As a college sophomore, Noah came up with a great idea for a tech startup. But when he wasn’t learning enough practical skills in his Computer Science degree to build his idea into a product, Noah enrolled in The Firehose Project, an online coding bootcamp. Noah tells us about the differences between CS classes and a bootcamp, how he customized the bootcamp to fit his needs, and how he learned to collaborate with other developers online. Three years later, using his tech skills and ongoing mentorship from The Firehose Project, Noah launched his startup, Considdr!
What is your pre-bootcamp story? Why study computer science and then go to a bootcamp?
At college I studied government and economics before switching to computer science. When I was a sophomore, my experience in college inspired the idea for my startup, Considdr. I wanted a place to store the information I was consuming so that I would be able to reference it later, and share it with other people. The reason I switched to computer science was because I wanted to pursue this startup idea.
I learned a lot in college about computer science theory, but applying it in a practical sense was something that I felt was missing. I wasn't able to see how the theory translated into building products or web applications. To fill that gap, in the summer before my senior year and with one year of computer science under my belt, I attended The Firehose Project.
Why did you choose The Firehose Project over other online coding bootcamps?
I chose the Firehose Project because I was looking for something practical and applicable in a very hands-on, real-world sense. The Firehose Project really spoke to me because they teach you everything you need to know to build your own applications. More than that, they give you the tools to find the resources to continue with that learning.
I read reviews, and looked at Thinkful and Bloc as well. What stood out to me about The Firehose Project were Ken Mazaika and Marco Morawec, the two co-founders. They held video introductions with me, they were really friendly, and seemed to really care about their students. That was a big deal for me – I wanted open communication with the people who ran the program.
The other big benefit was how customizable the program was at The Firehose Project. When I did the bootcamp, they had two paths: an entrepreneurial path and a job preparation path. I chose the entrepreneurial path and customized my learning along with my mentor. I knew that I really wanted a flexible bootcamp; The Firehose Project gives you a really good foundation, a mentor, all sorts of support, and flexibility.
How rigorous was The Firehose Project admission process? Was it hard to get in?
In the admissions process, they really want to know that you're serious about your learning, and that was the metric they used to judge applicants. The Firehose Project provided a free pre-bootcamp course to dip your toes in and understand if the course will work for you.
The team then asks you to complete some assignments to show that you're genuinely interested in and committed to learning. If the bootcamp is giving you their time, they want you to take it seriously.
The process worked well for me, and it didn't feel like a harsh interview or a huge application. You have to demonstrate that you're serious about it.
What was the time commitment for learning at The Firehose Project? Did you learn full-time or part-time?
You can go at your own pace. There are different units that walk you through building out different apps and it gets increasingly complex over time. I was doing the course mostly full-time, but I know that some of the other students that I worked with were doing it part-time and at night. I think it can work really well in both situations because it's so flexible. I graduated from The Firehose Project in 16 weeks. I was really obsessed and I liked going through it so I went through modules back-to-back – they're actually fun!
How did you actually learn throughout The Firehose Project? Were you paired with a mentor?
Students get one mentor session each week, and mentors are very generous with their time. I finished the modules really quickly and then was able to still learn more with the additional learning resources available.
Mentors help you work through your own projects and you can make them as complex as you want. That flexibility was huge for me. They give you a ton of course material, and if you end up being obsessed with it like I was, you still have a number of weeks left to continue your learning with a mentor.
What's an example of an application you built during the course?
When comparing your four-year college computer science experience to learning at a bootcamp, what stood out to you?
There's extreme value in both approaches, but they're different.
One big advantage of the bootcamp is it’s really project-focused, super individualized. In college, we learned a lot and covered a lot, but it was mostly lecture-based. There are some projects, but you're in a class with a lot of students.
In college, you don't have a one-on-one mentor to help you. I had amazing professors in college who did great work and helped me learn a lot. But in the bootcamp model, my mentor, Matt, spent so much time with me when I had issues, and answered all of my questions. He has a lot of industry experience so he helped me think about how to scale up my product. It was helpful to work with someone who's doing this every day in a real-world setting. Firehose Project mentors have a lot of practical knowledge – I felt like that really changed the game for me.
Did you communicate or work with other Firehose Project students in the course?
