Johannesburg tech university teaches you to code for free – but there is a catch

I recently got a mail in my inbox about an organisation in Johannesburg called BornToCode. It is a fascinating concept: a tech incubator in the Johannesburg CBD that offers a two year full time programming course…. for free.

In a move to try improve the current shortage of minds we have in the ICT sector, BornToCode (as it is called) is a rather glorious idea. I’ve been a strong advocate of girls entering the coding space and this seems like the ideal opportunity.


You visit the website and do two tests online. Both are game based so you don’t actually need coding experience. Once that is done, you wait. If you pass the initial two tests or show an aptitude toward problem solving and lateral thinking (which can be noted in the tests supplied), you’ll be invited to participate in an intensive 4 week bootcamp at the Johannesburg campus. Pass that and you could be invited to take part in the course.

BornToCode is a two year full time course based at the Johannesburg Campus. You won’t need to pay fees as these are sponsored by Corporates which include First National Bank (FNB), BBD,  Derivco, Dimension Data, Platform45, IQ Business, Allan Gray, Nando’s, L’Oreal, UCS, Times Media Group, Amrod, Cerebra, iPlatform, Moneyweb, Parcel Ninja, Student Village, Tarrific and Synaq.

Rather nice to see a make up brand in the mix!

During your two year course you will be expected to perform two 4 month internships at your corporate sponsor. According to the BornToCode website, this will be a paid internship. The tech university will also pay you a small stipend to cover travel and food before your first internship. Fancy! You also won’t need to fork out for a PC because the campus has enough computers for all students. In a country where many people cannot afford to feed their families nevermind own a personal PC – this is a big deal to me.

There might be a catch though.

The day I started blogging I learnt there is no such thing as “free”. Nothing is handed to you on a silver plate and, as incredibly wonderful as BornToCode sounds, this is my word of warning before you sign up. I was a bit disappointed that the website didn’t go in to more detail about what exactly this two year study covers. There is no break down of topics or course structures. All I could ascertain was that it is project based and there were no teachers. Cool. I’d like to know what the course would cover and what international bodies recognise the qualifications before I dedicate two years to it.


Oh, and then there is this….

The course is 100% free for WeThinkCode_ students. Corporate sponsors pay your tuition, and in exchange you will complete two (paid) 4 month internships with them during the course of your studies. Upon successful completion of the course, you will be required to work back the value of your sponsorship (typically 1-2 years) with your sponsor.

So no, this is not free. It’s a bursary…. and this bugs me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on BornToCode. What they’re doing is creating a wonderful opportunity for so many who don’t have it and filling a big shortage of skills in the tech industry. However, I do think they need to clarify the working back section. My father was a brilliantly smart man who was awarded a bursary in the UK. On obtaining his masters he went to work at the company who awarded it to him. For 3 years he worked in a position for half the market value salary and had very little chance. I’m always dubious that this may be the case in set ups like BornToCode. It could be the perfect place for big corporates to retain key staff for a few years at a far cheaper rate than if they searched the, currently, very limited market.


I’m saying that if you have an active interest in coding you should most definitely attempt the application tests and, if you pass bootcamp, you must most definitely consider doing this course. What a magic opportunity! Just check the fine print on that application letter.


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