[As of October 13, 2017, The Iron Yard will no longer be operating.] Whether you're thinking about applying to an Iron Yard bootcamp or want to learn front-end programming on your own schedule, the Self-Paced Front-End Engineering course from Iron Yard + Thinkful may be your answer. In this Live Q&A, we'll chat with Eric Dodds of Iron Yard and Bhaumik Patel of Thinkful about the new course and how it can give YOU a headstart.
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By definition, a coding bootcamp is intensive and immersive- it takes some preparation. It takes work to create your application and prep for the interview and to get ready for the actual bootcamp and be at the top of your class. Today we are joined by Bhaumik and Eric from Thinkful and Iron Yard. Thinkful and Iron Yard have teamed up for this really interesting new option at Iron Yard called "Self-paced Front-End Engineering." This is a hybrid between online and in-person courses and depending on where you are in your coding journey it could be a really great option for you.
Since we have Eric here who’s been with Iron Yard since its inception, I thought he would actually be a really great person to answer some of the FAQs that I get all the time about preparing for a bootcamp like knowing if you’re ready and what bootcamp admissions teams are looking for and then we’re also going to talk specifically about that self-paced course.
One reminder for everyone, we have a really cool scholarship to Thinkful courses right now, including the self-paced course. It’s $100 off for the course, so email Bhaumik to redeem that scholarship.
Eric and Bhaumik do you mind giving us a quick intro and letting us know who you are and how you got to the bootcamp that you’re working with?
Bhaumik: Sure, I work at Thinkful. I was one of the first students at Thinkful. I was taking their front end course and I was hired as an intern and then I became full time the last couple of years and the last couple of months I’ve been working on these bootcamp partnerships to help students who are interested in applying to a full time bootcamp, but aren’t ready yet. I’ve been spending most of my time onboarding the students, matching them with their mentors, and making sure they have a good experience. I have a call with them to make sure they have the right expectations.
Eric: My background is actually in marketing. I spent a lot of years in the agency world, doing brand strategy and content strategy and general marketing strategy for all sorts of companies like Best Buy and Doubleday Publishing and a bunch of cool people to work with. That was my world, and at one point I started to do some soul searching, and realized that when work didn’t feel like work I was working on some kind of technological project; launching a website or helping a client build an app. I started to dive into the world of tech and tried to start a couple companies. As young, immature entrepreneurship generally goes, they didn’t go anywhere, but I got the bug and happened to cross paths with the CEO of the Iron Yard, Peter Barth. He was running a software accelerator program in the southeast at the time. Through a series of circumstances, I headed off, and I ended up jumping into the world of venture capital and investing in companies and getting mentors to come and mentor in our accelerator program. We just did seed stage software investment and mentorship for a couple of years, which is really great. I cut my teeth in the software world.
In the southeast, we’re not in a huge market like New York or San Francisco, and so when startups raise money and start to grow, they have a particularly difficult time hiring talent. We were trying to figure out how we solved that problem for our portfolio companies that were going through the program. We had what we thought was a wild idea of actually just training people to build software. At the time, we didn’t really know that a lot of other things like this existed. We do the immersive format and there were only a couple of people doing that at the time. We ran a class and it was really successful and we started getting calls from other cities across the southeast saying, “We heard you ran a class training developers. We’d love for you to put a class in our city.” It never really occurred to us to expand. We were trying to solve our own talent problem as investors. We’d hired a talented instructor and looked at launching in some other cities and it grew wings of its own and here we are today. We’ve been doing the three month immersive format for a while, and we’re excited to be expanding into other areas.
One of the cool things about the Iron Yard is that you’re an accelerator set around people who are potential employers. Also, seeing how you’ve scaled the Iron Yard effectively has been really neat.
Eric: It’s been great. It’s definitely been a challenge. The really exciting thing is that we’ve had a few students go through the code school side and actually submit products to accelerators and get accepted. It’s a neat thing to see that happen because we’re passionate about both sides.
How many campuses and students do you have now?
Eric: We have 14 campuses in the US. We just announced yesterday that we’re launching a campus in London. I would need to check our current enrollment numbers, but people in class right now is around 500 or 600 people. It’s a lot of people.
