On this episode of the Course Report podcast, we are talking about a New York City initiative that is helping certain lucky students attend coding bootcamps for free. It's called the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, and it aims to increase the number of employees with software skills in the city. We chat with a founder and a graduate of Fullstack Academy about why this initiative exists, what you'll learn in the program, and how you can take advantage of it.
Erika Samuels: graduated from the Web Development Fellowship at Fullstack Academy
Nimit Maru: founder of Fullstack Academy, a coding bootcamp in New York City that was chosen by Tech Talent Pipeline to offer the Web Development Fellowship.
Nimit, what is the Web Development Fellowship?
Nimit: The Web Development Fellowship is an exciting collaboration by Fullstack Academy and NYC Tech Talent Pipeline. It's designed for New Yorkers who are early in their careers and meet certain requirements (we'll get to those later) to take our entire full stack web development immersive at no tuition cost to them. The goal is to fill the tons of open web development jobs in New York. And it turns out that especially in New York City, there is incredibly large, untapped population of underemployed people who have really high competence, hard workers, really great, would make excellent employees in the workforce, but at the moment are making less money than they could. A program like this is a bridge and a pretty efficient and quick way for somebody to move across that chasm. They really feel that education is one of the most effective ways to do that, especially education like this, which is very targeted towards jobs and cutting edge jobs.
How did Fullstack Academy get chosen to partner with the Tech Talent Pipeline?
Nimit: It was an interesting process. Essentially, there is a group called Tech Talent Pipeline, which had some funding available for a program like this. They approached us to possibly work together on it, they released an RFP (a Request For Proposal). Immediately, we loved the idea, we loved the program, we spent a ton of time building our thoughts on how to do it well, and we submitted our proposal. After a bunch of conversations – Tech Talent Pipeline really looked closely at how Fullstack does everything from admissions to our academics to job placement. And they decided to partner with us.
How long did it take from application to actually offering that first WDF?
Nimit: It was definitely multiple months. The thought process was always about how to use the strengths of Fullstack and the strength of the city to really put a great program together. It always takes longer than you plan!
Erika, what were you up to before Fullstack Academy and what led you to apply to the Web Development Fellowship?
Erika: I had a career as a researcher and evaluator in the nonprofit sector for about eight years, and I realized that without a PhD, I really wasn't going to advance any further and I was very limited by the projects I could take on in that field without a formal education. One of my projects involved helping schools bolster their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula, and I felt like I should just practice what I preach and get into that myself.
I consulted with a few developers, and they just seemed to really be having a lot of fun with their work, and were really well compensated compared to my job. So eventually, I burned out of that career and I was looking for something that had more opportunity for advancement. A colleague of mine in that STEM department recommended this fellowship from Fullstack Academy to me. And since I was unemployed, a New York City resident, over 18, and I had no formal computer science education, I was eligible. So I applied!
Those eligibility requirements may seem strict, but I bet there are actually quite a few folks in New York that qualify. Nimit, do y’all get a ton of applications for this program?
Nimit: Yeah, absolutely. We get a crazy amount of applications actually. Our admissions team has to work double, triple hard during the periods when we're accepting applications for the Web Development Fellowship, but at the same time, I think that the program itself is making a real difference. It's an awesome program.
Erika, what was your perception of tech before you applied for Fullstack? Was it a concern for you to leave research and enter this world of tech and web development?
Erika: Before I applied, I really didn't have many role models in the tech field. I was working in the social sciences with a lot of educators – it was very female dominated industry. I had this perception that tech was a very male-heavy field, but that didn't really deter me. I felt confident that I could do anything that men were doing.
I also felt confident coming from a social justice background. I had this stereotype that tech was amoral and it consisted of a lot of men with the same ideas and education and interests, and I thought that my diverse perspective would really be a valuable contribution to the field and would be desirable.
Are there specific challenges that your team expects during the Fellowship that you don't expect from other cohorts?
