Dave Hoover has been involved in the creation and development of several programming bootcamps since 2011 and is the co-author of Apprenticeship Patterns. His involvement in the bootcamp space has helped solidify the industry and he continues to contribute to it's success. In this interview, Dave talks about apprenticeships, finding qualified bootcamp instructors, and the core culture at Dev Bootcamp Chicago! [As of December 8, 2017, Dev Bootcamp will no longer be operating.]
What were you doing before you started with Dev Bootcamp and what sold you on the school?
I started programming when I was 26, and shifted from psychology and therapy to technology and software development, which was a strange and fun transition. Ever since that transition, I’ve been interested in apprenticeships and helping other people make a similar transition to mine. So I started an apprenticeship program at Obtiva, a consultancy that I’d joined after I was at Thoughtworks. We grew Obtiva for about 5 years and then we got acquired by Groupon, so now I was bringing this apprenticeship program into Groupon.
At the same time, these code academies and bootcamps started popping up and I was really excited about it. I had gotten really involved with Starter League in Chicago (in 2011, it was called Code Academy). I was their lead mentor and I did a lot of work with them that year when I was at Groupon. I met Shereef Bishay while I was working at Groupon in Chicago. I had co-authored Apprenticeship Patterns and Shereef had been recommending it to his students. When I was introduce to Shereef via email, he invited me to visit DBC in San Francisco. There was something special about the students, and Shereef really made me feel like he valued my opinion, but I was still very partial to the Starter League, my hometown program.
Throughout that year, I was hiring software developers at Groupon and vetting some apprentice candidates. Much to my chagrin, I found that the Dev Bootcamp grads were beating out the Starter League grads for our apprenticeships. That made me take a harder look at Dev Bootcamp.
So a couple months after I left Groupon, after spending a lot more time in San Francisco, I decided to join Dev Bootcamp full-time, and Shereef brought me on as a co-founder. Within a couple weeks of joining, I decided I wanted to bring Dev Bootcamp to sweet home Chicago. I felt that the culture of learning they’d created in San Francisco was a culture worth copying.
Do you feel like that culture was “copied” to Chicago or did things change between San Francisco and Chicago?
The core culture comes naturally from the pace of our technical curriculum and the influence of our Engineering Empathy sessions. Since these are shared across NYC, Chicago, and SF, the core culture of our locations’ programs are very similar.
The culture differs in that we have a couple of Chicago-specific flavors in there, like we have everyone do improv once during the program. The New York school actually has hip hop dancing as part of their experience, which is awesome.
Also, the teams are obviously different, initially due to the local founders who do the hiring. I hired a lot of people I’d worked with in the past, and a most of them came out of the midwestern Ruby community and the Software Craftsmanship movement. So in Chicago, we’re very connected to these local tech communities.
How do you know when you’re successful at Dev Bootcamp?
One of the things that attracted me to Dev Bootcamp is that they tracked employment metrics about their graduates. That was huge for me. The two numbers we track closely are our Net Promoter Score per cohort and our employment rate for our grads. And secondarily, our students’ average salary.
Alumni employment is so important to me that the person who co-founded DBC Chicago with me was Elliott Garms. Elliott has been a long-time “developer agent” in Chicago, and he went on to start our Chicago Careers team.
Does Dev Bootcamp in Chicago accept people who aren’t looking for a job, but instead want to become a technical cofounder?
We definitely accept students who want to be entrepreneurs as opposed to career software developers. That said, they’re exceptionally rare. Of the students that drop out of our program, entrepreneurs are overrepresented. Our program is optimized for people who want to launch a career in software development, and is painful for people who want something else. But it does happen -- Ricky and Phil are a good example of that.
How do you see the bootcamp industry evolving?
Right now I’m most interested in the international scene. Makers Academy is a great school in London, and I’m surprised that there’s basically only one good school (that I know of) in such an enormous city.
There’s a school in New Zealand called Enspiral, and they say they’re partnered with Dev Bootcamp. Can you explain that partnership?
