Will Sentance is co-founder and CEO at Codesmith, a full stack coding bootcamp in Los Angeles that launched in fall 2015. Before that, he worked as a software engineer, and started his own e-commerce platform. Will says learning to code changed his life, and he wanted to pass that experience and knowledge on to others. Will explains the Codesmith curriculum, what Codesmith looks for in students, and how to prepare for the interview. Also find out what sort of jobs Codesmith graduates are getting!
What were you doing before you decided to found Codesmith bootcamp?
I worked as a Software Engineer at Gem, which is now a Hiring Partner at Codesmith. Before that, I was CEO and cofounder of Ownly, a social e-commerce platform I started while studying at Harvard. Gem is doing some really transformative work in the Bitcoin and Blockchain space for developers– we were finalists at Techcrunch Disrupt. It's a model for Codesmith graduates– exceptional technical talent yet great communicators. I loved the team there.
Why did you want to start a Los Angeles coding bootcamp?
Coding changed my life and the lives of significant people around me. It gave us the ability to build the ideas we dreamt up. People learn to code for many reasons from aspiring doctors who want to change medical document processes to people who love solving puzzles. I love getting to see all of these backgrounds come together to support each other in the program.
Many coding bootcamps these days have been founded by graduates of other bootcamps. After attending Hack Reactor, what did you think was important to keep about the bootcamp model and what did you iterate on?
There are distinct differences. At the end of the Codesmith program, we have our hiring event where companies from across the US come on site to interview graduates. This is very distinctive and is part of why the graduate outcomes are so strong.
The community of Codesmith Los Angeles is also extraordinarily tight-knit, with cohorts of 15 (two running at the same time) selected from over 300 applications. It plays out in the average leaving time each night– most people leave the campus close to midnight, six days a week!
What is the admission process like?
We look for people who have great potential in problem-solving and communication (both technical and non-technical). Before the admissions interview, there's a basic coding challenge online and special harder challenges given out at many of the free classes each week. If you complete these harder challenges, you're guaranteed to get an interview.
Your first interview looks at your interests and commitment to supporting others. This is followed by a technical interview. There you will work through various coding challenges, and we work with you as you navigate through. It's like a mini session of Codesmith.
How are graduates performing in the real world?
The graduates are doing remarkably well. They are doing everything from developing an organic grocery marketplace at Thrive Market, to a life-changing charitable platform at Omaze, to supporting 20m+ football fans at the NFL. By the end of the year, over 200 Codesmith grads will be out building great things with code. Graduates receive offers averaging $103.5k, with 92% hired within in 4 months– mostly in LA and SF. Companies like Whisper, Hautelook and others have hired multiple grads– that's a wonderful sign of the impact the grads are having at each company.
What types of final projects have Codesmith students built?
Students build a portfolio of four projects while at Codesmith– the final being the 'Production Project'. Students have built applications for clients including the Los Angeles School District and the University of Michigan Hospital.
Some of the most impactful projects have been tools and libraries for developers like React Monocle and React-D3 library. These developer projects have trended on Github and Hacker News and are now being used by thousands of developers including Hiring Partners of Codesmith.
Why is it so important for students to actually launch their apps in the real world?
Launching a project gives students production experience– handling user issues, bugs and requiring students to work as professional developers as opposed to working on artificial 'bootcamp' projects. It really makes the graduates stand out– it's a big part of why 95% of graduates join companies as mid-level developers or above.
What is the current class makeup in terms of gender, race, background? Is it diverse?
Students come from a wide range of backgrounds. While many have STEM experience or even Computer Science degrees, there are also students who were creative writing majors or didn't attend college at all!
We have scholarships for students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in technology, and we work closely with Girl Develop it and Women Who Code on free classes and curriculum to help show people that they can aspire to Codesmith whatever their background. But we have to do more.
How do you attract a diverse applicant pool to Codesmith– is that important to you as a founder?
It is crucial. In the coming years, more and more leaders of firms will come from a software engineering background. We have an opportunity to give people from all backgrounds that path to leadership. In November, we are starting a new Women in Technology Speaker Series and new scholarships in partnership with leading technology firms– to further attract a diversity of applications.
How should new students approach Codesmith?
We have high expectations for applicants in their interviews, but we also have an extraordinarily supportive community which is ready to help you reach your potential and prepare for your application. Join us for any of the classes in person or online– whether or not you end up at Codesmith, you'll find your partners in crime to code with.
How does the CodeSmith experience prepare students for job interviews?
Companies expect a lot from Codesmith graduates. They're going to be offering six-figure salaries so they expect people who are capable of solving problems without too much supervision.
The program is designed to prepare graduates for exactly these demands. To do this, the curriculum pushes you to perform at a level that impresses seasoned engineers, both through professional engineering best practices, and a structure that is heavily project-based. This makes you ready for deep technical discussions and challenges at interviews
The second half of the program moves into dedicated job-search preparation– through mock interviews, resume and online profile development– all culminating in Hiring Day.
Tell us about your employer partnerships.
We have a network of over 250 Hiring Partners who are required to have a strong engineering culture and who hire mid-level and above developers. A select group joins onsite for Hiring Day for multiple streamlined interviews. Nearly half of our graduates get offers from companies they met at Hiring Day.
Have you been through the regulatory process with the BPPE in California? Is it important that you become accredited?
The regulatory system is outdated for sure but efforts are being made to develop a new approach. In the meantime, we have begun the process of getting officially accredited by BPPE
What’s next for Codesmith? Are there plans to expand geographically, or to expand the curriculum?
I believe we've barely scratched the surface of the number of people we can bring the ability to code to, as well as the number of organizations and industries that can be transformed by engineers who can lead. I want our alumni to continue to develop as leaders in tech after they graduate. So we're working on new ways to give our alumni all the support they need to make that happen.