Nimit: One thing I should clarify is that this program has no tuition costs, but it is definitely not free to students. They're taking on significant amount of opportunity cost in terms of not working at their other position, and they also have to fund their own living costs and other sustenance costs. And so, it requires an investment on both sides, which is actually good. We want to attract someone who wants to make an investment in bettering themselves.
Because there is a specific maximum income limit ($50,000/year) to a program like this, we aim to access pockets of the population where this kind of education would truly be inaccessible. And in that population, oftentimes, there are extra challenges like you said. For example, some of the basic ones are transportation. Oftentimes, people who have a job and are making a steady income, they take for granted that they can buy a subway card and go wherever they want in the city. But in this program, we provide a subway card every month to all the participants, because for at least some of the participants this would be a serious challenge to come into class every day.
The second thing, which a lot of us may take for granted, is access to a working, modern laptop, which can do things like software development. Some of the Fellowship students didn't have access to a laptop like this - or it was many, many years old and incapable of doing modern software development.
Third - and this one could be possibly the most important - is that getting into a program like Fullstack Academy is not easy. It's not like somebody can just wake up one day and say, "Okay, I want to be a software developer," and then immediately enroll in Fullstack. We require somebody to have done a lot of the groundwork to really feel comfortable with basic fundamentals of coding before they get in.
So we provided free bridge programs to the people applying for this program to allow true beginners a pathway to even get in. And I think this is also important. People who are not in the higher income categories can give up when they realize they don’t have the few hundred dollars required to take a basic intro classes that can get them into the bootcamp.
Erika, did you do that free bridge program?
Erika: I definitely took advantage of all of those resources that Nimit mentioned. The Metro Card was invaluable – I needed it to get to school every day. I also didn't have a Macbook or an expensive computer, and all those resources were available. I did use the bridge program called Bootcamp Prep, which was very challenging, but gave me all the resources I needed to succeed in the full program. And I'm very grateful for that.
It was, as Nimit mentioned, it was competitive to get into the program. As a student in college and high school, I was very used to being at the top of the class and not very challenged with the work. When I came into Fullstack, I was in a group of people who had all been at the top of their class, or were at least all very motivated and smart. And so, I felt like I wasn't at the same level as other people, but eventually, we all excelled and struggled at different points. It was very encouraging to be in the same boat as everybody, which I eventually realized.
How did you prep for the admissions process? Did you just do bootcamp prep or did you find that you needed to study more on top of that?
Speaking of bootcamp prep and the admissions process, are the admissions requirements harder or easier for the Web Development Fellowship compared with Fullstack Academy's regular program?
Nimit: The admissions requirements for the Web Development Fellowship and the normal Fullstack Immersive are the same in terms of the academic requirements. We're not just taking a certain arbitrary percentage of applicants. We ask ourselves – is each student ready for our course? Because of this, we also don't have pre-decided class sizes, even in our normal curriculum. It's not like, we'll just take like the best, I don't know, X number of people that we can find. So to answer that first question, the requirements for both of the programs are the same.
Our goal was to increase access with this program, and we really wanted to be able to provide this program to communities and to people who would otherwise be excluded from tech and really improve the diversity of the tech field. And so, we did look at making a complete class and kind of the makeup of the class. That was an additional level of process in the admissions process.
Erika, once you got in, what did your bootcamp cohort look like? If the goal of the web development fellowship is to bring folks from untapped populations into tech in New York, did you find that it was successful when you looked at your cohort?
Erika: There were about 40 students accepted into the cohort. My cohort was about a quarter women. About half to two-thirds of my cohort were racial minorities, and the educational and professional backgrounds were extremely diverse. There were chefs, musicians, actors, people in media, was age diverse, we had a veteran. It was a very cool group of people that brought very different things to the table from all across New York City.
Were you learning in a separate cohort of all Fellowship students or were you learning alongside non-Fellowship Fullstack students?
