Building a Curriculum: Specializations

Our trustee Ne-Yo and Carrie Ybay, the Holberton software engineer who is working with our professional advisors to develop our AR/VR curriculum.

Of course, every education must have a strong foundation, so make sure to read our first part in this series: Building a Curriculum: Foundations.

After Holberton students complete the Foundations program, a whole new series of paths open up for them. Known as “Specializations”, students can pick where they will take their focus for the second half of the curriculum. The four Specializations we offer are:

Specializations as a core of Holberton’s curriculum

Holberton School is working to further many causes: Increasing diversity and representation in tech, removing the barriers to high quality education, and developing a global workforce of top-tier software engineers. But for the enrolled students, we have a single goal: to make our students as employable as possible in the high demand field of software engineering and to equip them with all the tools they will need to stay on top of their field for their entire career. Holberton’s Specializations help us do that. Students take their first year Foundations program and build upon that with career-specific knowledge in highly sought after fields. Students are also free to pick the Specialization they’re most excited about. For example, students who love to dive deep will pick the Advanced Linux Programming, Algorithms, and Blockchain course, while others that want to create new experiences will opt to challenge themselves with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Regardless of the Specialization selected, students will be immersed in the techniques and knowledge determined by senior-level engineers to be critical to succeed.

The Development of a Specialization

A Specialization is developed by three groups coming together:

  • Professional Advisors – Our Professional Advisor network is composed of experienced software engineers, CTOs and technical leadership, technological innovators, and thought leaders within the technical space. Our Professional Advisors bring their expertise, vision, and technical knowledge to Holberton’s curriculum development. They help us understand which technologies are going to be demanded in the future, what lessons and technical knowledge Holberton students should learn for these technologies, and help our Curriculum Team ensure that the information they are providing will help train the best software engineers possible. Professional Advisors, on certain topics, will also review the created instructional projects to ensure that the lessons accurately teach the skills that students need to learn.
  • Curriculum Team – Holberton’s Curriculum Team takes the Professional Advisors’ knowledge, input, and vision, and does the practical work for turning that into usable, accessible lessons for our students. The Curriculum Team specializes in the heavy lifting work of putting a lesson together: They develop the projects with support and knowledge from our Professional Advisors, create the test cases for our Checker to validate the students’ work, and build the actual projects that match our Processional Advisors’ experiences. The Curriculum Team is able to provide a lot of proprietary knowledge that would be inefficient for Professional Advisors to learn, but is critical for our educational model: We don’t need to force Professional Advisors to learn our particular code style, learn our lesson management tools, or anything else that is proprietary for Holberton. So while our Curriculum team are the ones actively putting our lessons together, they are doing this in step with some of the best, most talented software engineers around.
  • Students – When we develop a curriculum, select students will help us as volunteers to be the first through the new program. These select Holberton students take their Holberton experience and provide specific feedback on the beta curriculum. So before a Specialization is released to all of our students, some of our best students have already been part of this Specialization and provided feedback to tune the experience even more.

To create an entire 9 month Specialization requires a large amount of work and input from our Professional Advisors and our Curriculum Team. For example, the Full-Stack Web Development Specialization was built with 928 hours of contribution from our professional advisors and 1050 hours of work by the Curriculum Team. And by utilizing our Professional Advisors, we’re able to validate that our Specializations are teaching what students need to know. For example, our AR/VR curriculum has been developed with and approved by Unity, and one of our Machine Learning’s core advisors, Gregory Renard, is also on the Deep Learning & AI Technical Committee of NASA’s Frontier Development Lab.

Maintaining a Specialization

Technology moves fast, and our students need to learn the most up to date skills possible. Within our Curriculum Team, there is often a lead dedicated for each Specialization. Not only are they responsible for leveraging the Professional Advisors’ knowledge, but they’re also tasked with continually improving and iterating on the curriculum. Projects must be kept up to date, learning resources must be tuned and updated when necessary, and feedback from students, both current and graduated or employed, is taken into account. Our Curriculum Team manages all of this so that students can trust that they’re receiving an accurate, current education that is in step with the latest industry developments.

Which topics get a Specialization?

Specializations at Holberton are selected and developed based off of advice from professional mentors, requests from and discussions with CTOs, the vision of our leadership for future opportunities, and identifying key knowledge bases that will continue to be sources of well-paid employment for our students. A fantastic example of the later is our updated Full-Stack Web Development Specialization, releasing January 2020. Holberton’s curriculum is a true Full-Stack Software Engineering curriculum: Unlike bootcamps, our students are taught languages like C and critical professional skill sets like DevOps, but for students who want to focus on Web, the Foundations program only touches on some of the current web technologies. In conversation with students who wanted more web development knowledge, discussion with our mentors on the top technologies to teach for a full-stack web developer, and the knowledge that a true full-stack developer with full-stack web development experience would be extremely employable and well paid, a Specialization was developed for this topic. 


Who at Holberton helps make the Specializations?

Below, we’ve highlighted some of our staff and some of the professional advisors who have helped us develop each of our second year Specializations, as well as a preview of what skills our students would learn while pursuing one of these Specializations.

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR)

Holberton Staff: Carrie Ybay

Before she became a software engineer, Carrie was a UX and graphic designer, plus a passionate gamer, so her unique blend of expertise makes her the ideal Curriculum Team member to work on our AR/VR curriculum.

Example of a 3d scene development project.

Within the AR/VR curriculum, developed in partnership with Unity Technologies, students will learn languages like C#, skills like UX and UI for AR/VR experiences, digital asset management, title publishing, as well as exposure and experience into animation, textures and materials, and audio management.

Some of our professional advisors:

Machine Learning

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Holberton Staff: Alexa Orrico

Alexa is our Curriculum Team member who is driving our Machine Learning curriculum. Before she became a software engineer, she earned her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Biomedical Engineering. Within the curriculum, her experience working with large datasets and drawing order from that data has helped her bring the Machine Learning Specialization to life. 

Example of an image detection algorithm identifying objects in an image.

Within this new field, students who go through our Machine Learning Specialization learn to build everything from a facial recognition system all the way to their own chatbot, and even a reinforcement learning project that has students train and develop their own game-playing AI similar to AlphaGo.

