"Move fast and break things," Mark Zuckerberg once advised.
The entrepreneurs behind the Flatiron School, on the other hand, took a different approach to building their education company: They expanded slowly, and built out an intensive training program for web developers.
As the market grows increasingly hungry for coders, the number of startups that offer accelerated training in digital skills is rising. What sets Flatiron School apart from the rest, claims co-founder and president Adam Enbar, is the quality of education that it provides, and the fact that it sources test material from professional programmers.
On Thursday, the New York City-based startup announced the launch of a new, open-sourced training program that allows students to participate remotely. The curriculum, which includes a series of tests, exercises, and group projects, is designed to adapt to your own pace of learning. It may take some students as little as four months to complete. For others, it could take a year or more.
The cost is $1,000 per month, which is a considerable discount compared with the $15,000 that Flatiron charges for a typical three-month session. Significantly, students are promised job placement within six months of completing the program, or they're given a full refund.
Flatiron's Learn Verified program is an expansion of the school's mission: To connect more people to the jobs that also need them. Unlike typical coding classes, the curriculum sources material from vetted professionals, and other community members, so that the course itself is constantly evolving.
"We have to be accountable to our students," Enbar explained in a phone call with Inc. "The vast majority of students come here with the intent on changing careers, on becoming software engineers," he adds.
With a 98 percent success rate, securing jobs for developers is something that Flatiron School does regularly. The average salary for a graduate, says Enbar, is $74,000 annually. The school has graduated nearly 1,000 students since opening its doors in 2012, some of whom have gone on to work at reputable companies like Google, Etsy, and Kickstarter.
Enbar and his co-founder, Avi Flombaum, claim that the new program is especially unique because of the results students are able to see after completing the course. After all, there are plenty of free online resources available to students, but those aren't necessarily designed to land them jobs. Students of Codeacademy, for instance, might simply be looking to better understand a specific programming language.
"You wouldn't expect somebody to become a licensed surgeon without ever picking up a scalpel, but when you look at how education is done online today, it's all done in these contrived environments," says Enbar.
In crafting the program, the two incorporated real "tools" -- GitHub and text editors, for instance -- as opposed to relying on standard, multiple-choice quizzes. They also wanted to re-create the feel of a classroom, so they built in web chat and screen-sharing functions.
"Codeacademy has millions of users, but there's no way to interact with any of them," says Flombaum, by way of reference.
Beyond that, if multiple users are struggling to solve the same problem, Flatiron will send an instructor to help via live chat.
The open curriculum may come with quality caveats, though. Enbar describes Learn Verified as the "Wikipedia" of coding education -- a comparison that is sure to raise some eyebrows, at least from a quality control perspective.
Still, he insists that Flatiron's "maintainers," who are tasked with monitoring the curriculum, are savvy enough to catch errors or otherwise unhelpful material.
Anna Marie Smith, an education consultant with A-List Education in New York City, who went to graduate school for web design, is optimistic about what a program like Flatiron's can offer.
"There are a lot of people who can benefit from taking an online course if the curriculum is quality," she tells me. "I think the technology industry -- and creating classes about coding -- are perfect for an online platform." She notes that in her graduate program, the majority of teachers were also full-time professionals, which helped her to glimpse that "day-to-day" experience of working as a developer.
The Learn Verified program isn't for the faint of heart, though. Enbar notes that most online platforms are designed to be as easy and engaging as possible. "We don't make it easy," he says. "The program is hard. It gives students the feeling that what they're learning is real."
To register for the new program, students first have to complete 30 hours of prerequisite work, to prove that they have what it takes to commit to the full session.
The Flatiron School, which is--paradoxically--based in Manhattan's financial district (not in the Flatiron), has raised $14.5 million in total funding.