As of December 8, 2017, Dev Bootcamp will no longer be operating. You may know Phase 0 as the first 9 weeks of Dev Bootcamp’s full 18-week coding bootcamp, but in March 2016, Dev Bootcamp launched the 9-week part-time online program as Fundamentals of Web Development, a standalone prep program. We spoke to Lucas Willett, head of Phase 0, about how the standalone, part-time course is ideal for people who want to learn the basics of programming and how to communicate with developers, without quitting their jobs.
How did Phase 0 start?
When Dev Bootcamp started in 2012, it was a 9-week onsite program. We started teaching on day one, but we found students had a very inconsistent set of backgrounds. Some students had been trying to self-teach for a year, some had coding backgrounds, and others had no idea what code was. We created Phase 0 to mitigate those inconsistencies and to define a base level from which we could start the conversation.
In The Matrix, once Neo has jiu-jitsu uploaded into his brain and he’s fighting Morpheus, there’s a moment where Morpheus says “stop trying to hit me and hit me.” If Neo didn’t have that knowledge, that conversation couldn’t have happened. Similarly with coding, you need that root knowledge of how to do basic functions. That’s what Phase 0 was designed to be.
Why has Dev Bootcamp decided to launch the Fundamentals of Web Development standalone option?
After running Phase 0 for a year, we realized that learning the fundamentals of computing and coding could be helpful to a lot of people, not just those who want to become developers. Our goal for the renamed standalone program, Fundamentals of Web Development, is to empower people to communicate better with developers, and help people who work in tech to take ownership of their technical skills. We are teaching the fundamental coding principles through Ruby, so you can take those skills and apply them to Python, C#, Java, etc.
What is your background in programming and teaching?
What do students learn in Phase 0/Fundamentals of Web Development?
It’s a wide variety of topics over 9 weeks. Here’s a breakdown:
What level are students at when they finish the Fundamentals of Web Development?
You are still a beginner, but you’ve got a set of tools for reasoning in logic and about code. For example, you could build a website, you could build small programs to help with onerous office tasks. It’s like bringing superpowers to your existing job to automate those time-sucking tasks.
Who is the ideal student for the standalone Fundamentals of Web Development program?
There are a few types of students for whom Fundamentals of Web Development is perfect:
In addition to people who work with developers, there are those with jobs already on the edge of the new skills economy who would benefit from knowing how to program. These people are on the periphery of coding, but manage to avoid it because they have tools that help gloss over it. I’m thinking of digital marketers, product managers, project managers, quality assurance people, and data analysts. For example, maybe you want to know more about how MailChimp works to send out marketing emails, or you need to know about SQL because you’re writing queries in a database, or you work with tools like Salesforce and other heavily customized tools. The Fundamentals of Web Development gives you a great basis for working out how to optimize those to make them work for you.
What is the learning style in Phase 0/Fundamentals of Web Development? Are there lectures?
We’ve just done a full curriculum redesign, front to back. It’s a 20 to 25 hour per week commitment, with opportunities in the curriculum to expand if you have extra time. It’s all hands-on, challenge-style learning. Students watch 5-10 minute concept videos, do 10 minutes worth of reading, then an hour of challenges to back it up. We then encourage you to stretch yourself and learn beyond the curriculum.
One powerful thing about being a developer is that you don’t always need to know exactly what you're doing; you need a framework for how to find out how to do it. I’ve been a Rails developer for six years, and a developer for 10, but there are still many things I need to research. So a lot of our curriculum is based on metacognitive skills – research skills, debugging skills, and the ability to make sense out of nonsense. That is the enduring skill of a programmer – to be able to work in an unfamiliar code base with a set of strategies for breaking it down and approaching it.
How many instructors are working solely on this program?
We have around 25 part-time guides right now, and I’m currently hiring about 10 more. We have four full-time cohort leads; we assign one lead per cohort (three cohorts run at any given time), and one “floating” lead is available to support the other three.
What happens if students have questions? How often do they interact with instructors and staff?
All students who come through Phase 0 or Fundamentals of Web Development are assigned a cohort lead, and this person is available to you Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm, in EST, CST, or PST (whatever your timezone is), over Slack, Google Hangouts, and email. We also have part-time guides who are professionals in the industry running pairing sessions with students, once a week, for 5 out of the 9 weeks. These guides also hold office hours and answer questions. There are office hours for each of the cohort leads every day, where students can come into Google Hangouts and ask their question.
When we decided to create the standalone Fundamentals of Web Development program, we were committed to providing the same sense of support and community that our Phase 0 students experience; it is something that makes us stand apart from a number of other online-only coding schools.
Do students interact with each other? How do they communicate?
Yes. Initially we created a Slack channel for each distinct cohort and the students interacted with their own cohort only. However, this meant senior students were not able to help the junior students, so we combined everyone into one big Slack community. Cohorts have around 100 to 110 people each, and a new group starts every 3 weeks. We usually have 3 cohorts going at once, so there are about 350 to 400 students in that channel right now. They make themselves available to each other, pair on challenges, answer questions, and help with technical problems.
