A career in IT development seems attractive thanks to the high salaries and great job security and also attracts more and more career changers. Since 2021, the start-up Syntax Institute has been training laypersons to become certified mobile developers in twelve months of full-time courses. The online school is financed for the participants via the education voucher from the employment agency. A conversation about who the career step into app development is suitable for – and why crash courses are not enough.
Felix Frauendorf is the founder of the Syntax Institute, whose goal is to offer motivated people a chance to start over and at the same time to combat the shortage of skilled workers.
What qualities must those interested have in order to be successful in IT development – and ideally also to be happy?
Most importantly, have a passion for problem solving. If you like puzzles, IT is the right place for you. This passion is much more important than good degrees, because programming is above all about identifying a problem and overcoming it with the given tools.
Endurance for long-term continued learning is also necessary. If you want to make a career in IT, you have to continue learning out of conviction after your training – just collecting as many training certificates as possible is not enough. Because, on the one hand, the industry is developing far too quickly for you to have ever finished learning, on the other hand, you have to have internalized the knowledge and be able to access it. It is therefore also important to be curious about trying things out. Programming is the craft of the digital world, many things are best learned by tinkering.
And last but not least: Don’t get discouraged, self-doubt is normal! Especially for career changers, one or the other topic can seem overwhelming at first. But if you’re really up for it and ready to get involved, you’ll definitely make the change. The trend can give courage: In the USA, more than 25 percent of IT specialists do not have a university degree, in Germany it is 14 percent, and lateral entry is also becoming the norm across all sectors: as early as 2018, every third specialist was a lateral entrant.
There is also a ray of hope for everyone for whom math lessons used to be above all torture: People with a talent for languages instead of math also have good opportunities in IT, because programming languages are ultimately also languages with their own grammar – so a certain feeling for language can be helpful in our industry be.
Conversely, are there exclusion criteria that make an app developer career impossible from the outset or at least make it very difficult?
Unwillingness to work in a team is now a real exclusion criterion. For the development of digital products, a whole range of stakeholders often have to coordinate: from UX/UI designers to backend developers to web and mobile (app) developers. Goal-oriented cooperation is therefore incredibly important. Anyone who is not particularly good at teamwork and communication will probably not be happy in IT.
What we look for when selecting applicants is a combination of firstly professional suitability – this includes above all technical and structured thinking and working; Any prior knowledge that may already be available helps, of course, but is not a must, and secondly, personal aptitude – this includes, above all, the skills already mentioned, such as the ability to work in a team, perseverance and having fun with puzzles. If you don’t have these skills, you’re probably better off in another industry.
At your institute, the further training to become an app developer lasts a whole year full-time. A lot of time, even if there are also much shorter offers that promise similar success. Why is it taking you so long?
Experience shows: In order to make the lateral entry into app development, you have to have a whole range of skills for which a 3, 6 or even 9 month course is simply not enough.
Because if you want to learn programming, you have to be able to allow yourself a lot of time to practice and try things out. The theory is good and important, but only through regular application can the knowledge be anchored in the long term – and experience gained at the same time. Our course should of course take this into account, which is why the theory blocks are repeatedly interrupted by practical tasks and coding challenges that can be solved alone or in teamwork. In general, our participants regularly get the opportunity to exchange ideas and help each other.
At the same time, our participants learn not only the basics of programming to get started, but also the two native programming languages Kotlin (Android) and Swift (iOS), so that they can later specialize better along their own strengths. The regular practical projects then form a portfolio consisting of a total of three apps.
Of course, all of this takes a lot of time – but we are convinced that these are hours well invested, and the focus on practice in particular is very well received by our participants and their employers. Of course, we would prefer to invest even more time in the training, but the one-year course has proven to be a good compromise between comprehensive training and a quick career start.
Shorter courses are more suitable for learning special knowledge in individual specialist areas, but not for becoming a fully comprehensive (app) developer. From our point of view, however, there are no full-time offers that promise to make people without extensive previous knowledge (native) app developers for iOS and Android in less than 12 months.
There are boot camps that promise to train developers over a period of 3 to 6 months. But these are either other types of programmers, for example web developers, who can actually be trained in shorter formats – especially if these courses require previous knowledge – or they are more basic-oriented courses that do not qualify directly for starting a career, but rather rather serve the further training of related disciplines so that product or project managers understand how developers basically work.
Mr. Frauendorf, thank you very much for your answers!
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