Since 2013, MakerSquare has taught Ruby on Rails to aspiring full-stack developers.  They've introduced more and more JavaScript with each cohort, and recently announced that the next cohort in February 2015 will be taught 100% JavaScript. 

MakerSquare founder Harsh Patel tells us why he's excited for the curriculum change! 


We recently heard the news that MakerSquare is fully switching to JavaScript. Congrats on the change!

Thanks, it actually doesn’t feel like a crazy or gigantic change. Until now, the MakerSquare curriculum has been half Ruby and half JavaScript. It’s definitely a significant evolution, but nothing we can’t handle.


What do you mean that the curriculum was "half and half?"

Half of the course was Ruby-based and the other half was JavaScript-based. Depending on which class you were in, the first 3 weeks were all Ruby and all the pre-work and admissions challenge was all Ruby. We were ramping people up to Ruby on day one so that the first 3 weeks would be really solid in terms of Ruby knowledge. Then we would get into JavaScript after that then we would get into Rails, and JavaScript frameworks.


What are the frameworks that you can work with in JavaScript?

In the new curriculum, students will be working with Angular, React, and Node. But really, we’re pushing for students to have a very strong fundamental understanding of JavaScript so they can go work with any framework that comes out in the future. We’ll build the curriculum in a modular way so that we can add and remove sections in the future as frameworks or languages rise and fall in popularity amongst employers.


Do you spend some time on each of those frameworks?

Yes. There’s definitely lecture time and project time on those framework, but it’s not 12 weeks on Angular. Or 12 weeks on Ember. There’s a lot more to having a good fundamental understanding to JavaScript than simply learning one framework.


Did you make this switch to JavaScript because of student feedback or was it more of a stance from MakerSquare founders?

There were a lot of factors that went into the decision. Instructors and founders all started seeing that Node was being used more and more by larger enterprise companies and that’s usually when you know that a language/framework is here to stay. We also started seeing that the concept of a virtual DOM is here to stay.

Additionally, a non-trivial portion of our students in the most recent MakerSquare classes were focusing on building their final projects using the MEAN stack (Mongo, Express, Angular, Node). We were helping them with their projects and supporting them, but it was inefficient because we were also teaching them Ruby, which isn’t something they used for the projects, or something that they showcased to employers.

We saw that inefficiency so we’re deciding to start teaching JavaScript from day one - or even better, starting with the admissions challenge.


Why did MakerSquare and the majority of bootcamps start in Ruby on Rails?

First, it’s because that’s what we knew. Second, it’s an established language. I don’t think you can go wrong by being a Rails focused school or a Ruby-focused school or a Ruby on Rails developer in general.


Are you hiring new instructors for 2015 or did you already have experts in JavaScript in the MakerSquare teaching staff?

We have instructors that are really at JavaScript and really good at teaching. They’ll still be continuing to teach under the new curriculum. However, I’m also actively recruiting to get additional JavaScript developers who are very prominent in the JS community, and also happen to be exceptional teachers.


You mentioned in the announcement that this change would mean less “context switching” – what is context switching?

Yeah, that’s a huge factor in our decision making process. It’s been an ongoing debate internally ever since we started.

Essentially, “Context Switching” is when you switch back and forth between different states of mind. You can read more about it from this really good essay by Paul Graham called the “Makers Schedule”. For example, when you’re working on programming, and you get interrupted by a meeting, you completely lose your train of thought, and it takes you almost an hour to get back into the zone. The same can be said of when you’re learning two new programming languages at the same time. If you’re writing things in Ruby, and have to switch to JavaScript, you lose some headway. Once you’ve gotten really confident in one programing language, switching between languages gets much easier. But on the road to mastering your first language, switching languages constantly can be a detriment to progress.

One goal with switching to a full-JS curriculum is to reduce the need to context switch when you’re working on client side and server side code. In JavaScript you can write front-end code and back-end code, both in Javascript. Because it’s is a full-stack language, we can just teach JavaScript and still learn how to build applications from start to finish.


What Javascript resources do you suggest that future MakerSquare applicants use to get ready to apply?

Javascript for Cats. It’s great. Seriously.

The other resource is Khan Academy’s programming curriculum. John Resig, who created jQuery, joined Khan Academy a couple of years ago. He wrote a post about teaching JavaScript as people’s first programming language on Khan Academy. So most everything you see on Khan Academy is in Javascript. That’s the second thing that we recommend to people. Our third recommendation is the book Eloquent Javascript.


Will MakerSquare’s hiring partners and hiring companies change? Will you have to rebuild that whole community or have you already started?

Not significantly. People are already interviewing for and getting Javascript positions after MakerSquare. Most of our students, even if they’re Rails developers, are still working with Javascript.

I anticipate the number of hiring partners to drastically increase. Everyone is looking for JS developers, because whether you’re a Python, PHP, or Ruby shop, you’re still using JS on the front end. Now companies with any type of back end language will be interested in hiring MakerSquare graduates.


How has job placement been going?

Fantastic. The most recent class is getting hired at the fastest rate we’ve seen, in what is known to be the slowest time for job-seekers, the holidays. We’re also seeing more and more people getting hired for Javascript positions – so that’s already happening even before our switch to a JS curriculum.


How did the part-time courses go in Houston? Why has MakerSquare chosen not to focus on those in 2015?

This was a hard decision to make. It was a profitable class, students loved it, the instructors were good, and yet, we chose to no longer offer the front end part time course in both Austin and Houston. You might ask, why are we closing down revenue-generating, profit-generating, high-satisfaction class?

In 2015, we want to focus on providing value for people that want to be professional programmers. The part-time class was not created for people that want to be programmers. It was created for people that want to learn a little bit of programming to enhance their current skillset. Therefore, we chose not to offer it anymore. We may bring it back in the future.

We want to be the hub for programmers. We want to be centered around programming and people that want to be writing code professionally or are already writing code professionally. As a result, we’re hosting more programmer-centric events and workshop - the Meteor.JS meetup, a Mapping ATX meetup, and a Javascript-heavy evening class that we’ll announce soon.


Is anything else new at MakerSquare? Has MakerSquare been working on fundraising as we’ve seen with other bootcamps?

There’s always something new! Nope, no announcement just yet. Look out for something shortly though.


Want to learn more about MakerSquare? Check out their School Page on Course Report or the MakerSquare website here!

About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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