Trading up through trade school

In Poland, a junior programmer in their first job can count on a salary of PLN 2,500-PLN 4,000. That’s more than a specialist with up to three-five years of experience makes in most other industries. A senior coder with 10+ years of practice makes five or six times that. There are few industries with equally promising prospects. Coders Lab founder Marcin Tchórzewski outlines the growing niche for it trade schools

By Beata Socha

The IT market has been attracting a growing number of professionals with little or no experience in programming who are willing to retrain and switch to the lucrative profession. For those who do, the IT market can be very generous. “People who change careers but have had a few years’ experience elsewhere usually get higher salaries than computer science graduates with no work history,” said Marcin Tchórzewski, founder of Coders Lab, a school designed to train fully-fledged programmers in a matter of weeks.

Marcin Tchórzewski, founder of Coders Lab

After all, a certain group of skills are universal, and a somewhat seasoned staff member is simply more valuable than a complete newbie, regardless of their previous occupation. They often also make very rapid career climb. “We’ve had people who graduated four years ago and are already in a senior developer position. Moreover, when you work in IT, you can count on a pay rise even up to every six months!” That’s because it is very easy for software engineers to find alternative jobs, which puts employers in a permanent bidding war.

IT powerhouse for tech giants

Poland has established itself as a European IT hub, where more and more global leaders are looking for talent. International companies are already way ahead of their domestic competitors when it comes to attracting employees. They offer very competitive salaries that many home-grown IT businesses are finding increasingly difficult to match. They also win on prestige and a more inclusive management style, which are the top two qualities Polish professionals are looking for in a potential employer, according to a recent report prepared by HR firm Antal. Unsurprisingly, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Intel were four out of the top five employers in IT in Poland, according to Antal’s latest employer ranking, with only one Polish firm – games studio CD Projekt – making the cut.

Modern trade school

The shortage in the market is indeed vast and only getting bigger. “If 50,000 programmers appeared on the market this year, the market would easily absorb them,” says Tchórzewski. “By 2020 the gap will be even larger.” Meanwhile, universities only produce around 13,000 computer science grads a year. That’s where Coders Lab has found its niche. “It’s a modern trade school and has grown from the demand that universities are not covering.” Tchórzewski is convinced that a course graduate can compete with a university-trained one. What makes a good employee is not only education, but hard work and determination. “Universities are way too theoretical for what the market needs right now. What we offer is somewhere between a regular college and a language school.” The firm, which was launched in 2013, already has some 15 followers that have also decided to cater to this market.

Coders Lab started out in Warsaw, where it currently occupies 1,000 sqm of space, and now has several regional offices as well, the latest addition being the Tri-City. The school employs 70 full-time trainers plus 200 visiting teachers, people who are highly experienced practitioners in the industry.

Last year, the company started running the first courses co-financed by the state (in the form of vouchers from job centers) as well as courses subsidized by EU grants specifically for people looking to gain programming skills. Employers also see a lot of potential there. “More and more companies are organizing tailor-made courses with Coders Lab, subsidized by the employer,” Tchórzewski said.

Philosophers, lawyers and linguists

The majority (80 percent) of Coders Lab course participants are usually between 24 and 34 years of age. Some come straight after college having realized that they may have missed the mark with their choice of education. Many sign up after having worked for a few years in a different industry, and not necessarily with a tech or science background. “We have a lot of philosophy majors, as well as lawyers – they make great programmers. Linguists are also quick learning how to code. We have people with a military background, as well as women during their maternity leave,” he added.

Some course participants are managers who are already quite successful in their jobs but are looking to expand their competencies. They train programmers, testers, UX experts. The company boasts 1,800 graduates already.

The course takes about 30 full days of classes, which can be completed in only six weeks, or as a weekend course over four months. But it’s not an easy-breezy Sunday school. There is an entry selection process, exams are taken every week, and a diploma is awarded at the end. The steep learning curve can sometimes prove too much. “Some 20 percent of people don’t finish the course. Those who do, however, have the skills they came here for and are ready to start working immediately,” Tchórzewski concluded.

The feminine side of IT

Women have been long on the outskirts of the IT profession, with only a 10-percent share in the total labor pool. But they seem very determined to get into the boys’ club. In the case of Coders Lab, as much as 25-50 percent of participants are female.

Reports seem to confirm that education does not preclude women from joining the tech market. According to Geek Girls Carrots, only 48 percent of women employed in the IT industry have science or technology-related university diplomas. Of those who do, 76 percent studied computer science specifically.
There are also dark sides to being a woman in the profession. As much as 85 percent of female IT professionals have had to tackle unfavorable stereotypes, while 28 percent claim to have been rejected in the recruitment process due to their gender. The wage gap also remains a major issue, with 61 percent reporting that their salaries are below those of their male peers.

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