Erika: I was in the first iteration of the program, and at that point, the entire cohort was a Fellowship class. I think now it's more immersed into different classrooms, but at the time, my entire class was Fellowship recipients.
Nimit: Erika's right. In our next WDF cohorts, we are trying something with the city called a Web Development Fellowship Track, where we’ll have a certain number of spots in our normal cohorts for students who are part of the WDF program. The goal here is to make this program available more frequently. It’s an experiment – not something that we've committed to doing for a long time. We really want to see what the outcomes are and how things work out. But yes, that is what we're doing for the next two cohorts.
Very cool. Erika, you mentioned before that the program was challenging for everyone at different times. How difficult was the learning experience and what advice do you have for people who are going into such an intense program?
Erika: I do often say that it was the hardest thing I've done. But not to scare anybody off, it's also the most rewarding thing that I've done. I went to college and grad school, and I found that to be easier than Fullstack Academy. Because I was over 30, I hadn't been learning at that rate anymore. The camaraderie of my fellow classmates all being in the same boat was really what helped me overcome all of those challenges.
Nobody in our class already knew how to be a web developer. We were all learning together. I just had to accept that I was building on things that I didn't necessarily completely grasp yet, but that's just part of the process to keep moving forward. I have a lifetime to delve deeper into everything that I don't fully understand, but I didn't have to master every step before I can implement it, and move on. Accepting that really helped me get through the process.
That's great advice to lean on the community on your cohort and bring each other all up as you go.
Erika: We had a lot of resources available. Like Nimit mentioned earlier, we got the metro card and laptop. But there were also Fullstack Fellows and counselors, office hours, and social events, and all of those things really helped build a community where we were all working together and just made the process easier.
Congrats on graduating from Fullstack! When did you graduate?
Erika: One year ago in December.
Amazing. Happy one-year anniversary of being in the tech world. How did you choose the company that you work for now and how did you know that it would actually be a good fit for you as you accepted your offer?
Erika: Now I work as a React Redux Front End Engineer at a startup of less than 10 people in Soho. After years in government, I really wanted to try working for a startup. I liked the idea of having a better work-life balance, working from home, flexible hours, and a larger impact where I could see the changes in the product. I also wanted to work for a startup because I felt after this immersive bootcamp experience, I could have an immersive small startup experience where I would be tasked with working on every part of the app. I thought that these experiences would help me later on transition into a role at a bigger company after I've had all these experiences.
Did you learn React and Redux at Fullstack?
Erika: I did. That was the focus of the front end work. It was a very popular framework, and I think helped me get a lot of responses from employers.
Could you debunk a myth for us? You've been in the industry for a year now, you learned React and Redux at Fullstack and that is amazing to then be in a job where you're actually using those two technologies, but did you learn everything that you needed to know for your job in tech at Fullstack, or what has this first year been like for you?
Erika: I think it's impossible to learn everything that you would need to know, but I definitely learned all of the skills I needed to find out things that I would need to know. I overcame my fear of the unknown and now know how to figure things out by looking at documentation, reading code, investigating a code base – all things that I would have been completely overwhelmed by before Fullstack Academy. I'm still learning on a regular basis - every day I'm learning, so I think it's impossible to expect to know everything before you start your first job.
Nimit – Erika knew that she wanted to work at a startup. Are there examples of companies that you have come across that work with the fellowship students really well?
Nimit: I mean, I think we can definitely sense companies who work well with Fullstack graduates in general. I think more and more larger companies are starting to actually get better at this. I can't think of anything very specific about fellowship students. I mean, really, my message is, I don't want you to think, and I'm sure Erika would agree that it's not like the fellowship students are coming out as some really weird group of people and like they're really all that different. I think they are all very smart, ambitious. And I think that's the whole point is that I think that there are a lot of people like that who would make really great employees who are really great engineers who are just not able to access this education. So, yeah, I don't think that there's anything specific.