I want to jump into some of the questions we gathered before the Q&A and questions that I have. How have you seen past Iron Yard students show you things like maturity and grit in an application?
Eric: Applications are an interesting thing. I don’t think there is necessarily a right way to do them because people have varying levels of success with different types of applications. Our application is just turning the doorknob and starting to open the door. We really dive into the meat of who you are when you enter the interview process. We ask people why they’re interested in studying at the Iron Yard and spending a significant amount of time studying at a really intense pace. The thing that’s interesting is that not everyone is adept at communicating with the written word. That’s not because people aren’t smart it’s just because it may not be the best way they can communicate. Our written application is definitely very important, but we see that as the very beginning of a conversation. When people go through our interview process, that’s really where we dive in. We have a set of questions that we try to work through with every student. They have an initial interview with the campus director and the campus director is really trying to get a gut check on their motivation and interest in the craft. We don’t require any pre-existing programming experience, but we do want people to try programming. That’s part of the interview process.
By "trying programming," do you want to see that someone has code on GitHub? Do you want to see that they’ve gone through Codecademy?
They interview with the campus director then they interview with the instructor. We’re really looking for individual learning style, what interests them in the tech stack they’re interested in. We have a lot of students who may apply for one program and then they talk to an instructor and we might offer them a better fit. It’s trying to help educate them a little bit on what they’re interested in and does that map with our courses and what’s your goal? Is it a career? We try and have honest conversations internally.
A lot of times we’ll have students interview with a current student or alumni as well. That’s a chance for them to talk with someone really honestly about the programs, so it’s not just us being talking heads.
I love that you have them talk to an instructor. What is Iron Yard’s approach to teaching? Is the instruction hands on or hands off? What types of learners do really well in an Iron Yard class?
Eric: If you think about how to deliver information in a physical setting, lecture is the most efficient way to give the highest number of people the greatest amount of information. That’s why the lecture is basically the standard across any form of education at any age in any subject. The interesting advantage that we have with programming is that you can lecture and do live demonstration at the same time. From a pedagogical perspective, that’s a really unique standpoint that we have. We can have someone lecturing and building software at the same time and basically talk you through the theory behind what they’re doing. That’s a really powerful experience. We deliver lectures. We have lectures from nine to noon in the immersive format. There aren’t really any slides. It’s the instructor saying, “Today we are going to build X,” or “We’re going to pick up on building X,” or “We’re going to talk about version control.”
Then we have a significant amount of lab time and that is A. because students need a controlled environment for collaborating with other people and the instructor to do their homework, but that’s really where you can address those individual learning styles. Someone might be a really visual learner and with something like Git they may need the branches drawn out on a whiteboard and then they get it. Other people may need analogies for different things. For us, lab time is definitely a chance for them to interact with each other, but really it’s a chance for the instructor to really cater to those individual learning styles and barriers.
You mentioned briefly that you try and get a sense for specific goals that people have in the interview. Have you found that an applicant who has specific goals like a business they want to create or the job they want they graduate, does that person stay more on track or succeed more often?
Eric: The answer is actually surprising. More often than not, what people think that they want changes when they realize they have the ability to build software. That’s a pretty powerful experience. It’s easy to imagine what a job building software would be like, but when you actually have the raw skill to make something from nothing, it changes the way you think about what you want to do. I’m not saying that every person that comes to the Iron Yard wants to build a startup, in fact that’s not a majority by any stretch. They build their own apps and a lot of people eventually want to build something that they own themselves. People come in and some people just want a stable job or they want to work at a company with a certain culture or benefits. You name it. I think that in the healthiest way possible, people become more preferential. “I really want to work at a company that’s doing neat things with Ember because I really want to work in that MVC framework,” or “I want to scale a Rails app to 100,000 users, so I’m going to move to a company that has that ingredient.” I think people come in with a lot of really great aspirations, but I think that once they have the ability to build stuff and they understand how things work under the hood, they get more interested in particular areas and direct their career search according to this.
