We Got Coders takes a unique spin on the coding bootcamp model. Dan Garland is the founder of the consultancy that recruits, trains and places top web developer talent in London. We chat with Dan about their application process, teaching approach, and the meaningful long-term relationships We Got Coders forms with it's alumni.
Tell us about your background and how it led you into We Got Coders.
I was a Ruby contractor and was finding this gap for junior developers who were very able and willing but couldn’t really deliver in value to the teams that they were in because they didn’t quite have the level of experience. On the other hand, there were companies looking for people with a of minimum two years Ruby and Rails experience and I found myself mentoring these juniors to the right level. So, We Got Coders grew quite organically out of that.
My big hope is that I can help others to achieve their goals; where other's have graciously helped me in the past. Although I've been a web developer for over ten years, it took me a long while before I felt confident enough to say I was a truly independent developer; and had I enrolled on a bootcamp style course, it might have been a lot quicker to get to where I am now. I feel that this is what gives me an insight into the challenges my trainees face, and why I'm determined to help them achieve at We Got Coders.
How did you learn Ruby on Rails?
I taught myself; with a lot of help from people in the community. I think community is an important part of learning to code. Books can show you the basic syntax, but they can’t show you approach or rationale. I was quite lucky in that I had a few mentors – unofficially and informally, who showed me how to make progress. I got more through that collaboration than I ever did at university.
Did you study computer science at university?
Yes, at the University of Bristol. It’s a very formal and theoretical course but at the end, you don’t have any practical ability. Looking back on the experience, if I were considering university, I wouldn’t think twice about doing that versus a bootcamp. Of course, it does ground you in other ways but in terms of getting a job in a Rails team, people need people to be productive virtually immediately.
Does your program resemble an apprenticeship?
That’s part of what we do. If you look historically, a lot of universities actually began life as that. We Got Coders are building a network of hand picked developers who we’ve trained in-house. Our mission is to take on terrifically talented and enthusiastic junior developers who are going to stick around and be part of our team. In return, we give them that mentor support the same way I had it when I was learning to code.
We bridge the gap between a boot camp and that first hire.
Are you the main instructor?
I’m the founder and main instructor; and we’re very actively looking for new instructors. Our aim is to be training about 50 developers.
It’s great that you’re focused on long-term relationships with alumni.
As far as I’m aware, we’re the only organization with a bootcamp model that actively works with its trainees after the course in this way. We are effectively prepared to take a risk on our own trainees where we’ve seen that hunger and desire in the first 3 months, and put our money where our mouth is, said we’ll put these people on the payroll; give them an opportunity to earn their course fee back and get them the experience that they need.
Do you work with the hiring partners to develop the curriculum at all?
We work very closely with our clients to establish what it is they need. So when people ask me about a particular technology, we have to be able to react to that.
The other thing to note here is all of our consultants who come through the training program have gone on to do full-stack web development in Ruby teams. Ultimately, many web jobs are in name only and you’re really doing things that are auxiliary or around the edges. I’m determined to really put people in the thick of it; get them out of their comfort zone, get them doing things which I would expect a mid-level person to do. I’m actually considering dropping the word “junior” from our marketing because our junior developers are coming out of our courses and going straight to production, they’re shipping code, pretty advanced stuff. It’s pretty impressive to see what they’ve achieved.
How are trainees evaluated and how do you decide whether they’re on track to stay in the program?
I’ve had some experience with other schools and one thing I thought was lacking is the amount of feedback. So we give continual feedback. All of our exercises are on Github. We do line by line feedback. Every exercise our trainee submits will be pored over by our instructional team who will see the rationale, see the approach; they’ll leave line by line comments on the actual code that’s been written and suggest improvements where necessary. So that level of immediate feedback is useful because then people can see where they can improve.
Further, every month we do an assessment, which looks at various areas like code quality and communication skills.
I have a number of performance criteria; it’s not an arbitrary decision. For example, we require that they have to be submitting 80% of the course work we set them. They have to have good attendance; they can‘t miss more than 2 days of the course. We’re looking for soft skills like punctuality, communication, that kind of thing. And we have a final project.
The final project is a 10-day sprint where they have to come up with an independent web application of their own choosing. It has to draw on things they’ve done in the course; it’s actually a demonstrative project. And we set them very stringent criteria on what the project should be like.
We’re talking about the bread and butter stuff that clients really need. If they can independently, without my help, build that app within 10 days, that’s a very good indicator for me.
On the final project day – I think we’re also unique in this respect – we only invite industry to come and view the final projects. We invite CTOs, hiring partners and people who are in the Ruby community here in London to come and listen to a short presentation.
It’s an opportunity for the partners to get a feel for what they’re like. I can see at this stage, have they got the wherewithal to build this app stand in front of my own clients and persuade them that they’ve done a great project? I can really tell when I’ve got a good candidate on my hands. It’s not an automatic thing but based on our discretion. If you meet our performance criteria, you get on the second part of the course. At that point, they are contracted so they’re on the payroll for 3 months.
Have you had students attend from outside of London or outside of the UK even?
Yes; we have had people from all over the UK and one who relocated from Greece especially.
We are very diverse in terms of age, gender and race. . The last group started out as 50% men and women; we had different racial backgrounds, different academic backgrounds people from CS programs, an architect, a graphic designer, a pilot and someone who had been a self-employed entrepreneur.. Not all exclusively are college graduates although it happens that the vast majority of them do have a degree, but not necessarily software or computing.
What does a typical day look like?
We start each day with a retrospective where we look back on the previous day and we look at people’s code. Then we move on to a bit of knowledge transfer followed by an exercise about the concept being talked about. In the afternoon, they’ll actually be coding, obviously, there will be support and help and advice. We work in pairs. It’s kind of established as best practice in the industry that you work in pairs, So at any one time, someone’s driving, someone’s observing, someone’s giving advice. Each trainee would then be keeping up with each other’s approach. A lot of it is about explaining your rationale; why have you gone about it this way.
So there are plans to expand for this upcoming year?
Yes, very much so. I’m also very actively considering other locations in the UK and in Europe, so watch this space.