Q&A with Coded co-founder Hashim Bahbahani
Hi, Hashim! What motivated you to start a bootcamp?
Ahmad (Coded's co-founder) and I were previously co-founders of an e-commerce startup in Kuwait. We spent three years working on that startup, but it never really took off and nor reached the heights we had aspired to. In addition to reasons related to product-market fit, we realized there were two main factors that contributed to our failure: 1. Neither of us, the founders, had enough programming proficiency to actually build the product with our own hands; and 2. we always struggled to find real technical talent in Kuwait (or willing to come to Kuwait). Most startups in Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf (GCC) struggle with those problems.
Therefore, the first thing Ahmad and I wanted to do before venturing into another startup was to join a coding bootcamp and learn web/ mobile development. To our surprise, we could only find one coding school in the Middle East aimed at adults and offering an intensive program (and the languages they offered were somewhat outdated). Knowing the number of people interested in learning to code here in Kuwait and in the Arabian Gulf in general, we started Coded, the first coding bootcamp in the Gulf.
Our operational mission is to cultivate the next generation of talented coders in Kuwait. But in actuality, we are on a much bigger mission. We, like many others in the GCC, fully realize that our oil will eventually fail to sustain our economy, for one reason or another. We understand that Kuwait is barren of natural valuable natural resources (besides oil and gas). Our only real hope is to invest today (while we have the money) in human capital, i.e. intellect and talent. Coded is making that investment.
Kuwait has most of the pieces needed for it to become a major tech hub where startups can start and grow into global giants. The only real missing piece in this puzzle is talent. And that is where Coded comes in. We want to provide a coding education of real value that empowers ambitious men and women to build amazing software applications that can reach millions across the world. By continuously cultivating the next generation of coders, Coded will play an integral and leading role in building a thriving tech industry in the GCC to ensure our economic sustainability in a post-oil world.
What challenges have you faced so far with starting your coding bootcamp?
The main challenge we face is in educating people about the importance of learning to code and the huge potential a programming skillset carries. In a more mature tech industry, like that in the US, people are far more informed about the benefits of learning code, and there is a vibrant job market that demands proficient coders. But in a developing tech scene such as the one in Kuwait, there isn't a big enough job market to naturally motivate people to gain coding competency. But people in Kuwait are very entrepreneurial and have been moving away from traditional small businesses and towards tech startups. We have to educate that segment as to why it's critical that the founders of a tech startup be technical founders who can contribute directly to building the product, and must therefore learn to code.
What successes have you had with your first few cohorts?
The response we got for the first bootcamp we did, which ended a couple of months ago, was positive beyond our expectations. For a class of 12, we had over 30 qualified applicants. We actually continued to get applicants and numerous inquiries even after the bootcamp had started.
We love that our first class was diverse in more than one sense. We had males and females at a wide age range and at different stages of their careers. The class included engineers, accountants, marketers, architects, computer scientists, writers, and more. That diversity contributed to a fantastic atmosphere in the classroom.
At the end of the bootcamp, we hosted Startup Weekend Kuwait, with over 125 participants. We're proud that the first and third team place both had Coded students as their lead developers! And a few of our students have already started working on their startups utilizing their newfound skills.
What plans/dreams do you have for your bootcamp over the next 5 years?
For the near future, our goal is continue providing bootcamps in multiple formats (i.e. full-time, part-time evening/day), and start offering a wider range of languages (for web and mobile development). Our focus is, and will always be, providing the best curriculum and instructors. The quality of education and student experience is the bottom line. We aim to accomplish that by partnering up with organizations that share in our vision. For our first bootcamp, we partnered with Coding Campus (a coding school out of Utah), who have a rigorous Python based curriculum, and a strong team of instructors.
As we move to a new home for Coded, we plan to dedicate part of Coded's space to a "tech hub" to continue hosting our events and to provide a free space exclusively for coders and designers to work, learn from mentors, and experiment on new hardware provided by us. It's part of our vision to grow the tech community here. We're confident that big things can happen when talented people come together in an encouraging environment.
