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Issue 34

First graduates of Cluj Simplon program

Ovidiu Mățan
Founder @ Today Software Magazine
OTHERS

I met Roxana last year, when she had come to Cluj with the purpose of creating a new generation of programmers. It was a courageous statement in a local context characterized by a great number of programmers. To this, we also have to consider the fact that, at about the same time, Pitech+Academy was being launched. But Roxana kept her word and managed to launch her program in which twelve young people were selected. They were promised to be offered courses and programs, free of charge, for a period of six months, in order to become young web programmers. Now, at the end of the six months, Roxana reveals to us from the experience of implementing this program, but also the endeavors that condition its continuity.

Congratulations on your first class of Simplon graduates! How do you feel at the end of the six months you have stood by the 12 candidates?

[Roxana Rugina] I am very happy for innumerable reasons. First of all, because I feel that our participants have found their place, or at least they are more confident they will succeed. It is very important for us to make sure that all of our graduates manage to achieve their goals of working in the IT domain or of developing their own business online.

I am happy to see that, beyond the candidates' potential, we have developed a community, starting from a small family, where we have shared, for six months, the hardest moments, but also the most beautiful achievements.

I am glad that we were able to carry this program through and that, today, we are surrounded by a community of talented people who are passionate about technology, who are supporting us and looking forward to the next Simplon bootcamp.

I am happy for all the participants who have succeeded in learning a programming language in six months and who are developing today their own platforms, or have been hired by IT companies.

Above all, I am glad we have a powerful and positive impact on everyone around us, and this is what makes me go on and look for partners that can help us develop this program further in Cluj, but also on a national level.

Please explain to our readers what the Simplon project means.

[Roxana Rugina] Our mission is to facilitate the access of nontechnical people and of those who come from vulnerable groups to a career in the IT domain. If I were to describe Simplon in just a few words, they would be education, technology and social innovation.

We are developing a series of educational programs in the IT domain through methods of practical, interdisciplinary and collaborative learning, which contribute to the development of skills necessary in the 21st century. The Simplon concept, awarded by the President of France as the most innovating initiative of social entrepreneurship of the year 2014, was brought to Romania, to Cluj.

Since May 2014 until today, we have organized over 30 events for 1466 participants on national level. In our trainings, 261 adults have been trained and 245 children have been initiated into the world of programming. Of those 102 applications for the web development and entrepreneurship bootcamp, we selected 12 participants to whom we have offered almost 100 hours of training. 60% of the participants to these courses have been employed or are now developing their own business in the IT domain. The training program of 6 intensive months in web development is offered free of charge to those who come from underprivileged environments or who need professional reconversion in order to become web service developers.

Besides that, Simplon also organizes courses of programming for children and activities of promoting the entrepreneurship and diversity in IT. You can find details on ro.simplon.co

What is its social impact?

[Roxana Rugina] I would like to give you the example of Mariusz Siklodi, who is a student in the Music Academy. Mariusz came to our bootcamp because he has a passion for technology and he wants to combine the code with music. Together with Alexandra Crisan-Raica, they have developed a web platform in just two months from the bootcamp. Now, the platform attracts new clients every day. Their story is an example for anyone who wishes to transform an idea into a web product, but has neither the knowledge, nor the confidence that they can do this on their own.

We say that Simplon encourages people to use technology in order to improve their life. Whether our participants get a better job in the future, or they discover their passion and develop a business, Simplon is the catalyst that Romanian society needs so as to develop its human and entrepreneurial potential.

Most of the times, the impact we see is not just on the participants to our programs, but also on their families, friends and the entire community.

The fact that a young man who cannot find a job in his domain, manages to learn a programming language in six months with our help, represents a life buoy. We are offering it to those who are in difficult situations, knowing that they will take full advantage of it and they will also offer help to those around them.

We know that the faculties do not have the capacity to cover the needs of the market in the IT domain. That is why Simplon attracts people with potential, whom it prepares to face the changes. Technologies are advancing very fast, and we are training people capable of adapting and learning quickly how to use them in order to solve problems. By encouraging young people to think this way, we are offering a chance to each of them and new talents to the companies that wish to develop new products based on modern technologies.

