We Can Code IT’s goal is to increase inclusion and diversity in tech, so the team is always trying to make coding education more accessible. The new, FlexCode™ program incorporates remote and onsite learning so that students can fit their learning around their commitments (like childcare or full-time jobs). We Can Code IT’s Director of Education, Kyle McKee, tells us how FlexCode™ combines the best aspects of in-person and online learning, what the hybrid coding bootcamp schedule looks like, and why a community is so important when learning to code.
What inspired you to work at We Can Code IT and what does your role involve as Director of Education?
Like many of our students, I’m a career changer. I went to school for mechanical design, then transitioned into programming. I learned on my own (which was hard), but I got through it and loved it. I spent a lot of time reading, studying and learning the best practices for building software. That led me into Agile coaching, which I did for about six years, and I discovered that I love teaching.
I first heard about We Can Code IT through an opportunity to do some part-time teaching. As soon as I spent some time here, met the people, and learned more about the mission, I realized that I had to be here. I hung up my hat as a consultant and came on full-time as the Director of Education. In this role, I make sure that our students get the highest quality education that we can provide and that our instructors have all the tools and support they need to make that happen. As an Agile coach, I could impact five people; at We Can Code IT, I can impact 500 people in the same amount of time, which is really cool.
We Can Code IT has been teaching in-person coding bootcamps since 2015. Why did your team decide to launch this hybrid FlexCode™ program?
In-person instruction is great, but it brings difficulties for some students. First, the student has to be able to physically get to the classroom every day. That means travel costs, childcare costs, and parking costs, which all add up pretty quickly.
On top of that, an in-person class is a fixed time period, so students can't hold down a day job at the same time. You're also tied to a location. So our reach was a little bit limited and we excluded a lot of the people who we wanted to pull into the fold.
In the hybrid FlexCode™ program, we still teach everything that’s important to becoming a software developer, but we can lessen those prohibitive burdens. The first class starts May 4th at our Cleveland and Columbus campuses, and we are looking at expanding to new locations later in the year.
How is a hybrid coding bootcamp different from an online bootcamp? Why go with hybrid?
Remote or online-only education has problems associated with it that a hybrid model addresses. These problems include technical understandings of how to get up and running, not understanding the big picture leading to prioritization issues, not understanding best practices, and perhaps most importantly, a support and accountability system that keeps you on-track.
At the end of the day, when you’re learning something new, you need somebody who can help and talk you through things. A lot of technical hurdles can come up in fully remote, online learning. When you get stuck, that might be an issue specific to your machine. In an online-only bootcamp, you don't have anybody to sit down and help you. Having regular, in-person, touch points throughout the program goes a long way. In-person coaching is a critical piece of We Can Code IT’s FlexCode™.
In online-only education, you also don't get the same sense of community that you would when you're actually part of a physical class. In the rush to put everything online and digitize education over the last 10 years, we’ve lost sight of how important community really is. Getting together with other students going through the same thing is really crucial – it builds camaraderie, helps hold you accountable, shows you different people's perspectives and questions, leads to faster, more efficient learning, and it’s motivating. If you know you're going into class this weekend to work on a project with your team, that drives you to master the curriculum so that you can contribute to your team.
I think online-only programs can miss some critical pieces of the puzzle. The goal with our hybrid bootcamp is to take the best of both worlds: the best pieces of in-person education, plus the flexibility of online education.
You mentioned that the in-person bootcamp excluded some of your audience. Who are you trying to include in FlexCode™ ?
Our mission is equity through technology. We aim to increase inclusion and diversity within software development by 10% over the next 10 years. Specifically, our targets are to minimize the gender gap, which is huge in software development right now, but also the gaps in ethnicity, age, and income levels. We're trying to help the groups that haven't been invited to the table – to pull them into the fold and give them a chance to be part of software development.
The physical location and limitations around childcare and household management exclude a lot of people and we want to be open and inclusive. An hour drive to and from class per day is prohibitive to a lot of folks, but doing that a few times a month is a possibility.
Can you tell me about the structure and the schedule of FlexCode™ program? Is it synchronous or self-paced?
The class is 16 weeks total, and there are in-class sessions for two weekends per month. That's 136 hours where students are actually hands-on, sitting at a keyboard with other students and instructors, pair programming, and working on things together. The program also includes 20 to 25 hours per week of online instruction. Then we supplement that with weekly one-on-one remote pair programming sessions with a seasoned developer and one-on-one sessions with Student Success Coaches.
FlexCode™ is also “hybrid” in its structure. Those two weekends per month are points where we have deadlines and students need to be on the same page so that they can work together. But in the time between those checkpoints, students are working remotely and have some flexibility. There are deadlines and we still push students and hold them accountable to learn the material, but they can follow their own schedule.
Students also have one-on-one weekly meetings with our student success coaches, who work through non-technical things with students to increase their hireability. That means everything from headshots and best practices for LinkedIn, resume work, and networking with employers.
How do you expect students to structure their weeks while they are learning?
Our learning platform allows us to give students due dates. There's structure and guidance around when students should be hitting different points along the way. They can use those checkpoints to make sure they’re on track and we use those checkpoints to see how students are progressing.