Geographically, we hope to have a Coded branch in every major city in the GCC within the next 5 to 7 years. We want a valuable coding education to be readily available and accessible to all those who seek it.
Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?
Any bootcamp is likely to be intensive and fast paced, so be sure to complete all the pre-course work and preparation assignments. One of the worst things that could happen to a bootcamp student is to be off-pace from the get go, which is what'll happen if you fail to do the prep.
Also, have a clear idea/plan as to what you hope to do after graduation. That'll help you assess which topics to focus on during the bootcamp, and how to best utilize your time with the instructors.
Finally, take advantage of the networking opportunities the bootcamp might present. Start with your classmates, who will probably be as driven and motivated as you are. Those connections could end up being as valuable as your education.
Any advice for people who want to start a bootcamp and/or start teaching code?
The main advice I would give is to focus religiously on the quality of curriculum and instructors; they form the core of your value proposition to students.
For bootcamp directors/CEOs, you have to form personal connections with the cohort. I realize that this takes a lot of energy and focus, but it's the only way that you will truly understand whether students are gaining a great educational experience out of your bootcamp. Listening to students is the best way to hear suggestions about how to improve the bootcamp. I noticed that most highly reviewed schools have students who mention that they saw first-hand how committed the bootcamp directors were to making sure that each student got the most of out of their investment.
Do you see bootcamps replacing college for parts of the population?
That's definitely a possibility. I think there's value in the "well-rounded" education provided by universities, where a CS student might take a Roman History or Modern Philosophy course. However, as the cost of a university education rises, more people are looking at a more "lean" educational model that makes them hireable and well positioned for the job market in a shorter time and at a lower costs. I imagine that a bootcamp that stretches over a year or two would offer an incredible amount of value in practical experience and knowledge. I know some coding schools are trying out this model, and I'm excited to see how it goes. The current higher education system has been around for centuries, and it certainly isn't perfect, so perhaps the time to disrupt it has arrived.
What is the job market like where your bootcamp is based?
There is a rising and growing tech scene in Kuwait, but the traditional job market is still shallow for programmers. However, there is also a clear shortage of talent supply, which means that programmers who do get employed are very highly paid and enjoy a "superstar" status. Most coders are employed by organizations who are not software driven at their core, i.e. banks, ministries, engineering firms, and so on. But that is slowly beginning to change as more tech startups start to grow and get to the point where they can offer competitive compensation. Being a technical co-founder is a rare entity here, and one that is highly demanded and sought after.
Hashim earned a bachelor's degree with honors in finance from the University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign. His involvement in the startup scene started by being the co-founder and CEO for e-commerce platforms SmallQ8.com and Yazli App. Hashim is an active member of the Kuwaiti Startup community, and has been invited as a guest speaker, mentor, or panelist at several startup events and competitions, most recently the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum, as well as the GCC Pitch Startup Competition organized by the European Union, and Startup Weekend Kuwait 2015. He's also the chief blogger for pioneering Kuwaiti startup blog startupq8.com, in addition to hosting a section on entrepreneurship in Khaleejesque magazine. Reach out to Hashim on Twitter or shoot him an email at email@example.com!
Ahmad's interest in technology and computer science began at age 12, when he hosted a TV show on KTV for three years covering technology and computers. After attaining a degree in Computer Engineering from Colorado State University, Ahmad continued to be a pioneer in the technology scene in Kuwait, with regular appearances on TV, radio, and other digital media outlets. Over the past three years, Ahmad has been the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder at e-commerce platforms smallQ8.com and Yazli App. Most notably, Ahmad was the Project Lead for educational startup Kitabi, which has been downloaded over 100,000 times and was ranked second in the top 10 free apps on the App Store 24 hours after its launch. In the past, Ahmad also worked as Digital Coordinator at Zain Kuwait, where he was in charge of website content and technology management. Today, Ahmad is a Network Engineer at Kuwait Oil Company. Reach out to him on Twitter or shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!