With over 40,000 alumni from their Batky-Howell training courses, Bruce Batky and Cole Frock have recently launched their 19-week Java bootcamp, Skill Distillery, in Denver, Colorado. We catch up with Cole and Bruce to discuss their hands-on instruction, how they constructed the Java curriculum, and the types of companies Skill Distillery is partnering with to place graduates in jobs!
Tell us about your background and how you got involved with Skill distillery.
I started working in the training industry in 2006 with Batky-Howell. Batky-Howell offers private and public schedule classes for those who want to fill in some knowledge gaps by attending 2-day to 5-day classes. I also worked for ITCourseware which writes and distributes training courseware to training companies all over the world.
Seeing the need for those who want a career in IT we have developed a curriculum specifically for that. What is unique about us starting Skill Distillery is we have been in the training industry for over 25 years and have over 40,000 graduates.
Through Skill Distillery’s sister companies (Batky-Howell and ITCourseware), anybody who goes through our program has access to over 200 courses that we offer to advance their career. This is a true advantage as not everyone wants to just do web development. There are many potential paths such as Mobile Application Development, Java EE, and Microsoft .NET.
Are you still running those shorter form training programs for corporations in addition to Skill Distillery?
Yes, Batky-Howell Training focuses on corporate new hire training programs as well as shorter 2-day to 5-day training classes.
Will this upcoming Skill Distillery cohort be the first cohort that’s structured around this 19-week program?
Yes. One of the things I’m always trying to point out is that a lot of bootcamps are brand new. They’re basically one or two-year startups. This is the first time we have run the Skill Distillery, but we’ve been in this space a long time and have over 40,000 alumni.
How are you fitting the Java curriculum into 19 weeks?
The program is not just about Java since the jobs that graduates get will probably be front-end web developers (HTML, CSS, JS). Java is just the server side component. Most schools teach Ruby on Rails or Python but there is a huge demand for Java.
From our corporate experience, we know that a lot of the companies we provide training for Java to support their websites as well as for a multitude of other uses. It also opens you up to a variety of different back-end server side jobs as well. Once you get your foot in the door with companies, knowing Java is one of the most critical skills that you can have for an actual career in IT, as opposed to just a web developer.
I think we’ve written 10 or 12 courses on Java that we sell on our publishing company. ITCourseware website. Basically kind of wrote the book on Java as far as training materials. What we’re doing now is just a natural extension of that. As far as giving people options, you have the option of being a lot more than just a web developer moving forward.
If your true goal is to change your career, this is something that really gives you the best opportunity and the most options for long term career success.
Would you expect that somebody who learns Java with you would then be able to learn another object-oriented language like Ruby or Python?
Yes, once you learn any programming language other languages will be much easier to grasp. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to choose a language that gives you the most longevity for your career goals.
Why did you decide on 19 weeks and what was the reasoning behind that?
If you look at Hack Reactor and similar schools, you’re going in there and you’re being fed from a “fire hose.” Our experience is that you can’t can cram that much information into the average person’s head in such a short period of time. This is especially true of a harder language like Java.
While this is a bootcamp style program, it’s not necessarily like a full-fledged boot camp where we’re going to be doing a hundred hours a week, and if you don’t get it then you just starve to death. We want you to understand the concepts and put them to actual practical use and show that you have mastery of it and the confidence of knowing that you are fully capable before you enter into your new job.
How many students will you have in a cohort?
One of the things I’ve seen out there in many situations is classes of 40 to 60 people – it’s just insane. Even on our corporate side for our training, we’ll have corporations who will want to put 30 people into a 5-day class; it’s overwhelming. It’s hard on the instructor and the students never take as much from it.
We have a maximum of 20 students per class. We plan to have multiple instructors so everyone attending has as much access to support as they need.
Tell us about those instructors.
The instructors that we use are the same ones that we would use for corporate training and the same ones who also write materials for our publishing company.
Most of our instructors have at least 10 years of experience as actual programmers in the field, as well as at least 5 years of experience as an actual instructors. This way they can provide real world advice and give actual examples of what students will face once they go to work.
Are they employed full time with your company or are they just on board for the 19 weeks?
We actually use a combination and bring in experts for select subjects. Over the years, we have built a large pool of instructors and special resources that we utilize. We’re also leveraging our many years of curriculum design. In addition to teaching classes, we also hold many instructor workshops to teach instructors how to teach, so they are not just technical experts.
What we’re trying to do is blend teaching and doing to keep the frustration down and the experience better. We’re not trying to have our students just totally burn out; and that comes from our years of doing this. The biggest risk of any bootcamp is not the tuition cost; it’s about taking the time off of work and paying for a place to live and everything else. We want to be very careful on our selection process.
Tell us about the curriculum. Will there be projects or is the class based on more lecture?
It is heavily project based. In our experience, that’s how newer people learn best. The projects will also be used as samples of their work that they can show to prospective employers.
How much experience should an applicant have in order to get into Skill Distillery?
Some of the most brilliant programmers never went to college. We’ve put together an interview and testing process that helps us decide who to accept. What we want to see is that your brain works in the way of a programmer and that you’d be happy being a programmer. If you can show the commitment and those skills, then we are hoping to take the rest of the way.
Will you have pre-work to get everyone on the same page before they show up for day one?
Will you have assessments throughout the course?
Yes, we’ve broken everything up into four-week modules we’re calling “quads.” Each quad has an assessment and then there are smaller assessments within those quads. If there’s somebody struggling who’s not asking for help, we can actually focus on that person and get them the help they need.
And if it is way too easy for them then we can give them some additional material, to challenge them more; so that everybody is actually getting what they want out of the program.
For example, at the end of the first quad for example, you go through a mock Java Associate Certification exam to prepare you to take the official exam and get certified as a Java programmer.
If someone “fails” an assessment, are they kicked out of the course?
We are not a hard-edged company where someone fails once and they are out. We have the resources to focus on those students more to make sure that they’re understanding everything and moving forward.
Are you working with employers or hiring partners to match students with hiring companies?
It’s a good question and it’s one that we’ve discussed frequently. There are some companies that guarantee jobs or compensate a student if they take a job through a “hiring partner.” What it boils down to, and if you read the fine print with a lot of those schools, is that they have placement fees established with those companies, which is almost a limiting factor.
The people who have those established placement fees are favoring those companies who agree to pay them that fee. We’re not guaranteeing you a job but we are working with our existing clients as well as local and national companies to get you placed. We don’t get paid to place any student and therefore we will submit students to any and all interested employers giving them a much better set of potential employment options depending on their goals. In the end, if we don’t place all of our students then we wouldn’t be in business so we obviously have solutions in place.
Are most of the companies enterprise or do you work with any startups at all?
It’s a whole range. We have a lot of big companies as well as smaller companies. We work with some incubator type companies in Denver as well. So it’s the whole range; it depends on what people are looking for. Plus, we have a lot of recruiter relationships that we’ve established over the years as well.
When does the next cohort start?
We are accepting applications now for the cohort that starts in a couple of months.
Are there plans to expand outside of Denver or to different languages like a Python bootcamp at any point?
We’ve chosen Java for our first class because of the reasons we mentioned. It sets us apart from a lot of other places as there are no other actual Java bootcamps to my knowledge and there are nationally more Java jobs out there than any other programming jobs.
It is too early to say, but we could probably launch 10 different programs that are all 19 weeks long utilizing content from our publishing side to support it. We have everything from Agile to Oracle as well as end-user programs.