NOTE: This Q&A may be outdated. Tealeaf Academy is now Launch School.
Matthew Barram had done some website development for his side-business, but had doubted his ability to be a full-time web developer. Based in Brisbane, Australia and too far from in-person developer bootcamps, Matthew decided on Tealeaf Academy, the online, mentored Ruby on Rails bootcamp. Find out what convinced Matthew of the Tealeaf approach, how Tealeaf manages to create a supportive cohort of students online, and how he landed a job as a developer at NetEngine.
What were you up to before you started Tealeaf?
Before and during the Tealeaf course I was doing project management work on big infrastructure projects. On the side I owned and recently sold a business called DoneItNow which does audio transcription.
I was exposed to software development through DoneItNow, having to develop the company website. I am passionate about making great solutions for people and so I decided I needed to learn how to code. Before this time I had doubted my abilities to be a developer and I wasn't confident that I could do it. This desire to solve problems took me to Tealeaf Academy.
Did you quit your job when you decided to do the Tealeaf course?
During the whole Tealeaf program I was working full time. It required a fair bit of dedication outside of my job, but it wasn't an issue and I was able to make it through.
Did you have any technical background before you decided to apply to Tealeaf?
I’d done a bunch of Codecademy and Code School courses beforehand. I enjoyed them but never felt like I learnt anything substantial from them. I had also project managed a few technical projects include a the development of an inhouse iPad app.
When did you do the bootcamp?
I started it in November 2013 and it took me 4 months.
What was your motivation for doing it?
Wanting to solve problems was the biggest one. I had things in my everyday life that I wanted to be able to do better and more efficiently. I also wanted to do something different and continue learning.
At the time I didn't even consider that I would end up working as a developer.
Is your plan to launch your own product eventually?
Yes. I’ve got a few products that I’m working on at the moment. Nothing particularly exciting- just solving problems that I have. They’re more like applications to continue my learning and to have fun with at the same time.
Once you decided you wanted to do a bootcamp, why did you decide to do an online program over an in-person boot camp?
I live in Brisbane, Australia. There are some bootcamps in Sydney, which is a much bigger city than Brisbane. I looked at those and they cost $12,000 to $15,000. But because I was working full time and didn't want to move I ruled them out as options. I also looked at Thinkful and Bloc. I selected Tealeaf because they focused on awesome content, hard work and support.
It was also easy to get started as the first course was only four weeks and a few hundred dollars. If I didn't like it I wouldn't have wasted lots of money and time. This was reassuring from an initial purchase perspective.
What was the application process like for you?
I had a bunch of questions I wanted answered from the Tealeaf team. As far as their standards go, they’re very clear that it’s not an easy program and is not designed for people who are doing it as a hobby. They’re doing it to educate people who want to get a job in the sector or develop their own product. It was clear from the outset to only apply if you’re serious.
I didn’t feel like the interview process was intimidating because students sign up and if it’s not right for them, they are free to leave at anytime.
Were you interacting with other students throughout the program?
Absolutely. It was an essential part of the program for me! I would have my chat window open and all the students would be in the chatroom. We would help each other out with questions and problems.
I’m quite good friends with a lot of the students in my cohort now. That was something I enjoyed about the course, the way that relationships between the students were formed. It made it easy to keep on track.
Were you working with a mentor or were you working one-on-one with an instructor?
We had several teachers throughout the program. All the teachers were super supportive and great to work with. I valued how all the instructors and teaching assistants took lots of time to make sure I understood the content on a deep level.
There were forums where I could ask a question in at anytime. I would get an answer really fast, which meant if I was stuck on Friday night I didn't have to wait until the following week to get support.
How personalized did you feel Tealeaf was to your needs? Did you feel that you could learn things that weren’t a part of the curriculum or did you all stick pretty closely to a curriculum?
I thought the course had a good mix of structure and flexibility. We would get a clear course outline of the things that we were going to learn and also the flexibility to learn about other things of interest. I remember we had did a bunch of sessions outside of the normal curriculum to show us how to build a web server from scratch. We asked for it and we got it, it was fantastic.
Why are the courses split into a Ruby course, a Sinatra course, and then a Rails course?
As someone who had very little programming experience, if I was to be thrown into Rails, it can look very much like “magic”. For example, I type one line and thousands of lines of code appear. I needed to understand what was happening before starting to use the “magic”
During the first two courses, you’re learning the foundations of how Rails actually works. It allowed me to have a different perspective on Rails when I actually got to it.
How long were you spending on Tealeaf each week on average?
I’d say between 20 and 30 hours a week on average, that was mainly in the evenings and on weekends.
My advice to other potential Tealeaf students when it gets hard, stick with it. It is worth it. For me, I just had to stick with it to come out the other side with the actual knowledge and understanding.
How did you stay on track?
It was the connections with the other students and having people that I could talk to and chat with. It reminded me that I’m not the only one going through this.
Tell us about what you’re doing now. Where are you working?
I work at a software solutions company called NetEngine. I work on a bunch of applications such as our team collaboration tool Trigger. We’re a small rails shop with a focus on quality and awesome solutions.
I enjoy getting to put into real life practice the skills and knowledge I learnt during the Tealeaf program. It is fun working with other developers (some a lot more experienced than me). They’re always helpful, always happy to answer questions. I think Tealeaf Academy set me up for that.
At Tealeaf they do everything as if it’s within a real company. They do things like sending pull requests and having experienced developers do code reviews. I use the same system of code review at work that we used during the Tealeaf program.
How did you get your job? Was it through Tealeaf?
One of the assignments was to go to a meetup. I didn’t want to go, but I forced myself to do it because it was part of my assignment. I met someone through there and before I knew it I was working as a developer.
Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you want to include about Tealeaf?
One of the things I really appreciated about Tealeaf how good it was for someone living outside the USA timezone. Being in Australia, even though my time-zone is completely different to the U.S. time zones, I was still able to get support anytime.
For people who aren’t in the U.S. or near an in-person bootcamp, an online one is probably the only option for a lot of people. For me, to get support in my time-zone is important, otherwise I’d be waiting 12 hours or more for a reply.
I think Tealeaf Academy is ideal for anyone serious about learning to code wherever they live in the world. It has helped me land a job doing what I love - coding and building applications.