Dev Bootcamp started as one of the first coding bootcamps in San Francisco in 2012. As of December 8, 2017, Dev Bootcamp will no longer be operating. Kevin Solorio, Director of their Dev Bootcamp San Diego campus talks about San Diego as an emerging tech hub and why the apprenticeship model is a great fit for the local market.
Tell me about your background and how you became a developer.
My start in development was a little late, I would say. My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration, specifically Accounting. I was helping with merger/acquisitions and doing organizational evaluations at a startup. Our software team was creating a lot of cool things, and I wanted to learn how to do that. I had some business ideas, so I began to learn how to code.
I thought it would be a pretty easy thing – and I was so wrong in that assumption! I jumped into a lot of books. I spent every night after work going over Ruby and Rails. A few months later I found a Ruby meetup group. I found mentors and from that point my learning skyrocketed. Not much later I got my first job as a junior developer in 2009.
How did you get involved with Dev Bootcamp?
I was introduced to Dev Bootcamp through one of their cofounders, Dave Hoover. At that time I was living in the Midwest where he was doing a tour on his book Apprenticeship Patterns. I got to meet Dave two years before Dev Bootcamp Chicago opened.
My girlfriend and I decided that we were going to leave Cleveland and move to Chicago, and I reached out to Dave for recommendations on organizations to check out in the area since I knew that Dave was huge on apprenticeships and mentoring. I also told him about a curriculum I was building to teach my friend how to code. We were using Python and getting together every week to answer questions and review the material. I mentioned this teaching experience to Dave and he said, “Have you thought about Dev Bootcamp?” This was late 2012/early 2013- right when the bootcamp was getting started. I had no idea about it, but Dave explained and invited me to interview in San Francisco. I went out to the Dev Bootcamp San Francisco campus and interviewed there. I was part of the launch team that opened up the Chicago campus that April.
I see a lot of skepticism from self-taught developers who say, “three months is just not long enough; it took me years to learn to code.” As a self-taught developer, did you have to be convinced of the three-month, immersive approach or did it make sense to you?
When we first talked about Dev Bootcamp, yes; it seemed insane and almost impossible. But when we did the interview on site and I saw how the curriculum was put together, how hard the students were working and how many hours the students were working, I came to the conclusion that it’s doable.
After seeing what students were able to produce after graduation, I was totally sold on it. I would say that Dev Bootcamp graduates have around the same level of knowledge I had after two years of learning on my own with a little bit of mentoring.
What went into the decision to expand to San Diego? What’s special about the tech scene there?
We put together a matrix of factors that we were looking for when comparing the demographics of specific cities to our target population. The majority of our students have a bachelor’s degree, some have graduate degrees, and are between the ages of 25 - 35. There is definitely a strong population with those characteristics in San Diego.
Also, tech companies in San Diego are growing. San Diego was listed as Forbes’ #1 city for startups in 2014, so those companies are now growing into small/medium-sized companies that need to bring in talent.
We’ve seen a lot of indicators that San Diego is about to erupt on the tech front. We wanted to get in early by building relationships with companies, especially the small companies as they're growing into medium and large companies.
San Diego is also home to Qualcomm, Sony, and Intuit, which are well-known large tech organizations, so there is a nice mix of large and small companies that provide a lot of opportunities for our students once they graduate.
Are big companies like Sony open to hiring junior developers from bootcamps in your experience?
We are building relationships with big companies in the area.
One thing we’re thinking about is apprenticeships. We’ve noticed a lot more mid to senior level positions in the area, so we’re partnering with a non-profit out of St. Louis called LaunchCode that coordinates paid apprenticeships with local businesses. We’re helping them get acquainted with the city to see if we can help them expand to the area and also help our students.
We’re also holding an event on November 18 for CTOs and engineering leads to talk about apprenticeships and determine if it’s a good step for their company. We’ll talk about how quickly you can take a junior developer to the mid to senior level just through a good organizational structure focused on development. Dave Hoover literally wrote the book on this (Apprenticeship Patterns) and he’s coming to set up this event. We have a couple of CTOs coming from the Midwest to talk about their success with an apprenticeship program. LaunchCode is going to be part of that panel as well.
I love hearing that. I think apprenticeships are part of a missing link right now in terms of the way we think about hiring after bootcamps.
There’s an organization called Signal that actually hired a few of our grads from the Chicago office and it’s largely because they have such a great apprenticeship program. Detroit Labs will be there. Detroit Labs is a little unique in that they’ve gone the mobile route. Their apprenticeship has been focused on Android more so than IOS.
