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Alumni Spotlight: Joseph Knowles, Makers Academy Ronin

Liz Eggleston

Written By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on August 5, 2015

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Convinced by their hands-on approach to teaching, Joseph Knowles enrolled at Makers Academy's online bootcamp option, Ronin. We talk to Joseph about the difference between his undergraduate experience and a bootcamp, using Slack to build an online community, and his new job as a software developer at FNZ!

Tell us what you were up to before you started at Makers Academy and Ronin.

I graduated from university with a degree in a biology in July last year. I traveled around Spain, doing lots of different jobs and it gave me better perspective. I’ve been doing online programming courses like Codecademy for a couple of years, but didn’t have the time to commit and get really good at it because of my degree.

Did you ever take a computer science class in your undergrad?

I didn’t take any classes but I used a bit of programming in biology research.

How did you decide that you wanted to take a bootcamp?

It’s always been an option since I discovered online courses a few years ago. It’s always been more an issue of money and having the flexibility of moving to a new city. The biggest bootcamps are in London and it’s very expensive to live there.

Where are you living right now?

I live a couple of hundred miles north of London, too far to commute. I know it’s probably ideal to take the class in London- you’re focused and you’re surrounded by other programmers; but I just don’t have the money for that. I kept my options open for months and researched all of the online bootcamps I could find before deciding on Makers Academy.

What stood out to you about Ronin?

I read the founders’ blogs and they seemed to be keen on the best approach to learning, by researching and improving their methods. That was a breath of fresh air after coming from university where the people teaching tend to stick to what they know, lectures, even though they’ve been proven not to work.

At university they also don’t really have a great understanding of any industry outside of academia, it was really enticing to see that Makers Academy has a whole team for hiring and lots of hiring partners. At Makers they teach you what you need to know to get a job.

Was there a job guarantee?

No, they don’t make a guarantee, although I believe they are at 100% job placement now.

Since this was the first Ronin cohort, was there an open feedback loop between you and Makers Academy?

Yeah, Makers Academy was quite open about about this first cohort being a work in progress. We’ve given them a lot of feedback; they ask us for feedback every evening and then put it into practice really quickly.

What was the Ronin application process like for you?

There was an interview which consisted of a technical test and asking about my motivations. The test was in very basic Ruby. I think it was more to see how you approach new things, to make sure you actually had looked at some programming before you applied for a programming class.

How many people are in your cohort?

There are 8 of us taking Ronin online and another 24 or so doing Makers Academy live in London that we’re learning in tandem with.

Do you ever interact with the people who are doing the live in person boot camp?

We have a really active Slack group on different channels where we communicate. We do the same challenges and make the same projects.

We interact with other Ronins the most though. We’re on Google Hangouts sharing our screens from 9 till 6 every day. We have two standup meetings every day for 20 minutes then we meet as a group with one of the facilitators as well.

Who were the facilitators working with you?

Sam is the coach in London and he’s specifically dedicated to us.

What did you cover in the month of pre-work before class started?

We did a lot of challenges in Ruby and Git, learning the basics so we could pair program together. Then we moved on to testing frameworks like R-spec.

How are you learning the actual material? Are there recorded lectures?

Most of the course material is on GitHub but we also have live “breakout sessions” on Google Hangouts. Those are recorded as well.

How many hours a week would you say you’re spending on Ronin? Is this a full-time job?

More than that! We’re at the desk on Hangouts from 9 till 6, which is a full time job. I continue working after that as well.

The students learning in-person in London often stay in the office until 9:30. I track my work on RescueTime- I think I really work 70 – 80 hours a week.

Do you like the online format of Ronin?

It’s good. You can’t really replace in person interaction, but they do a really good job. We’re all friends now and we communicate a lot.

I’d prefer, just like anyone would, to talk to someone in-person rather than on a video call, just for the social aspect of it. But since that’s not possible, this is a great replacement.

Is the course project-based? Do you get to work with actual clients?

The course is almost entirely project-based. We pair-program on a project with a walk-through each week, Monday to Thursday, then we have Friday and the weekend to do a project by ourselves, so we were coming up with two projects a week.

At the beginning, they were quite basic. Six weeks into the course I’d made a fairly functional social network.

Yes, I worked with a real client for my final project. It was great, she had an amazing idea and was really enthusiastic about us bringing it to life.

How does remote pair programming work?

I think it’s a really good way to keep focused when you’re learning online. Also, discussing programming as you go is useful, rather than just sitting and thinking by yourself. If there’s something you don’t understand, your partner probably understands it, and if you understand something that they don’t then explaining it helps you to learn it.

The fact that Ronin has been online hasn’t really been a problem for working together. Google Hangouts is really good and sharing the screen has worked well.

Do you know what type of job you want after you graduate?

I don’t know exactly, but I want a junior developer position. There’s a huge variety in Makers Academy hiring partners, and I find a lot of them interesting for different reasons.

What’s the job market like in your area right now?

There are a lot of tech jobs in London. Leeds is the city nearest to me and has a technology center with quite a lot of jobs too.

When did Makers Academy start preparing you for jobs and interviews?

Their philosophy is to reserve that until the very last week of the course so that we can focus on coding the rest of the time, but they don’t completely neglect it. They’ll give us tips about things that are important like maintaining a blog. There’s a weekly talk from someone in the industry; for example, a couple of weeks into the course someone from GitHub came in and gave a talk on how to use it in the workplace.

What are you up to now? Where are you working?

I’m about to start working at FNZ in the Czech republic, as a software developer. I’ll be using C# and .NET to help develop features for their products. I got the offer just a few weeks after graduating, it’s just what I was looking for and I can’t wait to get started.

What was the process like to find a job? Did Makers Academy help with placement, interview prep, networking etc?

Makers Academy has been really helpful. In the last week of the course they taught us how to write CVs and do interviews specifically for applying to junior developer roles. They gave us further advice on tech tests and networking that have led to a lot of interest from employers quite quickly; I’d had a few interviews within  a couple of weeks of graduating.

Would you recommend Makers Academy/Ronin to a friend?

Definitely. In fact, I already have and he started the Ronin course last week!

To learn more about the London coding bootcamp, check out the Makers Academy School Page on Course Report!

About The Author

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston is co-founder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students choosing a coding bootcamp. Liz has dedicated her career to empowering passionate career changers to break into tech, providing valuable insights and guidance in the rapidly evolving field of tech education.  At Course Report, Liz has built a trusted platform that helps thousands of students navigate the complex landscape of coding bootcamps.

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