Whitney O’Banner is the campus director of Dev Bootcamp’s Austin campus [As of December 8, 2017, Dev Bootcamp will no longer be operating ]. Before that, she was a developer, a Dev Bootcamp student, and a manager at Apple. She loves how vibrant and exciting Austin is, in terms of both technology and culture. Whitney tells us about her efforts to recruit diverse students in Austin, the campus rooftop terrace(!), and why she loves Dev Bootcamp’s mission to change and improve the tech industry.
What's your background before you joined Dev Bootcamp?
I graduated college with a computer science degree, and I entered into what I like to call big tech. I was working at Apple for a few a years, programming actively, and doing some automation, but I felt a bit isolated in the environment. I came in with a solid foundation in computer science, but I didn't know how to practically apply my knowledge. I didn’t have mentorship, and didn’t feel like I could continue my learning, so I got burned out.
I decided to take a break from that and shifted within Apple to a job investigating applications for the App Store. I loved the environment. I loved the team. We had a great dynamic, but I really missed programming.
Next, I found an automation job at Amazon. This was in 2014, and coding bootcamps were gaining prominence both among people with no prior coding knowledge looking to gain a foothold in the tech economy and those, like me, with CS degrees looking for practical application experience to further their careers. I was living in the Bay Area at the time, so I decided to enroll at Dev Bootcamp San Francisco to update my skills.
What was it like going through Dev Bootcamp as a student?
Dev Bootcamp gave me so much more than just the updated technical knowledge I needed to re-immerse myself in the current job market. I got a lot more self-awareness and emotional intelligence to make the decision to only pursue what I genuinely thought would help me learn, and also help me give back to a larger community. It's amazing because cohort mates have gone on to be employees at Slack, Shopify, and Turo. Some of these people are now my best friends as a result of going through the program together.
What did you do when you graduated from Dev Bootcamp San Francisco?
I ended up circling back to Apple on a completely different opportunity where I managed a team of contractors. It was a great role where I traveled the world working on transit in Apple Maps. I was actively developing systems and getting management experience. That role moved me from the Bay Area to Austin, Texas.
How did you end up going back to work at Dev Bootcamp?
I went to check in on how Dev Bootcamp was doing as a company. I visited the website and saw that they were expanding into Austin and they were looking for someone who had a technical background, with some managerial experience, who also was familiar with bootcamps. I had all those qualifications, and I was like, "Oh, my gosh. They're looking for me." I reached out, and here I am. That was at the start of this year, and it's been a very exciting ride.
What’s your role as campus director at Dev Bootcamp Austin?
I oversee operations, marketing, delivery, curriculum – basically every component of running the campus. And, the whole Austin team and I have a very close relationship with students. As campus director, students are typically going to see and communicate with me daily.
I'm also the career developer for Dev Bootcamp Austin, the point of contact for graduates during the job search. Students spend 9 weeks on campus learning and honing their coding skills. In the 10th week, after graduation, we have Career Week where we polish students’ resumes, work on LinkedIn profiles, make students marketable as new developers, and teach them how to network with people in an authentic way. We want grads to go into the world as great human beings that people want to work with.
So when did the campus open and how did that first cohort go?
The first cohort of students started on site in early July, and it feels like we've formed a real community and culture around them. The students are fantastic. We have graduated some very talented, driven developers, and we all as a staff could not be more proud of them.
It went swimmingly. Everything was better than anticipated. We were able to provide a great level of support for the students due to our teacher-student ratio and smaller class sizes. A big part of Dev Bootcamp is that we love collecting feedback. We got so much feedback from students, and we were able to iterate quickly on our curriculum and delivery structure to respond to that feedback.
How many staff and instructors do you have in Austin?
We have an amazing staff. We have two extraordinary instructors, a community marketing manager, Kelly, who is just so dedicated to the students and potential students, and a program coordinator. I largely attribute a lot of our success to their careful planning, and their great interactions with the students.
How many students can you actually accommodate?
We have the capacity to accommodate larger cohorts like at our Dev Bootcamp locations in San Francisco, Chicago and New York and hope our campus will continue to grow. Our space can accommodate 60 students at a time. Because of that, we're a great space for, organizations like Women Who Code and Open Austin, whom we regularly host as community partners for networking events, panel discussions, and employer meetups.
