[As of September 26th 2017, Dan Siepen is no longer with Coder Academy.] Originally offering part-time courses and weekend workshops in web development, Coder Academy (formerly Coder Factory) is now expanding to teach a six-month, full-time program in Sydney, Australia this April. We caught up with co-founder Dan Siepen to learn about the expansion. In our interview with Dan, we talk about his opinions on coding schools as an alternative to undergraduate degrees, Coder Factory's relationship with hiring partners like Lonely Planet and DropBox, and their goals for the new six-month Ruby on Rails course.
Tell us about your background and your experience at Coder Factory.
I’m a 22-year-old entrepreneur and I’ve always had a dream to run a tech company. I actually came to Coder Factory as a student, and I interned to do some marketing and business development for Pete, the founder. We’ve come a long way since and had an amazing first year.
I think people have this negative connotation towards coding - that it’s hard and it comes across as geeky and nerdy – but I totally don’t believe that at all. If you want to become a successful entrepreneur in the future, you must learn some programming.
So basically my goal was to become a software engineer for two to four years. I know Ruby on Rails fairly well. It really is the 21st century language and development jobs are high in demand.
Do you think a bootcamp like Coder Factory could replace traditional education at college or university?
I believe so. It’s a yes and no. Obviously you should go to university if you want to be a doctor, but when it comes to a CS or business degree, I think they’re definitely outdated. They provide an old school curriculum which is not what our hiring companies want. Coder Factory is working with companies like SitePoint, Lonely Planet, DropBox, Flippa etc. to develop a curriculum with skills that they really want in their developers.
There is more to the program than just simply teaching them web development. We pride ourselves in practicing web development through agile methodology and working on real-life projects provided by all our partners.
Coder Factory’s value add is that we’re saving our hiring partners a lot of money and time because our grads can easily transition into the company and they can get up to speed and work on projects from the day they get hired.
In Australia, there’s also amazing companies here looking for top tech talent. The ICT dropout rate is actually 70-80% and that’s massive - and it’s time that rate dramatically reduces. We want to create a culture that is fun, exciting and brings true innovation in an exciting space working on futuristic projects that will change the world.
What is your role at Coder Factory?
I’m the Co-Founder at Coder Factory. I also help in marketing and business development with student projects.
How many students have you graduated?
180, but that includes all of our courses. We’ve been doing weekend learn-to-code workshops around the country which has been fantastic - all in the space of 12 months. These workshops introduce students to coding and being entrepreneurial and learning how to talk to their tech team better. We’re also doing the 12-week part-time course and we’ve actually graduated five people into jobs just from part-time, which is quite amazing. People are going into accelerators, incubators and a couple have raised some funding just purely because they understand a little bit of tech.
Now we’re getting into the full-time coding bootcamp scene because of the demand for full-time developers. We get asked everyday whether we know any developers and it was time to solve this problem with a course unlike any other coding bootcamp.
We want to become the Stanford of coding schools. We’ll be testing our graduates constantly, even before the course starts, to understand their level of systems thinking, their goals and to see how they match with the companies’ expectations as well. We all want to produce the best quality students.
Even the way we run our company is through agile methodology practices.
Why have you decided on a 6 month course?
From talking with companies who are looking for developers, we understand that the students coming out of three month courses don’t necessarily have enough of the skills or experience required to easily fit into their existing teams. The new developers need too much hand holding.
By giving our students an extra 3 months of working on real projects, using Agile methodology and striving for code quality, it gives them those extra team skills and knowledge that makes them more employable.
The exciting thing about this program is that all these companies all want to bring their own mentors in, which is fantastic. Every facet of the program including UX Mentors, Agile Methodology, Ruby on Rails, Node and Angular; so it’s very, very exciting. We’ve actually had a few people from the U.S. wanting to come down here as well so we’re excited about that.
Are you primarily teaching Ruby on Rails?
It’s mainly Ruby on Rails but AngularJS and NodeJS are also very high in demand which we will be teaching.
Who are the instructors?
A developer is not just constantly coding behind the computer all day. They have got to deal with clients and they could be working on multi-million dollar projects. That’s where our program is unlike any other with business client workshops and dealing with everyday customers in the second 3 months of the program
When is the first 6-month, full-time immersive?
The first cohort will start on April, 7th.
What types of students are you looking for? Can people be beginners or are you looking for people with a bit more experience?
We look for anyone. It’s actually quite amazing; we’ve had over 150 applications already, which is fantastic and makes our job a lot easier. Applicants can be beginners, career changers, entrepreneurs who just want to learn or high school leavers. We will take anyone. However, we want to provide a high standard of quality. If we see someone who is so passionate yet they’re not really up to the standard that is expected of them, we will accept them still.
So how large will the first cohort be?
The first cohort will be teaching only 15 maximum.
In the U.S there’s an underlying issue of a lack of diversity in technology. Is that an issue in Australia and how are you addressing it?
It is a massive issue. In fact, Coder Factory is offering a full scholarship for women and inviting other companies to do the same. We want more women and in fact, our goal is to have 50% women in the first intake. These companies that we’re working with all have a diversity problem and they all want more women in tech so it’s a perfect time to work with them.
What does the relationship look like between Coder Factory and your hiring partners? Are they paying to be a part of your network or are they paying a referral fee?
They’re not paying anything at all. We ask our hiring partners to work with our students by providing mentorship and also, to help develop our curriculum. We want to teach a curriculum that is up to their standard because that’s what matters the most. How can you presume companies want someone and expect them to get hired if they don’t have the right skills? It’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Is there a job guarantee?
Whilst we don't have a 100% guarantee that you will get a job, if you don't get a job of at least $60k+ after the course, then there is something seriously wrong!
What do those assessments look like?
They’re constantly getting tested throughout the program. At the end of each two-week sprints you have to present a project. We’ll evaluate them after 12 weeks, and then 6 months. Even after they get hired we’re constantly testing as well to see where they are. We work with our hiring partners on that as well.
We’re continuously working with the companies to see where the graduates are at, whether they’re good enough at what they’re doing and what needs to be improved. Then we’ll obviously incorporate those skills into the future programs.
Is there anything else you wanted to add about Coder Factory or bootcamps in general?
We do want to have a strong emphasis on getting more diversity in the workplace. I think the big thing you can say about Coder Factory or coding bootcamps in general is that we’re working hard to increase diversity in tech. I believe that diversity brings innovation. If you do want to become a top developer and also have a massive influence on the world, I think coding provides the tools to do that. I think it’s such an important skill to have to create amazing things to help solve real-world problems.