Steven Stevenson had a Computer Science degree and years of freelance web development before deciding to transition into iOS development at Code Fellows in Seattle. He credits Code Fellows with the teamwork and collaboration skills that inspired his startup, Elevator, a team-based hiring platform. We chat with Steven about the differences between a bootcamp and his CS degree, how his time in the iOS Development Accelerator impacted his startup, and the rewarding lessons he’s taken from the experience.
What were you were up to before you went to Code Fellows?
I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Applied Computational Mathematical Science. My degree was essentially mathematics and computer science focused on building algorithms (which is the basis for Artificial Intelligence). I've been working on some iteration of websites since I was in middle school- using HTML in Yearbook class.
A lot of what we hear about a Computer Science degree versus bootcamp is the tradeoff between theory versus practical training and knowledge. Is that the experience that you had?
When I was in college my actual degree had very little to do with any sort of building websites or tools to actually use. It had more to do with theoretic algorithms and finding to solutions to made up problems. A lot of it might not have been writing code; instead, it was just studying a hypothetical solution, unlike at a bootcamp, where they teach you to build something cool starting from scratch. The essence of the bootcamp was very much like a startup, which I loved.
How did you find out about Code Fellows?
One of my friends from the Lindy Hop dance community (I was teaching dance at the time) had heard about Code Fellows. He was learning iOS development, which I never really considered before—it just wasn't on my radar. But I had been freelancing in web development, and the idea of being able to build tools that are actually designed as tools just really excited me. I got excited as soon as I heard about the opportunities that they were providing at Code Fellows.
What was the Code Fellows application like for you?
Code Fellows knew that I had some experience beforehand, and they knew that I would do well in the iOS Development Accelerator. I still had to go through the normal application and submit a video and interview.
Did you have to do a coding challenge that was technical?
The only thing that was technical was they wanted a video of me explaining some sort of development process. I described one of the algorithms that I was taught in college. But I don't think they needed an actual tech interview.
How did your teachers at Code Fellows compare to your professors in college?
The professors that I had in college were very focused on meeting standards; teaching theories you should know as opposed to how they’re applied. When we were getting into actually practical uses, it was very theoretical. The difference between that and the Code Fellows class was that we had specific projects that we were building to teach certain techniques and theories.
Can you tell us your favorite project that you built at Code Fellows?
I went into Code Fellows already with an mind an app that I wanted to build. I’m a swing dancer and instructor, so I built a calendar management tool so that people who are running dances could input their scheduling information and then it could be viewable anywhere in the world. I called it Swing Local.
It was a fun exercise to link my real expectations of a real world problem and then building a user platform that got people excited.
Another project we built was a media streaming app—the idea was a podcast app called Popsicle that helped a user record, manage, and automatically stream podcasts to iTunes.
What were your career goals when you started the iOS Development Accelerator?
At that point, I had just told my family that I wanted to build websites and mobile apps as a career. I was open-minded but my main focus was to continue building user-centered, tool-based applications.
When I started Code Fellows, I very much wanted to do something entrepreneurial or work at a startup, but when I graduated, I was more open-minded about my career. Eventually, we started Elevator!
Did you immediately launch your startup, Elevator, after you graduated from Code Fellows?
Just before launching Elevator (goelevator.com), I was TA-ing for Code Fellows. Mike Anderson, who worked at Code Fellows at the time, asked me if I wanted to work on agency-style web development with him at an agency called Belief Agency. We built tons of websites—a couple of them won awards. My main takeaways there were learning how to build out a development team on my own, starting from scratch for most of the projects, working with other developers, and connecting people.
Between Mike and the CEO of that agency, Jesse Bryan, they had shared a common question: "Why is it so hard for companies to hire teams of employees who work well together?" We started working on this problem on the side, until it made sense for me to transition to co-founder and run Elevator as a separate business.
Can you tell us what Elevator does?
Elevator is the world’s first team-based hiring platform. We want to give power back into the hands of the people, instead of all the power with the company. We aim to match great teams with great opportunities with some of growing list of partners. One of the long-term goals is to analyze how to formulate good teams using data. Then we could go to a large company and say this is the information that we have for all the teams that we have on our platform, and we can tell you which teams are going to be more efficient.
In your current role at Elevator, are you able to use what you learned at Code Fellows?
My official role is CTO. Right now, I have a VP of Engineering, so I'm managing all of the development and project management, as well as building the app with him. We leverage many of the same principles that were reinforced when I was at Code Fellows.
The thing that I learned from Code Fellows that I think was the most valuable was the importance of teamwork. The structure of the bootcamp was so nurturing and encouraged us to work together, learn together, and succeed together. In working on Elevator, everything we’re doing is about building effective teams, so I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for that feeling of successful teamwork I got from Code Fellows.
During Code Fellows, we roughly followed Agile Methodology. For example, we did standups during project weeks. Not every company implements Agile by-the-book, so it was more of a realistic implementation of what Agile could look like in a smaller team.
Are you ready to hire more developers for Elevator? Would you hire from Code Fellows?
It really depends on our scale. Right now, it will depend on our the growth of the company and the direction of our initial investment needs. We have many directions we can take for the next set of developers; utilizing iOS engineers to focus on mobile devices as our next platform, or growing the backend of our current site. We’ll definitely look at Code Fellows grads!
Was Code Fellows supportive of you starting your own business as opposed to getting a traditional junior developer job at a company?
After graduating Code Fellows, I was dragging my feet on applying to jobs because I was looking for the right company, not necessarily a specific role. I had a conversations with Will and Brooke about what they see as good paths with someone with my skillset. Having an entrepreneurial focus, I gravitated toward large ideas and building understanding on how they are to be built and supported. Everyone at Code Fellows was great for research, ultimately I had to decide which was right for me.
Do you think that Code Fellows was worth the money? Do you think that you could have learned everything that you learned in the iOS bootcamp on your own?
I could have learned how to code on any of the online code websites, but that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to meet people and to get pushed as I learned. Technically, if I had a question, I could spend hours and get frustrated or I could just ask someone else at Code Fellows. Having those resources gave me encouragement knowing that I could do it. But ultimately, it’s more than just the technical aspects that you take from an immersive bootcamp. It’s the relationships that you build.