We are partnering with, and coaching Enspiral, helping them get up and running. They came and spent a bunch of time with us in San Francisco. They’re not a franchise, they’re not owned in any way by Dev Bootcamp but we do have a partnership. It’s an experiment that we’re running to see if we can partner with other schools as opposed to expanding the way we did in New York and Chicago.
How do you find instructors for the Chicago Dev Bootcamp? Are you looking for people with dev experience or education experience?
When we launched, it was basically 100% people with dev experience. We were better developers than we were teachers, which I think was okay for Dev Bootcamp’s program because we spend about 2 hours a day in lecture, but the students spend 10-plus hours a day on challenges and hands-on stuff. And that’s what our teachers are best at, especially our initial crew.
I’m not from the education world, I’m from the dev world; the people I hired were all pretty well connected to me. Since then we’ve brought on someone who has a PhD in Curriculum Development and other person a background in outdoor education. We’re interviewing somebody right now who’s currently teaches computer science at a university.
We’ve learned a lot from having K-12 teachers like Rachel Warbelow and Zachary Rivest go through the program as students and giving us feedback along the way. We’ve even had them come on as junior teachers for a while before they start their new jobs.
Are all of your instructors fulltime?
Yes. I will say though, that we do have visiting teachers. Last year we had Matt Jones, he’s a consultant at Neo. And this year we have a junior teacher from DevMynd. These visiting teachers generally come from consultancies that find it easy to take somebody off of their rotation for 6 or 9 weeks.
Because all of our teachers teach in pairs, it’s pretty easy to have someone come in from the outside with a bunch of expertise, straight from the field and spend 6 or 9 weeks with us. So in terms of fulltime people, we do have some short-term people that come in -- and works great because they have a lot of expertise that’s really fresh and we’re really strong on the program at this point.
Can you explain the “apprenticeship” model to us?
When some students graduate, they’re ready to be entry level employees. And yet “entry-level employee” is a really relative term. That can mean a very different thing at a place like Groupon as opposed to a 10-person startup.
Certain companies need to hire below that “entry level” in order to be able to take on diverse and interesting people – which is something that a lot of good companies want. Apprenticeship programs can fill that void. They are 3 to 6-month programs. Some are really formal, some are pretty informal. These programs level people up so that they have the skills necessary to be an entry level engineer at these firms. There’s a lot of this happening in Chicago right now, at places like BrightTag and Backstop Solutions.
Do you see apprenticeship as being a potential replacement for bootcamps?
I don’t. Having hired apprentices for 6 years, all the apprentices that I hired were around the level of our graduates. They had already achieved a certain level of fluency in software development to get in the door. Maybe they were undisciplined, and unfamiliar with Ruby, but they figured out a way of getting enough context in order to be productive.
That’s why as soon as I heard about these schools starting up, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is where apprentices come from.”
It seems like apprenticeships and bootcamps go hand-in-hand in certain ways. Do you think establishing apprenticeship programs is the responsibility of the employer or the bootcamp?
I know General Assembly has an apprenticeship program, and Flatiron just started their Flatiron Labs, which is cool. For us, I’m a big proponent of helping employers create their own apprenticeship programs. I spend time helping Indiegogo with apprenticeship and I’ll be speaking at Heroku about apprenticeship programs this summer because I really feel it’s something employers need to take on. There are things we can help them with formally like offering them guidance with structure, but in general each employer knows what they need, and we just need to give them enough nudging to get them there.
The apprenticeship programs seem important for the employers, but also for the bootcamp graduates- accepting a new job is a risk for the student too!
Yeah, that’s the cool thing. There’s a great company in Chicago called 8th Light that has a very mature apprenticeship program. We had some of our best students from 2013 who could’ve gotten more immediately high-paying jobs who chose to go through their apprenticeship program, making a fraction of what they could have made elsewhere. They do this because after the apprenticeship, they’re at a completely different level as a software developer than if they had just worked an ordinary dev job for the same length of time.
The cool thing about these apprenticeship programs is that the companies really invest in the apprentices, and because of this, the apprentices succeed well over 90% of the time. It’s not like they take on 10 people at once and 2 survive.