A small Mexico City-based startup called “Hola Code” is slowly transforming into a university of sorts, serving as a springboard for deportees to launch careers in information technology.
Over the past two years, more than 70 people have graduated from Hola Code, and, interestingly, almost all of them have managed to land a job in the IT services industry. “When I entered Hola code, I didn’t know one line of code, now I’m a full-stack software engineer,” claims Javier Elizalde, a former student who currently works for Argentinean IT consulting firm Globant.
With finding a skilled IT professional becoming increasingly difficult, Hola Code is growing into a darling of IT companies operating in Mexico. From Accenture to Globant, IT firms are showing enormous interest in becoming a ‘hiring partner’ of Hola Code.
Deported Immigrants and Hola Code
Founded in 2017 by Marcela Torres, Hola Code is only open to Latin Americans returning from the United States. Mexicans make up a majority of its students, though the school has taught a few persons from Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela.
“We welcome refugees also, but they should have spent some years in the United States,” Izquierdo clarified.
Returnees are not far and few between in Mexico. More than 301,000 Mexicans returned from the US between 2013 and 2018, according to the Mexican government.
“They typically arrive in Mexico not knowing the country… with no Spanish skills, and without the social capital or support network to help them in their rehabilitation process,” Izquierdo added.
Founders of the edTech say they have just turned this challenge into an opportunity by partnering with local IT companies scrambling to hire skilled and English-speaking professionals.
In many Central American countries, returnees most often knock on the doors of call centers upon their arrival. Thanks to their fluency in English and the knowledge of American work culture, BPOs welcome them with open arms.
But contact centers don’t pay as much as IT companies do. Some former students of Hola Code are earning up to US$1,180 a month, three times the sum of what call center agents earn in Mexico,
“Those who would have joined call centers are enrolling in our school,” says Izquierdo, adding that 95% of returnees working at call center show interest in joining the coding school.
The Coding School
The training program at Hola Code is based on a methodology called Hack Reactor from Silicon Valley, with some reports suggesting that it was exclusively developed for Mexico.
To identify if they are potential programmers, the startup conducts a test. Those who pass the exam are quickly enrolled in the school.
There, they are provided with meals and snacks, in addition to 5,000 pesos (US$260) in stipend every month. They do not need to pay the tuition fees upfront and can opt for paying in installments only after they land a job.
Besides, they are offered loans through one of the school’s financial partners. “The loan has very low-interest rates (below market), and it is the first loan they acquire in Mexico, allowing them to build a credit history to further their financial inclusion,” says the startup.
Recently, the IFC and the World Bank have ranked Hola Code among the top 50 startups changing Latin America.
Delighted by its quick success, Hola Code is planning to launch a similar school in Tijuana, a Mexican border town that looks more or less “an extension” of the United States. Around 50,000 and 70,000 people from Tijuana cross over to work in the US every day, according to North Border Institute.
“We have not set a date yet, but we are looking for an ideal office building there,” Izquierdo said.