The code: how to mix business with tech
ENTREPRENEUR: WeThinkCode_’s Arlene Mulder
The former investment banker left the world of finance to pursue her dream of a tech business with the aim of revolutionising education and producing top tech talent
WeThinkCode_ is unlike any educational institute you’ve heard of: it has no classes, no teachers and no tuition. Its students learn how to solve problems using coding as the tool.
And it is open to anyone between 17 and 35 years old, even if they don’t have a matric. Prospective students undergo an aptitude test and a month-long boot camp before they are selected for the tuition-free two-year course in programming and coding.
WeThinkCode_ was created by Arlene Mulder and Camille Agon, but is based on a tried and tested educational model from Paris called Ecole 42.
And in a big scoop for the two-year-old nonprofit institute, BCX announced last month that it would inject R60m over three years into the organisation, to help develop the next generation of talent within the ICT sector. As part of the deal, BCX and other Telkom Group companies will host 40 WeThinkCode_ interns each year over the period.
Mulder says she’s always been inspired by solving difficult challenges, which is why she loves mathematics and technology and uses them as tools to solve complex problems.
"I completed my master’s degree in business, mathematics and informatics at North-West University and joined the Rand Merchant Bank graduate programme, where I worked in the quantitative credit risk team for two years," says Mulder.
She then moved into its corporate finance team as a dealmaker where she spent five years working on mergers & acquisitions; the perfect environment to learn about business, she says. "I had the opportunity to work with some of the top CEOs in the country, and learnt how they think and strategise about their business."
As someone who’s always been passionate about education, Mulder ended up leading the internal technical training division while in corporate finance.
It was during her career at RMB that she realised there was a greater focus in business on "how to gear business for the digital revolution", especially in the banking sector where numerous FinTech disruptors were entering the scene.
"I realised there was a need for people who understand business, but also know how technology can be used to solve these problems," says Mulder.
"The problem is you often have people who can develop incredible tech solutions, and you have people who are really good at solving business problems, but they can’t necessarily talk to each other."
Mulder saw the need for skills where people use technology to solve business problems. This is the kind of thinking she wants to cultivate at WeThinkCode.
Its graduates are given internships where their skills are applied in real-life scenarios at corporate sponsors who, Mulder says, could even employ them.
The funds from BCX will enable it to expand the Johannesburg campus capacity from 120 to 320 students. It also means the addition of a Robotics Lab, and a recording studio for videos and podcasts for students of software engineering. A Cape Town campus will welcome 200 students in 2018.