Some of our professional advisors

  • Gregory Renard – Chief AI Officer at xBrain, Deep Learning & AI Technical Committee of NASA’s Frontier Development Lab
  • Deon Nicholas – Founder of Forethought 
  • Clement Renault – Co-founder of Shone
  • Naeem Gangat – Manager of Operational Excellence at European Institute of Technology

Low Level and Algorithms

Holberton Staff: Julien Barbier & Alexandre Gautier

Julien Barbier, our co-founder and CEO, is not only responsible for large portions of our Foundations curriculum, but with his expertise in Low Level language programming, he has contributed greatly to our Low Level and Algorithms Specialization. Not only a valedictorian from the European Institute of Technology and an experienced software engineer, his vision for combining project based and peer based learning, along with his direct work on the creation of the curriculum’s projects themselves, has helped Holberton develop a curriculum that is driving a worldwide tech education revolution.

Alexandre Gautier, the other Holberton staff on this Specialization, shares a special connection to Holberton School’s educational style: He received his software engineering education at the same European educational institution as Julien Barbier. With his knowledge and experience in project based education, and years of C and C++ experience, he is working with our professional advisors to develop an education that builds further on our Foundations program to prepare students to become capable programming generalists who can handle code all the way down to the assembly level.

Our Low Level and Algorithm Specialization dives deep into technologies like public/private keys and blockchain.

The Low Level, Algorithm, and Blockchain Specialization dives deeper into skills developed in the Foundations program, from developing a more advanced Shell project to directly interacting with the Linux kernel. Students are also challenged with advanced data structures, in-depth C programming, assembly, and the development of their own blockchain.

Professional Advisors:

Full Stack Web Development (updated version arriving January 2020)

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Holberton Staff: Led by Guillaume Salva with the support of Athena Deng and Hemant Heer

Guillaume, our CTO, has been featured on our blog before for his work on our student grading system Checker, but with his degree in electrical engineering and computer science (with a focus on security and distributed systems), and over 12 years of active development experience within mobile and full-stack disciplines makes him well suited to lead this development of this curriculum.

The vision of the Holberton’s Full-Stack Web Development Specialization is less on focusing on a specific technology or language, or a surface level education in many frameworks, but a focus on the specific techniques, practices, and skills that maximize productivity and adaptability. This Specialization incorporates topics like SEO, site accessibility, Personal/User data protection, asynchronous processes/jobs, management of both front end and back end needs, web technologies like React, and to build web experiences both with and from the designer’s point of view.

Professional Advisors:

But what about Career Track?

Career Track was developed for our more employment-focused students; this was a path to help our students get a job as quickly as possible after Foundations. This is a great option for students who need to secure income as quickly as possible, but when feasible, we encourage students to select and pursue a Specialization.

Specializations to improve employability

Holberton students get exposed to many technologies and professional skills throughout their Foundations program, but it is in Specializations they are given the chance to focus in career accelerating skills. Through going through our Specializations, where students can tap into the experience of leaders in the technical world and learn the skills these leaders believe will best set up students for success, Holberton students can hit the ground running in some of the hottest software engineering fields around.

Holberton was designed to be a two year program, and continues to be a two year program. As our graduates complete their Specialization, they will unlock a lifetime of learning as a Holberton student: Students who complete the program will have access to each of Holberton’s current and future Specialization curriculums to pursue at their own pace. With this access, our graduates will be able to continually learn new, valuable professional skills throughout their careers as software engineers.

By offering these Specializations, we are able to train top tier software engineers with valuable skills, and prepare them to successfully enter the workforce. And by doing this within a curriculum that has a blind admissions process and does not require any educational prerequisites other than a high school diploma or equivalent, we are able to help a broader, more diverse group of people enter and succeed in this innovative, high-paying career field while they define the future.


Welcome Holberton School Barranquilla!

Holberton School is proud to announce our fourth campus opening in Colombia! In partnership with Koombea, Socialatom, and Coderise, Holberton School Barranquilla will immediately start accepting applications for our upcoming January 2020 cohort.

Our fourth Colombian campus in Colombia’s fourth-largest city, Barranquilla will not only join our other local Colombian campuses at Bogotá,Medellín and Cali, but it will join a worldwide tech community of nine campuses across four continents. And with the same education that has prepared students with no prior coding experience to take on software engineering roles at the world’s top tech companies, Barranquilla will be an integral part of Colombia’s tech future.

Barranquilla, a city of 1.2 million people on the Carribean coast, is a cultural center for Colombia, and the Carnival of Barranquilla is a UNESCO recognized event. Barranquilla has also been a leader in South American innovation since the beginning of the 20th century, as it was the location of the first airport in South America. We cannot wait to be a part of this culture of innovation and rich history as we open our newest campus.

Holberton students at Barranquilla will enjoy many of the same benefits our students receive around the world: Bias-free admissions. A no upfront cost education that is repaid through a percentage of income. Intensive tech education designed to help people with no prior coding experience become well-paid software engineers. A curriculum designed and deployed in accessible English to help students develop international business skills. Critical soft skills training to go in parallel with the tech skills. Immersive, innovative, and accepting school culture. And so much more.

Image result for Jonathan Tarud  Koombea
“We have seen a lot of international demand for software engineering talent in Colombia, particularly Barranquilla has developed a strong industry of software companies and is growing rapidly. Partnering with Holberton is a crucial part of being able to keep up with this growth and the digital transformation of the city’s economy.”  -Jonathan Tarud, CEO and co-founder of Koombea

For all residents of Colombia and Barranquilla: Apply now for our January 2020 cohort! Don’t miss this opportunity to Define Your Future and take on a new, high paying career in software engineering!

What Kind of Job Seeker Are You?

This article has been written by Michelle Lai. With over 15 years of experience in tech, both as a developer and as someone helping developers land their dream roles, Michelle has been able to help and guide people into landing their first jobs as software engineers. Today, Michelle shares her experience in helping people identify their personal traits and how to best tailor their job search to their strengths or weaknesses.

As a former software engineer who pivoted into Career Services, I’ve supported over 2,000 software engineers in their job search (with roughly 25% of them being junior or early career). In my experience I’ve found that there are 4 archetypes of job-seeking software engineers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. If you are a software engineer and looking for your first engineering role, your best first step may be to identify what kind of job seeker you actually are.


