Fullstack Academy has recently announced the launch of a partner school, Grace Hopper Academy a coding immersive program exclusively for women. Tuition is not due until graduates secure positions in software engineering after the program. Grace Hopper Academy Dean, Shanna Gregory joined the bootcamp scene early, working with hiring partners at both Hack Reactor and Fullstack Academy and helping graduates find jobs as engineers. Shanna shares the changes she's witnessed in the bootcamp space, and how female-only schools prepare women for jobs in tech.
You worked at Hack Reactor, then Fullstack Academy, and now you’re the Dean of Grace Hopper Academy. What has changed since you started in 2013 in this bootcamp space?
A lot of my experience has been working with hiring partners and employers, and I've seen a big change in the reactions to job-seekers with this type of education. Employers are starting to accept bootcamps as viable experience and supporting alternative routes to engineering. Candidates can really prove themselves with their skills, projects, and portfolios, even if their undergrad degree is in something unrelated, like ceramics or law. That’s been such a massive change for the better - that you do not need to major in Computer Science to become a developer, and it’s not too late if you studied History.
Obviously, there is still a lack of women in technical roles, but in bootcamps, we actually find that the ratio it closer to 50-50. Why does the world need Grace Hopper Academy right now?
From a personal perspective, when I moved to New York to work at Fullstack Academy I didn't really have a community. One of the first things I did was start going to tech meetups. I started going to Women Who Code and Girl Develop It and meeting a lot of women who were teaching themselves how to code, or learning from friends or online.
I was really excited about this huge group of women in New York and wanted to bring them all to Fullstack Academy - but I realize that attending a bootcamp is not financially possible for everyone and personally it wouldn't have been for me either; I completely understood that. We want to remove a huge barrier for these women, and encourage them to apply regardless of financial situation.
From a confidence standpoint, it can be really hard to imagine yourself as a programmer; as a woman who is not tech savvy, it's a really long road that you see ahead of you when the tech scene lacks strong female representation.
At Fullstack, our alumni community is really a big boost to the educational experience, placements, and outcomes. We keep in touch with our alumni, they keep in touch with each other and go to Hackathons and meetups frequently. They talk on Slack all the time - and it gets really crazy because there's so many of them at this point - but it's nice that we're able to support them throughout their whole journey and I wanted this strong community for women entering tech careers.
What is Fullstack Academy's percentage of gender breakdown?
Right now, it's 1 in 3. So in a recent cohort of 30 students there were 10 women. It's better than Computer Science undergrad programs; it's not 50-50 but there is this close-knit, budding community. We have Ladies of Fullstack meetings, a dedicated Slack channel for discussions, and we do things like invite everyone to women-focused tech meetups or events.
I do think it will be a different experience to have a class of all women.
Some of the criticism that I hear of female-only schools is that it's not setting up women to work in the real world. How do you address that?
I would make the comparison to all-female colleges. I think that resonates a lot with what we're doing; women graduate from Barnard or Smith College and then start their careers, working with men and women. It's not as though they're less prepared than had they gone to a co-ed school, they just had a completely different, more supportive learning experience.
What it comes down to is that the educational experience and working environment do not need to be the same. In an environment where you are learning how to program, I think it's a really vulnerable process of learning quickly and can be intimidating to some people. We're creating the opportunity to make this experience more attractive to someone who would feel uncomfortable asking a question in class, or pair-programming with a really confident partner, for example. Once you've built up that confidence, have a supportive mentor network, and valuable skills, it's easier to enter into a field and job where you are confident in yourself and your ability.
Having worked at two different bootcamps, what are some of the obstacles that you see women facing in a traditional bootcamp setting?
I think there are a few different barriers. One is that when women are considering a career path or school to attend, an imbalanced gender ratio can be off-putting for some people. So we're hoping that an all women's school makes this an attractive option for those considering entering the field but who are put off by the current ratio.
Also, the learning environment can feel uncomfortable for someone who is already facing “imposter syndrome”, those who are struggling to accept their own strengths and therefore do not feel as confident in the classroom.
Why did you choose the deferred tuition payment structure? How is it different than a bootcamp loan?
