BC Grads Form Startup For The New Tech Trade
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 00:09
Having a career that involves doing what you love, and sharing that passion with others, is an ultimate goal for many students after they leave Boston College. Add in the possibility of launching your own business, along with other BC graduates, and you’ve got a deal that would be hard to pass up. This post-grad lifestyle may only seem idealistic now, but it is certainly attainable. Just ask John Nichols, one of the minds behind the creation of the Code Coalition startup and BC ’10.
Nichols worked for startups in New York the year after he graduated from BC, mainly involved with software development and creating iPhone applications for various companies. He eventually ended up at BitFountain, a company that develops applications for iOS and Android devices, and was inspired by their three-month apprentice program that brought people from absolute beginner to junior-level developers. It just so happened that two other BC graduates, Eliot Arntz, BC ’10, and Theodore Wyly, BC ’13, entered the apprentice program, and once the three became acquainted, they came together to launch their own online course, now known as Code Coalition.
The apprentice program at BitFountain, Nichols explained, can be viewed as a trade school for the 21st century, but it was limited in the fact that only about five apprentices could be taught at once. By converting this training program to an online platform, Nichols was able to fulfill his goal of building a community of passionate software developers—Code Coalition’s ultimate mission is to “lower the barrier of entry into the tech field,” as explained on their website.
“It lowers the cost too, because instead of having five people we can have 5,000 people, and they pay smaller and smaller fees as more and more people sign up,” Nichols said.
He also didn’t have to worry about financial investments prior to launching the online course one month ago—only time was necessary since they were creating their own product. Code Coalition is already generating revenue and gaining an increasing amount of signups each day, since the registration deadline for the next three-month course is Sept. 30.
With so much technology and software development experience, one may be surprised to learn that Nichols majored in philosophy as a BC undergraduate. The reasoning behind his choice was that philosophy had fewer major requirements than some other programs, so he had the freedom to take more science and programming courses to supplement his already existing interest in the field.
After leaving BC, Nichols spent a year and a half at Harvard medical school, where he pursued his interest in computational biology. “Computational biology was always a goal for me because it’s a very interdisciplinary field,” Nichols said. He had to learn programming as part of his research, but eventually recognized that software engineering was his true passion.
While Nichols always had an interest in the field of technology, he noted that opportunities exist at BC to expose students to the world of business and software development. Specifically, he recalls a program called TechTrek, which still exists and involves courses and field studies in Silicon Valley. Wyly was actually involved in the program as an undergraduate, led by professor John Gallaugher, and was able to meet influential individuals and executives from big-name companies such as Google. “That experience has been a big help for us because now we have a ton of connections that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Nichols said.
Now, Nichols can put his skills to use through his three-month online course program, which costs $125 and does not require previous experience in programming. The next deadline to register is Sept. 30, and those who sign up will learn through video lectures and assignments, especially those that are project-based. Nichols firmly believes that the best way to learn coding is by practicing, making mistakes, and learning from them, but he also offers discussion forums and face-time with students to help them along the way. In addition to developing iOS applications, Nichols plans to offer a one-week module to instruct users how to customize Tumblr blogs.
Nichols also offered several pieces of advice to any BC students who have an interest in entering the tech field and even starting their own company. Specifically, he noted that several business students believe they can build a tech company without knowing how to build a product, which is not the successful approach to take. Investors do not want to only see a PowerPoint presentation, he explained—rather, they must be able to see your ability to build a product and execute from day one.
“Getting a job in the tech world doesn’t depend on where you go to school, or what your grades were, or what you majored in,” Nichols said. “People at interviews rarely knew where I went to college. I got a job offer at Twitter recently and they never asked for my GPA—they just looked at my portfolio of projects. For the tech people at BC, get involved in a project that shows you really know how to build things.” n