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CFA, MBA, or...coding course?

Polaroids of Makers Academy trainees

Jordan Poulton is a man with a vision. "In future, there will be machines, there will be people who tend the machines, and there will be people living in mud huts, " he says, only half-jokingly. "If you want to be in the second group, you're going to need to know how to code."

As one of the founders of Makers Academy, which bills itself as 'Europe's Leading Web Developer bootcamp,' Poulton has been instrumental in creating 400 new coders so far. This is just the start. "Our mission is to teach the world," he declares.

Makers Academy, or 'Makers' to the cognoscenti, is best know for its £8k 16-week intensive training programme which promises to transform digital neophytes into fully functioning junior developers. The programme is selective and elitist ('aspirational' according to Jordan): 250 people apply for each class of 25-30. A new online programme is similar over-subscribed: 80 people have been interviewed and only accepted five or six: "We only train people who are serious about learning to code who and have the mental modelling ability to make it as developers," says Jordan.

Some of those people are, predictably, ex-finance professionals. Downstairs, in Makers' loft-style room sprinkled with lime green bean bags, Polaroids and artisan bread, are Adrian and 'Jason' (a pseudonym).  In his previous incarnation, Adrian was a structured products marketer for a bank and hedge fund. Jason was an equity analyst at a leading asset management firm.

"When I worked in finance, it felt like my job was very insecure," says Adrian. "The sales guys would come over and ask me to build a presentation for them, but the presentations were all very similar and repetitive. They could easily have been automated."

Jason says none of the analysts on his floor at the asset management firm could code. "If the company employed just a few people who knew about finance and coding, they could get rid of a lot of manual tasks."

In a world where a top MBA can leave you with a six figure debt and the CFA is arguably being devalued by the sheer number of people taking the qualifications, is an £8k four month course at Makers Academy the best bet for your career? Adrian and Jason think so. "It felt more dangerous staying in finance and not learning to code than leaving and taking this course," says Adrian. Jason is a CFA Charterholder, but says it's not enough: "The problem with the CFA is that it's so broad that you learn a huge amount, but not enough in any depth."

Our research suggests the average job on offer to CFA Charterholders pays £76k ($118k). Graduates of top business schools like Harvard start on average salaries of $145k. Graduates of Makers Academy earn considerably less: the average student goes into a job paying £32k ($49k) and Makers Academy deducts 20% of his/her salary from the employer in the first 12 months after graduating, but Poulton says this isn't the point. "You can be on £70k after a couple of years, and you can become a CTO - at which point you can become a billionaire. The potential is infinite."

There's also the issue of job security: "The demand for developers is rising by 20% every year, but the supply is only growing by 1%," says Poulton. The lifestyle's not bad either. While banks battle claims that they're working people to death, Makers Academy sets the tone for its trainees by employing a 'Joy Officer' who leads mutual meditation sessions and equips its employees with a guitar and Nerf guns. Most of its graduates get jobs in London, but some don't. Poulton cites former trainees who now surf and ski by day and code at night.  "The stereotype of a coder is a balding 50 year-old guy with a neck beard sitting in a darkened room. It's not like that any more."

Looking around the training floor, most of Makers' trainees seem to be men aged 25 and 35. Poulton admits that this is the demographic "sweet spot." And yet, there have been exceptions: "Our youngest student was 18. Our oldest was 64." Although highly selective, the Academy doesn't demand any particular qualifications or background of its trainees, but Poulton, an Oxford University graduate, admits that many have elite backgrounds: "They're often the sorts of overachievers who've been to top universities and had careers in banking, accounting or law."

Adrian and Jason fit this profile. Jason is taking the programme before starting a Masters degree in data science. Both anticipate applying their new skills to the finance industry: "My degree is finance focused, so I don't want to give up on it," says Adrian. "I just want to be familiar with the technology that's going to be making a lot of people in the industry redundant."

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • La
    Law Regulator
    3 September 2015

    I would have to disagree. Stating that you could become a CTO and become a billionaire is the same as saying because I took became a CFA charterholder so I am going to become a billionaire Hedge Fund investor/manager. Grass is always greener on the other side.
    I've been a developer for 15 years, way back in C++ on through .NET 1.0, C#, Java J2EE yadda yadda yadda. What I have found is that anyone in IT, generates zero respect, people are difficult to please and are generally grumpy at the bugs in code, which you will spend a lot of time fixing over years. Plus as developers and anyone in IT knows, your job is a cost center (unless you work for Google etc) and as a cost center, your job is even more unstable. Especially in this environment recently. Outsource IT. It's all going overseas.
    Plus, developers are a dime a dozen. Community colleges, polytechnics, universities pump out tens of thousands of developers and IT folk a year. I recently was hiring for a position, literally hundreds of developers applying. Genius too, development languages I've never even heard of.
    It's not the type of work, it's how good you are at it. Plus development languages change practically every 2-3 years, just be ready to always be learning (which is a good thing).
    As far as pay, unless you specialize and go on contract, internal developers you will be at $120K after numerous years of experience.
    I'm just being grumpy myself. Mainly because I knew a 22 year old going through the CFA program, 8 months into his first year investment banking analyst job, and is pretty close to my compensation (if he makes his bonus).

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