills to enable them to work on his/her own to carry through programming projects or to find work at an IT company. Last but not least among these training providers is Ecole 42, a private computer programming school founded in 2013 by French entrepreneur and businessman Xavier Niel, who set out to bridge the software developer shortage by training young people between 18 and 30 in the secrets of computer languages.

By Guillaume Renouard