What is your campus like?
We've designed our space to be very comfortable for the students, just one part of creating a supportive culture where students feel accepted and safe to explore and learn a new skill. It's a mixture of the comfort of a college dorm with the environment of a Silicon Valley startup. So, of course, there is the ping pong table, couches, and TVs if the cohort wants to get together and take a break. The space is large, open and very inviting. Our kitchen is great with communal benches and tables to facilitate open communication about projects even over a meal. And then we actually have a rooftop terrace – you can see the capitol from the rooftop!
There are also offices for the staff, conference rooms, and breakout rooms if the students want to work in groups or individually with no distractions. We also have a yoga studio, which is pretty amazing, that doubles as a presentation room for guests or evening events. We have a counseling office on site because we invite a life therapist on site once a week to provide counseling service for the students.
Wow! What neighborhood of Austin is it in?
Technically we're just south of Campus or West Campus as it's called. It's great. We are nestled just south of the students at UT, and just northwest of downtown so, you're able to find parking. There's plenty of street parking available, but it's still a lively, active community.
How is your campus similar or different to the other Dev Bootcamp campuses?
I can speak from my experience as a student at Dev Bootcamp San Francisco and I've also visited Dev Bootcamp Chicago. So comparing to those two campuses, I would say Dev Bootcamp Austin is very similar. You're going to get the same welcoming, comfortable community feel when you step on any of the campuses. You'll see inspirational quotes on the wall, and big open spaces.
We opted for orange and yellow walls in Austin, which I would say, are definitely reflective of our brand, but they're also bright and full of energy like the city of Austin. We have introduced some very Austin specific things too. Kelly, our marketing manager, is very particular about making things feel like this city because the city is so full of energy. She brought in some cool skateboard decks that highlight different aspects of the city of Austin, like the skyline, etc. We have a lot of things that make it feel like Austin and that's what distinguishes us from the other locations.
Are you teaching the exact same curriculum in Austin as the other campuses or have you made any changes to meet the demands of the local industry?
We are teaching the same curriculum. Our curriculum team works hard to establish a common curriculum nationally among DBC locations. But that said, they are also making sure that we're keeping our pace with market demands at each location. The curriculum team focuses on what's going to be useful for creating the fundamental foundational knowledge to think like a developer – approaching a project and iterating on feedback to arrive at the most elegant solution – versus the hot trendy languages being taught in coding schools right now.
The thing that we do adjust at our location is the delivery of the curriculum. We find that students often have different learning styles, so we always take feedback from students, and work that into how we deliver the content.
Have you noticed a difference in diversity of students in Austin compared with other DBC campuses? Have you had to use different methods to recruit a diverse cohort?
Absolutely. The basic Austin demographics are split pretty evenly between men and women. I don't know statistics for nonbinary gender in Austin. There’s an 8% black population in Austin which is decreasing, and there’s about a 30% Latino population. It has been a challenge that we've taken on to make sure that we have a diverse student body at the Austin location.
For example, we reached out very early to organizations like Women Who Code, Girl Develop It, and ChickTech, to form relationships so we have a representative group of women on our campus. It’s been a challenge, but it's one that we gladly take on and actively pursue because it's a commitment for the company at large. We want to see diversity not only in our student body but also in our staff. Dev Bootcamp does their part in ensuring that we have diverse representation and inclusion at the company. So we want to do the same thing with the students we're bringing into our community.
We also teach Engineering Empathy, a proprietary program where we have conversations about gender identity and systemic oppression in the workplace. We talk about what it's like to be a woman in the technology industry. So it's important for us to have representation when we're discussing these things so that we are inclusive of many different perspectives.
What’s the tech scene like in Austin?
The tech scene is booming in Austin. I didn't realize that until I moved to Austin for that opportunity with Apple. I realized, "Wow. Apple is here, Google, Facebook, and just all of these big names." Even names like Under Armor Connected Fitness, Dell, Oracle, retailmenot.com, which I use all the time, are based in Austin. And in the nature of my role, I've been able to connect with a lot of employers, and a lot of startups and tech companies in Austin whom I hadn't heard of before moving here. We are continuously working to build that network of local employers and pass on those connections directly to our students.
