One of the newest players in the bootcamp game, Origin Code Academy has set up shop in San Diego bringing a much needed source of web development training to one of California’s larger cities. With just a couple of immersive code schools to choose from, San Diegans now have access to this .NET based program. Founded by a graduate of Iron Yard Academy, Jeff Winkler decided to open up his own code school after seeing how Iron Yard was having success propagating throughout the country. We recently got a chance to talk to founder Jeff Winkler, a graduate of Iron Yard about his decision to open Origin and how he created his curriculum and found companies to partner with in San Diego.
When is the first Origin Code Academy course?
The first class is in September and we are expected to have around 6 students in the class. We have students signed up for our next class which will begin immediately after New Year’s. This is really our starting point.
Where is the bootcamp being taught?
We’re hosting class at a startup incubator called EvoNexus in San Diego. The shared space suites our needs as we wanted a lot of startup founders to be around the coders and vice-versa.
This particular work space is a perfect fit for us, and they see the value of having a code school in their community.
Is your background in education or programming?
Up until a year and a half ago, I was in finance. From a career perspective, I didn’t feel I was adding a lot of value, and I felt like a commodity.
I started my first startup, Gym Exchange, which eventually merged with Gym Surfing (think: a Travelocity for gyms). We sold it in February of this year and a large part of why we sold was that the buyers really liked our developer who designed and developed it. Selling the company made me want to go to a code school so that I could start another company and not have to give up 50% of it! I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina at the time, which is a fairly big startup town with a few code schools. It's not like New York, San Francisco or maybe Austin but it has a pretty big startup presence.
The closest available class I could find at The Iron Yard ended up being in Orlando, Florida. I was in the first Ruby class in Orlando. Of the eight of us in our class, only four finished and to this day I think only one of us has a development job.
I personally didn’t care about getting a job, I wanted to start another company, and we decided that a code school was the perfect business.
Why did you open the first campus in San Diego?
In our research, we found that Raleigh has five code school in the same building, so I didn’t want to start there. I had lived in San Diego before, and I was familiar with a lot of startup founders in the area. In San Diego, there’s only one code school, but it’s the eighth biggest market in terms of population.
We went to employers first and asked them about the in-demand coding languages and what the local job market was looking for in developers. We narrowed it down to Ruby and C# within the .NET framework.
Why did you decide to teach .NET?
Before we talked to employers, I anticipated us teaching Ruby considering that is what the majority of code schools teach. However, after our discussions with companies in San Diego that changed. There are more enterprise companies here in San Diego and .NET is the technology of choice for them.
Who were those companies that you talked to during the initial research stage?
Some startups, some larger companies. We even talked to an executive at QualCom and a startup that runs QualCom's job board. They have 125 portfolio companies in their venture fund. From our conversations we anticipate that those are going to be a very big feeder for us and our graduates.
If a student is not interested in going through the job placement process, and instead wants to start their own business, is Origin not the school for them?
We actually opened with 2 options, one being the freelance option with a tuition of $8,000 and one for job placement where the tuition is closer to $12,000. We’ll probably eliminate the freelance option because 95% of applicants request the job placement option. We’re doing a meetup group every other week where they build coding projects, so if somebody says they just want to be entrepreneurial, we would suggest that they join our meetup.
Will there be a referral fee for Origin for placing students?
Presently there is none. We just want our students to get hired. We’re not going to make any money or set up a placement fee with any company hiring our students.
We really just want the focus of the first couple of cohorts to get jobs. If and when we have enough companies competing for our graduates we might consider other options. If we can have a placement fee to offset their tuition at some point down the line, we’re definitely not opposed to that either.
What are the details of your job guarantee?
We guarantee our students a junior developer job within 90 days after graduating. If we don’t find them a position, we give them 100% of their tuition back.
Some companies offer paid internships, apprenticeships, or hire on a trial basis. Our goal is to get our students into at least a trial period position to prove themselves. We’re not responsible for carrying them through their trial period but we are responsible for getting them to the point where they’re getting paid as a developer.
I know sometimes bootcamp grads will settle and work anywhere for free just for the experience. That’s not a job. A job to us is getting paid to do work.
