Munich Startup: For those who aren’t familiar with Cook and Code: Please briefly explain more about it and how you came up with the idea.
Alex Hoffmann: Cook and Code offers IT courses for absolute beginners. That primarily means programming courses in the field of web development. Participants learn things like how to create an app or website. And Cook and Code is not just about learning how to code, but also about developing confidence in your own coding skills.
I originally wanted to finance my studies by offering programming courses, because back then I had already noticed that many people wanted to learn about IT. But because the existing training service providers didn’t have any job openings at that point, I developed Cook and Code. It also helped that I was part of the Academic Program for Entrepreneurship (APE) at the SCE at the time.
The original idea for Cook and Code was to bring people with an IT problem – such as a broken laptop – together with IT experts who could solve the problem. The food that was brought along could be considered a kind of compensation. The approach worked amazingly well and all sorts of people came with broken devices and food, as did IT experts, who could have easily charged an hourly rate of 200 euros. However, it wasn’t possible to really plan those kinds of open meet-ups: Sometimes 30 people came and only two IT experts. It was at that point that I realized the open model wasn’t suited for the long-term and that it would be better for me to concentrate on IT training. Since then, Cook and Code has primarily offered workshops and seminars for beginners.
Munich Startup: What courses do you offer?
A new element that we just recently introduced is the Cook and Code Club. In the club, members learn how to code by working on their own projects, for example creating their own website or app. The courses in the club – in contrast to the crash courses – build on one another.
A set schedule like soccer practice
I originally assumed 90-minute courses would suffice. But over time, it became clear that a lot of people wanted to continue. And also that it’s extremely helpful to have a set schedule, a specific person to contact and a group – we like to compare it to soccer practice that is held once a week. The club provides a certain degree of continuity, which helps the learned material sink in.
Of course anyone can become a club member, even without a concrete project. We always find exciting things to work on. At the moment, some members are programming a website for a poetry slam.
Munich Startup: What benefits do club members have?
Alex Hoffmann: In a nutshell:
- A set schedule gives participants continuity
- The schedule can be set up as desired
- Participants have concrete projects that provide structure
- Club members receive additional course material and learning assignments
- Participants have access to the exclusive Cook and Code Slack community, where they can communicate with others and receive concrete feedback
Munich Startup: Does food even play a role anymore?
Alex Hoffmann: Because of corona, coming together to share a meal of homemade dishes is unfortunately no longer possible. But for the time after corona, bringing food to the crash courses is something we’re considering. Food no longer plays that big of a role in the Cook and Code Club because members pay a monthly fee. But here too, we plan – as soon as COVID-19 allows – an exclusive community meet-up where the focus will once again be on relaxed culinary togetherness.
“Corona has forced us to digitize”
Munich Startup: Apropos corona – how has it impacted Cook and Code?
Alex Hoffmann: It’s what brought us to found the club and make free learning videos available on our website. It has forced us – just like schools as an example – to digitize. The good thing is that we’re now able to reach not only people in Munich, but all across Germany.
Munich Startup: Programming still hasn’t been included as a core subject in school – why do you think it hasn’t made it yet?
Alex Hoffmann: There is still a lack of awareness about how important the subject is. And if parents or teachers can’t see that, then how should kids pick up on it?
My experience has been that it really depends on the teachers and parents taking initiative. The number of requests for private lessons has been increasing in recent years. Many schools, for example, would like to have clubs for afternoon lessons, because that makes it easier to integrate the courses into lesson plans. But like I said: It all comes down to awareness and taking your own initiative.
Another problem I see is that programming is still associated with the stereotype of an isolated nerd sitting in front of a computer in the basement all day. What many people are not aware of is that software development also involves a lot of communication and teamwork, which is why it could also be the right career choice for people who want to ‘work with people.’
Munich Startup: What needs to happen to make this very male-dominated occupation more diverse?
Alex Hoffmann: That is another subject that is really contradictory. There were originally more female programmers than male programmers. But that changed after the computer made its way into private homes. Computers were then – perhaps through advertising – stereotyped as male.
My experience has been that it really depends on the example parents set for their kids. What’s interesting is that mostly boys take the kids’ courses and mostly women take the adult Cook and Code courses.
A safe space for ‘stupid questions’
Munich Startup: In our last interview in 2016, there was talk of a programmers’ café. What came of that idea?
Alex Hoffmann: The crowdfunding campaign for it failed, unfortunately. I was often criticized for the 40,000 euros I wanted to raise because many people thought it seemed too high – but experts in the food industry had already told me that I would have needed a much higher amount. I think those conversations with food service experts also opened my eyes a bit. I then decided – after the failed crowdfunding campaign – to concentrate on the courses.
And now I have a small location in the middle of Munich where I can offer what had been the basic concept of the café: a place to meet up to learn programming together.
But if the club becomes established here, then I could certainly imagine working on something like a café or some other kind of ‘safe space’ where so-called ‘stupid questions’ could be asked. A place that also welcomes more diversity.
Munich Startup: Thank you for the interview, Alex.
Cook and Code founder Alex Hoffmann in action. (Photo: Cook and Code)
A set schedule and concrete projects in the Cook and Code Club should help internalize what’s learned. (Photo: Cook and Code) While founding a programmers’ café might not have worked out, Alex Hoffmann still hasn’t given up on the concept of having his own premises, a kind of ‘safe space’ for all things programming. Photo: Cook and Code