I was actually placed on a team project because I finished the module quickly. Working in a team setting with my peers was really cool. I met three or four other students and we worked on a collaborative project creating a chess game app. We learned about Git, how to resolve issues with other developers when we're coding the same files, and how to coordinate with a team, which was really valuable.
Ken, The Firehose Project CTO, was in pretty much all of our group courses. It was amazing how much time he put in working with the students. We all had our own mentors, but he was really involved.
How did The Firehose Project prepare students for the workforce or help you become entrepreneurs?
The program has grown a lot since I left, but Firehose makes career prep a priority. It was a very practical course, but they made sure that students had the computer science fundamentals that they would need if they were to apply for a job. Firehose gave good advice on the technical interviews – they have really cool segments on data structures and algorithms, and I would’ve been well-prepared had I interviewed for web development positions at other companies.
Tell us about your company! What is Considdr?
Considdr is a crowdsourced research and reasoning platform. It gives people the tools to take notes on what they're reading, save those notes, and then use those notes to form opinions on different topics. You can also use other people's notes, so it's really collaborative research.
Did you work on Considdr, while at The Firehose Project?
No, I wasn't working on Considdr at The Firehose Project. I was thinking about it, and how I might apply the projects at Firehose when I did want to start writing the code for Considdr. I was nervous about sharing my idea with people at that stage, so I did it in secret until I was ready to build it. I actually didn’t start writing the code for Considdr until about a month after The Firehose Project.
What technologies did you learn from The Firehose Project that helped you build Considdr?
It's really been a team effort, but what I took away from Firehose was pivotal. Considdr is built on Rails and we use JQuery – both of which I learned at Firehose. Our front end is different – we don't use Twitter Bootstrap, but we use another framework called Semantic-UI.
My company wouldn't exist if I hadn't done Firehose Project, because I wouldn't have learned what I needed to build the prototype, which is how I recruited my team. If I wasn’t working on Considdr, I don't know what I would be doing honestly. The Firehose Project changed my life in a lot of ways.
When I first recruited my team, none of them actually knew web development (they were CS grads I had gone to college with), so I used what I learned from The Firehose Project to teach them Rails and other tools. The way the material was presented in the program was so clear that it made it easy to teach to others.
Did you ever reach out to your mentor at The Firehose Project for help with Considdr?
I did! I reached back out to my mentor Matt, and Ken, the CTO, and asked for advice. Matt actually got on the phone with me for more than an hour to discuss the prototype. It was just awesome that the program was over, but they clearly still cared about me and cared about what I was doing. The fact that my mentor wasn't getting paid to talk to me, a year after the program ended, is amazing.
To this day, I'm still in contact with Matt and Ken. I'll email them and ask for advice like, "we're trying to set up a development procedure in pipelines so that we can test our code effectively; what have you done and what's your advice?" And both of them email back on the same day, answering my questions. This kind of support makes me feel like I made good choice, because beyond the program, Firehose is willing to help you with your next endeavors. The team has built a unique culture.
Are you still coding day-to-day?
I'm coding for a third of my time. I was coding a lot more in the beginning, but our product is in a pretty stable place, so now I'm focused more on growth and raising another round of funding. We're lucky to have a team, so I don't have to do all the coding.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code?
At first, learning to code was pretty daunting and intimidating because it felt like I was trying to do something really big, but I had the sense that I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I still feel that sometimes. I think the hardest part was that it took a while to realize there's nothing magical about coding.
At first, coding feels like totally foreign language and you think, “How can people build these really cool, really crazy web applications?" But as you get through a course and get over that psychological block, you realize that learning to code gives you the fundamentals, and then you continue to learn as you go.
Have you kept in touch with any of the other alumni or current Firehose Project students?
Not yet, but they have a Slack channel where alumni and current students communicate. I just joined that because I would really like to get more involved with the fellows. I'd be happy to answer questions from students about the experience and I'm curious to hear how things are going.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who are thinking about attending coding bootcamp and launching their own startup?
A bootcamp can make a really big difference in getting those practical coding skills. At a coding bootcamp, they really teach what you need to accomplish a set task. You don’t get that from a lot of other places.
If you want to start a company, you need to break down the development process into a lot of really small pieces. At Firehose, they taught us that you can learn everything, just a little bit at a time, and over time, you create a valuable knowledge base.
The hardest thing is just going for it and really committing yourself to learn. Commit yourself wholly, and recognize that anyone can do a bootcamp and learn how to code.