Course Report gets a lot of questions about online, mentored bootcamps and how far you can really take your education online. In this live Q&A, we are joined by Kervins Valcourt, who will answer questions about his experience at Bloc, learning with a mentor. Kervins is now an iOS developer at Hearst, so we’re really excited to hear about his story. He’s also going to take us through a project that he made while he was at Bloc and a personal project, Subskribr, that he created after graduating and that he’s working on now.
The full transcript is below:
Introduce yourself and tell us what you were up to before you started at Bloc.
I’m Kervins and before Bloc, I was working with big data visualization at Yoox, a high-end retail company. That was my first job after college.
What did you study in your undergrad?
I had a minor in computer science and applied mathematics was my major.
How did you get that first job in big data? Were you recruited out of college?
I was reached out to on LinkedIn. I did a lot of code related to big data art and visualization.
So you had a pretty technical background before you stared at Bloc.
I’ve always been good at math. That was my passion and computer science comes with it.
What made you want to switch and start designing for iOS?
When I noticed I spent more than 70% of my time on my phone. Looking at numbers every day was really boring. I’d rather do something that I enjoy doing naturally.
Did you quit your job when you started Bloc or did you do both at the same time?
I’m a risk taker so I believe in going full on for your dreams. The company was cool. They flew us out to Italy but I knew halfway through the year I was going to quit as soon as I came back.
You must’ve really wanted to make a job change.
It’s not like I wanted to make a job change but if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, it’s not worth it. Money-wise, it doesn’t matter to me.
What was your motivation for doing Bloc?
When I first got into Bloc, the main thing was I wanted to learn iOS. I just wanted to make apps. I wanted to show everybody that I can make apps because I think developers are the modern day artists and they can just show off their stuff. I think that’s pretty cool.
Why did you decide to do an online program instead of an in-person boot camp? What factors were you considering that you went with Bloc over a different program?
The first reason I chose the online one was because I had a pretty strong technical background before. I didn’t need that much hand-holding.
But I did like the fact that it was one on one; that was really cool. I believe that mentorship is better than being part of the class because I felt in college that I didn’t learn much. One on with somebody I could talk to, I was all for it.
Did you look at other online programs like Thinkful, Career Foundry, or others?
When I was looking for a bootcamp, Bloc was the only one that said they were immersive. I was planning on quitting my job so I thought that was the perfect fit. Everybody else’s was like, you could meet a couple times a week or they expect you to do 20 hours.
Personally, I don’t believe you can learn much only given 20 hours a week. I think you have to give like a full 80 hours to really understand what you’re doing.
Who did you end up working with? Did you get to choose a mentor?
How did you all communicate? Did you do Google Hangouts or Skype?
I think our first time we did Google Hangouts. We were mostly using this app called Screen Hero. It’s not video chatting at all, he takes control of my screen or I can see his screen.
What was the first week like at Bloc? Was it installing your environments, doing basic stuff or did you all jump into starting to build things?
The first week was a mixture. I jumped in pretty fast because I had a dev environment but the environment was really for R and Python so I switched that out into iOS and XCode.
I’d learned Objective-C on my own before, so when we were getting into the basics like arrays and dictionaries, I kind of rushed through that. I was trying to get to the point where the frameworks were and then stuff got real.
When did it get real? What do you mean it got real?
It got real when I started building stuff. That’s when stuff got real and I wasn’t used to it. Before, I was always in the data structure realm taking data out then manipulating and visualizing it but in iOS you actually build stuff. You’re using data structures in a different way and you’re not really thinking in a quantitative way, you’re thinking best practice in doing this and receiving this data and making sure it doesn’t crash.
Were you doing everything from your apartment? Is that where you worked most?
I was in my apartment until I started to go AWOL. In New York, there’s a bunch of coworking spaces so I went to coworking spaces and that was cool too. I thought that was really important. I thought it would be a cool idea to go to spaces where developers live.