The Studier

The Studier thinks the key to finding a job is to learn all the things! Every job posting references some number of unknown languages, technologies and frameworks. It might be possible to fool a company by casually referencing keywords, but that’s not The Studier’s style. The Studier wants to be able to speak with authority and have confidence to spare when they discuss coding and development.

The calendar of The Studier is filled to the brim with blocks of time devoted to studying different topics. Interview topics, technical topics, textbooks and types of algorithms dominate the day of The Studier. In their spare time, they undertake a side project in a brand new language or do a streak of practice on an interview-coding platform. It’s unlikely to find The Studier applying 

The Studier theorizes that when they begin applying to jobs, their firm understanding of well-studied technical topics will be evident and companies will hire them immediately for their smarts. When and if The Studier begins applying, they don’t see traction and consider this a signal they don’t know the right technologies, or won’t be able to demonstrate their knowledge

Advantage: The Studier will easily pass technical coding screens and take-home challenges if they could only get the opportunity to try them! Their dedication to studying pays off in interviews that test their algorithmic understanding as well as their practical coding skills. Often the immersion in technical texts is a boost to technical communication and ability to think abstractly.

Disadvantage: Many Studiers unnecessarily delay or stop job applications because they do not feel ready, but no amount of studying will ever give them the feeling that their knowledge is adequate.

Opportunity: If this is you, first, take a breath. When organizations interview applicants with little-to-no-experience for apprentice or entry level roles, companies are less focused on a candidate’s existing technical knowledge and more focused on their potential to learn and soft skills like communication. Studiers need to set deadlines and time limits for themselves when it comes to learning new topics or reinforcing old ones. Creating accountability around the practical aspects of a job search, like the number of applications or making an effort to go to meetups each week, are ways The Studier can use their desire for preparation to further their job hunt and career as a whole. 

The (Self) Critic

The (Self) Critic has a difficult time believing that getting a job as a Software Engineer is possible without the right credentials. It may have been possible (even easy!) at some time in the past, but now the market is saturated and the number of engineers competing for a limited number of jobs makes it incredibly challenging. 

A characteristic behavior of The Critic is their focus on the early stages of the job search. They spend most of their time optimizing application materials and applying to jobs online. From The Critic’s perspective, their lack of professional experience and/or college degree makes it unlikely any company will hire them. They often rationalize the lack of progress in their job search as the unfortunate reality of missing credentials or experience. As far as The Critic is concerned, each week that passes without a reply from any applications is confirmation that they may need to get more experience first, or attain another credential. 

I once worked with a bootcamp student who exemplified a Critic persona. She applied for a month and received no responses, then decided to study a university’s Computer Science extension program. Nine months later, when that was completed, she again tried to apply for roles and received little response. She then decided to apply for CS Master’s degree programs.

For The Critic, there is a belief that the effort of applications should map directly to the outcome of having interviewing opportunities. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. Some software engineers will apply to a single opportunity and get an offer. Other engineers will apply to hundreds of roles and never get an interview. 

Advantage: The Critic sets a very high standard for their portfolio and has a system in place to consistently apply to positions. Having a finely tuned application workflow and materials maximize The Critic’s chances of getting a first conversation with a company.

Disadvantage: The Critic tends to let themselves get into their own head and believe an inadequacy is road blocking their job search. Their natural inclination to solve the problem with more certificates, degrees, and education could cause Self Critics to spin their own wheels on more and more training when an equal effort directed to trying alternative strategies like networking could yield a better result. 

Opportunity: If you are a (self) critic, you are good enough, and every role that doesn’t end with an offer was not the right role for you, regardless of what you thought. This is OK. Instead of giving up and applying more effort to make future hiring easier, apply that effort to getting hired now. There will always be opportunities to expand your education in the future, but if you never actually touch the ground as a software engineer, you could end up spinning your wheels for longer than you have to.

The Socializer

For many engineers, going to events with the intention of networking is not an enjoyable way to spend the evening. However, for some engineers who may have pivoted industries (especially from business, support or relationship-focused roles), meeting strangers and starting an interesting conversation may come naturally and be an intuitive way to find job opportunities.

The Socializer seeks out conferences, meetups, tech talks, hackathons, and coffees with alumni. They are on a mission to meet potential mentors, and fill up their rolodex with offers for referrals. Many Socializers are pros at sweeping an event for business cards and take care to follow up that same night with quick notes to recap the conversation. In a single week, a Socializer might attend 5 meetups!

For The Socializer, the job search means networking until they find an engineer who is willing to  make a referral, interview them, or even make them an offer! The Socializer has honed the art of sharing their story and sounds the expert when describing their most difficult technical challenges. For the most part, Socializers ask for referrals as a primary way of applying. They understand that referrals are more likely to result in an invitation to interview, and they may even get to skip steps in the interview process. Even though there may be rejection, they are bolstered by the community and support network they’ve built around themselves.

While Socializers have no problem getting referrals, or building a network, they sometimes downplay the importance of being able to demonstrate their technical knowledge and write code in front of others. Studying for hours and practicing algorithms on their own is painful and preferable to avoid. 

Advantage: Socializers have an advantage in a field where networking, cooperation, and getting your name out there can yield real results and real job offers. Socializers will naturally build a big network of peers, and can also increase their own visibility by helping other people within their network find connections and roles that can help their peers’ careers

Disadvantage: The Socializer may not devote enough time to practicing their technical interviewing skills because it requires extended periods of quiet focus. Once The Socializer gets an invitation to interview, it usually goes well until they need to code or talk through a technical solution. The Socializer, like the Interviewer, may feel the disappointment from meeting great people and then not proceeding forward in the process.

Opportunity: The Socializer can direct their enthusiasm for community by creating study groups, practice whiteboarding sessions or peer learning opportunities. Interviewing is a social endeavor, and The Socializer can create realistic scenarios by engaging the people they meet to help explain or review technical concepts, and practice and get better at the technical aspects of the interview.

The Interviewer

Image result for job interview cartoon graphic

The Interviewer has no problems getting an interview. Somehow companies like what they see on paper and invite The Interviewer to have a chat, do a technical screen and come on in for an onsite! The Interviewer may not even have their application materials polished but finds they are overwhelmed with communications and calendar appointments. A day may have 2 phone calls with recruiters, followed by a 3 hour onsite with a startup and several emails to reply to about setting up the next step.

