Tech Education can Transform Lives and Build Economies

Sylvain Kalache
5 min readFeb 7, 2020


We built Holberton School to democratize access to a Silicon Valley-caliber education by training software engineers leveraging educational software tools, hands-on challenges, and peer-learning. We are not only providing highly coveted employment skills to an incredibly diverse student body while also providing leading employers with hard-to-find and highly-trained talent; we are also creating a vital growth engine to help fuel both local and national economies.

Holberton’s innovative, hands-on curriculum and bias-free, automated admissions process enable the school to create a pipeline of highly-skilled, diverse engineering talent to fuel business growth across sectors and across national boundaries. At Holberton, there are no lectures and no formal teachers. Instead, the practical curriculum is developed in coordination with leading employers, combining project-based and peer learning so that students acquire both the hands-on skills and the understanding of theory. Students are learning by doing, last year alone, they wrote nearly 7 million lines of code for their assignments. Graduates are highly diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, and socioeconomic background and have been hired by top-tier employers, including Apple, Rappi, Google, Platzi, and Tesla, among others.

Our Colombia story

We opened our first campuses outside the US in Colombia, and today we have four campuses in this country. Why start with Colombia? To name a few of the many reasons:

  • Colombia has the 4th largest number of Internet users in LATAM.
  • The Colombian government is prioritizing technology innovation and recently created a new ministry in charge of appropriating more resources to develop research projects.
  • AI leader Andrew Ng, the founder of the Google Brain project and former CEO of Coursera, was so impressed by Colombia that he decided to open multiple offices in the country for his AI startups. His support is a signal that leading technology experts have high hopes for Colombia’s nascent technology sector.
  • Colombia was highlighted in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report as “among the many countries around the world reforming their business regulations to stimulate the private sector and spur economic growth.”

And, importantly, the local ecosystem showed tremendous enthusiasm for our program. Our first Colombian campus, in Bogota, was led by the Coderise team and funded by local technology leaders such as Rappi, Colombia’s first unicorn startup. Besides financial support, Rappi has also provided professional advisors to the school and committed to hiring graduates. The Medellín and Cali campuses were, respectively, co-financed by Comfama and Comfandi, two local Family Welfare Funds.

Students at Holberton School Medellín, Colombia.

Demand on the student side has been very strong. When the Bogotá school was announced, more than 5,000 candidates applied in the span of 3 weeks for just 50 spots. The demand among employers for software engineering talent is also massive: According to Simón Borrero, co-founder, and CEO of Rappi, Colombia lacks up to 200,000 software engineers.

If we [Colombia] had 200,000 engineers, these 200,000 engineers would be hired immediately

— Rappi CEO Simón Borrero

Quality and scale

The beauty of the Holberton model is that we can very quickly and easily bring our Silicon Valley-grade education to any community that needs it. We opened 4 campuses in Colombia, and 4 other internationally, in the span of a year. In order to train at scale, we designed a software system to overcome the low availability of engineering teachers.

Our software analyzes thousands of candidates in a blind selection process so that only people demonstrating hard work and progress get accepted — all without human bias. Once accepted, the software guides students through the Holberton experience, from projects and assignments, provides instant correction to students which also allows the staff to make sure of their success, this system currently processes about 10 million lines of code per week. Students get assignments delivered straight to them and receive instant feedback.

An education suited for the 4th industrial revolution

Since the onset of the 4th industrial revolution, the nature of work has changed at an incredible pace. Before this newest revolution began, workers had time to adapt and retrain because it took decades for changes to happen. While our grandparents and parents were able to make a living in one career, perhaps even one job, this is no longer possible. This change of pace will be even greater for the next generation; it is estimated that 65% of students entering primary school today will end up in a type of job that does not even exist today.

Part of the solution lies in a pedagogical method that was created at the end of the 19th century: progressive education, upon which Holberton pedagogy is based. It argues that memorization of facts does not constitute an education. Instead, with progressive education, students learn by doing, developing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as social skills, to help them become lifelong learners.

Holberton is not only training students to become software engineers but, as importantly, it is also training them on critical soft skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and learning how to learn. While access to knowledge used to be the barrier to get an education, that’s no longer the case. We need to equip our emerging workforce to navigate the ocean of information that is accessible at our fingerprints.

Bullish on LATAM

But we’re not just bullish on Colombia; we are also very bullish on LATAM. And we are not alone: the region has received a record high of almost USD $2B in Venture Capital funding in 2018. SoftBank alone stated an intent to invest $5B in the region over the next years. And even though the region has the second strongest growth rate of Software Developers behind Asia Pasific, a 2017 survey in Argentina found that 65% of software engineering jobs were unfilled the previous year.

I will be speaking at the FLIII Conference in Mérida, Mexico on Feb 19th. At the event I will share what I believe is An Education for the 4th Industrial Revolution and how we at Holberton are partnering with local economies to contribute to it. If you’re planning to attend, please reach out to me. We’re always looking for new partners interested in helping us scale our innovative model — and, with it, affordable world-class technical education — to more of the world.