Brian Russell and Caleb Smith Astro Code School

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Another development shop in town is trying to solve its talent shortage and yours with an intensive code education program. And it's claiming to be the first on the East Coast focused on the open source language Python and framework Django.

Caktus Consulting Group, the 10-year-old firm specializing in Python and Django development, has hired a school director and today, announces plans to start its first class at the Astro Code School this spring. The news comes 10 months after the creative agency Smashing Boxes brought Greenville, S.C.'s The Iron Yard to town to train new developers in Javascript, HTML, Ruby on Rails, and this winter, Python. So far, two semesters of students have graduated and a majority have found jobs.

It's now the fifth code education program to open in the region in the last year. Last week, <dev> tech academy announced its fundraising campaign to start a free year-long program targeting low income youth in Durham. Tech Talent South already operates full and part-time programs in Raleigh. And Code the Dream is recruiting for its free one-month beginner classes in Raleigh and Durham this winter and spring—it's targeted to immigrant and minority youth. 

Iron Yard instructor Clinton Dreisbach wrote in a recent blog post that code schools are really just a new take on the old concept of a guild apprenticeship, where learners begin as students and end as colleagues. He expects companies to increasingly recruit from the programs or to put their existing employees through them to learn new skills.

Similar to The Iron Yard, Astro classes will be $10,000 a pop for 12 weeks of full-time intensive instruction. The school is working to become licensed by the state, so it cannot guarantee students a job at the end of the program. But an advisory board and Demo Day (similar to The Iron Yard) are aimed to help place students quickly in junior developer jobs. 12 spots are open for class one.

Caktus's staff of 30 employees will also be involved in the program, which will operate beneath its offices in the building it bought a year ago on Morris Street. The idea came from the firm's CTO Colin Copeland, and the first classes will be taught by employee Caleb Smith (top right), who has a degree in education and teaches a class in Django at the UNC School of Journalism. 

Running the school is Brian Russell (top left), the founder and operator of Carrboro Creative Coworking, the region's first coworking space which operated 2009-2012. He most recently worked as the chief webmaster in the marketing department at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Years prior, he worked at the multimedia lab at Radford University in Virginia. Education, community building and "building good environments" are passions, he says.

So why Python and Django? Because Python is growing a reputation for being a good language for teaching development, Russell says. Many universities are switching from Java to the language. And large companies like Google, Yahoo and NASA are increasingly using it and Django in application development. Here's a good essay on the trend in Readwrite.

Astro won't focus exclusively on the language and framework, but will use them to introduce aspiring developers to web application development for business. The goal is for students to graduate and be prepared to work in a firm that builds applications for other companies, like Caktus does for its clients. They'll also be able to quickly learn other languages and build on their skills. Soft skills will be included in the curriculum—how to prepare a portfolio, interview, network and work with others.

Caktus has been active in the Django community locally, sponsoring Girl Develop It and DjangoGirls events as well as conferences like PyCon and DjangoCon. Caktus expects to hire graduates from the program, but to also feed capable developers into other companies.

The Iron Yard recognized this same need, rolling out its Python class for the first time this semester.

Russell is interested in inclusivity and hopes to secure grants to provide scholarships to students who'd like to participate in the program but don't have the $10K. He hopes to recruit a diverse board as well—spots are still open.