Will students in the Fundamentals of Web Development standalone program be learning separately from Phase 0 students who are going on to the full Dev Bootcamp immersive class?
Everyone is learning together. Students doing the Fundamentals of Web Development program have a lot to benefit from interacting with future programmers doing Phase 0. And future programmers can benefit from interacting with people who want to understand the processes and techniques. It gives context to both sets of learners. Also, it means a larger network available to help each other out.
What is the feedback loop like between students and instructors?
Whenever you pair with a guide, we ask you to fill out a feedback form which is read and digested by all the guides. At the end of every week, we ask for feedback on how the week went, and how much time you spent covering topics so we can continually improve the course. For example, we just got some really excellent feedback about how week 5 is structured. We caught it by the end of the week and it was fixed in time for the next cohort. So there’s a constant feedback cycle that results in real-time, measurable improvements.
What is the application process for the Fundamentals of Web Development program? Is it different from the application to Dev Bootcamp’s immersive program?
It is different. There is no interview or selection process for Fundamentals of Web Development.
One of the reasons the Dev Bootcamp immersive program has a more strict interview process is because of what’s at stake. It’s a whole career move, there is a lot of money on the line, and a lot of pressure to succeed. People who feel that overwhelming pressure sometimes misrepresent themselves or take a shortcut to get that success. So we need to be stringent.
Fundamentals of Web Development is a lot lower pressure. The end goal is learning to better yourself, so we have a much higher acceptance rate. Once you submit your application, we enroll you in a cohort, and issue you with 5 to 10 hours of prep work, which is due by your cohort start date. The materials cover a couple of basic programming concepts like variables, methods, and strings.
What is the process for students who decide to take the full Dev Bootcamp immersive program once they finish the Fundamentals of Web Development? Will they have to reapply? Do they get a discount?
There is no reapplication. After the assessment in week 7, we ask students if they want to continue with the full program. As long as you’re a culture fit for Dev Bootcamp, and you’ve been successful in the Fundamentals of Web Development, converting to the onsite immersive should be an easy transition. We will credit your Fundamentals of Web Development tuition against the full Dev Bootcamp tuition.
Tell us about that assessment in Week 7.
It’s a project-based assessment which tests your HTML, CSS and Ruby knowledge. If you pass the assessment in week 7, it’s a validation that you know how to build a website. If you aren’t able to complete the assessment, we’ll let you repeat once at no added cost. If you are asked to repeat, you’d go back three weeks and have some more time to master HTML and Ruby, and then try again.
So if people do the Fundamentals of Web Development standalone program they can effectively avoid the Dev Bootcamp interview for the immersive program?
Yes. The point of an interview is to determine your strategies for success and your aptitude. If you’ve been through the 9-week remote program successfully, engaged with the culture using the channels available to you, participated, helped others learn, and received help from others, we already know you’ll be a success at Dev Bootcamp.
If you’re dealing with imposter syndrome and it sounds appealing to bypass a 45-minute interview by doing 9 weeks of 25 hours per week of work, I'm willing to make that concession.
Is that a path people are taking often? Are many Fundamentals of Web Development students continuing with the full immersive program?
We’ve only run one cohort for the standalone Fundamentals of Web Development program so far, but we’ve already seen two students transition to the full immersive program.
We have definitely accommodated people who are very interested in Dev Bootcamp as a whole, and interested in the Fundamentals of Web Development standalone program and what it can bring them. Having participated in Fundamentals of Web Development, they’ve learned to enjoy coding, approached us to continue, and we’ve helped them.
What’s your attrition rate like for Phase 0/Fundamentals of Web Development? How do you keep students engaged?
The attrition rate is still less than 10%, which is amazing for an online course. Most of our attrition is due to life events, so I’m really happy with that attrition stat. Pretty much everyone who starts Phase 0 sticks around.
How much does Fundamentals of Web Development at Dev Bootcamp cost?
It works out to be about $250 per week. All in, it will be $2400, but right now we’re doing pilot pricing for $1600.
There are a ton of free intro to coding resources; what makes the Fundamentals of Web Development worth the tuition?
There are great resources out there for $30, but that’s not how everyone engages with learning to code. Some people need interaction and the ability to reach out to a community and ask for help. There’s sort of an inherent flexibility when learning from real people; our cohort leads can answer questions about anything that’s interesting to you, not just things in or around the Dev Bootcamp curriculum. There is value in having someone walk you through the foundations of coding and getting over that first hump.
Is there anything else you want prospective students to know about the Fundamentals of Web Development program?
This program is a very integral part of Dev Bootcamp, with the same ethos and approach to education that all of Dev Bootcamp has – it is about learning as your “whole self.” During the remote program, we discuss cultural topics, stereotypes, oppression, the industry at large, career preparation, equal opportunity, and fair treatment. We strive at all points to keep a safe and open environment for everyone from every background, and require students to abide by our code of conduct. This includes thinking before you speak, and making sure what you post and contribute is as open and welcoming as it can be. It’s not about creating a competitive environment. If you become a developer, it’s not going to be at the expense of someone else. We can all be developers, we can all get those skills.