The Interviewer is focused on preparing for concrete conversations. They are researching specific companies in preparation for a phone call, and scripting/rehearsing their personal stories. The Interviewer is researching Glassdoor for specific technical questions or formats they should be prepared for and spends their weekends whiteboarding with friends or reviewing the 10 most popular sorting and searching algorithms. 

For The Interviewer, the job search means replying to emails, taking phone calls and scheduling in-person appointments. It’s dizzying to meet so many people and have so many conversations. Sometimes it’s impossible to remember which preferences were shared with which company, or who The Interviewer promised to follow up with. The timing of when to share, what information to share and whom to share questions or information with is on The Interviewer’s mind.

The time and energy invested in a wide range of possible opportunities is tremendous for The Interviewer. As The Interviewer moves through the interview process, there is an emotional investment that naturally occurs because each interaction forces both people to imagine each other as future teammates. For each interview that does not result in an offer, it is typically far more significantly felt than getting rejected earlier in the process.

Advantage: The Interviewer has a significant advantage in being able to skip much of the drudgery of applications. Having too many communications to manage may seem overwhelming, but it’s actually the best problem to have as a job seeker. Speaking and emailing with humans in all stages of interviewing provides a wealth of feedback and learnings so that The Interviewer can quickly iterate and learn from their mistakes.

Disadvantage: Each interview that doesn’t end with an offer hits like a brick, and the emotional attachment the interviewer gives to each engagement can cause this to be a real drain. It is also difficult for The Interviewer to get feedback to improve. Was the issue a technical one, a personal difference, or did The Interviewer fail to demonstrate their collaboration and communication skills? Companies either don’t share any reasoning for not moving forward, or provide a reason that seems generic and unsolvable. 

Opportunity: The Interviewer would benefit from capturing both the technical and non-technical questions asked in each interview. After doing a self-assessment on the answer they provided, it would be beneficial for The Interviewer to reach out to engineers who have experience interviewing to request practice in a mock setting or invite them to comment on the written answers. It is through getting feedback that The Interviewer will finally land an offer (or three!).

In Summary

These are the four most common encountered in my experience as both a software engineer and an advisor to thousands of engineers in their job search. Don’t panic if you don’t quite fit into one of these buckets; there are many archetypes, but these are just the ones that, in my experience, have been the most common. For software engineers who are early in their career, I would say the most common archetypes are The Studier and The Critic. Keep in mind, an archetype isn’t a static classification. It’s not uncommon for archetypes to shift over time as the job seeker gets more comfortable in their capability or gains more experience. What I hope for most is that people can learn a little bit more about themselves, and use this guidance to get their first job in their new dream career.

Building A Curriculum: Foundations

Holberton’s curriculum is a learning experience like no other. Not only do we teach our students how to code and the professional soft skills that help students maintain their career as software engineers, but we teach our students new ways of learning and of personal growth. Our students “learn how to learn”, and do so in a way that will help them professionally stand out for the rest of their careers.

Actual Cohort 6 students during their Foundations year. We’re currently at Cohort 10 and will welcome Cohort 11 in January 2020.

To teach this new way of learning and drive the continual growth that defines our students’ results, we’ve built our curriculum around two key educational methods:

  • Peer Learning
  • Project-Based Learning

In a previous blog post we shared how peer learning helps students learn and retain knowledge better, so for this piece, we’d like to share how our project-based learning curriculum works. With project-based learning, our students learn through practical, hands-on lessons within a continually evolving curriculum. Most importantly, though, our project-based learning teaches a core life skill, and one that will help all of our students maintain their careers as software engineers: We teach our students a new way of learning. A hallmark of a Holberton student is more than just amazing technical skill with the technologies of today. Our students, through the practice of our project-based learning and peer learning, not only can grasp and self teach new technologies and methods, but our students can also help their peers learn and professionally develop as well.

Our curriculum is separated into two halves: Foundations and Specializations. Foundations is the curriculum and the method that helps us get people with no prior coding experience into software engineering roles, and it is the very foundation of each student’s education at Holberton.

Foundations is separated into three trimesters, roughly separated into

  • Low-level and C
  • Higher-level languages
  • DevOps, SRE, and more

The development of each of those trimesters is specific to Holberton, each spearheaded by Julien Barbier (co-founder, CEO), Guillaume Salva (CTO), and Sylvain Kalache (co-founder) respectively. The development of these projects and the curriculum was based not only their individual technological capability and experience, but also by utilizing a broad network of professional advisors.

Julien Barbier, co-founder and CEO of Holberton talking with students at our San Francisco campus.

Professional advisors and building our curriculum

Our advisors participate in our curriculum development by helping us understand the industry’s current and future technological landscape, what technologies and skills were professionally viable, and most importantly, by highlighting the same skills and knowledge that helped them on their path to becoming Sr (or higher) level engineers.

By bringing the best of what our co-founders and CTO had to offer, and the input of our professional advisors, we were able to create a Full-Stack engineering curriculum that goes beyond what most bootcamps offer. We have a curriculum that not only trains in core employable technologies and skillsets, but sets our students up with the tools, methods, and the practice to continue their own professional and technological growth throughout their careers.

Guillaume Salva, CTO of Holberton, sharing his experience with developing the Holberton curriculum

Education without lectures

When introducing people to our curriculum, this tends to be the most shocking concept: How can someone learn a skill if there’s no one telling them directly, and explicitly, what they should know? Or, more directly, how can you teach without a teacher? Well, with project-based learning, we ditch the lecture-then-mimic pedagogy. Our curriculum, and the projects that compose its lessons, are how we teach. Through encouraging discovery, self-reliance, cooperation, and applying the coding lessons through practical projects, this curriculum consistently develops software engineers of amazing quality and capability.

“How?” is a very valid question at this point, so let’s take a look at a student’s day:

  • The day’s projects are ready for students when they wake up in the morning, as they became available at midnight their local time.
  • Before accessing the projects, students are presented with effectively a pop quiz they must complete before starting the day’s projects. These quizzes are on topics the students may or may not know, and if they do not know the answers, then they must go and find the answers. Think of this as athletes stretching before the game, and since they’re the “warm up” of the day, incorrect answers here do not count against the project’s grade.
  • Now that the projects are unlocked, students can get to work in reviewing the reference material, reviewing their coding challenges and conditions, and start their day hacking away at the code!
Peer learning goes hand in hand with our project based curriculum.

