digital skills

Is the university of the future a coding school?

By Kitty Knowles 1 October 2015

Digital skills school General Assembly has just raised $70m, but what lies ahead?

With students now paying up to £9000 a year for university, it makes sense for young people to weigh up their options, which now include attending a coding school.

In fact, many people who attend these programmes are not school leavers at all, but educated employees looking to move into new digital roles.

Online training programmes by Codecademy and Udemy, and offline courses run by Startup Institute, Flatiron School, Dev Bootcamp are becoming increasingly popular.

Now, General Assembly, a coding school which runs classes in London and has schools across the USA, Australia, and Asia, has just secured a $70m of funding.

Jake Schwartz, who co-founded the company in 2010, said that was “the last round we ever need to take before we are a fully self-sustaining company.”

But as business thrives, who are the people filling its classrooms?

Why attend General Assembly?

Charlie Hocking, 28, is a London-based graphic designer who took part in a General Assembly course last year.

“I did front end web development, which is learning the coding languages that control everything that you see visually on a website,” he explains. “I wanted to inform my digital design work because we’re entering an era in which coding is becoming more and more essential.”

General Assembly courses cost between £2,000 and £8,000, but Hocking said that it was easy to convince his employers to pay for the course.

The fact is that corporate customers now make up one-fifth of the company’s sales, and employers including L’Oreal, Visa, American Express and Viacom have all previously paid for staff training programmes.

General Assembly-type coding schools offer value for money and good employability prospects, says Hocking:

“A friend spent £8000 on a three-month course and was employed within a month of finishing as  junior developer; if you think about university fees, and the fact you don’t necessarily get a job at the end of university, that’s nothing.”

Hocking is not alone in his experiences: it’s not unheard of for people to dramatically transform their careers, moving from sectors like human resources to web development.

General Assembly has so far helped 240,000 students to learn new skills, and the company claims that 99% of students seeking new jobs succeed within six months of completing a course.


Not everyone is convinced in the power of the coding schools however, with some questioning how viable it is to prepare students for new careers in a matter of weeks.

Students in these programs are unlikely to compete with engineering grads for roles at major tech firms, but they can help serve an “unmet need” for workers with some technical training at many other companies, John Reed, senior executive director of staffing firm Robert Half Technology recently told The Wall Street Journal.

“You can at least come in and say, ‘I have taken some technical coursework, I have some familiarity with it,” Mr. Reed said. “It’s not practical, real-world experience but it’s better than the guy who has nothing.”

Given that the UK seems to be in swinging in and out of a digital skills crisis, anyone seeking to increase their “familiarity” with technology should be encouraged.

Coding schools might not tick all the boxes, but if you need (or want) to retrain, these comparatively cheap and career-opening courses can easily trump time-consuming university and pricey fees.