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The Firehose Project is an immersive online apprenticeship that teaches students of varying backgrounds to be web developers or launch their own products. While the curriculum is based in Ruby on Rails, mentors identify their mentees needs immediately and customize a learning plan for each student. We chat with Marco Morawec, founder of The Firehose Project, about their team of mentors, how they're supporting students in their journey to code, and the commitment required by students of the program. 

 

What does the team at Firehose Project look like?

We’re 2 founders and about half a dozen code mentors that are helping us. Everyone on our team can code and we’re hand-picking every single mentor to make sure they have the relevant combination of technical and teaching skills.

 

Tell us about your background and how you got involved with the Firehose project?

My background is in web development and UX product manager. Before teaching people how to code I consulted Fortune 500 companies like P&G and John Deere and won Boston's biggest Hackathon (Angelhack). Most recently I led the user experience for peerTransfer, building a 1 Billion dollar a year international tuition payment platform. Before all that, I was carrying nothing more than a backpack and travelled around the world on $25/day for an entire year.

theFirehoseProject really started after I teamed up with my good friend Ken Mazaika, who was a tech lead at Where.com before it got acquired by PayPal, and we taught hundreds of students at places like Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Brown and the University of Hawaii how to code and use the same tools as the best startups in the country. After seeing how our different approach to teaching allowed so many students achieve amazing results in a short period of time it made sense to bring our “firehose” approach to teaching tech online, so we can reach more students.

 

When did the first cohort of the Firehose Project online course start?

The first students started using our online guides to build real-world web applications in August 2013 and the first 12 week cohort of theFirehoseProject started early in 2014.

 

The classes start every Monday, right? Do you organize people into cohorts? Are they interacting with each other online or are they only interacting with their mentor?

New students start every Monday and during the first few weeks they focus on building two fully functional web applications with the help of their mentor.

After the first few weeks of the apprenticeship, we start to custom-tailor our curriculum so students will be able to achieve their individual goals. For example, students with the goal of finding a job as a web developer, are paired with other students to collaborate and launch a real web application that solves an actual problem or need. Just like in the real world of being a web developer, students get specific wireframes and product specifications and write and review code in a team environment, guided by their individual mentor and team leader.

We found that students who can point to their collaborative coding project and understand how to thrive in a team based environment, using the same code collaboration tools as real startups, have a huge advantage in landing a job, over students who only code by themselves or together with their mentor.

So our students are treated like junior web developers very early on in our program and don’t have to wait until they hold that job title to experience what it is like as a junior web developer.

 

Does everybody who applies get accepted? Is there an interview process at all?

Me or another code mentor talk to every single student before they’re accepted into the program. We’re looking for motivation to learn in our students and make sure they’re a great fit to work on team projects.

After teaching hundreds of students with no prior coding experience how to build and launch web applications, we know we can teach anyone. But we really want to make sure that you’re motivated to learn and have a concrete goal that you want to achieve, be it landing a job as a web developer or launching your own startup idea.

 

What types of students have you seen do really well in Firehose and what kind of students don’t necessarily excel in that environment?

We've found all of our students are able to excel in our program. Mostly, that has to do with the fact that we’re looking for students who have a particular goal that they want to achieve - like launching their own startup or getting a job as a web developer - and then custom tailor our curriculum around each student’s goal.

This means that all of our students go through a core curriculum, but depending on their goals we might add more User Experience training, Javascript or Test-Driven-Development to make sure they’re able achieve their personal goal.

 

How is the curriculum designed? Do you have unique content for your curriculum or do you pick and choose curated lessons from the web?

We developed 100% of our curriculum in house. In fact, our curriculum is constantly updated and improved. By updating our curriculum on an almost daily basis, we can make sure we consistently offer a better learning experience and keep up with the latest technology.  

One place that enabled us to create the perfect core curriculum was our Q&A forum that helps students get unstuck within the hour. In the early days, our entire team was basically “why did 3 students ask the same question on lesson 31 about 5 minutes ago? Let’s fix that”.  After hundreds of improvements and countless hours of work we finally nailed down the perfect curriculum for our students.

Our Q&A forum also let’s us makes sure that students don’t come to mentorship sessions with error messages that could have been easily solved through a quick “error screenshot and reply” beforehand. By having all error messages taken care off before the actual mentorship sessions, students and mentors can really dig in deep and focus on learning additional techniques and technologies, like WebSockets or additional Javascript for a better user experience.

 

Are you focusing on a particular technology?

We have our core curriculum planned out to a certain extent that it uses Ruby on Rails, Javascript, HTML, CSS3, GitHub, PostgreSQL, Heroku and AWS.  But then there’s a lot of flexibility to learn additional technologies and techniques together with your mentor.

 

Who are your mentors? What are you looking for in a mentor and what’s the process to become a mentor?

To be a mentor at theFirehoseProject you need to have teaching experience and be able to explain a complex web development concept to a classroom full of beginners. Then you also need to be a great developer, know your coding game inside out and actively help people in the Q&A forum and consistently improve theFirehoseProject curriculum.

We have a big coding event at Harvard coming up soon, so we definitely taking a group of our mentors into the classroom again.

 

Has anyone who’s gotten a job after doing Firehose or actually launched their own product?

Yes, we have multiple students who’ve gotten a job after they graduated, in fact one student just received a job offer half-way through our program, accepted the job and now continues to code together with the other students on his Firehose team project in the evenings.

Another student built an on-demand marijuana delivery platform, pretty much like Uber for marijuana. He’s launching this fall in several cities and is working on his delivery startup full-time.

 

Have you had students who are being sponsored by their companies?

Absolutely. We’ve had that happen before, especially for students who go through our program while holding a full-time job.

 

How many hours a week do you estimate that it takes students?

The minimum amount time that we require students to dedicate to coding is 15 hours per week. With 15 hours per week you’ll be able to progress at a good speed and finish strong.

That said, we have many students who are putting in 40-50 hours per week into the program and obviously those students are taking more knowledge and skills out of it.

Whether you put in 15 or 50 hours, we always keep your learning curve steep and make sure we adjust our curriculum to your personal goals and what you want to get out of the program.

 

Is there anything else you want to add that we didn’t touch on about Firehose?

One of the most common reason why people come to us, is because we’re the very opposite of all the other “cookie cutter” curriculums out there.

At theFirehoseProject all of our students are part of the team and are treated like junior web developers while they go through their customized curriculum together with our mentors.

 

Want to learn more about The Firehose Project? Check out their School Page on Course Report or their website here

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