Describe two projects developed at the end of those six months, from the entrepreneurship perspective.

[Roxana Rugina] Right from the beginning, for bootcamp, we select the candidates who have ideas of projects and who are motivated to learn code in order to turn an idea into a product. We want them to believe very much in the utility of an application or of a technology in order for them to find solutions and develop the product, thus, becoming creators and not merely consumers of technology.

The professional past of those in the bootcamp stands out through diversity: designers, psychologists, musicians, law students, journalists, economists, who wanted to give their passion for technology a chance and came to study web development. As a consequence, their projects, too, were very different: from open source platforms to e-commerce. For instance, Georgiana Bere worked remotely with a team made of journalists who were in Germany, Switzerland and another developer from Bucharest, on an open knowledge platform, in an open source manner.

A project developed within bootcamp, launched in beta version, is wedbox.ro - an online platform which helps you to plan your wedding, easily and quickly, to the smallest detail. The web application makes the entire range of trustworthy services and solutions for weddings available. The choices the users can make with wedbox turn the ordeal of organizing such an event into a pleasure. In a few clicks, they can find the dress, the shoes, the location, the cake, the wedding rings and the turtle doves they are dreaming of for their wedding.

At the moment, the wedbox team is looking for new people to increase the number of service providers, hoping that in the future they would be able to develop functionalities and packages addressed to the most sophisticated clients, who wish for personalized and as original as possible services.

Within the program, the participants learned a programming language: Ruby on Rails, but also how to develop the product from behind the web applications. Because of this, many of the ideas are transforming or still waiting for validation in order to be developed. For example, foodplace.ro is a platform dedicated to gormandizers who wish to order their favourite food rapidly from the cheapest and best place. The idea has been launched online, to test the market and see if there is interest from the part of the users.

What other projects are you involved in?

[Roxana Rugina] In partnership with Edusfera Association, the Simplon team organizes the courses of programming called Digital Kids in Cluj, for children between the ages of 8 and 14. At the moment, we are offering courses for 30 children and we want to increase the capacity to double this year. Besides these, we are also preparing a series of programs that cover many areas, from robotics to game development for children.

Moreover, in partnership with Hackidemia, a mobile invention lab where children, young people and adults learn about technologies, electricity, mathematics in an entertaining and interdisciplinary environment, we organize workshops. The next one will be on the 9th of May, in TEDxEroilor, Cluj Napoca. We have also organized this kind of activities in Bucharest, Cluj and Sfantu Gheorghe.

Together with Sponge Media Innovation Lab, we also organize activities such as the hackathon and we offer support for journalists and ONGs that want to use the new media, open data and digital tools in their domain of activity.

In Cluj, I am part of the teams that organize Startup Weekend and Startup Pirates and I am a mentor in several events for entrepreneurs.

Another local project to which I have contributed since December is Cluj Makers, a community of creative people who are preparing the opening of the first workshop in Cluj dedicated to the new crafts. Here, people will have access to tools and equipment for digital fabrication and quick prototyping, programs of education and workshops of training in design, hardware and software, from wood processing to sensors, integrated systems and arduino.

On global level, I am a consultant on youth programs for Microsoft Youth Spark for the central and east-European regions and I activate in several social entrepreneurship networks.

Given the success of the first class of graduates, what is your plan for the next round and how could local companies get involved to support this program?

[Roxana Rugina] We want to keep contributing to the development of human capital and of the entrepreneurial environment in Romania.

Therefore, we encourage local companies, in the first place, to invest in education in the domain of technology. It is obvious that the number of graduates from the technical faculties is much lower than the number of specialists we need. Furthermore, the classical formation in this area is not sufficiently oriented towards the product and practical experience. Now is the moment to find solutions and bring up new talents together.

Simplon proposes today a successful program and is looking for partners to develop this program and enhance the number of beneficiaries. We need all the actors that are interested in attracting human resources in IT, through training programs and programming courses with the latest technologies and methods of quick learning.

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