We are also seeing an increasing number of competitors - other coding schools opening to fill that demand for technical talent in the city of Austin. Something we're noticing with graduates in these programs, and with people coming to community events in Austin, is they want to find jobs in technology here because they see how much technology is growing, and they want to be a part of that. It feels like the new Silicon Valley in a lot of ways.
Austin is such an amazing city. It's full of music and it's full of driven people who also know how to hang out by the lake. It's full of really grounded, down-to-earth, progressive people, and I think that's a recipe for a strong tech culture.
What do you think makes Dev Bootcamp stand out amongst those other bootcamps?
Austin is all about community, 100%. There's the East Austin Community, South Austin, North Austin, and Campus. It's all about community. At Dev Bootcamp Austin, community is something we take very seriously. We protect our community by building a brave space where you can try something you’ve never tried before, fail at it a lot without judgment or ridicule, and feel like your growth will be supported by everyone around you. And, we want to grow that community of dedicated, courageous learners by creating greater access for a wider breadth of learners from diverse backgrounds with the scholarships we offer and our partnerships with community groups.
We will equip you with the skills needed to be successful in software development and web development, and we do so in a way that is collaborative. You will learn to communicate and collaborate with fellow students, teachers, and mentors through pair programming, team projects, and a real world workspace. In addition, Dev Bootcamp is concerned with graduating people who want to change and improve this industry. We're on a mission to combat this oppression that exists and raise the greater collective enlightenment. And so that's woven into our curriculum as Engineering Empathy. It's reiterated by our staff in how we interact with students and our community at large; you will not get that anywhere else.
Have your students started applying for jobs? What kind of companies are hiring junior developers?
Actually, we just had Career Week and half of our students have onsite interviews scheduled this week, so they're in the final stages of the interview process, which is incredible. And excitingly, Sean Witt, one of the first members of our first cohort, just landed a job as a Data Engineer at Umbel (a trendy tech company in town). Before enrolling in Dev Bootcamp, Sean was in retail management at Guitar Center.
There are some really great employers in the Austin community who are open to hiring junior developers. When an employer takes on a graduate of a coding school, they understand that they're taking on someone who may not have a traditional computer science or engineering background, but is equipped with the technical skills to immediately contribute to engineering teams, is hungry to learn from senior team members, and has demonstrated an aptitude for rapid learning. As with any new hire, it will take some time and mentorship to ensure that person moves up and excels in their role as a developer. But, those employers are willing to see it as an opportunity to bring on someone who's excited about this industry and about what they're building.
What size companies are interested in hiring bootcamp grads?
In Austin, I have seen that it is mainly medium-sized companies typically like 50 to 200 employees. Those companies have the bandwidth and the resources to mentor a more junior developer, and they see the opportunity more than the challenge of bringing on a junior. We also have employers from larger companies come in to speak to students. For example, we just hosted an event with recruiters from Google, RetailMeNot, and Apple who came to speak about their perspectives from the technical recruiting side, what they look for on LinkedIn, and on resumes.
How are you involved with the Austin tech community?
As a result of this role, I have made connections with a lot of community organizations that want to be involved in the diversity and inclusion ethos of our company. We partner with organizations like Women Who Code, ChickTech, and various organizations here in Austin.
In October, I'm doing three different workshops on version control and Git for the Austin community. Dev Bootcamp has partnered with Women Who Code for one of these workshops. The other is for a Women Who Code Python group that I run once a month. The business side of Dev Bootcamp has allowed me to still share that knowledge that I have about programming and technology.
Whitney (right) hosting a panel discussion.
What meetups do you recommend in Austin for a complete beginner?
I recommend checking out meetup.com and searching for the language of choice. If you're a beginner, and you think, "I want to try Python," head to meetup.com and type in Python within five miles in Austin, and hopefully the Women Who Code Python Workshop that I run will pop up. You can just come in, stop by, and figure out what it's all about. There are so many events and opportunities in Austin every week, and really every night.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about the Dev Bootcamp Austin campus or Austin in general?
We actually have a cohort start coming up on October 24th. We're trying to get that date out to make sure people who are applying last minute or who need to accept enrollment, do so before October 24th. That date is the start of Phase 0, the online part-time pre-work part of the program. Students will come onsite on January 3rd.