Did you ever interact with students in the program? Were you part of a group online?
Now I’m part of an alumni group but then I was always curious. I was always looking around on LinkedIn, seeing who’s doing what and then follow them on GitHub or on Twitter and see what they post. Every time something works, I post so everybody has to know about it.
Once you started building things, how personalized did you feel Bloc was able to get? Were there things you wanted to learn outside of the curriculum? How did that work?
First, it’s very rigid because like everything, you have to learn the basics first. After that it was basically whatever you wanted to do. But at that point I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I had Stan give me some direction.
I really wanted to focus on what makes you a super developer. What makes you better than a guy that was in a bootcamp and wasn’t as good. Stan gave me concepts that I had no idea were important, like multi-threading.
Imagine multiple things going on on your computer at the same time. Let’s say I’m pulling an image from Facebook and you see that spinning signal; you’re doing everything on one thread; you’re going to pause it. Sometimes you feel like your app is crashing, but it’s actually doing something. But if you put it on a background thread, you can just show that spinner. When it’s finished, you pull it back to the main thread and you can see it and interact with it.
You were talking about the first part of the course was the rigid, learning what you had to learn; what did that entail? What technologies did you learn in the iOS course?
I learned Git, all my command line stuff. I learned about the iOS frameworks, table views, and web views. I learned about best practices that are done in iOS and building models, building data structures, using data structures as well, design patterns. That was the rigid stuff.
I didn’t learn about cool tools until I got into work but I learned about Cocoapods which gives us done pieces of code that we could use on our code to help build our apps faster.
Is it all unique content that they’re giving you to lean or are they giving you other resources around the web that you’re supposed to get through?
There’s a lot of unique content. I had to do a lot of reading. But they made it a point – and I made it a point too – to branch out see what else is going on because that’s the thing that you’re going to do in the development world anyway. They showed you how to search through stack overflow for answers to some of the problems. If you left the Bloc ecosystem I think you would become richer because you would see what people are doing currently.
R and Python and your work with big data was different than working in iOS- but did you ever feel like you were able to use your past experience when you were learning?
My strongest ability was algorithms and that was all math for me. It was like figuring out a faster way of doing something. Those concepts came quickly to me.
When I learned about quick sort, merge sort, all the stuff that we don’t ever use day to day, I was able to pick it up quickly. So when they’d day this is slow; figure out something that’s faster, I would just be okay, no problem. I got this.
How many hours a week would you say you were spending on it?
I guess levery waking moment! I think I worked on it every day and I did at least 10-12 hours a day, except I would go to the bar on Saturday nights then Sundays I would be wrecked.
That’s really intense. 10-12 hours a day!
You lose track of time. It’s not like I made it a point like okay, I’m going to do 4 hours as if I’m at work. Sometimes you get stuck in a problem and you just want to fix it. Then you look and it’s like oh crap, it’s 10 o’clock.
Can you tell us about a project that you worked on while you were at Bloc?
Sure. One of the biggest projects I made and that’s how I realized I could definitely do this was we built Instagram. It wasn’t that bad. You can comment, that’s one thing. The Instagram API won’t let you comment under stuff but we simulated us typing. That’s basically it.
How did you build this? What technologies did you use to create it?
This is XCode, Cocoapod; basically everything I do at work right now using my terminal to put all my repos out and that’s basically it – and a lot of time coding.
How long did it take you to make it?
This one took me about 3 weeks, 4 weeks.
Were these all things that you learned in class at Bloc or did you ever run into things that you hadn’t learned and how did you deal with that? Did Stan help?
Stan helped a lot. He just showed me how he would solve it. He was honest about not knowing and he would look things up online. He was opposed to the super geniuses that know everything off the top of their heads. I felt like the experience was more human.
Can you tell us an example of a problem you ran into and how you got over that?
The part of the keyboard to snap to the end of it. When you hit the keyboard and it snaps the end of it. We couldn’t find a pod online and we did the math. That took us a session so it was like an hour to figure that out.
