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Flatiron School Trains New Yorkers for Tech Jobs in 90 Days

By Mary Johnson | September 17, 2012 4:53pm

FLATIRON — The unemployment rate in New York City stands at an abysmal 10 percent. At the same time, 985 tech companies in the Big Apple are hiring, according to the city’s Made in NY map, which charts the digital industry in New York.

Those numbers don’t add up for Adam Enbar, 29, and Avi Flombaum, 28, who recently opened The Flatiron School on West 26th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue to give more New Yorkers the skills they need to snag those open tech jobs.

“The New York startup scene is near and dear to my heart, and there’s a huge talent drought,” said Flombaum, who has been programming since he was 11 years old. “There’s an opportunity there. People want to learn these skills.”

And, Enbar added, “there’s not a lot of systems designed to give people the training they need to get really, really great jobs.”

The city has embraced its burgeoning tech sector in recent months and is working to train more New Yorkers to work in the industry. Classes were set to begin this September at Cornell’s new tech-centered graduate school. NYU is planning to open a technology campus in Brooklyn, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn recently announced that tech skills programs will be offered through the City University of New York

The Flatiron School, a for-profit venture hoping to capitalize on the dearth of tech talent in New York, hasn’t officially opened yet. But on Oct. 2, it will welcome its first class of students — 21 in total — who paid $5,500 for three months of full-time computer programming education.

Flombaum, who dropped out of college at 21 to become the chief technology officer at a hedge fund, is the instructor, and has drafted a curriculum that involves a heavy dose of programming, but also lessons in DJ-ing, knot tying, dance and yoga.

The coursework is meant to break the monotony of screen time, but also to help students feel more comfortable trying something new and intimidating.

“It’s all about managing complexity and breaking things down into small parts and seeing how those parts come together,” explained Flombaum, who has been teaching night and weekend courses in programming at the New York City startup Skillshare. “As long as you can break that down into small, simple steps, you can do anything.”

Flombaum said 90 days of full-time education, plus outside coursework, is plenty of time to turn a novice into a solid computer programmer ready for a job in the tech sector. And he points to his own experience dropping out of college at 21 — his resume still indicates that his degree is “pending completion” — as proof that traditional educational models aren’t for everyone.

Enbar, who earned an MBA from Harvard, agreed. He took a job in sales when he graduated Harvard because he said he lacked marketable skills.

“What I found is the most salient problem is the ROI [return on investment] of education,” Enbar explained.

The founders of The Flatiron School said that’s why they decided to create an educational model that is centered on finding students jobs after graduation.

Enbar and Flombaum said they don’t make any money off tuition fees. They are relying instead on recruiting fees that companies will pay to hire Flatiron School students after graduation.

“Everybody’s hiring,” Enbar noted. “They just can’t find the people who have the skills.”

Enbar and Flombaum said they received more than 150 applications for the school’s first semester, with only 21 open slots. Among those who made the cut were Adam Jones, 30, and Li Ouyang, 29, who both stopped by the school recently to work on assignments due before the semester begins.

Jones, who lives in Midtown East, left a job doing baseball scouting and player development in Latin America to become a programmer. Ouyang comes from the world of finance. They both said they were drawn to the prospect of a new career that will allow them to think critically and challenge themselves.

“You know you can do it, and you know you have this opportunity to get there,” Ouyang said. “So why not do it?”