Holberton > About Holberton > Building a Curriculum: Specializations

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

Image result for alexa orrico

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)

Image result for guillauma salva

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.

*Career Track is not available in the San Francisco location due to CA regulation.