Pizza, T-shirts and Coding: An Education in the Human Connection


Funding a school is not a familiar venture for us, but investing in talented entrepreneurs? We know all about that.

It seems everyone wants to be a software engineer these days, thanks to a demand for quality programmers in nearly every industry. The need has spurred a wave of “learn quick” coding programs and bootcamps, and business is booming.

While we at Trinity Ventures recognized how important this transition is for the tech industry, we never considered investing in a software engineering school ourselves. Until we heard from Julien Barbier. When he said he wanted us to fund Holberton School, we said yes.

I first met Julien when he was the head of growth and marketing at Docker, the open-source application container engine. I watched him turn a tiny marketing budget into a huge network of Docker ambassadors and evangelists. His efforts really helped to make Docker what it is. As Julien’s pizza parties grew, so too did the Docker fanbase. He learned how to tap into the basic human desires for recognition, and opportunities for collaboration and personal development, to nurture fans everywhere. These individual engineers would then go to their companies and ask to use Docker. It was really their collective voices that drove the awareness, interest and adoption that Docker is seeing today.

A view of the crowd at DockerCon in Europe

Julien is a software engineer who understands the value of human connection. He likes to say he achieved the momentum around Docker with nothing but pizza, t-shirts and love. He made sure the developers he met got the recognition they deserved. Every time a developer would blog about Docker, he would not just promote the content, he would make sure Docker sent traffic back to the developer’s own site and help raise the developer’s profile on social media. This made for happy developers and happy developers converted their friends.

This wasn’t the first time Julien built a community. He has a history of bringing developers together and I think he can parlay this experience into building a successful school. At the end of the day, the best schools create long lasting alumni networks that graduates can use as a resource for life. That is what Julien and his co-founders Rudy Rigot and Sylvain Kalache intend to do with Holberton School. This new institute is named after Betty Holberton, a programming pioneer who defied the stereotypes of her time. It is with the Holberton family’s permission, and with that spirit in mind, that Holberton School is seeking its first pupils.

Docker’s early marketing and community team (left to right): Carissa Karcher, Fanette Jobard, Julien Barbier and Victor Coisne.

Not only do I have every faith in Julien to turn Holberton School into a thriving, diverse community, but his enthusiasm for this venture has helped to educate us on the changing world of higher education. Holberton is not your typical coding school. The two year program is project-based and peer-driven, moving away from a traditional lecture and curriculum model. And there’s no skimping on quality education. Just as he was able to build a community at Docker, Julien has gathered a talented group of engineers, CEOs and product managers to mentor these students and help them understand the world of opportunities this education creates.

I think this is a vision that will speak to people of all walks of life, but it specifically gives young people another option as they consider life after high school. I hope this encourages many more who would not otherwise consider software development to see careers in technology as real, attainable and welcoming.

At the end of the day, education means helping people better themselves through learning. In Julien’s mind, that takes a human connection. And sometimes, a slice of pizza.

To Learn More:

Become a Full-Stack Software Engineer

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