Sabio’s Orange County campus opened in January 2016, and so far they have graduated 7 new developers and 100% have found jobs. We spoke to Sabio VP of Engineering, and lead OC instructor, Aaron Gibson about how he first got involved with Sabio LA, the new Orange County campus, the real-world startup projects that students work on, and the huge demand for developers in Orange County.
What was your background and experience in programming before you joined Sabio?
I first started programming for fun before high school. My high school had a special track called Technical Prep where I learned basic programming. I started freelancing through college to help support myself.
I majored in New Media Interactive Development at Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. The degree was a BS, but it consisted of programming and design. I minored in psychology because it was interesting, and as a teacher, that background has been very useful. I’ve been a professional web developer since graduating in 2005.
I moved to LA in 2007, and my last job was at a company in Venice Beach called CodeParticle, where I worked for about five and a half years. I worked with Sabio co-founder Gregorio Rojas at CodeParticle for about a year and a half before he left to start Sabio. In December 2014, he talked to me into joining Sabio, and the rest is history.
What about Sabio convinced you to join the coding bootcamp movement?
I didn't know about coding bootcamps before Gregorio. Learning about Sabio opened my eyes to a number of things which are very important to me today. Sabio stands for the under-represented groups in the industry, and before working with Sabio, I didn't realize there was such a disparity.
What's your role at Sabio?
My official title is Vice President of Engineering, but in December, I opened Sabio’s newest campus in Orange County. I do a bit of everything, but my primary responsibility is training and teaching the cohorts. Right now I'm teaching a cohort of eight people for 40 plus hours a week.
Sabio is unique in that we work on real projects for real entrepreneurs. Each cohort is matched with an entrepreneur, whose project we work on. Part of my job is to track these entrepreneurs down and broker those deals so that the cohorts have cool projects to work on.
Did you have any teaching experience before you started at Sabio?
At my previous job I actually mentored three junior developers and spent time doing code review. All of those things did help prepare me, but running the cohort at Sabio is like that... multiplied by a thousand!
I used to be that stereotypical programmer who didn’t like to talk while working, so it's been a learning experience for me. I've had a lot to learn and expand on, and I’ve spent a lot of time outside of my comfort zone. That’s where my psychology minor has helped me out. Thankfully, I've been told by my students that I'm a good teacher!
Why do you think Gregorio thought that you would make a good teacher?
I don't know if he felt I would be a good teacher but he knew he could trust and rely on me because we sat right next to each other at CodeParticle. I saw he was a dependable and reliable person who could get things done and he saw that about me too. At Sabio, the way we recruit teachers is to take very experienced developers and turn them into teachers.
Sabio has been training developers in LA for a few years. Why do you think that Sabio decided to expand to Orange County?
The demand in Orange County has been astronomical. We've heard from hiring managers, recruiters, and prospective students. We got emails asking “when are you coming to Orange County?” or “could you send students here to interview at our company in OC?" Students from our LA campus were traveling down to Orange County and getting jobs here. The demand is clearly there and Gregorio and Liliana had wanted to expand here for a long time.
I had been working in the Sabio LA campus for a little over a year before moving to OC to start this campus. The first OC cohort started on January 4th, 2016. It was an experiment – we didn't know how it was going to go. The LA campus is running pretty well at this point, but we had never done anything like this. So far, all those people who were asking for Sabio to open in OC have shown up.Our growth is very exciting.
What is the tech scene like in Orange County? What kind of companies hire developers there?
In 2015 there was about $1 billion of venture capitalist money invested in Orange County. All that money is going to various companies- a lot of established startups, real estate companies, medical technology companies, etc. Many of them are companies that wouldn't traditionally be hiring programmers but now they are because every industry needs programmers.
What’s your campus like in Orange County? Tell us about the classroom!
We rent a room in a co-working space in Newport Beach, across the street from a big mall called Fashion Island. Our classroom can accommodate 10 to 12 people, but we keep all of our cohorts under 10 people. The walls are covered in whiteboard paint so we have all kinds of diagrams and scratch code written on the walls. It's an amazing office, it's dog-friendly, and they also have a lounge area where we have happy hours.
Orange County a relaxed campus. I like it because it's more of a business-style office as opposed to LA, where they are on a college campus. And we're in this co-working space surrounded by other companies and real programmers too. We have a lot of people to talk shop with.
How is your campus the same or different compared to the LA campus?
First, it’s smaller because LA has two full-time cohorts in the classroom. The curriculum we teach is the same. It's a set of skills that every single student who comes to us needs to have in order to be effective as a developer in the field. Since we work on different projects for every cohort, the path we take to get there is different every single time. In that respect, no two cohorts are exactly the same whether they're in LA or Orange County.
Our differences aren’t as much in the location as it is just the styles of the instructors. All the instructors have their own styles, but everyone that trains with us- whether it's Culver City or Orange County- will be equipped with the same skill set when they graduate.
