Since Course Report is based in New York, we try to go to as many bootcamp hiring days and student presentations as possible, so a couple weeks ago, we attended the Dev Bootcamp New York Hiring Day. The "Squirrel Class" was graduating, the classroom was full of enthusiasm and energy and overall, it was a really cool experience. One of the projects that stood out was called Council, which is a social app to “make decision-making easy.” It was created by Melissa, Anna, Jay and Sagar and we are joined in this Live Q&A by Melissa and Anna to talk about their experience at Dev Bootcamp. They also take us through Council and tell us how they approached issues like user experience and test-driven development.
See the full transcript below:
First of all Melissa and Anna, introduce yourselves and start by telling us what you were up to before you started at Dev Bootcamp, your education background, your last job and things like that.
Anna: I was doing marketing at Entertainment Weekly. Before that I went to Berkeley. It was a little bit of a career change but definitely a good move – I love it.
When you were at UC Berkeley did you ever take a CS class or did you have any technical background?
Anna: No, not at all.
Melissa, how about you?
Melissa: I went to UC Davis for economics and I was doing some project management for a tech company in New York called Pixable. I didn’t have any tech experience either.
But you had been part of the tech environment.
Melissa: I’ve been a part of it but never as an engineer. It’s a whole different world.
Before you decided to do a bootcamp, had either of you done Codecademy or used other online platforms? Did you start by teaching yourself?
Anna: I did do a lot online, actually. I started with Codecademy, which was definitely super helpful but you can only go so far. Then I tried doing Ruby Monk, but that’s what ultimately led me down the bootcamp path, was that I needed someone who could put it all together for me.
Melissa: Yeah, exactly. I was working with engineers all the time and I felt like they were speaking this secret language, so I just set out one Saturday and started Codecademy to try to learn some buzzwords. Luckily I started with Ruby so it was easy to understand and from there I realized how much I liked it. I did as much as I could with Codecademy and Code School but ultimately, I needed to be in a classroom.
What was your goal in doing Dev Bootcamp - did you have specific aspirations?
Anna: I just wanted to learn how to program coming from somewhere where I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if I wanted to do front end or back end or anything, and now I’ve figured out I love front end. But I didn’t go on with a specific goal in mind other than to learn more about this thing that I was really stoked on.
Melissa: I went in with the goal of just being able to build something from the bottom up. It’s interesting being on the product side and the marketing side and trying to say things that you like about it and things that you don’t like about and sell it. I’ve just always wanted to be a part of the actual building process and as an engineer.
Were you both in New York when you decided to apply?
Why did you decide on Dev Bootcamp in particular? Did you apply to other bootcamps?
Anna: I did look at other bootcamps. I looked at App Academy, I looked at Flatiron School; they all seemed awesome. Honestly, I still think I could’ve done great there, but I knew that Dev Bootcamp was one of the first ones so I assumed they had a pretty solid process outlined. I liked that they had you do yoga and encourage you take a break and not go insane.
Melissa: Yeah, me too. I went to a bunch of meetups about web courses and bootcamps and they all did seem cool. Dev Bootcamp really focuses on the holistic programmer and not someone who’s hunched over their computer all day not doing anything else. That was really important to me.
Was it important to you that Dev Bootcamp taught Ruby on Rails? Was the curriculum and the language important to you?
What was a typical day like for you at Dev Bootcamp? Were you doing a lot of pair programming? Was there typical lecture where they teach up in front of you?
Anna: In the morning, we had a lecture and then we would general pair program until lunch. Around lunchtime we would break either for lunch or for yoga or a little of both. It was lecture then ‘here’s a challenge; go code.’
Melissa: We would usually have lecture, around 2:00 or so right after lunch as a recap of this morning challenge, what did you understand, what didn’t you understand, what questions do you have? Then we would finish that challenge or work on another challenge. All the while coaches were walking around and helping, you could ask different people questions or work with your pair or other people or by yourself if you chose. At the end of the day we would have a standup meeting where you would say what you learned and any blockers that you were facing and things like that. Then you were free to continue or go home or do what you want to.
We hear a lot about Dev Bootcamp and this holistic view of a programmer- “engineering empathy” is a buzzword that we hear a lot! Can you tell us what that really meant to you day-to-day?
