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A New Take on Student Debt: Interview with Erik Trautman of Viking Code School

Tara M. Clapper
A New Take on Student Debt: Interview with Erik Trautman of Viking Code School

Education is a risk. Even in the tech field, it isn't accessible to everyone and those who do invest may find themselves underemployed and saddled with debt. When we talk about education and marketing or the benefits of learning tech, it's easy to gloss over the affordability of an education, especially when it comes to beginning the journey into your chosen field.

What if you could learn and graduate without having to pay your tuition until you received a job?

That's the idea behind Viking Code School, founded by Erik Trautman. I spoke with Erik about the inspiration behind this unique take on education and debt, the benefits it provides to students and the competitive nature of the application process. We discuss the accessible nature of the program and the model for creating highly employable students in a field thirsty for qualified job applicants.

Tara M. Clapper: What was the genesis for Viking Code School? When did you come up with the idea?

Erik Trautman: When I learned how to code, the resources available online were awful, especially for anyone who was serious about moving beyond the beginner stage. It’s still a problem. Viking exists to fix that.

I was inspired to undertake this journey by the combination of my experience at App Academy, a high intensity developer school, and my work on The Odin Project, an open-source curriculum for learning web development which has tens of thousands of members, and a general frustration with the debt-driven nature of the higher education industry.

Erik TrautmanAt the time Viking began in 2014, there was no option available for students who wanted an online path to a top tier developer job. “Bootcamp” programs, which were cropping up all over at the time, require you to drop everything and move to attend and most people just can’t do that. Unfortunately, typical online courses are almost exclusively optimized for scale first and so they reduce human interaction as much as possible to achieve it and can’t come close to guaranteeing outcomes. You fundamentally can’t remove humans from the equation if you want to make sure people are job-ready.

We needed a better solution which blended the outcomes-focus of the in-person programs with the accessibility of an online medium. Thus was born Viking and we’re continuing to build both the best and most accessible accelerated engineering program in the world today.

TMC: How does Viking Code School profit if students do not pay for their education until they are employed?

ET: We’re as incentivized as you can possibly be to make damn sure they get good jobs :)

TMC: How competitive is it to get into the school?

ET: It’s a very competitive program and we accept only the top 5% of applicants. Our students are extremely talented.

TMC: What makes Viking Code School different from other learning forums?

ET: Viking is the most in-depth “bootcamp" program that I’m aware of, regardless of whether you are referring to online or in-person. In just the first half of our program, we cover everything that a typical bootcamp does in their entire course. We spend the second half pushing further so students can take the leap from good to exceptional. We believe in over-preparing graduates for the job market.

Viking is also the only online program to offer a fully deferred fee model, which is part of making it as accessible as possible to talented students.

TMC: Who makes an ideal candidate?

ET: We don’t care where you come from bTech Job Demand in USut you need to be highly technical and talented. We make sure students are technically capable, good communicators and full of hustle to succeed. The best candidates have been hacking on their own for months or years because they can hardly keep themselves away from it. They join because they want to connect a passionate hobby with a life-long career.

TMC: Once a student has completed their coursework, how do you help them find a job?

ET: Our coursework isn’t separate from the job-search; the two are inextricable. Aside from the core technical skills we teach, we do daily algorithms practice and have weekly career goals. Students start working on their web presence before the program even begins and we help them with everything from resume preparation to networking to blogging strategies to mock interviews over the course of our time together. We directly support their job search for six months after the program ends.

TMC: Do you have any initiatives for diversity in your program, for example, including more women or people of color? Do you think this is necessary? Why or why not?

ET: Diversity is about more than just gender or race and the highly accessible nature of our program means that we have access to a significantly more diverse candidate pool than do other programs that require students to have a high degree of mobility and plenty of savings to attend. Additionally, we work with outside organizations to provide scholarships to underserved groups, including most recently offering a full scholarship to a Women Who Code member.

TMC: Anything else you'd like to add?

ET: We’ve been fortunate to lead the charge into outcome-focused and high-intensity online education but this is just the beginning. The tech industry has a huge opportunity to solve its training and hiring problems by embracing the kinds of tools and processes we’ve established.

Times are changing… we are now achieving the same outcomes as in-person education but with a much broader reach! The days of putting a bunch of YouTube videos behind a pay wall and calling it a “complete” course are ending and thank goodness for that. It’s an exciting change to be a part of and we hope we can help to spread it far and wide. As Samuel L Jackson famously said in "Jurassic Park," "Hold onto your butts!"

Graph Source: whitehouse.gov

Tara M. Clapper is Technical Editor at SEMrush and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter and view her writing portfolio.

Tara M. Clapper

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Tara M. Clapper is Content Development Specialist at Express Writers and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Tara is a prolific content creator and an accomplished editor, having written and edited thousands of blog posts, small business websites, and other inbound marketing content through the course of her career. Tara enjoys blogging about SEO copywriting, content management, corporate culture, personal branding, networking and LinkedIn. She has over a decade of experience in digital publishing. Connect with her on Twitter @irishtara
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