We spoke to you earlier this year about your role as an instructor– are you still working at DevPoint Labs and part-time on Exposure Tracker?
How are you involved with curriculum planning and development?
I’m responsible for maintaining all of the curriculum, keeping it up to date and making sure things don’t go stale. Jake Sorce and I are the sole proprietors of the curriculum. But, like most developers, I’m still a student of software myself – I spend every waking moment reading articles trying out new things and new technologies. It’s a hobby of mine, so that helps to keep the curriculum up to date as well.
We hear you’re moving the HTML/CSS curriculum to a pre-work module. Can you explain that change and what it means for incoming students?
What do students actually need to know before Day One of class? How deep should they dive into HTML and CSS?
Students can go as deep into HTML and CSS as they want. We provide a lot of resources that cover the basics and go in depth. Our main expectation is that they come to class on the first day with a portfolio web page that is styled, has different aspects, links, tables, etc. We can get an idea of each student’s progress by checking out their portfolio page. Then, if we need to dive a bit further in, we can. Because we teach React at DevPoint Labs pretty heavily, we are using a ton of CSS and HTML every single day, so students are still reviewing those topics, it’s just baked into other subjects.
When do students start on the pre-work module?
After students are accepted into DevPoint Labs, we give them all the resources and exercises they should complete. Then we provide checkpoint quizzes, so we can see their progress as they are preparing to come to the course. We require that they score at least an 80% on the quizzes. If they aren’t meeting that requirement, that’s flagged, and we can bring this student in before the course starts to give them some tutoring help.
How long do students need to allow to complete that pre-work?
Ideally, it should take 3-4 weeks, part time. But we also know that we have students who sign up late and want to start a certain cohort, so we’ve had people come in with as little as one week of time to go through the prep work.
What exactly does the pre-work include?
There is a lot of stuff out there, whether it be Codecademy, or Code School. So we give them access to that. We point them to w3schools to get the basics. We use the Canvas learning management system at DevPoint Labs, where we have homegrown resources and guides that walk you through HTML, CSS, CSS frameworks. And then at the end of all the modules, there is a quiz they have to pass.
When students are going through that pre-work, are they learning on their own or will they have access to instructors and other students?
The idea is to learn on their own, but Jake and I are always available before and during the cohort, so they have direct access to communicate with us on Slack and by email. If a student is struggling with the curriculum, we’ll have them come into the classroom and schedule some mentoring time.
When did you implement this pre-work and how is it going so far?
Since the change, our first cohort is running now, and they are in Week 4 right now. I think the biggest unexpected change, was that students have a little more skin in the game coming in. They have to do all the pre-requisite work, and be comfortable with that without the help of an instructor which causes them to really dive in, and discover self-learning in software. Plus they come in more prepared and already understand how a web page is actually rendered.
What specific additional material or skills will students be able to learn during the courses, now that you won’t be spending much time on HTML and CSS?
How does DevPoint Labs decide which new technologies to add to the curriculum? What is the process for that?
It’s a chaotic process! I follow quite a few of my software heroes on Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram, so my ear is always to the ground. I speak at a lot of conferences, the Utah JS meetup, and other meetups, so I’m getting topics here and there. As these topics grow in popularity, I start to reach out to businesses in the area to see where the trends are going. I also do a lot of contracting work with startups and larger size companies, so I’m seeing trends in the real world as well.
How many instructors or TAs do you have at DevPoint Labs? And how do you make sure all of them are versed in the new technology you’re going to be teaching?
We have two instructors, myself and Jake Sorce. Then a full-time TA who is here all day, plus part-time TAs for every three students.
How will these changes to the curriculum make students more marketable as developers when they graduate?
With these new changes, what sort of roles will DevPoint Labs grads be prepared for?
Is there any pre-requisite knowledge to go through the admissions process? What are you looking for in new candidates?
We don’t really care about technical skills. It’s easy for us to teach technical skills. Usually, we give candidates a quiz that’s not software related to look at how they think about a problem. Are they able to take a big problem, break it down into small chunks, and solve the small chunks until they can solve the bigger problem? The ideal student already has that mindset. That mindset is a lot harder to teach than the syntax for a programming language, or how to navigate around your terminal. We’ve had students start at DevPoint Labs with no technical skills. The only thing we do stress is that if your typing skills are low, we give you some extra material to get up to speed.
Our Admissions Director, MarkAnthony, does the initial interview with the candidate, getting to know them, and seeing what their scenario is. We like to take people on a case by case basis. Then they meet with our lead TA, who conducts the non-software related quiz. If he feels they are a good candidate, they will meet with me or Jake, and we’ll let them know, what to expect, how to prepare, how to succeed, and how to fail. We really stress if that if you follow a certain pattern, you will absolutely fail and waste your money. So candidates meet with at least three people before they are accepted.
What meetups or events can you recommend for people wanting to prepare for the DevPoint Labs pre-work?
Is there anything else you’d like to add about DevPoint Labs, the pre-work or curriculum?
Right now, as far as my career, this has been the most exciting time to be a developer, just because of how fast things are changing, how many options are available to us as developers, and how these technologies are merging together, so our skills are starting to overlap. I think it’s really interesting to be able to teach new and innovative technologies because you’re still gaining a skillset that is backwards compatible.