Turing School of Software and Design in Denver is known for their seven-month long Web Application Development program which thoroughly prepares students to be professional developers. But in June 2016, Turing will launch a new, immersive Front-End Engineering program to meet the need for software developers who are experts in front-end technologies. We touch base with Turing founder Jeff Casimir to learn about the need for front end engineers and how their two programs will complement each other.
Why did you decide to add a Front-End Engineering immersive course at Turing?
I’ve been wanting to design a Front End course for three years. I always had some discomfort with the idea of “full stack developers”. If someone says they’re a full stack developer, it essentially means they went to a bootcamp. Experienced developers call themselves ‘developers’.
Will the Front-End Engineering course include UX/UI?
UX and UI need to be woven throughout the curriculum, but we’re not training designers. UI and UX need to inform what happens in the front end, but it’s not the main focus. Those specialties really belong to designers.
We decided to call this Front End Engineering to make it clear that this course is not configuring WordPress. It’s about programming, building software, mastering all our same processes, using test-driven development, iterations and agile just with front-end technologies.
Why make this a seven-month immersive course? Does it really take seven months to learn Front-End Engineering?
There’s always a soft bias in the industry that front end is “not that hard.” When I was a young whippersnapper learning my HTML before CSS existed, it really wasn’t that hard. The expectations were so low and the capabilities were so narrow, you could read a short book and know everything there was to know. Now, there’s so much innovation happening on the front end, and the tools are much better and more complex than they used to be. The expectations just keep going up.
One of the things I told the Turing team when we were brainstorming about the curriculum was not to cargo-cult the structures from our back end program. Our goal was to make fresh decisions. We looked at this vision we have for our students, and asked, what do they need to know? How long does it take to teach those things? Shocker – we came up with a four-quarter, 27-week program.
Why would a Turing applicant choose to do the front end class as opposed to the full stack course?
That’s going to be one of the toughest questions for us to answer. I think it comes down to your enjoyment of the visual aesthetic. Even though the front end program is not about being a designer, you’re still living in a design-oriented world, and in the back end you’re living in a computation-oriented world. So is number crunching and data fun to you? Or do you prefer the science of users and interactions?
The thing that surprises people is that this is a technical class. We’re building software developers who work with front-end technology.
There aren’t many other schools that have immersive front-end classes, but graduates of those classes say their classes skew female, which is interesting for a bootcamp in general. Have you seen that?
We’re too early to say. I would expect to see that though, just based on my own perspective.
If the Front End course does pull in a different student demographic, it will be really neat because the schedule will align with the back end program, so there’s tremendous potential and plans for a lot of crossover. In the third quarter, two people in the front end program are matched up with four people in the back end program, and the six of them are working on the same project together for two weeks. That kind of collaboration is going to enhance everyone’s learning.
I imagine that crossover will also spill into their side projects. I can’t wait to see what students with different specialties cook up when they work together.
This is a curriculum expansion, but how about geographic expansion – are you thinking about other cities?
I’m not interested in geographic expansion. It would be frustratingly easy for us to go to a new city and start a program like we have here. But I’m all about this critical mass of students. A year from now we’ll have 200 students in the building every day. With the culture we’re building and the personalities we attract – it’s going to be awesome. Because of that we’ll stay all together.
Who’s teaching this class? Have you hired someone new to teach front end?
Steve Kenny is one of our co-directors of academics and he’s designing and lead-instructing this program. We have three other existing instructors who’ll join that staff and we’ll bring in another four people by the end of the year.
Can students repeat modules in this course like they can in the Full Stack program?
We were initially going to run just one section of the course front-to-back. But at our Directors Team meeting one week Jorge asked two questions: “What’s the single biggest difference between Turing and our old programs?” The answer is the ability for students to repeat modules rather than just “pushing through” while falling behind. Then he followed with “A year from now, do you want the Front End curriculum to be on Iteration 2 or Iteration 6?”
From that conversation it was clear that the best thing for the students is to immediately go into our layered approach, starting a group every seven weeks just like the Full Stack program. By the end of the calendar year we’ll be up to full speed with four simultaneous classes. It means a lot of work for us on the operations side to recruit a whole bunch of students, hire and train the right instructors, and build out the right hiring network. But we’ll get it done.
What sort of jobs and roles will graduates get after the Front End Engineering course?
Who are those employers that you’re talking to? What kinds of companies?
We showed IBM our curriculum and they said, “If you could deliver these graduates, we would want 50 a year.” Even if that means just five a year, that’s a really good indicator. As we presented it to other consultancies and product companies, we’d hear that same reaction over and over.
Have companies like IBM warmed up to the idea of hiring from a bootcamp or hiring from Turing, or have they always been on board?
It’s tough with companies like that because there are so many departments, and they all operate totally differently. We have some good friends who run companies in Pittsburgh and Seattle that were acquired by IBM and I used to do a lot of training there so we talked to them.
Overall, those super-sized companies are still pretty hesitant to hire anybody who doesn’t have a CS degree. It’s understandable because they get plenty of applicants for front-end and back-end jobs that have done CS degrees. So why take the risk on “bootcamp people”? But once they hire one or two people and those people do great work, they come back for more.
What sort of salaries do Front End Developers land in Colorado?
One of the things that’s really important to me about Turing is our promise to the students. You pay this tuition, you spend all this time, put in all this effort and not only are you going to gain interesting skills and a cool job that you love, but that it also makes economic sense. If you were earning $40,000 before, and you spend all this time here to get a job earning $50,000, the payoff is too long. Our average salary from the Full Stack program right now is $75,000. So take the conservative side of that, call it $70,000. If you started at $40K now you have a salary increase of $30K, which means that the payoff timeline is less than two years.
So you predict that graduates will be making $70,000 a year?
For any program that we offer at Turing, the salary needs to stay in that range. Students need to be able to pay off this investment in two years and not get stuck in the same positions as students who have college debt of around $200,000 and are paying it off over 10 years, without even really knowing if they’re getting any real salary benefit out of it.
Will Turing be partnering with a university to be an EQUIP test site?
We submitted a letter of interest and I’m really excited about the potential of the program. I have a lot of respect for higher education and think our industry has a lot to learn. But recently we were notified that the letter of intent from our partner school, Denver Community College, was not selected for the application process. It’s a huge bummer and we’re working to see if there’s another way for us to still get involved with EQUIP.
Is government involvement in this industry a good thing?
There’s so much good stuff happening at the Department of Education, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the Department of Labor. They’re trying to figure out how to help our industry do more of what we’re doing, which is super cool. I don’t think we’ve found the perfect way to do that yet, but EQUIP is a start. Over the past few years we have demonstrated that these programs can work. The question now is whether we’re able to open these opportunities to a truly broad range of the population or will they just be for the folks who already have a lot of opportunity. At Turing our mission is to unlock human potential by training a diverse, inclusive student body to succeed in high fulfillment technical careers. If the government can help us do it then I’m all about collaborating.