Within the curriculum itself, students are carefully introduced to software engineering topics of increasing complexity. These concepts layer upon each other building a broader and deeper understanding of the languages and development techniques. And throughout this, students use a variety of resources, including recommended material from Holberton, content they find on their own, and collaboration with their peers to develop their knowledge. Then, using our projects and Checker to test their knowledge, students can grade their day’s (or in some cases, multi-day) projects before final submission. Ambitious students, those seeking more challenges, and students who particularly enjoy a particular topic they are working on will also find that every project has challenging advanced tasks that also provide extra credit.

Throughout this Foundations curriculum, students are taught topics that build upon each other. The goal is to build a deep understanding of not only the languages taught but also the theory and practice that makes a good software engineer great. Topics are continually revisited throughout the curriculum (much to the chagrin of the students who would never like to see C again) to strategically reinforce theory, introduce more complex concepts at a time where students are more likely to understand and retain the knowledge, or to reinforce their use and value in technical interviews.

Rewarding critical thought

As the program has evolved and improved over the years, we’ve worked to both incorporate student feedback, tune projects, and anything else that will help our students become better engineers.

Student feedback

Throughout the curriculum, we ask students for feedback and allow students to anonymously report on their mood, feelings, and more. What’s the purpose of this kind of feedback? While we want our curriculum to challenge students, we also want to make sure the curriculum isn’t unnecessarily difficult. We also want to make sure the curriculum is designed to help the students feel interested through their entire journey at Holberton. So, we constantly take the students feedback, review against anonymous mood data, and see what improvements we can make. 

Checking for optimization

Our Checker evaluates millions of lines of code each month, and to help each generation of our students become better coders, we have to continually improve this tool. In the early versions of Checker, the system dutifully evaluated student projects for accuracy, execute code and check results, review readmes to ensure that students were properly documenting their projects, and similar. Since then, we’ve updated Checker to perform even more robust tests, including even looking at and scoring for code efficiency.

Matching Industry Updates

The tech industry constantly changes, and so does our curriculum. As new technologies and programming language versions become more established, we update our curriculum to match what students are likely to see once they start their professional careers. This is a constant process that ensures as the industry matures and grows, our curriculum does as well.

How this leads to a career

At Holberton School, the education you receive in the Foundations becomes the basis for your work in our specializations. After completing your first year, students can select from one of four specializations that we offer:

Foundations gives you all the necessary tools to continue your education at Holberton with our specializations, and the professional and interpersonal skills to hit the ground running in your new career. After your Foundations at Holberton, you’ll be experienced in languages like C and Python, have the personal toolkits and techniques to learn any other language you want, experience in critical skills like Test Driven Development, DevOps, and project management, and a solid, fundamental understanding of what it takes to drive your career in software engineering.

Laura, a student who had never coded before coming to Holberton school, celebrating her first role as a software engineer after being hired while still in her Foundations year.

What is an Income Share Agreement?

Income share agreements, also known as ISAs, are how the majority of Holberton students pay for their education. They are not loans, and in fact they offer many advantages over the student loans we are all familiar with. We also believe ISAs can be one of the solutions to the $1.6 Trillion (and growing) student debt crisis currently looming in the U.S.

Holberton’s ISAs differ quite a bit from the student loans we’re all familiar with. For example:

  • There is no interest 
  • Repayments are a percentage of income, and not a fixed amount
  • For US residents, our ISA has a minimum income amount: If you make less than $40,000, then no payments are due.
  • With loans, there is a final amount that’s due no matter what. With ISAs, there are repayment caps and term caps
    • You can make up to 42 monthly payments, then payments stop. That’s three and a half years, maximum, that you will make payments for.
    • There is a maximum repayment cap of $85,000. Just like the payment cap, once you’ve paid this amount, then the payments also stop. This amounts to an average annual income of just over $142.8K per year.
    • Whichever cap hits first ends the ISA. So if you make $160,000, your repayments will stop sooner than 42 months, and if you make $120,000, you’ll pay less than $85,000.
  • Holberton students pay for their education in relation to their success. There’s no balance increase from interest, crushing payments between employment, or many of the other negative impacts people have associated with student loans.

Currently, Income Share Agreements lack regulation, and we want to make sure ISAs continue to exist and function in the students’ best interest. So, Holberton is at the forefront of proposing ISA regulation to Congress. Holberton, along with non-profit think tanks, select universities, workforce development groups, and bootcamps are working diligently with Congress to request guardrails, tax codes, agency regulations, and other student-friendly regulations for ISAs. We want ISAs to stay, first and foremost, the student-friendly financing option that they were designed to be.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/US_Capitol_west_side.JPG
We hope to help the people that work here understand not only what an ISA is, but also how we can be protect students’ interests through regulation.

Due to the current lack of oversight of the ISA market, to help students make informed decisions about ISAs, we have compiled the variables of a typical ISA and what to look for when picking which education option is right for you.

Structure of an ISA

If you are signing an ISA with a school, bootcamp, or workforce development group, you are financing a certain value (such as a tuition or workshop fee). Since some of the terms surrounding ISAs may be complex, we hope the information below will help you pick the ISA or education that’s best for you.

Image result for signing an agreement
Before signing anything, always make sure you fully understand the terms.

Financed Amount: If you were to pay upfront, what is the amount you are financing with an ISA is an important thing to pay attention to. Specifically what your financed amount is at the campus you want to attend, as the costs may differ between campuses. For example, at Holberton, the tuition amount that the ISA finances will differ by country.

Income Share %: This percentage should be based on your income only, not that of your family’s. For example, at Holberton we do not count your spouse’s, your siblings’, or your parents’ incomes in this percentage. When looking at your ISA contract, ensure you understand the definition of income as well, typically this will include base salary, cash bonuses and commissions. This amount is always pre-tax, also known as gross, due to the varying withholding regulations that exist in the US and worldwide. At Holberton, our ISA is currently 17% of your income but this may differ depending on your country or other terms specific to your campus.

Payment Cap: The payment cap is the maximum amount you will ever have to repay. This is put in place to protect you and ensure you will not overpay for your education. Usually a payment cap is defined as a multiple of the Financed Amount. At Holberton, our payment cap is equal to the Financed Amount, so you will only ever repay up to the amount of the tuition itself.

