I first heard of Dev Academy in 2014. A place where you could become a full on coder after 9 weeks? It blew my mind.
At the time I heard about it, I was volunteering for TEDxWellington when one of the other volunteers casually mentioned she had given up a career in Finance at KPMG for a strange sounding 9-week course where she learnt how to code. Somehow, she had secured a job at a place called ‘Able Tech’ within weeks of graduating from this programme, ‘Dev Academy’, a developers Bootcamp. She told me she was going to go to Startup Weekend in a few weeks and that I should come along. While I never did go to that Startup Weekend (and still haven’t participated to this day), the girl went and ended up creating a product which won the investment of some major players. Fast forward, Kendall Flutey and her product ‘Banquer’ has gained international attention, won awards, thousands of subscribers and is changing the financial literacy of children, one classroom at a time.
Fast forward 3 years on and I am getting to meet one of the founders of Dev Academy - Rohan Wakefield. Dev Academy, fondly nicknamed ‘Dev’ is, changing the lives of your people seeking a re-direction of their lives.
WHAT IS DEV ACADEMY?
No matter what your experience level, Dev Academy helps to teach you the language of coding and programming. From people who have some experience to those who have none, Dev will take you on. While the entry fee sounds steep ($11K), this is because Dev currently exists outside the funding model. Currently, this money just funds costs, partly due to the high ratio of students to teachers in Dev. Right now, Dev is applying to NZQA for funding and to receive formal NZQA status. Over the many intakes since its first course in 2014, it has graduated 250 students, run over 30 intakes, and has affected hundreds of lives for the better.
What makes Dev different is its emphasis on developing the real life soft skills as well as the technical skills to help students find work after they have completed the Bootcamp. As a result, Dev graduate students are in demand from employers such as Xero, Powershop, Trade Me and Flick Electric.
WHO IS ROHAN WAKEFIELD, DEV CO-FOUNDER?
Rohan was born in Island Bay and grew up in the Hutt Valley. He has himself, no background in education or developing for that matter. Rohan is the definition of a chameleon, changing wherever life takes him.
“I grew up wild and free, exploring things often with a dog by my side and a gun under my arm” Rohan explains. His parents are both farmers and his father also worked at the Wellington medical school as a pathologist, teaching medicine as well. “They are open-minded, questioning people. They did philosophy courses and read a great deal. It set me up with a fortunate start in life but also perspective. It gave me a chance to set myself up and know my place in the world” Rohan explains.
HOW DID HE GET HERE?
Rohan was not a big computer user after the early phase of ‘Space Invaders’ - “From around 7 - 14” he explains. “Around 1994 we got a Microsoft Computer. It had dial-up internet and minesweeper. I remember mainly using it for finding out about music on Alta Vista” Rohan smiles. “I was a major reader of something called ‘Metal Hammer’ and I saw that they had lines saying to check out more online. It was amazing at the time because all of a sudden I COULD do that.”
Rohan studied at Hutt International Boys School. He then did a trip to Latin America for his final year at school before returning to university in New Zealand to study science which he promptly dropped out of. He started a company that cleared sections for people and did general house maintenance. With his then partner they started to employ people to provide the work and he gained the confidence to build business relationships. It was the basis of his understanding of business. After this Rohan also began to import Chinese fly fishing flies. “Never really had my heart in it, but I learnt a lot in retrospect, ” he says. “We sell a ton of fishing flies in New Zealand!”
At this point “I was lost” says Rohan. He ended his then relationship, started some short term contracts, temp'ed in government and then started a job at Victoria University in continuing Education. “I saved enough money to do another year of travel in South America and Easter Island. I was about 26. My then partner joined me and when she came back to New Zealand she was pregnant.”
It was at this point Rohan re-assessed how he had been living. “I suddenly had a family to support so I started selling insurance. I turned out to be good at it. I got some really good training on selling from some clever people who were more unethical but really good at it” Rohan explains. He didn’t naturally feel that it was for him. After 3 years, he left and went instead to work for a company called the Johnson Group, a recruiter. Rohan learnt a great deal and was on track to be comfortable. He had a realisation it needed to be a ‘win-win-win’ when it came to money. “Money has to be being recycled into positive aspects. It cannot cause harm in how it is created. And it also must be balanced in that it shouldn’t be extractive. I woke up one day and I said to Annie, my wife, and said I wanted to earn good money and love working and do good working. Surely there is a better place we can create.”
HOW DID DEV START?
People told Rohan to speak to Joshua, a co-founder at Enspiral, who had started similar what Rohan was pitching to himself. After getting together, Rohan worked almost for free for a year in a half, establishing himself. He was exposed to many problems currently facing Wellington. Through the process, he began to speak to people in developing technology and employers. Rohan noticed tech employers had naivety about how to employ and management and also that it was hard to employ people in New Zealand. Students were coming out of universities with computer science degrees and not getting hired.
Rohan had a chat with a key figure at Xero at that time, Andrew Tokeley - now Head of Global Product at 8i VR. He explained that he had no issue with people applying for jobs but that they lacked the right skills, cost too much to train and were introverted and couldn’t collaborate. Computer science types were too introverted and preferred to be in their own world, nerding out in code.
Rohan was surprised but these views were confirmed by further research in the education and tech sector. He asked the simple question: ‘What makes a good developer and a great one?’ The answer wasn't the creator of a competitive product, surprisingly. What it was was that the individual had a passion for being a developer and for learning and collaborating. He also had to learn fast with the rate of change in the sector. “No one teaches us how to learn,” Rohan says. “You also need to learn how to negotiate with yourself and others. This is the foundation of how you’ll work in an organisation. You need too take feedback and to be managed by others and be able to empathise. And none of them were technical or emphasised in tertiary education. We needed to build something totally new.”
So, with the help of Developer Bootcamp in San Fransisco to start out with, they set out to launch Dev.
WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?
The first intake of students had 3 teachers to 13 students. All students have gone on to achieve amazing things. From Tim at DeliverEasy, Kendall Flutey (as above - who also won influential young Maori of the Year), Nick Johnstone, now at NEC and many more. “That first cohort exposed us to the potential we could be as a school. Every cohort we learn something new. We can always be better. We always listen and take feedback” Rohan says.
WHERE ARE THEY HEADED NEXT?
Dev is growing on up now. “We have been in the education space but outside the system. We have 4 pillars we believe in at the school. We believe in then export of the tech sector, regional development of tech, demographic parity with the New Zealand demographic - more Maori, Pasifika and Women - and improve the delivery of education in New Zealand. We can’t currently achieve these because we don’t have funding. Right now, we only end up taking the privileged because 4/5 students can’t afford to study with us. We want to help other organisations improve on their educational delivery. Everyone needs to know the skills because all industries are being disrupted. Mechanical roles are being taken over and there is more a consulting role in our positions” Rohan also has plans for blockchain technology, design and more.
Eventually, Dev hopes to change education, making it about growing a person and skills together. “You’d come in for free, growing, developing. You leave without debt, without a job, and you go into the wold confident, capable and enabled” Rohan says passionately. “This gives you strength. So many people have anxiety around work today. It shouldn’t be like that!”
Rohan considers Wellington an amazing place to expand Dev Academy and that the students will give back to the community. “I can't wait to see what else comes through in the next 3 years onwards. I am so excited by the innovative and creative richness we are growing here. It has an incubator feel, fills out pubs and restaurants and is the heart of the city.”