Bitmaker Labs overcomes adversity to change the face of education
It was an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. Bitmaker Labs, the coding boot camp created by four HBA grads, was closed down by the Ontario government in early June, three weeks into its second session. It was considered an unlicensed private college. The partners put on a full court press to change the government’s mind. After overwhelming support from around the world, an exception was granted and the operation was back up.
Bitmaker Labs is the brainchild of Matt Gray, Andrew Mawer, Tory Jarmain and Will Richman, all HBA ’11. It got started after Richman and Jarmain attended a similar program in Chicago. “Basically the Chicago program was great,” says Gray, “but there were a couple of things it was lacking. We have a passion for fixing education. We wanted to bring something like it to Toronto, but we weren’t going to build another program that put people through without getting them jobs.” Bitmaker is an intensive nine-week, hands-on training program, followed by one week of recruiting by partner Internet companies across Canada.
There is little formal lecturing in the program: students learn primarily by working through projects in teams of two. Each student is matched with two mentors — developers or entrepreneurs who provide guidance and inspiration. The first cohort graduated on May 3, and by the end of June more than 85 per cent of them had jobs or were starting businesses of their own.
“Bitmaker has found an incredibly important niche,” said Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, during a visit in July. “It’s going to be an incredibly important tool in growing our high-tech economy.” Gray and his partners are counting on that. They have plans to expand nationally and even internationally over the next five years. “More than two-billion people use the Internet,” says Gray. “Most of them are just users of that technology. We want to encourage more of them to become creators of technology and then use it to disrupt conventional industries.”
Photo: Nation Wong
Art Direction: Greg Salmela, Aegis