We talked to Cristian Fondevila on how Assembler School is using innovative learning methods to transform the education system in Spain.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Cristian Fondevila: Despite the pandemic, we are all fine, however still adjusting to the new reality, as many of us, I suppose. COVID-19 has taken us all by surprise, but both my family and I are grateful that we are fine, and hopefully, it stays this way.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Assembler School.
Cristian Fondevila: During the first day of each batch, I begin my presentation with these words: “I’m Cristian Fondevila, and I have always been a bad student.” We have always been taught that a professor or any high-rank position must have some kind of a diploma or certificate or must be a “graduate.” And it might be considered a paradox that a person like me, with no University background (I dropped out after 3 years), has decided to found a university for highly talented developers, but here I am!
Why I dropped out? Well, I saw how antiquated the educational system was in Spain and that it taught me many irrelevant concepts, so I decided to join forces with my brother joining his startup as COO. And during the first 3 months, I learnt much more than I’d have learnt during 3 years at the University or even during the previous years while studying. After a couple of years in retail, SaaS, and Foodtech industries, I decided to make a significant change in the educational system in Spain by founding Assembler School, the University of the Future, together with my co-founder and COO Kasia Adamowicz, who also is a serial entrepreneur.
How does Assembler School innovate?
Cristian Fondevila: We founded Assembler School in 2019, and we were the first educational centre for developers in Spain to offer the Income Share Agreement. We believe that every talented person has the right to have access to the best education, no matter the gender, age, background, or financial possibilities.
The programs we offer are co-designed with top tech companies in Spain and are focused on solving real-world problems, and are 100% project-based so that the students get the skills and knowledge required by their future employees. This work-integrated learning helps our candidates get a better vision of the real working environment and trains them in a more profound way than any bootcamp or University program.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Cristian Fondevila: As I said before, the coronavirus pandemic has taken us all by surprise. However, we have been able to cope with it in a very positive way. It made us realize that remote studies help us gain the specific skills needed in the real working environment. So it’s been a huge opportunity for us to accelerate the remote programs, which have been very successful in our case. Our candidates are equipped with not only hard skills in programming but also soft skills that help them easily join and adapt to the needs of the companies they start working at once they graduate from Assembler School.
Nowadays, we see more and more companies starting to work remotely, and even there are some big players who have been working 100% remotely all this time, like GitLab, with over 1000 employees.
At Assembler School we believe that this will also provide new job opportunities to our candidates not only in Barcelona or Spain but also on the international level.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Cristian Fondevila: Until now, we have been lucky and had no difficult choices to make. Since we offer ISA (Income Share Agreement), we have not been forced to let go of any talented candidates. On the contrary, more and more students with great potential applications to our programs.
As far as the team is concerned, we are very lucky too and privileged to count on great people who believe in Assembler and are fully dedicated to making it grow and achieve the mission to disrupt the educational system. We are creating something big, and we approach every day with enthusiasm, creativity, and modesty.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Cristian Fondevila: I have been in startups since I started my career, so, over time, you learn certain things to manage the “roller coaster of entrepreneurship”. There is something that I look for a lot, and I try to transmit to my team, and it consists of finding a balance between work and personal life that allows you to disconnect and regain strength. Taking a distance from things always allows you to come back with a much fresher and probably more accurate vision. I deal with stress by disconnecting, playing paddle tennis or golf, and cooking (it is another of my passions).
On a team level, we tend to organize monthly team-building sessions or workshops to learn how to deal with stressful situations, how to work as a team and communicate more transparently, which have proven really useful so far. Moreover, both me and my co-founder, Kasia, have monthly follow-ups with our team members in which we not only discuss KPIs but also share personal matters. We try to have a very friendly and open-minded attitude towards the team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Cristian Fondevila: We may consider that our competitors are any other educational institutions in Spain for developers, such as bootcamps or universities offering on-site, on-line, and remote programs. We follow them very closely without losing focus on our main mission: train really well prepared and self-sufficient developers. The programs we offer are much more profound with more than 1.200 hours of coding and are 100% project-based, which means 100% practice, almost no theory. We believe our students learn much more on a trial and error basis, a fundamental problem-solving method, and in a collaborative way, where they evaluate each other, rather than having theoretical classes. As a comparison, in our master’s degrees, we offer +1200 coding hours (7 months) versus 300 in a standard bootcamp (3 months) or 450 hours at the University Master’s Degree.
We have proven so far that our methodology is effective, and both the students and the hiring partners are highly impressed with the level of programming knowledge of our candidates and how quickly they adapt to their tech teams.
Our students have a more competitive salary, an average of 10.000€ more than a bootcamp and university graduate, and find a job in 1.5 months.
What is more, our program has been co-created with some of the top tech companies in Spain (such as Marfeel, Holded, Trovit, or Kantox) to meet their real hiring needs and offer more qualified developers. And with this clear vision of our real value and our cause to change the rules of education, we have found a niche in the market. We strongly believe that if we keep offering quality education, we will strengthen our position in Spain and abroad.
Your final thoughts?
Cristian Fondevila: We are experiencing a tech revolution on a global scale. The current educational systems must be reinvented quickly to keep up with the pace of change that the world is immersed in.
Bureaucracy and political interests are the main problem in a system that has not achieved its objectives for too long. For this reason, I believe that governments, private educational entities, and companies should participate in this reconstruction process to restore education to its place in society.