Tell us more about the learning platform for FlexCode™ – how can students expect to learn the curriculum?
Most of the foundational concepts and new topics are presented via our online learning platform. There are a bunch of different modules, which each have several steps, and video lessons where an instructor presents a new topic.
One of the benefits of online learning is that students can move through the content at their own pace. When I’m teaching an in-person class, I’m always gauging my students’ pace and walking the line between going too fast and too slow. By introducing new content via the online platform, it allows students to self-pace and also go back and review something if it's not sticking right away.
Once you learn those foundational pieces, then you’re able to apply that knowledge and work through different areas where you might need extra help during the in-person sessions. You can sit down and pair with either another classmate, or one of our instructors.
Could someone balance the FlexCode™ class with a full-time job?
If you have a job during the day and you want to spend your evenings going through We Can Code IT, then you have the flexibility to do that. If you work nights and you want to do study during the day, you can do that. When I was taking night classes in college, I'd get the kids in bed and then work on my homework. With FlexCode™, people can fit their study into their own life rather than the other way around.
Is the FlexCode™ curriculum the same as or different from We Can Code IT’s 14-week in-person course?
FlexCode™ utilizes the same tried and true curriculum as our in-person Java program. We focus on full stack Java development including front end, CSS, and some of the flashy newer technologies. We also teach topics like test-driven development and pair programming, which are key differentiators for us, because those skills are not taught everywhere. Our students graduate building software with test-driven development, which I think is fantastic.
In addition to the weekend sessions, how often will the FlexCode™ students be able to interact with instructors and other students?
We don't leave students hanging for long. If somebody's struggling with something, we try to help as quickly as we can.
Not only will students meet online, individually with instructors on a weekly basis, they will also meet with a student success coach. On top of that, we have a very active Slack channel open to all We Can Code IT students and alumni. Someone is generally watching that Slack channel 24/7. There are dedicated Slack channels for each in-person and FlexCode™ bootcamp, where people ask questions, help each other, and share links.
Finally, there are options to remotely pair program with instructors (or other students if you wish). If you're really stuck on something, we want to have somebody available to jump in and virtually work through your roadblock. Being part of a community that is learning a technology together has a much better learning outcome than people trying to do it individually.
How many instructors are there for FlexCode™? Do you have dedicated instructors or are they the same instructors who teach the in-person class?
We have dedicated FlexCode™ instructors, however the instructors at We Can Code IT work as a team. Because of this, you may find that your Slack question is answered by a different instructor, and that’s an amazing benefit to our students. You get access to not one, but many different great programming minds.
How do you assess whether students are keeping up with the material in the FlexCode™ program? And how do you support students who might be falling behind?
We have open tutoring hours, and one-on-one weekly remote pair programming. There’s also ad hoc support from Slack.
When I was trying to learn to code on my own, one thing that I found frustrating was getting stuck on something that’s easy to fix but hard to see. I think FlexCode™ solves that, because somebody else has already been stuck on that problem, will see it right away, and will get you moving past that blocker and keep you driving forward.
Is the admissions process for FlexCode™ the same as the process to get into the in-person program?
Yes. We've worked hard over the past year to tighten that up. There’s a lot of demand and limited spaces at We Can Code IT right now. Our admissions process includes an interview and a formalized assessment for aptitude. We do this to ensure this is a good fit for students. Not everyone is ready for such a fast pace. Our goal is to protect our students and make sure that if they join us, they are ready for accelerated training.
What is the goal for students who complete FlexCode™? What kind of jobs will they be prepared for?
FlexCode™ covers full-stack Java development. We want students to be able to build web applications from the ground up – to take an entire project from idea to reality. Many of our students take on full-stack web and software developer positions after completing the bootcamp. Students have the skills to be full-stack developers, but they can also get back-end focused jobs, like developing systems at a bank or insurance company. Some graduates even find that they enjoy the front-end and gain positions working in user interface and experience roles.
How will career services work for the FlexCode™ students? Are you helping students get jobs?
Career Services offerings for FlexCode will mirror the Career Services offerings in the in-person program. Students will have the ability to meet weekly with their Student Success Coach to help students meet their individual career goals, while following the Career Services curriculum online. Our career services team is great because they know people in the area in decision-making positions at companies, and they also have a lot of experience with what works on a resume, what doesn't, networking events, different communities you can become part of, and the best things to do to increase your odds of finding the right job.
What is your advice to students embarking on a hybrid program? Do you have any tips for getting the most out of it, especially if they are trying to change their careers?
One of the biggest things I have learned over the years of being a developer is that it can be frustrating at times, but also filled with joy. There are going to be really tough spots where you feel like you can't figure something out, and that feeling when you finally figure it out is the best. That's what continues to bring me back to my keyboard. Being aware of yourself and your emotions, and learning to not let that overwhelm you, but embrace it, is one of the best things I've picked up over the years. It's tough along the way, but you can totally do it.
And everybody, especially in a community-based program like We Can Code IT, wants you to succeed. Remember to ask for help when you don't understand and just keep pushing yourself!