Who is the ideal student at Origin? Are you looking for people with a little bit of experience or are you looking for complete beginners?
The best applications have been from people between 25–35 that are looking for their second career. Everybody who has been accepted so far has been trying to teach themselves and have essentially hit the wall on CodeSchool.com or Treehouse.
We don’t require any previous experience. We have pre-work which is pretty typical amongst a lot of coding schools. It’s not super intensive coding pre-work, just some material to review before students get to the class.
Another interesting point in San Diego too, is around 80% of our students have been in the military before They go to their army job fair and hear about personal security or the police force. There are no technology jobs there. We already know they’re committed, we already know they have a big “why” as to why they’re taking the class and why they’re going to work hard. We didn’t anticipate this and it is very specific to San Diego, but it’s very welcomed.
Will you offer scholarships for veterans, for women or underrepresented minorities?
At the moment, we don’t offer any scholarships. We work a lot with Geek Girl and have sponsored their conference. They were the first partnership we had. Because of that, our meetups have been 70% women. We do actively want to reach out and bring them into our meetup to get them into our class and involved with the tech community.
Who is the instructor for this class?
There’s three of us on the Origin team. Cameron is the instructor, Mike is our investor, and myself.
Cameron has a Masters Degree in Computer Science, he’s been a freelancer for five years, and he’s also done private tutoring with people teaching them how to code. We chose Cameron because his focus has been .NET and C#. Once Mike and I decided that was the direction employers wanted us to go, we chose Cameron.
From your experience at Iron Yard, what did you think was important to keep in the curriculum and what did you think needed to be changed?
I really enjoyed having a guest speaker every Friday; someone from the industry who essentially tells you what their career has been like as a coder. It’s helpful on many fronts. First, you’re mentally so tired by Thursday from working so hard that having a guest speaker is a welcomed relief. Second, it's easy to have concerns about your future so hearing about other people’s successful careers is very reassuring.
I also liked how Iron Yard had people work together on projects and we are looking to take that even further at Origin Code Academy. No one works on an island as a developer. Understanding the role of the sales team in an organization and the role of the marketing team is important. The more students learn to integrate into what the company’s trying to accomplish, the easier their job is and the less frustrated they’ll be when they talk to the sales manager or the marketing guy. Students need to learn to communicate effectively on an enterprise level.
I had a pretty good idea how to shape the curriculum because I had gone through their program and then Cameron fine-tuned my ideas based on how he was taught. Then we took it to those same employers that we talked to when originally coming to San Diego and said, “Here’s our curriculum. Which parts of it do students need to know if they started working here tomorrow?” They responded with examples like, “I don’t care if they don’t know what a server is but I do need them to know that they need to work well with other people.” So they helped us eliminate some of those things from our curriculum that were unnecessary.
How are you preparing students for jobs after graduation?
Another addition to our curriculum is providing more interview preparation and understanding of the job hunting process specifically for junior developers. One of our guest speakers was a hiring manager at Microsoft for a period of time, and he really grills our students on what exactly they need to know.
You can’t fake a coding interview. You really need to be able to describe your thought process and tell them what’s important. They don’t care if you code the project right, it’s more about how you think. There will be a whole week spent on job prep which includes white boarding, mock interviews and information sessions.
The reason we’re structuring it different is because we have a different end goal; it’s specifically to get jobs rather than learn how to code per se. We’re just trying to reverse engineer everything from getting a job and working backwards.
How many students will be in the first cohort and what is the average you are aiming for in terms of class size?
We anticipate the average being closer to 12. Anything can change but 12 is a really good average based on my experience. You don’t want to go too small because when you work in groups, there’s always two or three people that kind of drag the class along with them and you want to make sure the groups big enough that you have people putting pressure on them.
Have you all had to deal with the BPPE or any of the city or state regulatory agencies as part of launching?
We have not. We anticipate having to work through that. We’re not really on their map right now. So we’re aware of it but we’re sure they’ll contact us at some point.
Do you have a refund policy in place?
We give 100% back if they don’t get a job. Students have the first two weeks to "drop out", and if they leave within the first two weeks they get a refund.