Anna: I think day to day for me personally, it just meant being receptive to feedback and also making sure you’re able to give really kind feedback that people can actually act upon as opposed to something that can be construed as mean or some random comment. I would say that for me on a day-to-day level that was the main thing, just being able to be in constant communication with everyone and really letting people know how you were getting or what they could work on or maybe you could work on. That was the number one thing I took away, not just engineering empathy. Making sure you can actually get along with others as opposed to just power through a problem.
Melissa: Dev Bootcamp focuses a lot on being able to work well with others, which is really important for programmers. With pair programming with Anna and I, sometimes she has a way to do it and I have a way to do it. It’s not about who get there first, it’s about do we both understand how to get to the answer, can we both explain it to each other and can we both work with each other? We had some engineering empathy courses about group dynamics and how to work with others and being confident in the things you know and how to portray that to others. So engineering empathy was actually pretty neat; I really enjoyed it.
On a broad level, what has been your experience as a woman in tech and in programming? Did you feel there was a barrier to entry at all and how did Dev Bootcamp address that?
Melissa: People talk about women in tech all the time and when we go to meetups, there are oftentimes not that many women in the room. Dev Bootcamp really does focus on not just pointing out there are only two women in our class but more so making everyone comfortable with the fact that you’ve got different types of people, whether they be different genders or any other type of diversity. I think Dev Bootcamp really focused on not singling out women per se but keeping up awareness with everybody that there are differences and everyone should be open to that.
Anna: I think Missy really nailed it. That’s absolutely what they did. Because you wouldn’t want to make it “us vs. them”. That’s not what this is at all. Even in our engineering empathy sessions, while we did talk about women in tech briefly, it really was more so making sure that you’re aware of everyone and everyone comes from a different place and just that whole idea.
Have you found any particular meetup groups or groups outside of Dev Bootcamp to be helpful? Have you stayed involved with things like Girl Develop It or RailsBridge?
Melissa: Girl Develop It, we host them sometimes at Dev Bootcamp so I see them there quite often – and that’s a really cool group. I’ve been going to Code Genius which has been really neat and I went to a Rails meetup two weekends ago. We both did a Spotify hackathon last weekend which was really neat. I think we’ll probably try to do that more often.
Anna: That was awesome.
Melissa: Yeah. Those seem to be super helpful because you’re in an environment where everyone is as amped about coding as you are and you can just geek out the whole day and talk to different people; it’s a good experience.
Was there a good feedback loop with Dev Bootcamp? Did you feel like your feedback was taken into account?
Anna: Every Friday they send out a feedback form and you’re encouraged to fill it out. Oftentimes, you can see some of the feedback you actually asked for implemented immediately. They definitely try to keep that feedback loop super tight.
Melissa: Yeah, they do. And you can feel comfortable, too. I felt comfortable as many times as needed to speak to teachers directly or students directly and just tell them, “I really like when you do this; can you do more of this?” They really are so receptive and you’ll see it the next day. All of a sudden they’re giving you more time for questions like you asked or whatever.
I want to talk about Council because that’s the first thing I noticed about you, so tell us about your project.
You can have a food council, you can have a fashion council, you can have a music council, you can have a spring council. Those are just a group of 5-10 people to which you can send an image with a question and upon receiving that image, your council or any member from your council can either swipe right to let you know that you should do it or swipe left to let you know that you shouldn’t do it.
That’s pretty much the basics of Council. I’ll actually let Anna walk you through the UX and UI.
Anna: When we started out we had so many different views; it was getting super of hand. We realized that we weren’t designing for desktop. We really needed to start about mobile first and what that really means. Once we reevaluated everything, we were able to completely redesign our wireframe.
This was our first big mobile experience. It was really exciting and we definitely realized that you had to take a different look at it.
Melissa: We were really focused on test-driven development so we made sure to have that in the forefront of everything we did. We incorporated Travis CI and Simpleco and from that we were able to have a 90% coverage rate, which we’re really proud of.
What is a 90% coverage rate? We hear the word “test-driven development” all the time; what does it mean?
Melissa: We have four people in our group and every person is working on something different and ultimately you’re going to step on someone’s toes. So we just want to make sure that something that perhaps I’ve implemented is not going to break something that Anna’s implemented. You need to put tests in the beginning so that if I push anything, if something is broken then I know I must’ve stepped on Anna’s toes in some way because this is broken.
Simpleco, it’s simply a test for your tests, so it just sees how much of your app is actually covered by testing. Basically, 90% of our app is covered by testing so it would be very hard for me to break something without knowing.
How did you decide who to work with? Were you assigned people to work with as a group?
