Meet Luke and Chris, Founders of Austin Coding Academy

Luke and Chris had a vision of a different kind of educational opportunity that would allow them to help more students in tech than traditional forms of education could accommodate. Shortly after realizing this vision could be a reality, Austin Coding Academy was born.

Before founding Austin Coding Academy, Luke and Chris worked at a sales training company based in Nashville. After about five years of working for that company, they founded their own company that sold wholesale textbooks to college students at reduced prices. Luke and Chris have always had a passion for businesses, so they used the opportunity to explore a couple of other projects. one of which was an app. Luke admits that “in short, it was a complete failure because we didn’t have the skills to develop it ourselves and we didn’t know enough to be able to effectively guide a development team.” He compares the situation to going to a mechanic if you don’t know anything about cars: you don’t know what a good deal is and what needs doing.

It was because of this frustration that the two decided to learn to code. They took a crash course on Ruby in Austin after doing some self-study, but quickly became frustrated with their limited options. “It seemed like the only options to learn to code were to teach yourself or go to a really pricey bootcamp and commit full-time,” says Luke. “Not that any of these are poor choices, but they don’t work for everybody. So we conceived a place where it was a little more accessible and a little more affordable to learn how to code. That’s how Austin Coding Academy was born.”

Luke and Chris had a winding journey on the way to founding the academy, and were on the move for the better part of a few years after college. They realized that they wanted a home base and “a dresser to put clothes in and a wall to hang things on” as Luke puts it. As to why the business partners settled on Austin, Luke laughingly cites food culture as one of the main reasons. “Chris and I both have families with restaurants back home, so the food scene was a big thing that grabbed us about Austin.” The quality of life was another thing that grabbed them; there is a sense of balance between having many things to do and having the time to enjoy them. Luke used to live outside of New York where people were constantly moving, and says the change in Austin is a welcome one. In addition, Chris and Luke both grew up near the ocean, so being near a body of water was a main priority.

Luke says they are excited to be in the tech bootcamp space and see what boundaries they can push in education. “There are obviously a ton of bootcamps popping up and it’s no secret that we weren’t the first and we’re not going to be the last,” he says. “It’s kind of fun to be in this space because there are so many people getting into it.” What makes Austin Coding Academy different on the basic, topical level is their curriculum and the way the program is is structured. Their program is part-time and spans over the course of several months. This differs greatly from intensive bootcamps, which are full-time and span only two to three months. According to Luke, “A lot of schools make promises about taking students from nothing to job-ready in weeks. Instead of cramming everything into three months intensively, we stretch it out over nine months.” This allows students to consume the material in the best manner and pace for them, and helps the concepts sink in more effectively.

The academy consists of two tracks, front-end and back-end, each having three levels: beginning, intermediate, and advanced (or foundation, application, and development). Each level is conducted over the course of ten weeks, so students can choose whether to do one, two, or all three sections. The tuition for each session is $2490, which adds up to $7500 if the student decides to go through the full program. Luke points out this cost is significantly less than many other bootcamps. Accessibility was a main priority for Luke and Chris when designing the program. This structure means that students can begin with essentially no experience and get their feet wet with the first course. If they discover that they enjoy coding and it is something they want to pursue further, they can move forward in the program. “This isn’t a crash course,” says Luke. “It leads to the next step up. Our students are being taught by full-time developers, so they’re learning from people who do this on a day to day basis, and the answers our students are getting are present-day industry standards.”

One more thing that makes Austin Coding Academy different is “on more of an ethos level” according to Luke. Chris and Luke are proud that their bootcamp doesn’t run on investors. They have built their program from the ground up, and the focus has been on their students since day one. Luke plays out a scenario: if you get 15 students in a room and charge them $15,000 a pop for a bootcamp, you’re going to make a ton of revenue. Even if you pay your instructors very well, you are still walking away with a hefty profit. “Not that there is anything wrong with making a profit,” says Luke. “But we always want to look a student in the eye and talk to them on their level, and make sure their education is being handled with their best interest in mind. If it makes sense for them to move onto the intermediate course, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, that’s okay. We are happy to be able to offer our students options. We do this because we really love it. So far we’ve seen a ton of benefit and received a ton of good feedback.”

