Jim Duffy: Cracking the code gives access to a new world of opportunity

As an international trading city, with a big Scottish diaspora, New York is a real target for Scottish business and Scottish entrepreneurs says Jim Duffy.As an international trading city, with a big Scottish diaspora, New York is a real target for Scottish business and Scottish entrepreneurs says Jim Duffy.
As an international trading city, with a big Scottish diaspora, New York is a real target for Scottish business and Scottish entrepreneurs says Jim Duffy.
Big demand for the latest technology skills opens doors for both employers and employees says Jim Duffy

New York City is an amazing place. So good they named it twice, right? There is no doubt that as an international trading city, with a big Scottish diaspora in and around it, it’s a real target for Scottish business and Scottish entrepreneurs. There is huge potential with a larger population than Scotland and only six hours away on a plane. A while back I visited the Big Apple on a fact-finding tour. As the co-founder at Entrepreneurial Spark, I always wanted to ensure that the business start-up accelerator we were building was properly benchmarked with global players. I came across General Assembly and it blew me away.

General Assembly was started as a business accelerator, but quickly realised that big business as well as start-up was looking for coding skills. ‘Coding’ meaning computer coding in various languages. When I was at school it was just BBC C+. So, General Assembly morphed into a coding academy and it is massively successful at churning hundreds of early stage and junior coders out each month to join the ever-growing army of new business startups and the needy big corporates who require these skills. It’s always great to have a willing and paying customer for your products, right? Wouldn’t it be great if Scotland had this, I mused? Maybe someone will see the opportunity and start something similar? Well, they have and it is going great guns. It’s called Codeclan.

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Scotland has its very own coding academy grounded in Edinburgh, but now opened in Glasgow, with more to follow I am sure. Codeclan is pretty unique also in that while many ventures start are for profit, it has popped up as a social enterprise. Ostensibly, this means that it has no shareholders and is a company limited by guarantee. Many get social enterprise wrong. A social enterprise is a business. It has to get on its feet as quick as it can with commercial customers and it has to make a profit or surplus. So, while a social enterprise can access some grants etc to get kicked off, it has to ‘get real’ fast or die. There is no doubt that the team running Codeclan, led by Harvey Wheaton, has big plans for long term sustainability. So what does it do and how is it doing?

I’ve been pretty clear before that I maths and physics are not my strong points. These are subjects that I always thought were a pre-requisite for learning how to be a coder or techie. But the ethos at Codeclan is not one of intellectual elitism, in that if you’re poor academically at these subjects you’re not cut out for the coding life. Essentially, if you have an inquisitive mind, you are curious and have a thirst for solving problems, you can learn to be a coder. And that’s great news. This gives access to the jobs market for so many who may not have wanted or been ready for a computer sciences degree at university.

In short, it opens up a whole new world for those of us who thought that coding was for a select few. And with a 16-week course costing only £4,500 this is arguably a great way to enter the jobs market. Who is paying this? Well in only 18 months, Codeclan has had 238 new coders through its doors. With cohorts of twenty at a time, Codeclan is now on its 12th cohort. And guess what - 95 per cent of its students complete the course, while an astounding 90 per cent are in employment as junior coders. Wow!

Under Wheaton’s leadership, Codeclan is not resting on its laurels with this great start. The business is looking at how it expands its offerings to open up the world of coding for so many others. Like me, you may not be able to commit to a full-time 16-week programme, so Codeclan have put in place evening classes. These ensure that a wider audience can be reached and give flexibility to those with jobs and family - a smart move. As a social entrepreneurial company, Codeclan is on the march and I would suspect will be in big demand in other Scottish cities, not to mention the UK and beyond.

Malcolm Gladwell, the journalist, author and speaker, wrote a fabulous book called The Tipping Point. In short, the book defines the Tipping Point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” It’s when projects and ideas start to take hold in a decent way and the tide then carries them along. Codeclan is about to hit its Tipping Point. The need for coding skills is enormous as the rise in startups and pre-scale businesses keeps on growing. Add to this, the big corporates who need to constantly refresh their own gene pool in the tech and development department, and Codeclan has a huge tailwind pushing it along.

This is a Scottish company that has looked overseas, but is doing it its own way, constantly learning and adapting each course to get better and remain relevant in a fast-paced world where language and platforms are changing almost daily. No need to jump on a plane to New York if you want learn to code. Look up Codeclan and enter new territory where the world is your oyster…