Expansion can be tough for coding bootcamps- how are you ensuring that OC students get the same quality education as the LA students?
What we do is when we partner up with entrepreneurs whose projects we build, we spend about a week before the projects start, doing pre-production work. We break down their project into dozens of small tasks. One task might be to implement the login screen, for example, then we have all these tasks set up in our management software for the students to take. We approach it as if they're in a job, and they're responsible for building these features. Even though the features are different in each cohort, the skills they need to build those features are the same. On the client side, we use Angular, HTML, and Bootstrap in these certain libraries. On the middle tier we use Microsoft, C# platform and on the database end we use Microsoft SQL servers.
Can you tell me a bit more about how Sabio’s relationship with the entrepreneurs works?
We build their prototype for equity, then they're able to take that prototype and use it to raise money. That whole pipeline is unique in the area as far as I know. My goal is to turn this Orange County campus into a real consulting shop. So even though students are learning, I want to get the word out to entrepreneurs that they should see us as a legitimate development option.
How do you as an instructor contribute to iterations on the Sabio curriculum?
We have our own internal Wiki to gather information students need when they're starting out. When I first came to Sabio I noticed a lot of the wiki material needed to be revised and expanded, so I took it upon myself to make everything easier for the students to understand.
I've also worked on a starter template that we use for all of our projects. Using the experience and knowledge I gained as a programmer, I've been able to refine a lot of the materials we use to teach, and improved how we present them.
Right now I’m teaching my seventh cohort, so I've gone through this process many times. I've come up with a set of lectures where I present the material in a way that I've seen people in the past understand it quickly, so I know it’s effective. Every time I teach a cohort, I learn something new, then apply that to the next one. I'm constantly learning from my students and I try to bring all that to bear so every cohort I teach is better than the last one.
Our other instructors iterate on the curriculum and teaching methods too.
Can you tell me a bit more about your personal teaching style?
I strive to be very patient. I've heard people say there are two philosophies that you can follow when you're teaching people. One philosophy is to tear people down until they start to learn, then build them back up. The second philosophy is to build people up from the beginning. That second one is what I try to follow. I lead by example, I don't get angry at people, I don't try to force people to do anything. I reason with them, and position myself as someone they can trust.
I like to inspire students. My style works best with people who are highly motivated and willing to work with me. Sabio is a place for highly motivated individuals. It’s about helping them with their confidence, reinforcing that what they're doing is good, and just trying to build them up into stronger people, and stronger programmers than they were before. Sometimes that can get frustrating because I have to be very patient but I’ve found over the long run that this pays off.
My approach is based on what I’ve learned in martial art classes, because that's how my coach teaches people who really don't have any martial arts experience.
You mentioned you had taken on a few more assistant instructors at your campus. How many teachers do you have there now?
We're actually in the process of scaling up our Orange County presence right now. For the first two months or so I was the only teacher. Thankfully in the last month or so I've been able to hire a couple of people to help me out with teaching and other things. There are now four total employees, some working on the pre-work basic phase one training that prepares people for the bootcamp training. I'm still the head instructor for the main course in Orange County.
How many hours a week do you see your students committing to Sabio?
We require 70+ hours per week. 40 or more those hours are with me in the classroom, and if they're not putting in those extra 20-30 hours on top of that, it's very evident to me. So far, I haven't had that problem with anyone in Orange County.
You were saying all of your graduates from the last cohort already got jobs. How do you help them with that job seeking process?
We help them get jobs in a number of ways. The curriculum in the last two weeks of our 12-week program is focused on the job search. We do mock interviews, and we go through about 200 slides of interview questions people have been asked in the past.
A lot of people get hired out of Sabio through recruiters. So we'll bring in recruiters to talk to the cohort while they're still in training to get a head start. Sometimes we do hiring events where we'll get a bunch of recruiters and hiring managers together who want to hire people. Then we just maintain a network. I go to meetups and talk to recruiters a lot.
Sabio is not just about coding. Coding is just one of the things that we teach, but our goal is to produce web developers, people who are able to go out and get a job and hold this job down moving forward. We're committed to fellows for five years, with our goal to get fellows in jobs with at least a $100,000 salary within five years of graduating.
What types of jobs have you seen students getting in the area so far?
It’s all over the board. Lately, we've been on a really good run with universities. Both here in Orange County and in LA, we've had people get jobs at UCLA, Pepperdine University, UCI down here in Orange County, University of California Sacramento. One of my recent graduates is at a medical technology company called Synermed in OC.
A lot of graduates are going to startups, but the majority of them are going to other types of established companies like real estate, law practices, medical companies. A lot of them use the Microsoft stack that we teach, which is actually a very popular stack around here. We're in a good position because none of the other bootcamps in this area teach the Microsoft stack. The combinations of those factors work well for us. Our last few cohorts were 100% hired in Orange County.
What are your favorite meetups or resources you recommend for people thinking about doing a bootcamp in Orange County or who want to find out more about coding?