Anna: We were assigned groups. We all voted on what projects we would want to work on and from that they decided who was going to be on each team.
Melissa: It’s a really cool process. There’s so many creative people in your classes and you get to hear all the ideas that they have then decide. They tell you what types of technologies they want to use and exactly how they want to implement their idea then you get to choose like, this is what I want to work on. That was one of my favorite parts.
Did you know the technologies you would be using to create Council before you started?
Anna: We kind of went into it actually knowing that we wanted to use frameworks we’d already used. There was a brief moment when we explored maybe doing Meteor, but ultimately we knew Rails; and we wanted to make sure it was awesome. That’s why we were able to do testing and everything like that, because we had slightly extra time.
Melissa: I’ve had this idea for a really long time, actually. When I first had it I didn’t have any programming experience, thinking how would somebody build something like this? But after having gone through the program and learned so many different frameworks and languages, it was really cool to be able to say okay, we’ve sort of mastered this language so let’s just try to use it and see what we can do with it. We were able to do more than I even thought.
Can you tell us about an issue or problem that you ran into either working together as a team, or maybe something that you hadn’t learned before and learned as a group?
Melissa: We had 6 days to build this project so your stress levels are through the roof 99% of the time. You’re in this room and trying to figure out what to do; we had learned a lot about agility methods and working Agile but sometimes, especially being the team lead it’s hard. You’re so pressed for time. In hindsight I wish that I could’ve broken it up a bit more using the Agile framework instead of using specific front end and specific back end. But we actually learned that along the way and were able to take some pretty large bits to do that way better, so the last four days of the projects I think we broke up the work a lot better.
Anna: I agree with that. Basically, it was definitely a learning curve trying to get everyone on the same page; that was really the main thing. I think Missy really crushed it.
Are there plans to launch Council as a product to the public anytime soon?
Melissa: Yeah, it’s actually already on Heroku but Heroku is not extremely reliable all the time so we’ll look at some other options. We’ll also look at some other features and fixes that we wanted to implement first so it’s on the road.
When I saw you all, you were at the hiring day. When was that and what’s happened since then? Have you been interviewing?
Anna” I’ve been interviewing, I’ve been chatting with people over coffee, going to meetups. As Missy said, we went to the hackathon. Mainly right now I’m just trying to make sure all my information is up to date and all the good stuff you do when you’re job hunting. Also, I’m working on a new app that will be launching today or tomorrow so… that’s exciting. It’s called Nightly Nachos.
Melissa, what are you up to?
Melissa: The same stuff that Anna said. I’m also a coach now at Dev Bootcamp so I’ve been doing that. It’s been really fun. It’s a really good way to sharpen your skills too, on learning; having to look at someone’s code and find out what the bugs are is really challenging so I like it.
Did Dev Bootcamp do a lot of job prep with your class?
Anna: We actually had a full week of it where we just did interview prep.
Melissa: We had a whole career week where we did interview prep and whiteboarding and how to build a tech resume, cover letters and how to cold reach out to people. Whiteboarding Wednesdays are really great at getting you on your feet with a marker in your hand and how you’re going to feel and things like that. It was really helpful.
My last question is: was Dev Bootcamp worth the money? Would you recommend it? And if we skipped over anything in the interview, let the audience know now.
Melissa: Dev Bootcamp was definitely worth the money. It’s not one of those situations where you pay the money and just become a programmer; that’s really not what it is and I think that’s important for people to understand. Rather, you paying the money is saying that you’re going to go through and give this whole program your all and you’re going to really give more than you ever thought you could for those full 19 weeks, all the time. Then from there, you will become a programmer and you will be so proud of the transition that you’ve made. There are resources there that I’ve received and just people that I can rely on and go to at any point in my day. It’s such an amazing environment and such a great program to be part of so I would highly recommend it.
Anna: I second that. It’s really what you put in that’s really what you get out. But for anyone who’s watching this and looking to go to a bootcamp, I would definitely say research them all. Look into all of them and find the one that’s the best fit for you personally. If you have experience, whether or not you want engineering empathy, they offer so many great things.
Melissa and Anna, thanks so much for joining us and sharing your experience. We can’t wait to see what you get up to in the next couple of weeks and months and we will definitely keep up with your success. And we can’t wait to see Council and Nightly Nachos live in the app store! Want to find out more about Dev Bootcamp? Check out their School Page on Course Report or the Dev Bootcamp website here!