What is the common denominator between on all their students? It really spans the gamut, according to Luke. They have everything from bartenders looking to change careers to CEOs who want to learn more about what their developers do. Their youngest student to date was 18 when he attended the program. Austin Coding Academy gives a scholarship each session to a student within the Austin School District, and has taught two scholarship students to date.

The main underlying factor that Luke and Chris have discovered among their students is that each one wants to make some kind of positive change in their life. Essays are a big part of the Austin Coding Academy admissions process, and many of these essays tell stories about wanting to get to a better place.

This leads their students to do some amazing things post-graduation. Austin Coding Academy has had a lot of students switch positions in the company that they already work for. A lot of their students are very entrepreneurial, and go on to develop their own companies or products. One of their students was even able to get enough freelance work after the first session to be able to pay for the other two sessions.

As for those who are looking to test the waters and explore coding a bit before attending a tech bootcamp, Luke has some advice. “Don’t be intimidated by how much information is out there. When we started learning to code, we didn’t have any context for what we were learning and often ended up working backwards. Stick to one resource and build upon your knowledge.” Luke also advises new students to be proactive in asking questions for more specific information. Because coding is so abstract, it is easy to fall into the mindset as a student that you might not be made to be a software developer. But Luke feels that if students are able to ask the right questions and utilize their resources, anyone with the drive can become a software developer.

Austin Coding

Academy does a lot of work with University of Texas students from various majors. One of the things that resonates with a lot of these students is the question of whether their chosen majors will lead directly financial success. Applying a coding education to what their learning at university can be a huge help in the future, no matter what field they enter post-graduation. Luke majored in Psychology from the University of Richmond in Virginia, and admits that that while he loved what he studied, it did not directly apply to the jobs he took later on. “I always had an interest in tech and knowing how things work and why they are the way they are,” he says. “As tech continues to grow in prominence, it was something that I realized I not only wanted to learn, but I needed to learn. One of the reasons we started this school is that I don’t learn well on my own. I need someone there to help keep me accountable and challenge me and look me in the eye. In the end, the Ruby crash courses we took were good, but they weren’t enough. I would meet the instructor for beers to learn C once in a while. That’s the kind of education I think more people need, and we want to be able to provide that.”

Before tech and psychology entered Luke’s career pathway dreams, he wanted to be a spaceship designer when he grew up. “But then I realized they don’t put lasers on spaceships,” he says, laughing. “When I was in high school I knew I wanted to go into Psychology because I wanted to learn how people thought. I was interested to know how things worked.” At that time, he wanted to go into marketing as the concept of viral marketing was gaining popularity. Luke was intrigued by this new wave of how to market products to consumers using psychology, and he wanted to apply that to business. Additionally, there was a long period of time where Luke wanted to be a travel photographer. “That definitely exists in a part of my mind,” he says, smiling. “If there were two of me, that’s what the other one would be doing.”

As for right now, Luke is excited about where things are going with Austin Coding Academy. The school is starting a program called Office Hours that will take place before class starts, during which time the instructors are on-hand for students to come in and ask questions. The academy is also having all of their alumni become more involved. Luke and Chris envision a kind of gym membership for developers who wish to come in and work on projects or ideas. Newer students could also come in and learn from other developers in order to expand their skillset or brush up on concepts they are having a difficult time with.

Austin Coding Academy works hard to ensure that the value they are providing is worth more than the price they are charging for it. Luke and Chris hope that this model will continue to be sustainable so they may continue to provide many different students with access to affordable, top-rate tech education. We look forward to seeing the things they accomplish.


Originally published at blog.lendlayer.com on June 11, 2015.