Brian was a touring Texas singer-songwriter when he had an idea for an internet radio station app. He found MakerSquare in Austin and decided he would learn to build the app himself. We talk to Brian about his motivations for changing his career, what he would do differently, and how his class worked together throughout the course.
Tell us what you were doing before you started at MakerSquare.
I was a professional touring musician for about 12 years before joining MakerSquare. I toured as keyboard player for the Randy Rogers Band in Austin, and I did a bunch of recording for major label artists. I was also a songwriter- that paid my living and all my needs.
Are you still in the music business?
I am but I’m transitioning into building a web app.
Did you do your undergrad in a technical area?
No, I studied political science and I dropped out after about 2 ½ years.
So after being in music for so long, how did you hear about bootcamps and how did you make the decision to change your career?
I didn’t mean to change my career. I had an idea for this web app from touring and visiting radio stations and seeing how they run their stations and comparing it with the way internet radio stations are run.
I wanted to build this app and I went to MakerSquare sort of expecting to learn enough to know who I should hire – but never expecting to be able to build it myself.
Did you research a bunch of boot camps or did only look at MakerSquare?
I did; I researched a lot of them and luckily, MakerSquare was my favorite and also happened to be right near where I live. I looked at a couple in San Francisco and one in Colorado. What sold me on MakerSquare was that they gave you access to all of their previous graduates - they didn’t just pick people that were happy. When I read or talked to someone about their experience, everyone raved about it. I don’t think I found anybody that had anything bad to say about the program.
Had you learned to code a little bit on your own before you applied? Did you do Codecademy or another online program?
I did. I was mostly a self-taught programmer before I applied. In the end, I did MakerSquare to save time because I was still working fulltime as a musician and I wanted to build the app and speed up the process. But it ended up being way better than learning on my own and continuing to be self-taught.
What level would you say you were at when you applied?
I’d worked through about 3 books on Java, and done all the prework that MakerSquare sent my way.
What was the application process like for you?
There was a culture interview and a technical interview where they pushed you until you were stumped. Looking back on it, I think they wanted to see how you react to getting stumped.
Did you tell MakerSquare about your idea for your app, and that it was your motivation for doing the bootcamp?
I did, I told them about it after I started the class. They were very, very supportive. When I told them about the idea, that I wanted to keep working on it after graduation, and that I would want to hire people to work on it too, I got an email from Harsh saying that I should feel free to build it and that legally, I was protected. MakerSquare wouldn’t take a portion of it or anything. I actually hadn’t thought about that and I felt like them addressing it immediately and decisively was really above and beyond. They were very helpful and supportive.
Also, the app that I’m building has a lot of features that were not officially taught during the course. They were really good about helping me find that stuff, even though none of it was techincally supposed to be covered.
Did you put music on hold while you did MakerSquare?
No, I was still touring on the weekends. It was pretty rough and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone else. I would work all week, day and night, and then on Fridays and Saturdays I would travel and get back late Sunday to start studying again.
What was your cohort like? How big was it?
It was around 20 people. Everybody was shy at first but there’s a culture at Makersquare that encourages you to help each other out. So everybody gets to know each other really quickly through the work. It’s just a very positive place to be.
Did you find that there was a lot of diversity in people’s backgrounds, gender, race, age?
Yeah, it was pretty diverse. I never really thought about it, but there were a few women; I know MakerSquare’s got a lot of women-in-code oriented programs on the side, so after seeing that I was a little less surprised to see a few women in the class.
Did you feel like everyone was on the same level technically and were able to learn together?
Not everyone was on the same level technically, but we all ended up learning together. There were all kinds of people and all kinds of levels. I was kind of worried about that at first but it seems like they were able to move everyone up several levels no matter your starting point. I was not expecting them to be able to pull that off well, but somehow they did.
Did everyone graduate from your cohort?
All but one - I think there was one person that left but I don’t remember the reason.
Who were your instructors while you were there? How many of them were there and what was the teaching style like?
The main instructor was Gilbert who was really a gifted teacher. He had a way of making you understand something in very few words. The teaching style was also very self-driven. They would give a short lecture, show us how to do something and we would do it over and over, and they would walk around and make sure we didn’t get hung up. So it was a short lecture followed by a lot of coding.
Towards the end when you do your final projects, everybody separates into a different focus area so there are less lectures and more one on one; just making sure you don’t get hung up.
For me, it was kind of like learning at home with very clear instruction and without ever having the frustration of wasting an entire day searching for a comma or a wrongly capitalized variable. They could just push you through all of that real quickly.
Did you feel like there was a lot of collaboration with other students in the class and was that helpful to you?
Yes. It’s designed that way for sure. They break you up in different groups and switch the groups around. It was really helpful.
Tell us a little bit about the curriculum. Were you happy with the actual material that you all were learning?
I was. A lot of the material seemed like they had put it together recently, which was actually a good thing. There were two cohorts at once when I was there. We could see that we were significantly ahead of where the previous cohort was at the same time. And I know that the cohort behind us was significantly ahead of where we were, so my impression is that they’re always improving it.
Between keeping a job and doing MakerSquare, did you ever experience burnout?
No. I was close, though. I wouldn’t recommend doing MakerSquare and working. I wish that I had just been able to quit for that period of time. At the end, I was starting to get a little stressed -- and I really would love to have had the weekends… both to chill out a little and also to review anything that wasn’t quite solidified in my mind yet.
How did you keep yourself from getting completely burnt out?
I think having so many different things going on at once was helpful. It was weird to be coding all week and then go play at a bar every Saturday. It made both of them fun even though the whole thing on the whole was stressful.
Were you able to work on your app as your final project?
I worked on it as the final project and they helped me get pretty close to a working product. As soon as I graduated, I rewrote it to make it more solid with what I learned. I’ve continued to work on it since I left and I’m about to launch.
Can you tell us about the app?
It’s called Playola Radio and it makes making an internet radio station really easy. It allows you to record yourself talking like a DJ between the songs, move the songs around and add other songs; just do everything that you would do in a real radio station but with a much easier interface than anybody else has right now.
Do you ever think you would work as a developer for a company?
I was different than all of my classmates in that I wasn’t looking for a full time developer job. I was looking to build out my app. It’s been so long since I had a job working for someone else! I would consider it. But I’m really excited about this app and I was never looking for a job.
Did you notice most of your fellow students getting jobs afterwards?
Yeah; I think it was over 90%. MakerSquare is very open about their placement rates. I think they even told me the median salary at the end of the previous cohort. They’re pretty much an open book on all that stuff.
Would you recommend MakerSquare to others?
Oh, yeah. I feel so positively about MakerSquare that I have to stop myself sometimes. It’s such a positive atmosphere that I haven’t found an ex-student with anything bad to say about it -- and most of us tend to gush.