We’ve had grads accept positions in languages we don’t teach, such as PHP and C#, and we’ve had a couple of grads go straight into iOS programming. If there’s an overwhelming market change that requires us to adjust our curriculum it’s something that I would work on with our curriculum team.
Our curriculum has stood the test. Over 1,700 people have graduated our program and most are gainfully employed. At this point, we’re definitely going to start with our existing curriculum and see how the market reacts. By focusing on fundamentals, we’re still in good shape regardless of language.
The main thing we’re focused on is that students leave the program with a sound foundation to build upon, and that they are ready for life as a developer. If the languages we teach ever become an impediment in obtaining jobs then that would be our biggest drive to change.
Are you teaching this class?
I’m essentially managing the location and I’ll be teaching as well. We’ll be hiring at least one more full-time teacher. We’re also considering a third teacher and a couple of TAs to help cover the floor and make sure students are able to get their questions answered.
Where is the campus within San Diego?
San Diego has a ton of really small neighborhoods and we’re going to be in East Village, which is the heart of downtown. It’s really close to Petco Park where the Padres play. It’s an emerging area.
We’re located at 707 Broadway, a building that is positioning itself as the tech hub of San Diego. It’s a high rise. Every tenant is either a software development organization or has a business related to software in some way. I can’t imagine a better networking scenario than our students hopping in an elevator with other developers that are working there. We’re the only bootcamp in the building.
Will the amenities like a therapist and yoga be available in San Diego?
Absolutely. That’s a core part of our belief in our education. You have to take good care of your brain and your mental health. Right now it’s still an open position, but we will have the counselor and weekly yoga just as the other locations.
What’s the biggest difference between San Diego and the other Dev Bootcamp campuses?
One of the main differences in San Diego is that we’re going to start with one cohort at a time and do four cohorts a year. If we see that there is enough demand for the graduates then we will morph into a rolling cohort model. As we get off the ground, we don’t want to take on too much or flood the market. We want to make sure that we’re growing the organization responsibly.
At other campuses if someone is falling behind they can repeat a module. Will students be able to do something similar in San Diego since there’s not a cohort coming up behind them?
They will be allowed to repeat a cohort, it’s just going to be a longer lag. You’ll have the option to wait 6-8 weeks to join the next cohort, but that’s going to be a decision the student makes, if they can wait that long or if they would like to withdraw from the program.
We’re definitely going to offer a lot of one-on-one time and outreach to make sure that we’re working with everybody. With a better student-teacher ratio, it’s hopeful that anybody that starts to fall behind can get some one-on-one.
It’s a lot of material so to say that everybody’s going to be able to keep pace, that’s just not true. What we’ve seen in the other locations is that some people need more time to learn the material and we expect to see it here, but hopefully we can do our best to minimize it.
Speaking of the people, what is demand like so far? Who is applying?
We’ve had a lot of interest from applicants in San Diego. The people that have applied have done great in the interview. The experience has been really positive so far.
Have you had to go through state approval in San Diego?
One major advantage for San Diego is that it’s considered a branch location of the existing San Francisco campus. The fact that we have already applied for approval in the state is something that we’re able to leverage.
Dev Bootcamp is not the first bootcamp in San Diego. How does Dev Bootcamp stand out in the market?
One of the ways we stand out is our focus on the whole self. We teach the technical and we also teach the interpersonal and Engineering Empathy, which is part of our curriculum in the other locations.
What we’re trying to do is not just teach people to be great at coding but to be great as part of a team. What we’ve seen so many times is a lot of projects fail, not because of their technical abilities, but because of their lack of ability to communicate and work effectively together. It’s such a big part of our curriculum that we focus not just on doing the work, but doing the work with other people. When you’re working at an organization, you will be working alongside other people.
We also focus on how to have conversations that are not easy and how to give and receive feedback that may not always be nice, but should always be kind. Those skills are something that really make our program unique. Having the counselor is part of this philosophy of taking care of your whole self, including your mental wellbeing.
What are a few of your favorite San Diego tech meetups? If students want to get involved in the tech world, where can they start?
The Ruby Group has Magic Nights, which are small coding competitions. They host that on Thursday nights. They also have the normal presentation/talks at a local university.
When is the next in person happy hour or campus tour?
We can’t offer tours yet as the campus is undergoing renovation, but our next happy hour meetup is November 20 in Carlsbad. San Diego is pretty spread out so we try to host meetups both downtown and in North San Diego.
If anybody’s interested in learning more about the local team, I would say check out the Dev Boot Camp San Diego meetup. We’ll be posting some virtual meetups along with some in person chances to meet and greet.