Houston Community College Launches Coding School for Apple Apps

The course builds on Apple's educational programs for K-12 classrooms, as well as a network of iOS app development centers that the company launched in Italy last year.

by Lydia DePillis, Houston Chronicle / May 25, 2017
Shutterstock

(TNS) -- Apps are one of the main ways that Apple attracts people to the iPhone, and in the interest of training more people to make them, the tech behemoth is launching a new curriculum for community colleges — starting in Houston.

Houston Community College will be among the first educational institutions to teach the Apple-designed course in developing applications for the iOS operating system, the company announced in Houston on Wednesday. It's part of a new iOS Coding and Design School that will offer both short-term boot camps and programs for degree credits starting in June.

"We have been excited about the links they have to the community, to businesses, to government, to everyone there," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, about HCC. "Because that means that lots of students will wind up in good jobs."

The course builds on Apple's educational programs for K-12 classrooms, as well as a network of iOS app development centers that the company launched in Italy last year. HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado says he noticed the iOS development center in Milan about nine months ago, and thought that Houston should have something similar. Upon reaching out to Apple, he learned that the company was already planning a curriculum for community colleges.

"There was some magic in the timing," Maldonado says. Although the new Coding and Design School will focus on Apple's Swift programming language, he says that won't preclude students from learning to create programs for Android phones as well. "The skills are transferable across devices and platforms."

Google doesn't have anything similar, but hinted that a program is under development.

"While we don't have an analogous program we're offering to college students at the moment," wrote Google spokeswoman Charlotte Smith in an email, "be sure to keep an eye out for updates as we get closer to the next school year :)"

Approximately 1.7 million mobile app developers in the United States, according to a study by the Progressive Policy Institute, a center-left think tank in Washington. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts about 800,000 software developers for apps — which can be either web or mobile based — who make a median salary of $100,000 per year.

Although consumer-oriented smartphone apps are the most well-known variety, Houston might have a greater demand for developers who can create them for industrial uses, says Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey.

There are a number of ways to land a job as a mobile developer: You can either teach yourself, using various free online tools, or take a course through non-accredited schools like General Assembly or Hack Reactor. Those can be expensive, though, and often require taking time off from regular jobs.

Those intensive programs aren't available in Houston, which only has a couple coding schools. Kevin Colten is the chief technology officer for Austin Coding Academy, which has a Houston office at Station Houston, a co-working space downtown. He says that demand for courses has been low so far, but that it makes sense for HCC to teach Apple's program.

"If you look at the numbers, iOS developers get paid more because it's more of a luxury phone," Colten says. In addition, he says many university app development courses have a hard time keeping up with changes in technology, which an Apple-directed course might be able to avoid.

Apple won't provide financial support for the courses, but the curriculum will be free to use for community colleges, beginning this year at institutions in Alabama, Pennsylvania, California and Ohio. It will also be available for free online to anyone who wants to teach themselves.

It's a welcome bit of momentum for Houston's nascent tech scene, which got a push last week with the launch of an "Innovation Strategy Office" within the Greater Houston Partnership aimed at boosting the city's startup ecosystem. One of the recommendations in a report from the consulting firm Accenture was for Houston to attract an office of a big Silicon Valley tech firm, such as Apple.

Apple employs about 8,400 in Texas. Six thousand of those jobs are in Austin, including the Maps team as well as other research and development functions. When asked if the company would start an office in Houston, Apple's Cook — who spent a few months in Houston in the 1990s while working for Compaq — said the city should instead focus on having people build on top of Apple's platform.

"Any city that's looking to expand, whether it's startups or just their tech workforce, my recommendation would be to focus on app development," Cook said.

©2017 the Houston Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.