The Iron Yard quietly came to San Antonio last year to look for space that could accommodate its plans to open its 22nd fast-paced coding school. This week, the South Carolina-based company finalized a five-month sublease with Cogeco Peer 1 located in the Pearl Brewery complex.
Six students started 12-week, immersive courses in back-end engineering in April at a Texas Workforce Commission facility near the medical center, but The Iron Yard’s students and staff are anxious to move to the urban core and continue classes in its new 3,600 sq. ft. space next week, said local Campus Director Courtney Cunningham. It took more than a month to finalize the sublease between the two companies.
“We want to be part of the tech scene downtown,” Cunningham said. The local Iron Yard team will continue to look for more permanent space for its coding bootcamp in the urban core. “We were looking for central and ready (in April), but it just wasn’t there.”
They are “in the middle of negotiations” with a downtown property owner, she said, declining to identify the location or owner.
Its space within Cogeco Peer 1, which was previously using it for events and training, can host three classes at a time with a maximum of about 15 students per cohort, but it’ll start with two. The Iron Yard has engaged several local businesses like Rackspace, USAA, Frost Bank and, of course, Peer 1 to tailor its local curriculum for a workforce pipeline that adds to the stream of freshly-trained programmers coming out of the emerging “bootcamp” education market in San Antonio.
Cogeco Peer 1 gets to lease out its extra space, The Iron Yard gets a temporary downtown home and its students get to learn literally steps away from working professionals. “It’s a win-win,” said Cogeco Peer 1 Buyer/Seller Ivette Terry.
Just a few miles south of the Pearl, Codeup is also pumping out IT professionals in its newly-expanded campus inside the Vogue Building downtown. A few blocks away in the Rand Building, the Rackspace Open Cloud Academy headquarters continues to graduate students who are routinely snatched up by Rackspace. There are also a variety of online programs popping up every day where students can go to class from the comfort of their own home.
It’s no accident that these schools have opened downtown as San Antonio strives to create a startup tech hub that seems to, at least parcially, orbit around Geekdom, the downtown co-working space.
The Iron Yard doesn’t really go around looking for tech hubs in the country, said CEO Peter Barth, it looks for markets – emerging or established – that have a dearth of entry-level coding professionals. Some cities and industries need more experienced workers, but that’s not typically what The Iron Yard courses are geared towards. Each city gets a suite of courses according to the needs of student, in line with the local job market.
They have kids as young as 13 and retirees as old as 70, though typically the age range is 25-35.
“We can take an artist or musician and transform them into a software engineer,” said Barth, who is also still an artist.
Such students add an “interesting dynamic” to the modern tech workplace, he said. “It’s a common myth that to be a software engineer you need advanced math and science, but a large majority of the (tech jobs out there) don’t. You need basic algebra – it really is just problem solving.”
Bootcamps like Codeup and The Iron Yard are breaking that myth.
After analyzing market research on San Antonio and collaborating with local tech employers, The Iron Yard launched with two, 12-week courses in back-end engineering and will likely expand its offerings to include front-end engineering this fall, Cunningham said. The classes are kept relatively small so that “everyone gets a ton of attention.”
Beyond regular coursework The Iron Yard will host free, evening Crash Courses once a month and will open up its space for public guest speakers and other events.
This exposure to the community as well as special lessons on building business relationships – “soft skills” – is critical to The Iron Yard programming, Cunningham said. “We have whole career support, not just the tech side of things.”
Sure, CEO Barth said, The Iron Yard could try to open up a shop in New York or San Francisco, but the Iron Yard’s strategy to look for emerging markets lets it grow with the local tech scene. They look for cities with a “genuine need to fill,” that have low costs of living and higher quality of life. “We’re not in New York and we’re not in San Francisco, but we are in Atlanta, Dallas, and San Antonio.”
The possibility of a short-term lease between The Iron Yard and Cogeco Peer 1 was identified by co-founder of local startup SpaceCadet and former Cogeco Peer 1 employee Steven Quintanilla. The SpaceCadet platform serves two markets: companies or individuals looking for space to rent by the hour, day, week, or month and property owners or real estate brokers with space for rent. SpaceCadet charges a fee for when the latter market successfully rents its space. More than 25 venues and office buildings are publicly listed by SpaceCadet in San Antonio, five in Austin and one in Dale, Texas – from traditional offices to co-working space, to a venue at The Ball Farm.
“We’re not trying to replace brokers, we’re supposed to be tools for them,” Quintanilla said. “By activating space we’re enabling entrepreneurship. That’s how we drive economic development.”
The $13,900-per-course price is somewhat cheaper than other code brick-and-mortar and online bootcamps – though each have different offerings, lengths and specialties, so it’s a lot like comparing apples to oranges. Codeup is $17,500 for 4 months (16 weeks). Online bootcamp Bloc has a course in software engineering, more advanced skills than those taught by The Iron Yard, that students can choose their own pace (48-144 weeks) for $24,000 or take the the full stack web developer for $9,500, 24-72 weeks in duration.
The more coding boot camps, the better, Quintanilla said. “It’s another signal in the evolution of the city when there are more options.”
Disclosure: The Rivard Report’s office is located in the Rand Building. Rackspace is a business member of the nonprofit Rivard Report. Click here to view a full list of supporters.
CORRECTION: Cogeco Peer 1 was misidentified in this article as Peer 1 Hosting, which has merged with Cogeco.
Top image: An empty space at Cogeco Peer 1 that will be occupied by The Iron Yard. Photo by Scott Ball.