Mark McIver is an instructor at DevMountain’s Web Development immersive bootcamp – a course he himself graduated from four years ago! We caught up with Mark and he shared how he’s transitioned from being a bootcamp student to a developer and now an instructor. Learn how he started coding, some of the industry trends he’s seeing, and why he’s passionate about training the next generation of web developers in Utah.
What do you do at DevMountain?
I’ve been a full-time instructor for DevMountain for a year but four years ago, I was a DevMountain student. After graduating from DevMountain, I got a job working for a devshop for two years, then worked at DevMountain as a developer. I mentored, did after-hours instruction, and then became a full-time instructor for the Web Development immersive bootcamp.
I’m curious what brought you to DevMountain as a student four years ago – how did you choose a coding bootcamp?
My background is interesting. I got my bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2008 during a rough economic patch so I got into hospitality and became a restaurant manager for a few years. I moved to San Diego and continued as a restaurant manager, but I started teaching myself to build a basic website as a hobby. Every day I’d be excited to get home and work on this project! I taught myself how to code from YouTube videos and I realized it was more fun than being in hospitality. I decided to go to school for computer science – my initial idea was to get a master’s degree, but my brother told me about coding bootcamps and DevMountain.
What is it like teaching at a bootcamp and have you developed a personal teaching style?
I actually didn’t have any teaching experience prior to DevMountain and never expected to do it! I started out teaching after-hours while I was working full-time and DevMountain gave me some basic training when I started. Because I had attended DevMountain, I really wanted the students to have as great of an experience as I did. I started seeing the students grow and noticed when concepts clicked in their minds – it gave me so much joy! I developed a strong passion for teaching and when a full-time position became available, I applied.
Our student-faculty-ratio is great. I have 24 students in one class and 18 in another class, and there are two mentors with me in the lecture helping out. My teaching style is very hands on – I do lecture but I don’t want it to be a passive education, I want students to figure things out. I’ll teach a subject or concept and then have the students instantly apply it and start coding right away. I believe the best way to learn is to do and then teach, so I also have students teach each other.
What have been the biggest changes to the web development curriculum since you were a student?
Have you contributed to DevMountain’s web development bootcamp curriculum?
All instructors help with the curriculum, especially as businesses requirements change. As a student four years ago, DevMountain was teaching Angular 1 which isn’t widely used anymore. We shifted to teaching React which was informed by the types of jobs alumni were landing. Whenever we do major changes, the instructors are very involved in the curriculum – we’re the experts, we’re the developers, and we know what’s going on in the industry.
Additionally, every day I can tailor the lecture a bit and create my own little projects for them to do. There’s an outline with expected outcomes and learnings for the day but I can customize the curriculum around it.
Do you see another major coding language shift on the horizon?
I know it’ll happen eventually, but I think React is going to be here for a while. React has given us a great, high-performing library that’s easy to use and it has such a large community behind it. Over the past five years, startups have been using React and in five more years they’re going to need React developers to maintain that code.
Why did DevMountain recently consolidate its Utah campuses to Lehi?
Lehi is becoming the tech center of Utah – it’s in the center of the Silicon Slopes between Provo to Ogden. The Adobe building is here, Codem, Canopy – lots of startups are headquartered here so that’s why DevMountain chose Lehi. The students are closer to the companies that are hiring and the school can bring in guest speakers, presentations, and be more involved in the community.
Previously, DevMountain taught web development courses at the Provo campus and iOS, QA, and UI/UX courses at the Salt Lake campus – now we’re all together and the students can collaborate together. Our building is nice and we have beautiful views of the mountains and lakes. From a managerial standpoint, it’s nicer having everyone in one building for meetings. It was definitely a positive strategic move.
Who is the ideal student at DevMountain? Is there a certain type of student who succeeds?
It does help if you have some coding experience coming in, but I’ve seen students enter with no prior experience and they absolutely kill it and surpass all of their peers. It comes down to work ethic – how serious are they about taking the course and how much time and effort are they putting into it?
I also see a lot of students using bootcamps as a replacement for traditional undergraduate work perhaps intentionally or because they dropped out because college wasn’t for them. I’m seeing a lot of younger students, directly out of high school, trying this path before deciding to go to college or instead of attending college. But we also have a lot of students who went through a four-year program and decided to change careers – like myself!
Are the non-traditional students (aka students without degrees) still able to succeed and find jobs after the bootcamp?
Those who come through and have degrees and are changing their career tend to be more mature, have a number of years of professional experience, and take it a bit more seriously. But a lot of younger people coming in are just killing it because they’re passionate and they know exactly what they want to do – it doesn’t matter that they didn’t get their bachelor’s degree. They’re still able to get really good paying jobs. It’s all tied to the effort they’re able to put into it. There are advantages to following the traditional path and using a bootcamp to pivot careers just like there are advantages to jumping in instead of attending college.
You mentioned being impressed by student projects – can you tell us about one that you’re really proud of?
One student group created an app, called GeoNet, for people in third-world countries with limited access to medicine and patients who are miles away from doctors. Through the app, people can text when they’re having an emergency, and it sends out an alert to the nearest health worker. The app shows where all the registered patients are located on a map, and emergency alerts are displayed in real time. Here's a screenshot:
How do you assess student progress at DevMountain? What do you do if a student is falling behind?
There are a couple requirements for a student to graduate. A student has to do their afternoon project through to completion and there is a list of competencies they have to be able to perform in order for DevMountain to sign off on the certificate. Starting on Week 3 or 4, they start building out projects on Fridays without asking for help from any mentors or each other, but they can use any other resource they want. As they build out these projects, they pass off competencies. If they’re able to build the projects, they’re proving they can complete the competencies and will ultimately graduate.
If students don’t pass the competencies, they have multiple chances to follow through and complete it. The bootcamp moves along rapidly and if a student discovers it’s too fast for them, or if something comes up in their personal life, they can defer to the next cohort to catch up and learn the material and they tend to succeed after that. We had one student who was really struggling in his cohort, he deferred and went into a different cohort, and he ended up getting a job with Uber.
What’s the career goal for a DevMountain web development bootcamp graduate?
The expectation is to be prepared enough for a Junior Developer role. Some students will graduate and be ready for mid-level, but our curriculum is geared towards the belief that anyone can learn to code if they put the effort into it. Because we don’t expect students to have any prior knowledge coming in, the expectation after graduation is a junior level developer role. I’m not involved in job placement but I do teach some career prep and help with interviewing and whiteboarding skills.
In your experience, what’s the difference between teaching web development and working as an actual developer? Do you think one skill is helping the other?
You can build something as a web developer with available tools without fully understanding all of the concepts and seeing the bigger picture. Being an instructor has allowed me to fully understand the big picture and help students understand the concepts. But the best way to learn programming is to actually go and do it. As an instructor, I’m live coding with my students every day so I’m getting that basic practice. However, in order to keep up my more complex skills, I’ve built some software for DevMountain and I’m doing some more in-depth side projects.
For our readers who are beginners and want to get some experience before applying, what resources or meetups do you recommend for an aspiring bootcamper?
Anything else you want students to know about DevMountain and your classes?
I’ll be their favorite teacher they’ve ever had!