Minimum Salary Threshold: This is the minimum amount you need to earn in a set period, typically per month, to be required to make a payment. Setting a minimum income is not required but ensures you owe nothing when you are between jobs, unemployed, or simply not earning a high enough salary. Make sure the amount is not too low compared to the average salary of the career you’re expecting to go into in your respective country. At Holberton, our minimum salary threshold varies between the country you attended school in, helping our ISA be affordable to students around the world.

Duration: The duration of an ISA is often defined in months or years and is the amount of qualifying invoices you will receive. A qualifying invoice means you haven’t reached the payment cap yet and either your salary is above the minimum threshold, or you have exhausted your grace and deferment period. At Holberton, our duration is 42 months or 3.5 years, but may differ depending on your country.

Grace Period: This is a timeframe when you do not owe on your ISA upon graduation or after having completed your program. At Holberton, the Grace Period is 3 months after graduation.

Deferment Period: This is a period of time when you are in deferment, such as being unemployed or earning less than the minimum threshold, which means a time when you don’t make any payments. During this deferment period, you will not receive qualifying invoices and therefore will not count towards the Duration of the contract. Be very careful to not have an exceedingly long Deferment Period in your contract, as that could keep you on the hook for a very long time. At Holberton, our Deferment Period is 24 months.

How we believe our ISAs are better for students than Student Loans:

Students receive downside protection

Holberton students receive downside protection against unemployment and underemployment. If a student earns less than the minimum threshold or doesn’t have a job, they don’t have to make any payments.  Even better, you won’t be penalized for unemployment or underemployment– there is no interest in our ISA, so the balance will never grow larger. Also, if a student is unemployed or underemployed for the full duration of their ISA (including the deferment period), they will pay nothing for their tuition.

Holberton’s success is tied to its students’ success

Our goal is to train high quality software engineers that are ready for the workforce, and we are only successful if we get people into these high-paying roles. 

ISAs help students find the employment that’s right for them

With fixed payments due after graduation regardless of employment, student loans encourage students to find the first job that pays enough to cover their student loan. With our ISA, not only are students able to take their time and find the best career fit for them, but they’ll be able to take the role that’s most rewarding for them as well, and not be pressured to find the highest paying role.

Percentage based repayment makes repayment fair for everyone

With fixed payments, most student loans take a specific monthly chunk of a student’s post-school income, regardless of their success from the program. Not only that, if a student converts their loan to an income-based repayment loan to make the monthly payments more affordable, it will take the student who is making less even longer to pay off their loan. With interest, the student who is earning less will be saddled with more and more debt, and ironically, it is the student who makes less that will end up paying more on their loan. Our ISA does not do this, so every student who makes payments to their ISA will have the same terms and have the same duration and repayment caps, and no way that suddenly a student will have to owe even more when making all of their required monthly payments. 

Holberton students only pay up to the tuition amount, nothing more

Different schools have different payment caps, and Holberton’s payment cap is equal to its tuition. At Holberton, our focus is on the student’s future. There is no discount for paying tuition upfront as it would favor those that can afford it and make education more expensive for those that don’t. If a student does not pay the full tuition amount by the end for their ISA, that is a loss we take as the education provider, as we share in the risk and successes of our students.

Bankruptcy protection

In the unfortunate event that a student has to declare bankruptcy, student loans are not dischargeable. Simply put, student loans in the USA have been specially protected to survive any bankruptcy proceedings. So, even if an education cannot prepare a student to secure a job, traditional student loans will follow the student regardless of their financial situation. We are proud to state that Holberton ISAs are dischargeable in bankruptcy and we are working to have this same protection extended through all ISAs in the legislation we are working to push through Congress.

We hope this post will help everyone, future Holberton students and anyone else who’s thinking about signing their own ISA, to understand more the terms and nature of ISAs, and what to look for in a good, student friendly ISA.

Holberton School comes to Tulsa, OK!

Today, with assistance from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Holberton School is announcing our latest campus, Holberton School Tulsa! And at our newest campus, in line with our dedication to improve access to our education, we are introducing both a need-based living assistance program and a discounted Income Share Agreement (ISA) for Holberton School Tulsa students who stay and work local.

Our need-based living assistance program is designed to help Holberton students focus on what matters most: Learning skills that will propel them down a new career path. Holberton students at our Tulsa campus can apply for a need-based $1500/month living assistance program to help pay for their living expenses. We want to help all qualified students make the most of their education here at Holberton, and instead of making education decisions based on affordability, we want to help students make their education decisions on what will help them achieve their dreams.

Our new living assistance program, in partnership with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, helps us deliver more on the challenge we give to every student who walks through our doors: The challenge to “Define Your Future”. By reducing or eliminating the economic burden to pursue a full time education, we hope to help even more people take their own future into their hands with Holberton School.

This $1500/month living assistance amount is a true game changer for Holberton students, especially in a city as affordable as Tulsa, OK. In Tulsa, where a single bedroom apartment costs approximately $600 per month, students who receive this living assistance will be able to utilize this assistance to cover most-to-all of their living expenses. This is an incredible opportunity for everyone who wants to come to Holberton and launch their career in software engineering.

An additional incentive will also be available to Holberton School Tulsa students who continue to live and work in Tulsa after graduation. For students who fall in love with the city and decide to stay, students could see a reduction in their ISA repayment amount from 17% to 10%. This means that students who stay and work in Tulsa will repay significantly less than if they were to move out of the city. And companies are already eager to hire Holberton students:

Pictured here is Zac Carman, CEO at consumeraffairs.com
“ConsumerAffairs cannot wait to hire engineers from Holberton. Holberton will help close the engineering talent gap in Tulsa which will help us compete regionally. ” Zac Carman, CEO at consumeraffairs.com

The best part is that staying in Tulsa is easy. A generous and welcoming community, Tulsa is not bound by traditional conventions. Nationally recognized as the state’s center for economic development, Tulsa has a diverse economy and employment opportunities in finance, aeronautics, telecommunications, and technology. Companies like Bank of Oklahoma, American Airlines, AAON, Helmerich & Payne, ONEGas, ONEOK, Quiktrip and Williams Companies, have established their headquarters in the metropolitan area of Tulsa.

