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Partner Profile: WeThinkCode

Published: Jun 16, 2021 6:00:00 AM South Africa Standard Time

We Think Code_ was established in 2015 as a tuition-free tech institution with the mission “to train Africa’s next generation of top tech talent in order to drive the digitisation of African business

CEO, Nyari Samushonga gives insight into the organisation.

Interviewer

How do you look for in students?

Nyari Samushonga

We do our own aptitude testing, over six days, because, firstly, in South Africa, academic outcomes are tightly correlated to income status. If you come from a family with more money, you're likely to have a better education and better academic results. Secondly, we have people shifting from other professions into coding.

We needed to find a way to establish a person’s aptitude to learn to code. Cognitively, software development is about problem solving mechanism. Behaviourally, one needs to be detail oriented and persistent. Software itself is logic but the process of creating it is not logical.

We use pseudo code, using English words, in the format that a programming language would work to assist people that have never coded before. We introduce them to a baseline foundational concept and then increase concept complexity gradually. We are looking at the ability to break down a problem and logic it through.

Interviewer

Where does this thinking and approach stem from?

Nyari Samushonga

We subscribe to the learning edge theorem. The idea is that you start to learn at the edge of your current knowledge. If there is too big a cognitive leap between your current knowledge and where we introduced content to you, you collapse not because you don’t have the capacity to gain the knowledge, but because the gap between where you are and where we start is too big.

In testing, we're able to see how good you are at paying attention to detail, analysing the situation, solving problems, learning new concepts, and joining dots as the concepts become more complex and more interrelated.

For the last two days of the testing, they work in groups for us to see the ability to collaborate; in the real world, software development is actually a team sport.

Interviewer

How do you ensure inclusivity?

Nyari Samushonga

Our selection process is a key part of the inclusion agenda and how we market the programme is very intentional. We speak on community radio, in communities and at afterschool programmes. We work with a youth employment accelerator with a database of unemployed youth.

For our six-day bootcamps, we arrange daily transport shuttles to and from our campus and, once selected for the programme, tuition is free.

We also have a monthly stipend of R2,800 to ensure that students have some financial support to enable them to study full-time for the two years.

By the government's measure of low income, 80% of our student body fall within that bracket.

Interviewer

Beyond curriculum, how do you support the students?

Nyari Samushonga

It is about incremental learning with a lot of enforcement and oversight. In the first year, students are put in groups of eight with each group mentored by a second-year student. They meet weekly, have academic targets and are led by a person who's gone through the process. The second years, in turn, are mentored one-on-one by industry experts.

It’s not just about teaching them to code, but about giving them a real shot at having the agency to succeed in the world.

Interviewer

What happens once they are done with the programme?

Nyari Samushonga

We are quite involved in getting the students placed. It's 16 months on campus training and then four months on internship with the employer, which gives them the opportunity to be exposed to the world of work with the safety of being an intern.

About 80% of times the permanent employment offer comes from the sponsor that they interned with which makes the transition into the workplace smoother. We measure success in permanent employment as a minimum 12-month contract.

Interviewer

WomenThinkCode is the partnership with Momentum Metropolitan Holdings. What is been the impact of that on increasing women in the space?

Nyari Samushonga

In 2019, our campus was 16% female. Last year, we were up to 25%. This year we're on track to be at least 45% female representation on all our campuses.

WomenThinkCode is designed to, firstly, proactively recruit more women and, secondly, retaining and placing more women. We have built forums, brought in women technologists to speak at our lecture series, changed our marketing and language, and involved our female students in recruiting.

Interviewer

How do you ensure that the overall programme continues to stay relevant in this ever-changing world?

Nyari Samushonga

We constantly evolve the programme. We are constantly measuring and experimenting. We have to hold ourselves accountable. This isn’t a vanity project. We try to create a virtuous loop with close examination of data and an openness to a learning. Students and sponsors alike make us better by asking the tough questions.


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