“Right now I’m building the kind of university that I was missing 12 years ago when I was looking for a university to study at,” Thomas Bachem tells me.
One of the co-founders of the CODE University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, Bachem aims to establish a new private university specialised in digital product development, with investment and support from German travel tech giant Trivago.
“What really drove me into doing this was because computer science programmes are super theoretical and focus very much on the mathematical background of computer science,” he noted. CODE wants to flip that and create a more practical, project-based learning experience.
It’s starting small; 89 students from Germany and abroad have just started in the augural programmes in software engineering, interaction design, and product management, which are officially certified degrees in Germany and conducted in English.
Among the professors teaching at the institution are Prof. Dr Sven Ripsas (Berlin School of Economics and Law), Dr Shermin Voshmgir (Founder at BlockchainHub), and Prof. Dr Diana Knodel (founder of App Camps).
The demand for digital skills has accelerated manyfold since Bachem’s time in university, but he felt that the learning process for many technical degrees hadn’t evolved or adapted enough.
“I didn’t feel affected by these study programmes so I studied at a business school but not so much because of the business stuff but more because of the smaller, more personal study experience. I asked myself why, at least in Germany, are there so many offers from business schools but none for technological fields.”
CODE University has taken a lot of inspiration from 42, the computing school in Paris founded by investor Xavier Niel, and the Make School in San Francisco by building project-based learning, rather than traditional lectures, that encourages collaboration.
“There are lots and lots of bootcamps that offer three or four-month programmes to teach you how to code, which we think is a bit too short to be honest - but we’re trying to combine the ideas of these bootcamps to make it much more practical with an academic degree,” said Bachem.
Trivago is injecting some of the financial backing to get the Berlin-based institution off the ground, said Peter Vinnemeier, co-founder and CTO of Trivago, but is also providing the company’s “experience in developing software and the large-scale operations we do.”
“There are few companies in Germany doing tech at our scale,” he said, but there is a lack of supply with Trivago hiring internationally to fulfil its demands. Current university programmes often do not prepare people for the practical side of companies’ work cultures, Vinnemeier said.
“People come right from university and usually do not fit the work environment that we provide so we would need to put some effort in getting them there. From CODE, we expect them to be much more to what we actually need,” he explained.
“It’s not just to make it quicker and produce more employees faster,” added Bachem “That’s not the reason we are much more practical; the reason is that we lose a lot of great people along the way if we only offer super theoretical study programmes, because that really turns off creative minded people.”
Bachem believes that CODE’s approach and processes appeal to people that would have taught themselves anyway.
“As an industry, we need to communicate more clearly that software development is a team effort,” he added. “That’s something that makes it much more creative and much more attractive to people who typically don’t consider computer science to be attractive to them.”
According to Bachem, 22% of CODE's students are female: “Sadly, we’re still working on that”.
“We realise that if we just sit there and wait for more female students apply to us or to other technical study programmes, it’s too late. This decision on what field they are interested in usually, especially for the technical one, is decided much earlier, more like when they’re 15, 16, 17 years old. Because so many more male students are interested in technological stuff in their youth, they get in contact with this much earlier.”
CODE is involved in coding bootcamps for schools to foster the adoption of technical skills in the formative years to change the ratio in future university courses.
“I see a lot of opportunity to build more specialised study programmes,” continued Bachem on the long-term possibilities in areas like online marketing, data science, and DevOps, but the immediate goal for next year is to enrol another 120 students.
“We need more technical people to build companies so that the products are more technology-focused and no just e-commerce, which is really big in Germany. We really want to teach people how to develop real products.”