Investing in people first, and companies second: The Holberton story

It was August of 2012, back in Docker’s early days, and the company’s founder and CEO, Solomon Hykes, was leading the business through a critical and ultimately extremely successful strategic pivot. As part of that effort, Solomon asked me, as a Docker board member, to help him convince his former classmate from France, Julien Barbier, to move to San Francisco to join the nascent company. It was a hard sell, but we successfully recruited Julien, and he turned out to be an exceptional addition to the company.

Although I didn’t interact with Julien all that much during his time at Docker, I kept a close eye on his efforts and was blown away by his ability to build community at scale — a lynchpin of Docker’s success, and critical for any company catering to developers. Back at Trinity, I remember definitively stating in a partner meeting that if Julien ever left Docker to start a company, we needed to move quickly to invest. As a team that believes deeply in the art and science of recognizing and nurturing talent, we knew that Julien was someone we wanted to support.

I remember definitively stating in a partner meeting that if Julien ever left Docker to start a company, we needed to move quickly to invest.

A few years later, Julien decided to leave Docker. On the day the internal announcement was made, I drove to San Francisco, tracked him down in the office, and pulled him into a conference room. He was a bit taken aback given that we didn’t know each other very well, but when I asked what he was leaving Docker to pursue, he told me he was going to start a company. Without hesitation, I offered him $1M in funding and told him I wasn’t leaving until he said yes. Somewhat flabbergasted, he asked whether I wanted to know what the company was going to do. I told him we could talk about that later — Trinity wanted to invest in him.

Without hesitation, I offered him $1M in funding and told him I wasn’t leaving until he said yes.

The business Julien decided to start would make perfect use of his talents in building community and his passion for educating and mentoring world-class engineers. Solomon and Julien had both been products of a unique educational model in France that they had a feeling would be hugely successful in training technical talent in the US. Julien and his co-founder Sylvain Kalache made a crazy bet to tackle a hugely audacious problem: to close the gap between the huge number of available tech jobs and the massive shortage of qualified people to fill them. Further, they also believed deeply that it was critical to attract people of diverse backgrounds to fill those hiring gaps. Yet, America’s traditional education system was not graduating enough diverse engineers, and this was creating a hiring challenge for tech’s largest employers. Julien and Sylvain created Holberton School to provide an affordable, world-class technical education to a new generation of software engineers.

Julien and his co-founder Sylvain Kalache made a crazy bet to tackle a hugely audacious problem: to close the gap between the huge number of available tech jobs and the massive shortage of qualified people to fill them.

Since their founding in 2015, the Holberton team has accomplished so much. They’ve built a new type of hands-on, project-based learning environment from the ground up, inspired by what worked so well in France but modified to fit the needs of Silicon Valley. They’ve attracted many notable investors and advisors, including LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, top execs from Docker, Upwork and CloudNOW, and Grammy award-winning R&B artist NE-YO for a diversity-focused partnership facilitated by Trinity.

Recording artist NE-YO joined the Holberton Board of Trustees in April of 2017 with a focus on diversity.

Holberton has helped their students score jobs and internships at top employers like Apple, Tesla, Docker, Dropbox, IBM, LinkedIn and even NASA. Their graduates are publishing technical articles on popular websites and becoming leaders in their fields.

There are few problems as seemingly intractable — or as necessary to solve — as tech’s technical talent shortage, particularly of highly skilled diverse engineers. I’m proud to be supporting Sylvain, Julien and the entire Holberton team in their efforts and am excited to help fuel this next chapter of their growth.