37signals Invests In The Starter League To Redesign Software Classes

At a new joint-venture school for software developers in Chicago, it doesn't matter whether you want to learn how to program or design. You'll have to learn how to do both.

Last week, we caught up with Jason Fried, CEO of Chicago-based software company 37signals, about why his cleaning lady is also his business icon. Today, Fried and 37signals announced the company's new minority stake in the Starter League, a small, bootstrapped Chicago outfit that offers classes to budding entrepreneurs, designers, and programmers.

With 37signals' investment, Fried tells Fast Company, the two companies are turning the Starter League into a new kind of school that simultaneously teaches students how to design, program, and manage projects. "To build great software, you have to have really well-integrated teams, and the way you have a really well-integrated team is to have people from all different skillsets understand what each other are doing so they can communicate at the same level," he says.

A handful of startups have cropped up that help coding newbies learn programming chops, from online mini-courses to one-day workshops and real-world schools that help experienced programmers hone their skills and land engineering jobs. But the Starter League's tuition-based classes don't just focus on getting you through a bunch of textbook examples; they attempt to make a career in software development possible, even for someone who's never had previous training.

The Starter League, which was known as Code Academy until today, already offers a variety of classes on HTML and CSS, Ruby on Rails, and UX design. The name change represents an expanded mission beyond simply learning how to code—and, as a side benefit, avoids confusion with Codecademy. Now it will also offer additional classes with 37signals, such as a "Rails For Designers" class (which Fried is enrolled in) that teaches front-end web designers the backend knowledge necessary to bring their apps to life. It's an early attempt at tackling the problem of how to teach software developers how to create great products.

But 37signals' stake in the Starter League doesn't buy it any voting power or other control, and neither 37signals nor the Starter League will claim ownership over any work produced or companies born out of their classes. In short, this is not an incubator.

"Personally, I’d like to see a shakeup in that whole model," Fried says. "I don’t like the idea that people go [to an incubator] and the first thing they do is give up a part of their company. It strikes me as a weird first step."

[Image: Flickr user Meyer Felix]

Add New Comment

5 Comments

  • Greg Storey

    This is going to be a huge hit. I hope Starter is able to branch out into other regions sooner than later.

  • Jason Fried

    No plans to expand outside of Chicago right now. We want to focus on quality, not growth. Once we nail the learning, teaching, and overall student experience, then we'll consider our options.

  • Adrian Collins

    Jason, thanks for being a great mentor.  You are touching lives of people you have never met.  You are straight forward, but care.