Once named America’s “Oil Capital of the World”, recent revitalization has transformed Tulsa from a vital hub for America’s oil and gas industry to a diverse, vibrant community with room for all types of passions and vocations to prosper.

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A perfect blend of metropolitan life and open skies. Photo via JustTulsa.com

Tulsa’s fun and vibrant culture and entrepreneurial spirit have built a city that embraces inclusion and champions big ideas. It’s a city that intentionally builds itself around the people already here while making itself available for newcomers. Home to two world-renowned art museums, a booming nightlife, and a diverse food scene, there’s always something to do in the “Center of the Universe”. The city boasts short commute times, more than 125 parks, 180 miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails, and a passion for supporting their local, pro and college sports teams.

And the employment opportunities for Holberton Tulsa students are bright: The “2019 Emsi Report on Computer and Mathematical Jobs in NE Oklahoma” projects an amazing 7,000 additional job postings for tech talent in Tulsa by 2025.

Tulsa will feature many of the same amazing facility perks that we have at our campuses around the world.

These awesome benefits, both the living assistance and the ISA discount, are available to both residents of Tulsa and to students who relocate to Tulsa. And for students to maximize their value from these programs, if the ISA discount will apply for every month they live and work in Tulsa, and any potential repayment of the living assistance program will be forgiven after just 2 years of residency in Tulsa. 

Thinking about how you can Define Your Future? Applications are now open for the January 2020 cohort at Tulsa! Start your application now, and you could start your new future as a software engineer!

Peer Learning, or “What do you mean ‘No Teachers’?”

“We don’t have formal classrooms or teachers — instead, our students collaborate, share their knowledge, and help each other.”

It’s right on our website, but do we really mean it? At face value, it’s a radical proposition: A school that trains top software engineers without teachers, without lectures, and without the classrooms that all of us grew up and loved (or, reasonably loathed). After all, what is a school without a traditional structure and someone else telling you how to learn?

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Some may learn well in this, but we think we can do better.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lecture,_NSUEM.jpg

There, in that last sentence, is why we exist. Software engineering is a new field that lives on speed, flexibility, and iteration. It is a field that is constantly updating, and the best software engineers will have to be able to keep up with the times. And these best software engineers will not have the time to return to the classroom and be taught how to learn another language or technology. The best software engineers will be able to self-train, lead and learn from their peers, and keep up with the rapidly advancing and changing field they’re employed in. Beyond an in-depth knowledge of programming and development best practices, these lifelong skills are a key part of our curriculum, and why we teach our students through project-based and peer learning.

After all, If you do get a teacher in the workplace, it won’t be a lecturer but instead a peer or a mentor, and that’s why we teach our students the way we do.

Let’s dig into each of the pieces of our curriculum and share how they build upon each other to help drive a new generation of software engineers.

Project Based Learning

Traditionally, schools teach (usually with assigned reading and lectures), then test. Pop quiz: How much of this lecture-based knowledge did you retain? Project based learning is the concept that instead of being taught through lectures and tests, students are taught through actually doing the work. Proper project based learning isn’t just “here’s a problem, good luck”. A properly built project based learning curriculum carefully builds increasingly challenging tasks upon each other, with guidance on where or how to learn the skills, but leaving the final quest for discovery and application of knowledge to the students. Through this curated exploration, students are taught how to validate sources, test knowledge as they apply it, collaborate with peers to share their best learnings, and to develop and depend upon their own ability to learn instead of waiting for instructions from others.

The goal is not just to help students learn the knowledge that they will need to launch their careers, but also to maintain their careers through the ability to learn. In this way, time spent at Holberton actually mimics the work environment. Yes, Holberton students know how to code extremely well, but they also know how to sit down, use available resources, and to independently pioneer into new technologies. Companies that hire Holberton students are getting more than just a great developer; they are also getting a developer who can flexibly adapt to new languages and technologies in short periods of time.

Holberton students at our San Francisco campus.

This same ethos is built into our application process. Holberton’s whole application process requires no prior knowledge of programming, but instead a willingness and ability to learn. Through automation, our system does not take into account race, gender, age, or even ability to pay. Instead, what we are looking for are people who can learn something new and apply these new skills accurately. Before coming to Holberton our students were everything from professional chefs to musicians, paralegals to fresh high school graduates. What they all share is a willingness to learn. The whole application process is even designed to mimic our project based learning curriculum, and through completing Level 2 of our application process, students will code and launch a website from scratch using emacs, HTML, css, and javascript. So if you’re curious how our project based learning works, we welcome you to start an application today.

Peer Learning

Peer learning, or “learning by teaching” is an established method to improve retention and understanding of topics. When students teach other students, they show an increased retention of information and understanding of the core of the material. Through our curriculum, students are encouraged to share what they’ve learned through Peer Learning Days, where students will work cooperatively through problem(s) at a whiteboard. Ideally this process is entirely self-led, but our TAs and staff may step in to provide clarification, challenge students to “teach” back to the staff, or shape the conversation for maximum benefit. 

Peer learning in action

Students will also engage in group and pair projects, where they are placed together to tackle some of our more challenging tasks. Programmers often work as part of a team, and so our curriculum is specifically designed to mimic the work environments that students will find themselves in later on in their careers. Under these conditions, Holberton students learn when to be a team member, when to be a team leader, and how to step between these roles for the maximum benefit of the project they are working on.

Define Your Future

Holberton’s goal is to get people with no prior coding experience into new career that matches their ability. Our admissions process finds those who have the talent to learn without bias. Our curriculum removes the barrier of prior experience. And the use of Income Share Agreements removes the need to obtain credit for our education. We want to find people who have the untapped potential to succeed as software engineers, and train them not only in the core technologies they will use to get their first programming job, but help them develop the core soft and personal development skills that will turn their first job into a lifetime career. But, most critically, everything we do helps students realize their own potential and leverage their own personal strength to become great software engineers, which is why we invite everyone to Define Your Future.

Want to read more? Check out our other Introducing Holberton articles below:
Introducing Holberton #1: Checker & You

Chitra Rajeshwari Joins Holberton School Board of Trustees

Chitra Rajeshwari

Holberton School, a college alternative educating the next generation of digital workers, today welcomed Chitra Rajeshwari, executive director of Avasant Foundation, a private not-for-profit organization that empowers youth in emerging economies through education, employment, and entrepreneurship, to the board of trustees.

