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Israel Tech Challenge offers students practical software skills to land lucrative high-tech jobs

Israel Tech Challenge bills itself as the first institution in Israel that offers students coding skills at no upfront cost.

At 23, Eddie Mattout has accomplished quite a lot. The Miami-born son of a Venezuelan father and a Mexican mother, Mattout came to Israel even before starting college, served in the IDF and then co-founded a nonprofit group, Kol HaNearim, which brings American Jewish teens and young adults to run summer camps in Israel for at-risk youth.

He then went back to the United States, earning a degree from Stanford University and eager to pursue a career in artificial intelligence. That led to stints at FreeWill, Facebook and the Boston Consulting Group. By then, the charity Mattout helped establish was operating in 12 children’s homes and working with 3,000 disadvantaged Israeli children.

“When the pandemic hit, we were thinking of ways to give the kids more tangible skills so they could break the cycle of stress and find successful careers in the Israeli economy. Obviously, coding is a way of doing that,” he said. “That was my first exposure to ITC.”

Israel Tech Challenge bills itself as the first institution in Israel that offers students coding skills at no upfront cost. According to the school’s website, “only once they are gainfully employed and earning a meaningful salary in the sector, students can pay back the tuition as a fixed percentage of their income.”

As a nonprofit organization founded by the Jewish Agency for Israel, ITC has been in operation since 2016, said Shlomo Lifshitz, the school’s director of registration.

  “Our goal was to help people get well-paying jobs while helping Israel’s high-tech industry, which has a deficit of around 20,000 employees at any given time,” he said. “We teach only in English, because English is the language of high-tech no matter where you work.”

The idea, he said, is to give people everything they need to pursue careers Israel actually needs.

“I studied political science, but today, that’s not enough. Unfortunately, there are too many people in Israel with advanced degrees who can’t find jobs, and positions at universities are very limited,” he said. “So we take people like myself who have no clue about coding or computers and make them full-stack developers or SOC [security operations center] analysts.” 

A few things make ITC unique, Lifshitz said. For one thing, all its teaching methods come straight from Unit 8200, the cyber warfare and intelligence division of the Israel Defense Forces. Secondly, all instruction is in English, which is unique in Israel, and thirdly, ITC has solid connections to private industry.

“We’re working with over 300 high-tech companies,” he explained. “We arrange for students to go to high-tech companies for a period of five weeks to two months, to actually do a project at a high-tech so they learn how it really works. At least 50% of them get hired as employees following the project.”

About a third of ITC’s 300 or so students are veteran Israelis, another third are people who have made aliyah in the last 10 years, and a third are those who specifically come to Israel to study at ITC. Lifshitz said this year, ITC will grow to 500 students — with some 2,000 people having taken courses with ITC since its establishment.

Full-time students at ITC take 200 hours of classes per month, 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. five days a week. “Basically, you cannot breathe,” he said. “In America, most students take 15 credits per semester, and a credit is like 13 hours in class. So every semester at a US university is like one month at ITC.”

The five-month program costs NIS 19,500. It includes 600 hours of study, as well as “soft skills” like how to write a CV, build LinkedIn pages, and land interviews with high-tech companies.

“The goal of ITC is jobs,” Lifshitz said. “In Israel, it’s a different mentality than in America. For example, in Israel we ask about your age. And instead of offering a salary range, we ask the person ‘How much do you want to earn? What are your salary expectations?’”

And prospective job seekers who are well-versed in data science can easily command monthly salaries starting at NIS 20,000, rising to NIS 40,000 within three years. 

Mattout, who enrolled at ITC last year to improve his technical skills, has spent the last five months doing coursework on data science and is now in the last portion of the program: a five-week internship at a large company in Tel Aviv.

“Academic coursework at universities tends to be very theoretical,” he said. “In comparison, the real value of ITC was just how practical all the knowledge taught there is — which paves the way for an individual who completes the program to enter whatever company they choose, and hit the ground running right away.”

For more info on Israel Tech Challenge, click here.

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