The George Kaiser Family Foundation has spoken softly — and only when asked — about its involvement in bringing a Holberton School to Tulsa.
The truth is that the foundation was instrumental in attracting the software engineering school to town, and on Tuesday Holberton officials will hold a press conference to explain why that’s good news for potential students and for the city as a whole.
“What we wanted to do, in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, is build a really equitable and accessible program,” said Libby Wuller, executive director of Holberton Tulsa.
Holberton is a private software engineering school that uses an online, project-based curriculum.
Holberton has three campuses in Colombia and one in Tunisia. When the Tulsa campus opens in the Arts District next year, it will become the third Holberton School in the United States. The others are in San Francisco, California, and New Haven, Connecticut.
“The team in San Francisco realized that they wanted geographical diversity and they also knew, in San Francisco, the cost of living is just not palatable, or doable, for everyone,” Wuller said. “So they were actively looking for a third U.S. campus when they were put in touch with the George Kaiser Family Foundation.”
What GKFF has made possible — in conjuction with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation — are living stipends of up to $1,500 a month for eligible Holberton students in Tulsa.
The stipends do not have to be paid back if a student works in Tulsa for at least 3½ years after completing Holberton’s two-year program.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation is also helping decrease tuition costs for local Holberton students.
There is no up-front cost to attend the school. Instead, students pay Holberton a percentage of their salaries for 42 months once they obtain a job and earn more than $40,000 a year.
In other Holberton programs, students pay 17% of their salaries for 42 months after completing the program. In Tulsa, the percentage will be 10% if a student stays in town to work.
Tuition is capped at $85,000.
“Those two financial elements mean that someone can (initially) pay nothing to attend a best-in-class software school and pay 10% of their income for three and a half years,” Wuller said. “And if they are sticking around Tulsa, they’ll have that $1,500 a month (living stipend) waived.
“That is something we really want to be sure folks know about.”
Holberton School has no teachers. Cohorts of students work independently and together with an emphasis on problem-solving, collaboration and soft skills such as public speaking.
Mentors from local companies assist with project offerings and consultations but do not serve as teachers.
Sylvain Kalache, co-founder of Holberton, said GKFF’s financial assistance will help the company realize one of its primary goals: opening the field of software engineering, or coding, to a more diverse group of people.
Kalache said the school is making headway on that front, with former taxi drivers, cooks and dishwashers among the students who have enrolled in the program at other campuses.
The financial assistance provided by GKFF and the Schusterman Family Foundation will help advance that cause locally, he said.
“There are a lot of people who don’t feel they can become a software engineer,” Kalache said. “... We are welcoming anyone who wants to be.”
Holberton accepts three classes a year. One begins in January, one begins in June, and the other in September.
Wuller said Tulsa’s Holberton School could open its doors at 15 N. Cheyenne Ave. as early as January with 30 to 50 students. She expects that number to increase in time, and encourages individuals interested in the program to apply online at holbertonschool.com.
The only requirements are that a person be 18 years old and have a high school diploma, or an equivalency degree. The application process is free.
“If folks are interested, I think the best thing to do is try the application,” Wuller said. “It’s basically module zero of the Holberton curriculum. It actually teaches you to code a website and you could do it even if you’ve never coded. It walks you through the process.”