Rajeshwari joins the board to focus on the school’s sustainability, innovation, and its impact on society as a whole. Rajeshwari has been a leader in a number of industries, including banking and travel. She is joining the board of trustees to help Holberton bring affordable, quality education to the many, especially in growing economies across LATAM and Africa.

“Nearly 70 million youth are unemployed worldwide, and that number is only expected to rise further. Looking more broadly at the role of women in labor markets, we found a disturbing trend: the continued uneven progress toward workforce inclusion. The global rate of young women’s participation in the labor force has dropped to 48.5%. It’s imperative that we focus on getting more young people, especially women, into the labor force in order to dramatically improve their lifetime opportunities,” said Rajeshwari. “Businesses are desperate to hire more software engineers and we have a rare opportunity to bring Holberton’s world-class technical education to young people across the emerging markets to help them access today’s life-changing opportunities.”

Rajeshwari joins our collective of trustees which includes Grammy award-winner NE-YO, actor and social activist Priyanka Chopra, CloudNOW CEO Jocelyn DeGance Graham, Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel, and Docker co-founder Solomon Hykes. 

“Our mission is to bring high-quality education to people and areas that may not have the opportunity — whether it’s because of geography, money, age, gender, ethnicity or even learning style,” said Julien Barbier, CEO and co-founder of Holberton. “Each of our trustees brings a unique set of skills, knowledge, and leadership to our program. We are excited to welcome Chitra who will help us expand even more rapidly into growing economies.”

Please join us in welcoming Chitra to the Holberton community!

Welcome Holberton School Cali!

Our third campus in Colombia, Holberton School Cali will be training the next generation of Colombian software engineers to help drive Colombia’s digital revolution.

If you’re thinking about how you can get a world-class software engineering application, apply now!

Our newest campus is located in Cali, the third- largest city in Colombia with a population of 3.4M and is home to many of Colombia’s top tech companies like Carvajal, Open Software, Delima, Datecsa, Eficacia, Colombina, Tecnoquimicas, Lafrancol, and more. Within Cali, our newest campus will be located at the local Zonamerica, a special Free Zone to encourage the development of global tech services and multinational companies in Colombia. 

Students who attend class at Holberton School Cali will receive the same Silicon Valley-level software engineering education that helped get students employment at companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Nvidia, and more. And with ourt special curriculum, which is designed to help people become world-class software engineers even without prior coding experience, Holberton will provide more incredible economic opportunities to the population of Cali.

Students who are accepted through our blind application process, which doesn’t test on existing coding knowledge but instead tests the ability to learn, will have the opportunity to join a worldwide cohort with students on three continents. Students at Holberton School Cali will be able to cooperate and learn in parallel with students in San Francisco, New Haven, Bogotáa, Medellíin, and Tunis. Not only will our students learn the fundamentals of programming and the ability to think like an experienced programmer, but they will learn critical international cooperation skills, be able to sharpen their English speaking and writing ability, and the ability to train others who are of a similar skill level. All of these skills will help Holberton students at Cali springboard their career the most well paying job opportunities around.

The Cali campus will feature many of the same great amenities as our other campuses, including collaboration spaces, conference rooms, rest areas, and places to watch content streamed from our other campuses worldwide. The Cali campus, with its location in Zonamerica, will place students in the center of Colombian technological development for the international market.

If you’re currently in Colombia, you’ll want to start your application now. The close date for September 2019 cohort is approaching rapidly, so if you want to be one of the first in Cali to achieve your dream and Define Your Future, start your application today!


To read our press release on our new expansion, please click here.

Holberton School Arrives in Tunis!

We’re proud to announce that our newest addition to Holberton, Holberton School Tunisia, is now open and accepting applications! 

Start our application process now to be ready for the September Cohort: Apply here


Located in Tunis, Holberton School Tunis is our first campus in Africa. In this city of 2.6 million people (across the greater metropolitan area), we are excited to be part of the digital future of Africa with Tunis leading the way. By bringing the exact same curriculum that has helped people with no prior coding experience land jobs at companies like Facebook, Apple, Tesla, and more, our education will complete an already strong education system to help Tunisia develop their own local, Silicon Valley level software engineers.

VERMEG has committed to hire 30 Holberton Students

This vision for the future of Tunisia has already attracted top Tunisian companies like VERMEG. VERMEG is a leading international financial and regulatory software services firm with over 1100 employees worldwide in 40 countries. Headquartered in Tunis, this exciting company has already committed to hiring 30 Holberton students. This highlights the quality that top tech companies see in our curriculum and the engineers that come from Holberton school.

Our curriculum will help develop the new wave of technological innovators and leaders in Tunisia. With 70% of the Tunisian population under the age of 29, a high-quality, innovative approach can help a huge portion of the Tunisian population prepare for the careers of today and tomorrow. And with our blind admissions process, which looks not at what people know about software engineering or anything about their race, gender, or background, but is specifically designed to help find the people with the potential to learn the Holberton way. In other countries around the world this has enabled us to bring in underrepresented populations into technology, and with Tunisia’s amazing 50% of professional Information and Communication Technology roles being held by women, Tunisia may be poised to have one of the most gender-equal software engineering populations in the world. Through this same curriculum in the USA, Holberton has helped people from farmers to retail workers to artists and musicians obtain high-paying software engineering jobs, and we hope to bring these same successes to Tunisia.

The curriculum is also designed to prepare students for international business. With a worldwide usage of English, the common language of software engineering, Tunisian students will be able to practice conversational English with cohort partners around the globe. Tied with a program that also targets soft skills development, the software engineers that graduate from our program are ready to engage in international business and cooperation.

To support the students’ learning environment, the Tunisia campus will feature many of the same amenities as our San Francisco campus, like 24/7 access to students, high-speed internet, meeting rooms, auditoriums, and rest and relaxation areas. All of these are present to help students make the most of their education, and prepare themselves for a career in software engineering.

If you’re in Tunisia and you want a better career or a high-tech future, begin our application process today. It’s free to apply, so if you’re ready to be part of the digitization wave of Tunis, don’t miss this opportunity to be a member of the first cohort at Holberton School Tunisia!

If you are a journalist and would like to learn more about our curriculum and how we’re planning to bring our Silicon Valley education to Tunisia, email us here.

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