Meet the entrepreneurs learning to code in the heart of Tech City

As part of our ongoing coverage promoting IT skills in the UK, ITProPortal headed down to the graduation ceremony for Makers Academy, the coding school in the heart of London's Tech City. The Academy makes a bold claim - that it can teach anyone web development in only 12 weeks, regardless of experience or background, using an intensive full-time course in JavaScript, Ruby on Rails and HTML5.

The graduation sees teams of developers - some of whom had never written a line of code before coming to the Academy - pitch their apps and projects to a room full of leading development professionals and tech industry employers. Attendance was high, the teams were busy putting the finishing touches on their projects, and the pressure was well and truly on.

We went to speak to some of the recent graduates, and one person who's preparing to start the course, to find out a little about where they've come from, what drives them, and what they've learnt.

Dan

Dan Linde was kind enough to talk to me at the same time as frantically backing up his computer before the presentation. His team's project, setforget.it, is an event-planning app that allows people like yoga teachers and public speakers to more easily plan small, informal events.

I actually came from a background of finance. I did consumer products in corporate development, corporate finance side of things. It was really important for me to learn professionally what was happening, because the industry I'd come up in was changing. I knew a guy who was using Excel like six hours day, and by learning more about software I found all these tools that were so much more powerful, and new ways of thinking about problems.

One day I saw these guys tweet, and I thought it was probably worth going for it. I put all my work aside, and I've just been diligently coding pretty much full time. It's been an amazing experience. I've learnt a tremendous amount, and I'm really excited about the future. Our heads are just down and focused so much throughout this time. I've really enjoyed coming in every day, and now I'm like "oh man, it's over".

Sam

Sam Harris and her team developed an app for planning hen parties, the Hen Party App, which streamlines all the messy details into a simple interface. The team had to work especially hard towards the end, as one of their team members was called away at short notice. Luckily, regular Skype calls and some agile working practices saved the day. Sam managed to speak to me quickly before rushing off to give her presentation.

It's a big day today - we've been planning this for two weeks, and it's come very quickly. I originally got interested in the course because I'd been looking for a career change, and I spent about a year and a half trying to work out whether this is really what I wanted to do. Then I came across programming, loved it, and then came across Makers Academy. I applied for the interview, and got accepted. It all went very quickly. I spent seven years in financial services - private wealth mainly, investment - so it's been a bit of a transition. It's been a roller-coaster, but it's been cool. I would absolutely recommend it to others.

Yuin

Yuin Huang and her partner Nina Lauc developed Raggedy, a peer-to-peer shopping app for the fashion market. They overcame a number of challenges to get the platform working, especially cracking down on the possibility of money-laundering taking place over the network. Yuin spoke to me after the presentations.

I had a friend who actually did this course a few months back, so I was able to come round and see what the culture was like - and it was great. About two weeks into the course, we had a feedback session, and they asked us if there was anything we could do to improve things, and we actually felt that at the moment it was perfect. There's a ping-pong table and everything. I always wanted to make websites, and I did a computer science conversion before, but the way they taught you there was mostly about knowing the machine rather than being inside the applications.

For some women, jobs in the tech world sometimes aren't seen as cool, they're seen as geeky. Even for a guy, you don't want to go into the CS [computer science] department for a university degree. But as all these online things start to become more influential, that's when the barriers will start to go away. And the London tech hub is really hotting up.

Martin

Martin van de Loo gave me a few moments of his time even after the sandwiches had appeared. He and his team developed a Wheel of Life app for life coaches, allowing users to gauge the quality of their life based on criteria like health, money, and family, and set long-term goals. For Martin and his team, the six segments of the Wheel of Life have been: coding, coding, coding, coding, coding and coding for the last twelve weeks.

There were different reasons for me joining Makers Academy. Firstly, I had a startup idea, and I couldn't find a co-founder with a technical background. Another reason was that I'm a UX architect, and I wanted to do rapid prototyping without having to use software like Actua, the wireframing programme. I also just wanted to have a better understanding of the technical world. The IT world wasn't my best friend, and I wanted to improve my knowledge.

I just found Makers Academy on Google. The idea was initially to do a HTML course, and I'd never heard of Ruby on Rails, but it sounded interesting and I thought in the end it would be cooler than HTML. I was also pretty attracted by the idea of London, because it's my favourite city. I'm very glad I did the course, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone - you have to have a reason to do it. It's impressive what you can do with Ruby on Rails, and the course is a good entry to the tech development world, but you shouldn't stop there.

Zoe

Zoe Bryant won a full scholarship sponsored by IBM to attendMakersAcademy. The award was designed to encourage more women to enter the tech world, and was presented at the end of the evening. Zoe took a couple of moments out of her celebrations to tell me a little about herself.

I got a job as a junior web developer straight out of school. I've messed around with coding since the age of 12. It was just a hobby of mine, and I never realised I could make money out of it. I got started basically by looking at all these cool websites and thinking "that's awesome, I want to know how to make that."

The way the competition worked was that IBM had a booth at the Mozilla Festival, and they took initial interviews there. From there, they selected a shortlist of eight women. We had to submit the standard application to Makers Academy, and then we had an interview with people from IBM. It felt like a very proper interview, which was a little bit scary, since they were going through my CV - which I'd written in a little bit of a panic on the Friday before! I'm very excited to join Makers Academy. I've been looking at all the projects they've just shown, and they're talking about technologies I've never even heard of.

I'm not too worried about the barriers facing women in the tech world - I think if any woman cares about tech, she'll find a way. I'm more focused on the barriers to my generation. So many people aren't inclined to look under the hood of the technology they're using every day. At the same time, the ICT curriculum that I had was absolutely shocking. I remember doing a whole lesson on copy-pasting. There wasn't even any right-clicking on school computers. I felt incredibly let down by my ICT education.

Thanks to everyone at Makers Academy for a great evening. We saw a lot of impressive presentations, but unfortunately couldn't interview everyone. See here for a full list of alumni.