What have you built since you graduated Bloc?
My personal app that I’m working on is called Subskribr. It’s a hub that holds all your subscriptions in one place and you’re able to discover, manage, pause and resume all your subscriptions in one area. We’re about finished.
How did you find the people that you’re working with on Subskribr?
We went to school together. We’re all engineers. One of my best friends, Carlos, he’s a back-end guy. My friend Jesse, who studied psychology but I convinced to move into tech. He did a bootcamp too and he’s a developer as well now. I met Joey on Twitter while I was in Bloc tweeting about all the stuff that we built.
Since you graduated do you participate in hackathons or meetups?
I do them all. I feel like I don’t sleep. I’ve met a lot of mentors while I’ve been doing this because you go to a lot of meetups and tell people where you’re at and it’s very friendly. They’ll have a project that they’ll want you to hop on.
We actually just talked to the guy from Pigeonbox and he’s excited about Subskribr and said he’s definitely on board so that’s always fun to hear.
How are you integrating subscription services into Subskribr?
We had to figure out that solution. That’s a problem that we’re figuring out right now because I guess that’s why it hasn’t been done before. It’s almost like an API but it’s pretty. Have you ever tried to buy tickets and somebody brought a million tickets already before you? Basically they created a bot and that’s what they’re doing. So we could do that and he’s going to create a master account and we just add them on. We’re trying to figure out a way to scale, maybe create a web platform they could use or they give us APIs
Are you planning on putting it live in the app store at some point?
We’re going to be beta testing it next week so I’ll send you a beta test. We’ll probably launch after we have 10, 15 guys on board then we’ll see what happens from there.
How did Bloc prepare you for a career after a boot camp? What are you doing fulltime, where are you working? Tell us all that good stuff.
It was kind of crazy. When I started looking for work, every day you get phone calls. I guess it’s because we’re in New York. I imagine California is the same and Austin as well.
Bloc had this one month extra to prepare you for interviews and I got to work closely with the Aaron, the Director of iOS development. We were just talking and he asked me coding questions.
The questions you would be asked in an interview?
Yeah, all the questions I would be asked on an interview; it helped a lot.
When you’re in a junior role they’re not really trying to trick you, these are questions that you should ask yourself already. He prepared me for that; he actually introduced me to one of his friends that he met through a meetup for an interview, and they extended an offer but it was in Chicago. At that time I had three other offers at the same time in New York so I picked one of the most senior guys in there so I could learn a lot – and I’m at Hearst.
It’s been pretty cool, the culture’s really cool there and it’s been fun.
What’s your official job title at Hearst?
iOS Engineer – super grownup title!
Are you working on a specific product there? Hearst is huge, right?
Yeah, Hearst is massive. Right now I’m working on newspapers. They’re completely redoing their newspaper app to compete with their bigger competitors. That’s our main thing right now.
What do you do when you run into a roadblock or need mentorship?
I always have a lot of questions so I just ask my boss if I ever get stuck. He knows every way to do it and he won’t tell you just one, he’ll tell you five of them and you go back and think about it then you can figure it out.
I’d met a lot of mentors before I got the job. I have my friend, he works at Mezzanine. He was very into multi-threading and making sure code is clean. You meet characters that are into everything. I have another mentor Franz, and he’s really about making sure you understand the importance of things to scale up. It makes sense because everybody’s focused on their own issue. I have Luke, who is all about Swift right now. He works at Spotify.
What do you think is special about the New York tech scene?
I was born and raised in New York so I’m naturally into the meanness of New York. I never really thought about leaving. I got a call from Google for an interview but they were saying I would have to go to Mountain View and the interview was going to be in a month.
I was in California and L.A is cool and San Fran is really chill but I guess I just like the hustle and bustle of New York. I can see myself going to California sometime, but not now.
Last question: Was Bloc worth the money? Would you do it again?
Thank you so much, Kervins!