Graeme, what went into the decision to start Rockit Boot Camp?
Graeme: We’re part of the Corporate Development team at Apollo Education Group and our team generally does work associated with acquisitions, divestitures, partnerships and joint ventures. A lot of that work is analytical at the financial and operational level. After doing internal research we came up with a number of non-degree businesses in IT that were relevant and had relatively low barriers to entry. We decided to experiment with some of those ideas in the spirit of innovation.
So that’s how the idea came together. It was an internal piece of research that ended up as a set of ideas around IT business opportunities that offered an attractive and interesting place for us to take a look at.
What do you think Apollo brings to the bootcamp space that other bootcamps haven’t been able to capture?
Graeme: I think this is a low barrier to entry market; the differentiation is mostly based on the quality of the product that the bootcamp offers and the reputation.
We’re really focused on outcomes, in reality the same thing most bootcamps are focused on. We have a background in education built around scale and an ability to think about and manage instructional design, faculty and teaching models. So those are three key things: scale, instructional design and teaching models.
What was the price for this initial pilot course?
Graeme: The pilot was a free class. We captured the essence of the student enthusiasm and passion but we didn’t put people through having to pay for what we believe was a learning exercise for them and a learning exercise for us.
How did you develop the curriculum for the course?
Graeme: One of the principles as we started the pilot was that the people who deliver this curriculum are going to develop it. The instructors were going to be explicitly involved and have ownership of what they’re delivering.
We decided on high-level topics and did market research on what was applicable to the Phoenix market. The expert practitioners we recruited from the local market are people who have a computer science degree and have been in web development for a number of years.
They have a passion for passing on information and wanting to enable other people to enjoy the kind of career they’ve had. These are great instructors who have good people skills and a passion for knowledge. We decided on the core web technologies, built ourselves an instructional design framework and let the teaching team go after it.
Why Phoenix for this first pilot course?
Graeme: We decided on Phoenix for a relatively straightforward reason; it’s our home base. We have a lot of assets in Phoenix that we can leverage. So if we wanted any advice, it was on our doorstep.
Dominick: Just looking at the marketplace; Ruby just wasn’t a hot topic in Phoenix but if you go to Silicon Valley, you can see that most of the bootcamps are teaching it.
By talking with employers and looking at the in-demand skill set, we decided that teaching a traditional LAMP stack would resonate with what the market was looking for. That’s kind of how we went with that decision and went forward with it. So far, we are encouraged with the employer’s feedback of the students they hired and the technologies they learned.
Were most of your students from Arizona?
Dominick: They were, yes. With that being said, we had a diverse group with many cultures, ages and backgrounds.
And did most of them stay in Arizona and get placed in the Phoenix area?
Dominick: Some of our students had the opportunity to relocate, but the majority of the class stayed in Phoenix. Overall this was a perfect opportunity, a free pilot to learn new skills to help them get a job in the Phoenix area. It was the right time for a lot of these students to switch careers and get the skills that they needed.
What did the application process look like for the pilot course and will it look the same going forward in the next courses?
Graeme: We developed an accelerated selection process. We asked people to answer logical, thought-provoking, challenging questions in both written and video form and submit those along with a resume. We used the responses as a first step in the selection process to look for passion, enthusiasm, motivation, and aptitude.
It was important to find students who were interested in finding a job and who had the ability to successfully complete an immersive, intensive bootcamp experience.
Of your class, how many were women and minorities?
Graeme: Of the 18 people who finished the class, 8 were female, 10 were male. We didn’t deliberately set out to balance things; it just happened naturally.
The demographics of the class were very healthy. We had late and early stage career changers plus a good mix of grads and non-grads.
Did everyone finish the course or did you see attrition?
Graeme: We started with 21 and graduated with 18 students. Rockit Bootcamp is an intense program that moves at a fast pace.
For those candidates who didn’t make it this time around, we hope they’ll do a bit of personal study and then come back and see us at some time in the future.
How did placement turn out?
Graeme: We’re only 2 ½ weeks out, but I would say we are encouraged by the results. I think it’s fair to our students and fair to us to keep the actual numbers to ourselves for now. We’ve learned a lot about employer relationships, employer partnerships and that part of the equation is a responsibility we take very seriously.
Dominick: Just to give you a sense of where we’re at in the placement, we can say that we have placed over half of our alumni since graduation.
How are you incorporating soft skills and job prep into the curriculum?
Dominick: Rockit Bootcamp is a 12-week program. Weeks 6 through 11, every Thursday we hold company drop-in sessions. We get about 2 -3 companies every Thursday to come in, present to our students, talk about their organization and what they look for in their recruiting process. After presentations, employers join the students for refreshments and conversations. They get to know our students on a personal level and they’re seeing our students grow from week to week.
Employer connections are extremely valuable to anybody looking for a bootcamp. Some companies ranging from large employers to small development shops helped when we were preparing our students for the real world with mock interview sessions, a resume building clinic and technical coding tests.
Would you consider the Rockit Bootcamp pilot a success? When is your next cohort?
Graeme: We’re very encouraged by the results, we think it’s a good opportunity and we’re in the middle of the planning process right now. I think the pilot proved the point and served its purpose really well.
We’ll set a different framework up for the next iteration. It will be a paid bootcamp; we’re in the $8,000 - $10,000 price range for tuition fee so pretty standard. We looked at entry level salaries in Phoenix and we think there’s an explicit link between starting salary and the cost of Rockit bootcamp that needs to be balanced.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Rockit Bootcamp?
Graeme: I want to make it clear that we are transparent. We encourage everyone we meet to come and visit Rockit Bootcamp.
We’re going to maintain high principles, high value and we’re going to deliver the kind of results that an organization like ours will be proud of.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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