The Codesmith team understands that the best way for people to learn is alongside a community. So when they launched Codesmith CSX, a free online learning platform to prepare people for coding bootcamps, user interaction was front and center. Codesmith Senior Product Manager Haley Godtfredsen tells us all about the CSX curriculum, how to navigate the online platform, how users can take part in weekly pair programming sessions, and she gives us a demo of a CSX coding challenge!
What's your background and your role at Codesmith?
I'm a Senior Product Manager at Codesmith and I’m taking the lead on our new product – the CSX online learning platform. I've also been a Codesmith coach for about two years.
Can you tell us exactly what CSX is and why you are working on it?
Is CSX just for students thinking about applying to Codesmith or can anyone do it?
How long does it take to graduate from the CSX program?
It's different depending on what background you're coming in with, and how much time per week you're going to be putting toward learning. It's a completely free online program, and people can take it at their own pace. For someone who is less experienced, it could take them up to 60 hours. For someone who is more experienced, it would take less time than that.
Can you give me an overview of the CSX curriculum?
For those students taking the free version of CSX, do they work with instructors or is it mainly solo learning?
We really wanted to bring a community to the online space with CSX. Our weekly in-person workshops are focused on community. We make sure everyone feels comfortable and able to really put their best foot forward with learning because they're not worried about being competitive or asking a silly question.
All of our CSX videos are taught by our CEO Will Sentance, who is one of the top Front End Masters instructors. If you have questions while you're going through the free program, we have weekly half-hour office hours to ask a mentor or the CSX staff questions about the program itself or about a specific challenge.
If you have any questions, you can just shoot that into the general Slack channel and one of the mentors usually answers within a couple of hours. Other students also answer questions and help each other out on Slack, which is really exciting to see.
In addition to prepping for the Codesmith application process, what is the overall goal of CSX? What will students be able to build or do when they finish?
CSX is structured around a core Codesmith value: teaching students how to teach themselves. In this world of technology, things are always changing. The next thing is always right around the corner, and it doesn't help to get yourself in a very small hole by just being an expert in one technology. You need to know how to learn new technologies and new concepts. And that's what we want to bring to CSX as well.
There’s a lot more to being a software engineer than just understanding the technology. We also focus on technical communication and problem-solving, student pair program on a weekly basis to interact with other programmers and work on those skills. One way to understand a concept is by explaining that concept to someone else. We expect students to come out of CSX with a refined ability to tackle any type of problem, whether they've seen that problem before on CSX or not.
It’s cool that CSX students actually build a real project.
Yeah. We also award scholarship opportunities based on submissions of that Chrome Extension project. Recently, students had two weeks to build a Chrome Extension and our team awarded a 25% scholarship to Codesmith to the winner.
Okay, Haley – share your screen and show us what CSX looks like!
The CSX layout:
- Every unit is represented as a card on the main page.
- You’ll get an overview of which units are available, then pick and choose where to dive in.
- It's not necessarily a chronological course. If you have an understanding of one concept and you want to dive into another one, that's totally fine.
- You can watch our newly-released, professionally-shot video content and view the slides.
- Students are able to test their work from console logs. In the future, Codesmith will implement unit testing, so that students know immediately if their entries are correct.
Where should users start?
- The Overview of CSX is a great place to start out.
- The Codesmith technical interview tests certain core fundamentals – you can learn about those in sections 1 through 4 (up to the Recursion unit).
- If you’re prepping for other coding bootcamps, focus on Units 1 through 3.
- Depending on what you're using CSX for, you can pick and choose which units to attack or which concepts you really want to understand better. Once you're familiar with a concept, you can move on.
- Codesmith has plans for more content and will be releasing more features.
Watch the video to see Haley walk through the CSX unit about Variables.
It's awesome for people to be able to connect and work through problems with people around the world. Online learning can often be very solitary and it's hard to keep motivated when it's just you in your room alone. We do a lot of pair programming in our full program and in our in-person events, so we wanted to bring that to the online space.
How can students pair program on CSX?
- First you need to sign up and verify your email address. Then you can RSVP to a weekly pair programming workshop.
- You’ll rate your comfortability with the concept that will be covered in the workshop
- You’ll get a link to the challenge for that week's pair programming session. The email includes some instructions and best practices for pair programming. You’ll both go into the session knowing who the “driver” is and who the “navigator” is.
- During the pair programming session, you can use video + audio to talk to your partner.
What are “navigators” and “drivers” in pair programming?
- The navigator does the problem solving, working through how to get to the solution, and using their technical communication to relay that information to the Driver. In a navigator position, technical communication is very important. You need to know where you want to go with the problem so you can explain the steps to get there.
- It’s up to the pair to decide who wants to be the driver and who is the navigator.
- We encourage students to switch roles every 20 minutes, or every challenge so they can both get experience using the different skills that come from each position.
How is CSX different from other free online resources like Codecademy?
I'm a huge fan of Codecademy, but what we wanted to bring to our CSX is really hard learning. Hard learning isn't done best by yourself. It's easy to stop, hit a block, and not want to continue. We wanted to supplement that with live workshops that complement each unit that we have filmed live, as well as videos on CSX, weekly pair programming, and weekly office hours to give people that actual push.
If you have questions and you're struggling, you have other people to work with and you have mentors to ask questions. We think that you learn from hitting a block and working through it, as opposed to being walked through a programming tutorial like Codecademy.
How often do students actually get accepted into Codesmith (or other coding bootcamps) after going through CSX.
Since CSX is relatively new, we don't have any hard data on this. We have a lot of students in our most recent cohort who have been using it. And talking to them, it sounds like it was really helpful. I do think that it's helping our students start off on the right foot.
How else can students prepare for Codesmith?
We're releasing two new programs in March that are more structured, paid versions of CSX. The Live Online program is two weeks long, and is a version of the free program condensed into a two-week program, with three weeknights and one weekend day per week, with live instructors and office hours, and a focus on problem solving and technical communication.
Then we have a self-directed four-week program, which you can take as long as you want to finish. There's no focus on how far you get through it, but there are weekly personalized office hours, assessments, and pair programming with a mentor who can help you through if you're struggling. That course ends with a mock interview for Codesmith, to prepare you for the real thing.
There will be scholarships available for these programs. And if you are accepted into Codesmith, that tuition comes out of the full bootcamp tuition.
What's your advice for students who are considering this CSX program?
Set yourself up with goals and the achievable tasks to get to those goals. Make a plan and commit a certain number of hours per week, making sure that your schedule allows for that. Pair programming is important, and using to those office hours is super important too.
It's easy to stop when you’re learning online, so remember that there is a real community to take part in. Ask questions on Slack, meet other students on Slack, come to in-person events, or attend a live stream. Set yourself up with the expectation that it's not going to be easy. The CSX program is a really great path with a lot of support.
My best advice: be ready to hit blocks and then be ready to solve them.