It's different than a loan because you do not owe tuition if we don’t succeed in helping you become a developer. A coding bootcamp loan has to be repaid regardless of your employment outcome. That's something that I feel very strongly about. I take it personally because I’ve been working on the hiring side - in the rare case someone doesn't get a job, I would feel responsible. Even though there are so many success stories, the bootcamps that I have worked at have placement rates well over 97%, the financial burden is terrifying if you don’t get a job.
A lot of recent college students are also coming out of undergrad with so many loans. Many can’t imagine going to grad school at this point because you’re adding debt and there's no guarantee that you will have a job at the end.
This would be an attractive option for those folks, because there's no risk except for the opportunity cost during the three month program. If you don't end up getting a job after the program, you don't lose anything. Both Fullstack and Grace Hopper Academy are really incentivized to help students get jobs because that's how we succeed.
Because of the deferred tuition, Grace Hopper will be depending on students getting jobs after graduation. Do you anticipate that this will mean higher attrition? I'm thinking about the classic App Academy example of regular assessments and higher attrition.
I've done some research about that; we'll probably be closer in-line with how Fullstack Academy has been operating, which is that we do regular assessments to check in with a student’s progress. I think it's a self-selective process as well. If someone after a week or two is feeling like they're not getting it and we agree and they wanted to leave then absolutely, it doesn't make sense to stay.
I don't think there will be higher attrition, I think our admission standards already account for the fact that applicants need to be successful after graduation. But it does make sense to putting more checkpoints in place to make sure that happens.
How much is upfront tuition if a student doesn't want to take a job as a developer afterwards?
We're still working on determining that tuition fee, for those interested in becoming entrepreneurs or going back to school. There will also be the option to pay upfront if you can.
Who's the instructor for this class?
A pair of experienced Fullstack Academy instructors will lead the first cohort, and we're working to bring on more female instructors as well. In addition, we’ll have a few teaching fellows from the graduating cohort in December.
Have you started getting applications yet?
Yes! Since officially launching mid October we've gotten a great response from the tech world and the media. We've received almost 100 applications so far. I think the deferred tuition model has made it a very interesting option for people.
We recently hosted a Women Who Code event at Fullstack, and it happened to coincide with the Grace Hopper launch date. I was able to speak to many women who were there for this hardware workshop, and a few of them applied as we were discussing it.
Also, our current students and alumni at Fullstack Academy are sharing it like crazy with all of their female friends.
You've mentioned that Grace Hopper Academy is not accepting beginners; what does that mean in this context?
Beginner to me is someone who sees this school and says "Oh, I could probably learn how to code" but has never coded. You must know this is what you want to do. It's a huge commitment to participate in an immersive program, and passion is a prerequisite. This is not a program for anyone who is not sure this is something they're passionate about and going to be interested in long-term. I'd encourage those applicants to go through online tutorials and learn as much as they can about what it takes to become a developer and to prepare for our coding assessment and technical interview.
We put applicants through a technical assessment and interview. Our curriculum is the same as Fullstack, and starts with the assumption that students already know programming fundamentals. So applicants need to demonstrate that in the admissions process. If someone is a pure beginner, we have a lot of resources we provide to help them get to where they need to be, including free online study materials and live classes taught at Fullstack.
What kind of relationships do you have with employers so far? Are those mostly Fullstack Academy hiring partners?
Because we just launched last week, I sent out an email to Fullstack Academy hiring partners and I’m already getting really excited responses (and a lot of questions!). I'm certain that hiring partners will be interested in both schools’ graduates; it's very much the same curriculum in terms of what we're teaching, with different learning environments and support networks.
So if an employer is reading this, why should they hire specifically from Grace Hopper Academy?
Employers should be excited about diversity on their teams and Grace Hopper is a place where they can meet really talented developers, know their skill-set, and see what they've built. Any hire they make from Grace Hopper Academy will improve their team’s diversity drastically, and be valuable technically.
What are your favorite resources for women who are just starting to learn to code?
I think online tutorials are great and really important when you're figuring things out, but I also think in-person meetups are important, places where you can build a community and physically ask questions of people when you’re struggling.
I'm really partial to Women Who Code because I've made a few great friends through them. They do some very beginner-oriented, all-day Saturday workshops once a month that teach HTML and CSS and I think that's a good start for women who are interested in learning how to code. We also have a link to admissions preparations materials on the Grace Hopper website, on the application page.