INTERVIEWS

BrainBasket Is Bringing the Harvard CS50 Course to Slovakia. For Free

BrainBasket

Get your Harvard certificate after a free four-month intensive IT course based on David Malan‘s CS50 Introduction to Computer Science. The enrollment is open, and you can apply here.

Just a few weeks ago, a reputable IT course opened its gates to the Slovak public. BrainBasket Foundation is a non-profit NGO running the Technology Nation program for non-IT people who would like to change their career path and consider becoming IT-specialists. Vladimir Liulka, the CEO of the foundation, is a Ukrainian based in Slovakia with a vision for every smart person eager to gain new skills.

Vladimir is a serial IT entrepreneur, cybernetic by education, with experience of 15+ years in ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). In the near past, he successfully exited from his last company and decided to live out of Ukraine and work more in the Central Europe, to be closer to European countries. His new software development company has the HQ in Slovakia with 100+ people in total, distributed among Slovakia and Ukraine. „Our biggest R&D is located in Ukraine, but at the moment we are very close to extend our R&D in Bratislava and hire more Slovak IT specialists. Also, the best students will be selected among the graduates of Harvard CS50 course and we will offer them the internship at our company,“ says Vladimir.

Launched in Kiev, recently exported to Moldavia in April 2017, Technology Nation is coming to Bratislava and Košice. The enrollment for the first groups is open until the end of June with a launch in July. Next groups will be launched during summer and autumn 2017. I talked to Vladimir about the project, his goals, the course curriculum and process as well as about his expectations in Slovakia.

Vladimir Liulka - BrainBasket
Vladimir Liulka – BrainBasket

The beginnings of BrainBasket

BrainBasket Foundation was established in 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine by the initiative of leading ICT companies and the Ministry of Economical Development and Trade of Ukraine. Its main focus is a development of ICT education in Ukraine. Thus, several big IT companies met and got an appointment at the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. The decision was made to launch a foundation with a mission to develop more IT education initiatives and to promote IT profession among non-IT people so they can go from non-IT to IT profession as a well-paid and engaging profession.

Ukraine is very well known in outsourcing software development, and as the general economic and political situation is not that good but IT still being the third industry after agriculture and heavy industry in export investments. For example, for 2016 ICT was almost 3 billion USD, which is about 5% of Ukrainian GDP.

„The plan of BrainBasket is simple – to create more IT specialists for the market, to help with the selection of smart Ukrainians from different regions, give them a basic IT course, and help to find their first IT job,“ explains Vladimir.

As of today, BrainBasket has 65 educational hubs in Ukraine covering 36 cities with 100+ mentors and a database of more than 40 000 potential and current students. Not all of them are in the learning process as there is not enough space and mentors.

BrainBasket Technology Nation Course
BrainBasket Technology Nation Course

Harvard‘s CS50 as Technology Nation‘s inspiration

To complete the course is not an easy task as Harvard curriculum is used. Technology Nation project was launched in March 2016 and after a time, Harvard University helped to teach the program‘s mentors and explained their own methodology.

„The course we use is the foundational course of computer science for non-IT people who want to switch to IT. It’s really hard. For example, for four months people start to understand basic things and create software using different programming languages, and in the end, they take exams. If they pass them successfully, we send the results to Harvard and they will send back original Harvard certificates.“

It’s a big honor for the founders and mentors to be in a direct contact with professor David Malan, the leader of CS50.

The students learn the basics of C language as a hardcore programming, classic language, then Python, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and SQL. Of the four months period, 40% is focused on C. „It’s hard to apply C afterward because there‘s not that big demand but it is a core language, the basis for the next languages,“ continues Vladimir. „It’s very important for us that we invite developers with experience and track record as mentors so they can share their knowledge and expertise. They do not come solely from academic space.“

BrainBasket The Course Workflow
The Course Workflow

The course schedule and enrollment

„We mostly work with people with human sciences background who are just basic computer users. We believe in motivation and motivated people,“ Vladimir explains.

If you are interested, you send the application, fill in a few forms about your skills, education, and your English language level (educational process and its content are fully in English). Then the organizers have a look in your application, and if these basic requirements are fulfilled, they send you a homework. Usually, people who meet the requirements and send back a completed homework are smart enough as they understood what the course will be about and what they need to do.

„Usually, after 4-6 weeks some people drop out because it is too difficult for them. It does not mean they are not smart, it’s just not for them. They do not have this passion to code. And that’s okay, you just tried.“

The group establishes their own rules. BrainBasket gives the students and mentors a lot of freedom in terms of schedule, approach, and communication. Usually what happens is that the group creates a Facebook or Skype groups with the mentor, and they meet 2 times per week physically in a classroom and they do a lot of homework, also watch many video lessons. Students then come back to mentors with all the pieces they did not understand and ask for help.

Maximum of 20 people are in a single group but that happens when you have a mentor and an assistant. If one mentor is leading the group, then it is 10 to 15 people. Otherwise, it is almost impossible to check all home works and dedicate the time to each student, and mentors who do not check the homework have less successful students.

BrainBasket Vladimir Liulka
Vladimir Liulka

Technology Nation in Slovakia

„We have 300+ applications and around 50 people who completed the tests right now in Slovakia, so we are done with the selection process and communication with applicants. But we are still open for new applications for the next groups. Our mentors are forming the first group of 15 people which will be hosted by 0100 Campus. Also, we agreed to launch the second group in a partnership with Pixel Federation. Lucia Šicko confirmed the beginning of classes in July, and Šimon Sicko is doing several valuable introductions for me to the ICT people who can help our initiatives to grow. The first group in Košice will be launched in July as well,“ Vladimir shares his experience with the Slovak launch. “I have to say that I got a huge support in Košice from Ivan Hruška, Dr. Attila Tóth, Pavol Mirossay, and Juraj Girman. I am happy to see such strong partners in our project.”

The plan is to open not only Bratislava and Košice. BrainBasket wants to give the opportunity to people from every region. Nitra, Prešov, Žilina, Trnava, Banská Bystrica – they all need to have a learning hub opened because people from villages and small towns also deserve a chance to come and learn.

What are the results of the program? „I know the statistics because every other  person asks me about that so it is very important to know,“ smiles Vladimir. From a group of 20, around 10 students complete the course. Of the 10, about half decides to stay in their profession and work on side projects in IT. The rest app. 50%, eg. 5 of 10, build a professional CV, pass online webinars about soft skills and how to get prepared for a job interview.

They try to go and find a job as a junior developer or an intern. And out of these, 3 finds a job in IT and the rest continues to look for a job in IT. The fact is that about 10% of people enrolled find a job after 3-5 months after completing the course.

„I believe that Slovakia has all the chances to become the IT hub #1 in Central Europe, despite the current domination of machine industry like VW or Jaguar, and I fully support the idea of uniting Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in order to build Danube IT Valley in Bratislava region. I am ready to contribute my time and knowledge and help this country which friendly hosts me, my family, and my friends,“ Vladimir concludes.

If you are still open and eager to try coding, you can apply here.

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