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School for Software Developers Set To Open in Whangarei

A tech school to satisfy industry demand for software developers is the latest exciting start-up to emerge from Northland.

Founded by Ruth Green-Cole and George Norris, the Developers Institute aims to deliver NZQA-approved qualifications and provide an apprenticeship model for software developers, enabling graduates to progress into employment with industry partners to build software solutions for enterprise clients.

The school is expected to be a gamechanger in a part of the country where tourism, farming and forestry are the main exports.

According to the 2018 Technology Investment Network 200 Report, tech is third in NZ’s export stakes behind dairy ($14b) and tourism ($10.8b) and there is demand for thousands more tech workers.

Since late 2016, the Developers Institute has been carefully crafting its industry-driven curriculum, working towards an approvals process which the co-founders hope will allow the school to start in Whangarei by mid-2019.

Green-Cole and Norris both have backgrounds in management and leadership at academic and software development institutions. The other key team member is Emma Middlemiss, who has a decade’s worth of experience managing software development studios in London and Australia, including working on Call of Duty at Spov.

Courses will be taught by industry professionals and cover areas of the highest employment demand including web, software, mobile software development, UX and UI design and product management. Green-Cole said the curriculum is agile and can move with industry requirements – say, for example, if demand for blockchain and artificial intelligence expertise rose.

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Wages in computer system design firms ($99,744 per annum) are consistently about double the New Zealand average ($52,950).

“We believe our job is only done once graduates secure employment,” Green-Cole says. “We are working on a partnership that would see our best graduates earning 55-65K a year straight after completing their training”.

Numbers in each studio-like classroom will be limited, with only 50 new students admitted per year. Each student is expected to have 18 months of apprenticeship-style study before moving on to employment.

While students need to meet standard NZQA entry requirements, successful admission to the programme is focused on attitude over aptitude as no previous software development knowledge is required. 25-45-year-old career changers and some school leaders are likely to enrol.

The founders add that encouraging gender and cultural diversity is an "absolute key" to bridging the gap between supply and demand. Of the 14,220 computer science and information technology students studying in 2016, only 36% were female and only 8% of students were Māori.

“We want to train and retain people in our region so they can earn good salaries to support their families,” Green-Cole adds.

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