Abdullah Alger, a Professor of English in Egypt who recently completed the Frontend Web Development Course at Bloc. He explained why he picked Bloc over other online options, walked us through two of the projects he made during Bloc, and described his goals for the future.
What is your professional background?
I’m an English professor, and have worked in Egypt, England, and Saudi Arabia.
Why did you decide to become a programmer?
I actually started dabbling in programming when I was an undergrad at Washington State University in 1997. I used to go into the computer lab at night and mess around with HTML. I was really interested in it but never pursued a degree — it was just a hobby of mine.
It wasn’t until recently that I really had a desire to get into web development professionally. Having the option of an online, flexible bootcamp, that allowed me to learn from anywhere was very important. I didn’t have to take three months out of my working schedule to do a bootcamp. I had the internet and a computer, so there was nothing to stop me from pursuing web development.
In your self-teaching and self-learning before Bloc, what types of resources did you use?
I used any tutorial I could find online in the 90’s. That was in the early stages of web development, or what it’s come to be. As I grew familiar with HTML and even CSS, I started actually looking at the code in websites.
Did you have to quit your job to do Bloc?
No, I’m still working as a professor while I look for a job.
What was the application process like for you? Were there requirements to be accepted?
I contacted Bloc and Thinkful. Since I’m in the teaching community, the fundamental question I asked was, “What do you teach?” As well as, “Do you send people to other resources like Code School, or do you have your own curriculum?” Bloc stood out because it was the only one that had original curriculum.
Another big distinguishing factor about Bloc is that you get to work with a Mentor. Who was your Mentor and did you get to choose him or her?
After you pay, you get access to your Bloc account, and can start looking for a Mentor to select. Bloc actually lets you select a Mentor based on the time that’s convenient for you, and any other preferences you may have.
You might have a list of four or five Mentors that are available, so you can go through their profile and see if they fit with what you have in mind. I chose John O’Connor as my Mentor, and we still chat even though I’ve graduated.
How were you communicating with your Mentor most often?
We used Google Hangouts, Google Chat, and Bloc’s email interface as well.
Since you were learning in Egypt, were there time zone issues when you had to work with your mentor?
My Mentor is based in Los Angeles. Right now I’m 9 hours ahead, but back then I was 10 hours ahead, which was good. It worked well because I would talk to him at 10:00 PM my time. We’d speak for half an hour, so from 10:00 to 10:30 PM. It was really convenient for me because I’m up at that time anyway.
How many Mentor sessions did you have per week?
I was on the 18 week track, so I had two sessions a week.
You’re a professor- what did you think of the teaching style?
Bloc’s curriculum is constantly evolving, so by the time I graduated I noticed some changes in how they explained things. The Curriculum Developer for the Frontend course, Joe, was really open to changes that needed to be made, and things that needed to be made clearer. Being able to influence the curriculum was excellent — I could just shoot him an email and give suggestions. We had a conversation once about a couple of typos and he fixed those right away. I’d point out places in the curriculum that could be clearer, and he made those changes — it was really great.
Did you ever interact with other students in Bloc?
Actually, I didn’t have my Facebook account open at that time because I wanted to avoid distraction. But I know they have a Bloc student alumni group, which I became a part of later on.
Towards the end of my apprenticeship they started curating Hacker Teams on Basecamp — these teams are made up of groups of students in the same course.
Can you give us a rundown of the technologies that you learned in the frontend apprenticeship?
Tell us about the projects you did in Bloc.
The first project I worked on is called Bloc Jams, which is a clone of Spotify. The project gives you hands-on experience combining all of the fundamentals you learn in the Foundations Phase of the course.
How personalized and customized did you feel the program was to your needs?
Once you master those fundamentals, you move on to the three projects. I was encouraged by my Mentor to try other technologies while I worked on the projects. I had actually used Firebase for my task list, and that wasn’t in the curriculum. I had voiced an interest in it, so my Mentor helped me integrate it into my project.