And so, you can't have a company that is like the Marines that kind of expects you to come in as some big shot crazy developer. You want a company that has a program and a mentorship system in place to really help you bridge that gap from this early entry-level professional developer to a senior developer. That's also what companies have to do if they really care about diversity, if they really care about bringing in populations of people that are not already in this space. Those are the things that we tell our hiring partners when they ask us, "How can we bring the best out of your students that we're hiring?"
When it comes to measuring outcomes and Fullstack is a part of CIRR and is I know very serious about this, do you see a difference between fellowship versus non-fellowship cohorts, the types of jobs that people are getting, and how quickly and at what salary?
Nimit: On a higher level, the outcomes are very similar, and that's something that we are happy about. When you zoom in a little bit, we have learned about specific things that we can do to help WDF succeed more. For example, we spoke about Metro Cards. The same person that needed the subway card to come to class will possibly also need that to go to networking events, to go to job interviews, to go to all of those things that are important during your job search. That's something that we're learning, and as we extend this program, we are incorporating those learnings into our future offerings to be able to offer those kinds of bridge services to WDF students even after they graduate.
I think that that's really where we see a difference is that the job search itself is hard. Like, anybody who's looked for a job today knows that it takes a lot of time and you need support there as well.
Erika, looking back, is there something that a bootcamp can do to prepare students for the real world as a developer breaking into tech?
Erika: I think that Fullstack did a great job of preparing me emotionally for the challenges of developing and just being more confident in tackling things that I don't know about before I start. It was a school environment, though. At Fullstack, everybody's practicing coding by the book and how they should be treating each other, and everything's very great at Fullstack. And then you get into the real world and maybe they're using the technologies you learned in an improper way or maybe people aren't as respectful as they were at school. So those are things that I don't think anybody can really prepare you for because that's just the real world. But I came in with the skills that I needed.
Also to add on to that, we did a lot of group projects while we were at Fullstack, so I was used to working with difficult personalities on very complicated things. I did those lessons I learned from those projects at work as well.
We've been reading about this new, free Fullstack Academy Cybersecurity program – does NYC Tech Talent Pipeline have anything to do with that?
Nimit: The Tech Talent Pipeline is not directly involved in the cybersecurity program. I think largely, it is part of the same group of people. I really want to give a shout out to the people who work in EDC and Tech Talent Pipeline. I think the government often takes a lot of crap – everyone blames the government for all kinds of things, but this department is really a gem in the rough. They are incredible and very innovative about how they think about ROI of the government dollar. We should be feeling very good that our taxes go to programs like this. They're working really hard to ease all the red tape that could be involved in working with the government and to really be able to push out innovation faster.
The cybersecurity program is an example of that hard work. I know this podcast is not focused on that, so I won't go into it too much, but it's a partnership with the city to try to build a significant amount of talent and significant amount of innovation around cyber security in New York City. As the largest city in the country, cyber security is actually very important to the safety of the people who live here as well. We are very proud and excited to be the bootcamp partner in that program.
You can definitely read more about that on our website. Tech Talent Pipeline doesn't have anything directly to do with it, but they are definitely part of the same group of amazing people that are making it happen.
When is the next application deadline for New York?
Nimit: The next application deadline is on February 24, 2019. It is for the cohort that begins in mid-March going through to July. So February 24 - you have about a month.
Lastly, Erika, was Fullstack Academy worth it for you?
Erika: I highly recommend that people apply to this program. It was the best decision that I've made and it was a game changer, a life changer, and I'm just so happy and proud of myself and just love my new career. I ended up increasing my salary $27,000.
For a free program, that's pretty good ROI. Even if you're making paying for it, that's pretty good ROI.
Erika: I know. I took it as an investment. Like Nimit said, you have to not work for a certain amount of time. It was tough for those few months but I just this month paid off everything from the time that I took off to do this program. So it's already come back and I have such better prospects now. It was very much worth it.
Congratulations – what a great thing to do right at your one year mark. Thank you so much to Erika and Nimit for joining us! Read Fullstack Academy reviews on Course Report or visit their website here.
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