My Mentor didn’t know anything about Firebase either, so we just experimented. I was also able to add mobile animations for my Bloc Jams project.
For my Capstone Project, my Mentor told me to branch out, so I focused on learning Node.js and worked with APIs. I used the Evernote API and learned how to hook that to Express JS, which is basically using Node, and sending things to different addresses to retrieve information.
How many hours a week were you spending on Bloc?
I think some weeks I spent a lot more time than other weeks. On average I spent at least 20 hours a week.
What advice do you have for somebody who’s thinking about enrolling in Bloc or another online program and keeping their job at the same time?
You must love coding and be really interested in it. It’s important that you have the patience to spend time in learning things that might puzzle you.
There were several occasions when I got stuck, but I kept going, and asking my Mentor for help. My Mentor gave me hints; I didn’t want him to give me the answer. I just did the best I could and it worked — that was great for me.
You have a background in humanities as an English professor. Is there a misconception that having a humanities background clashes with being a great coder?
It’s definitely a misconception on some parts. I think the perception that humanities instructors don’t know anything about IT is definitely a huge miscalculation.
For example, the Text Encoding Initiative is in the field of digital humanities, which is basically websites and coding projects for humanities-based projects. In addition to my background as a humanities professor, I really like to look at different things in abstract ways, just like a computer scientist or a mathematician might look at a problem.
Tell us about your Capstone Project at Bloc.
My project is called Evervoice. I use Evernote a lot, and I wanted to find a way to send audio files as a text to my Evernote account.
Tell us what technology you used to create it.
I used Angular and Express. My Mentor also helped me learn Gulp, Express, and Node which are not in the Bloc curriculum. But before learning Node, I was actually using Zapier, yet unhappy with it. That’s when my Mentor suggested to use these other technologies instead.
Have you made other projects?
Sure, I created a nutrition tracker— it actually tracks how many calories you’re eating per day based on the amounts of carbohydrates and fats you’re eating in grams. It also calculates all of your calories for you, and the percentages in which you have those macronutrients as well. Then you submit it and can view a daily list with all of the calories you’ve been eating for those days.
This one is live as well. It’s just a prototype, but I’m still working on it here and there to learn and incorporate new technologies.
I’m also continuously adding new things on my GitHub. Some of these projects are finished, and some aren’t — I consider everything a work in progress.
What did Bloc’s Job Prep Program do to prepare you for a role as a junior dev?
The Job Prep Program really prepared me for the life of a developer.
I had a different Mentor for the Job Prep Program. I actually had a Lead Developer for the Rails Web Development course, Jose Sanchez, who was really good. He came with a completely different approach than my other Mentor did.
We did a couple of mock interviews — they would send you a fake company and you would have to “apply” for a job at the company. You’d learn about the company, go through an interview, then do a mock coding exercise online.
I believe we had 12 checkpoints and each of those checkpoints emphasized having a great LinkedIn account, having a great GitHub account, and making sure that you always record everything in detail about your project.
Did you make a portfolio site to showcase all of your work?
Yeah, I have my own website with a portfolio of my projects.
What are your future goals?
My ultimate goal is to become a full-time developer at a company — I am for hire! I would really like to move back to the West Coast, especially Seattle, where my family lives.
Was Bloc worth the money? Would you recommend it to a friend?
The good thing about Bloc is having a Mentor. I think a Mentor is essential in order to help you become the person you want to be, like anything in life. Compared to other coding schools around the world, that is the number one thing that is special. The second thing is that they have a good curriculum and it’s evolving.
I don’t feel bad about spending money on improving myself for a new career. To tell you the truth, I was hesitant at first. This is a commitment, and you’ll get out of it what you put in. I think it was definitely worth the money and I would gladly pay for it again. I think you actually get a lot more than what you’re paying for from the program.
Thank you so much Abdullah for taking the time to talk about your Bloc Experience! Do you have any questions about Bloc? Feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.