Bhaumik: We’ve seen the same thing at Thinkful. Students who come in wanting to entrepreneurs, but eventually they realize that to get to the level where it’s a professional app with thousands of users, they need to learn to become an engineer before they build their own company. If they actually intend on building it. We see the opposite perspective as well, like Eric said. People come in and they want to get a job and they’re excited to do that, and then they realize that they can just build their own startup and go from there. We’ve seen it switched over. To answer your original question, we’ve actually seen students who are on the career switching side be much more motivated towards staying and graduating because with the entrepreneurs, once they get to the level that their prototype is, and they’re happy with the product, they want to go be on that. They want to think about whether they should hire someone to build up the marketing side whereas on the engineering side they’re basically done.
Bhaumik, were you seeing students using Thinkful as a headstart to get into a bootcamp even before this course?
Bhaumik: That was a lot of the motivation for working together in the first place. We do the same thing Eric mentioned, when someone is interested in joining the class we have a call with them first to figure out whether Thinkful is the right fit both ways and second, if it is a fit, which course is the best for them. To answer that question is really tough because they say they want to be an entrepreneur, or they say they want to be a designer, or a web developer. Until they actually try programming they don’t know for sure. That exact case applies for bootcamps too. Before a student is fully sure that they want to spend 3 months of their life, they love going to Thinkful. With our beginner friendly courses, they’ll figure it out if it’s worth it or not. If it is, then they might join an advanced course or they might join a bootcamp. With these prep courses, we’re just making that transition a lot easier. It’s much easier and customized for that.
Give us the lowdown on this self-paced course. I know you’ve got some with different bootcamps, but what’s special about the Iron Yard course?
Bhaumik: For this course, we’re really excited in trying out the blended model. Iron Yard has a lot of success at their campuses with their lab-style lecturing and if a student really wants to attend Iron Yard, and that’s their main goal, they should at least have a chance to see the teaching style and the culture first hand. We wanted them to have that chance. In addition to that because most of the time is spent on their own in the self-paced course, we have them matched with a Thinkful mentor as well. Every student in the course gets matched with an online mentor who meets with them an hour each week and they have 3-4 years engineering experience. In addition to that, they meet twice a week or 3 hours a week at the Iron Yard, and that’s lead by an Iron Yard instructor. Beyond that, they also have access to the online office hours at Thinkful. Usually, around 10 of the topics of the office hours relate to what the students will be covering in the course.
So students get a Thinkful curriculum and Thinkful mentor with in-person guidance from Iron Yard?
Bhaumik: On the curriculum side, just a small note, for that we asked the admissions team, what does Iron Yard need to make a really successful student in the front end bootcamp specifically? The goal of this course as Eric said because there’s no programming requirement, is that by the time you graduate, you’ll be at the top of your class. You’ll hit the ground running and by the end of the bootcamp, you’ll be more than qualified to be a junior front end engineer.
Are people doing the course right now?
Bhaumik: Yes. We have a few students in both Durham and Tampa Bay.
Tell me about the students. What kind of backgrounds are you seeing?
Bhaumik: Eric, you can hop in if you want to. I’ve talked to the students and they’re all over the place. One is a high schooler who wants to get a job right now. He is really motivated. I remember I had a call with the assistant instructor at Iron Yard and he came into the session, having completed more than any other student. Another guy, he’s a photographer, and he’s trying to make the career change into programming. Another one is a mechanical engineer and he has absolutely no experience. There’s a few others, but right now it’s all over the place. This kind of format lends itself to being accessible to anyone because even if you don’t love the online experience, you have the in-person experience. If you are motivated, and can be self-paced, like that high schooler, that might be all you need.
Eric: I think that to piggyback on what Bhaumik was saying, the exciting thing about what we do, people have a variety of goals. Even if that changes during the program, the really great part about what we get to do is that we get to help people open up new opportunities for themselves. For us, at the Iron Yard, our bread and butter is the immersive course and so we thought long and hard about if we wanted to do online. Having the mentorship focus on the Thinkful side and their commitment to that component of it has made a big difference for us. We’ve seen with these students, high schoolers, you have to have a GED to do post-secondary education from a regulatory standpoint. If you haven’t graduated high school, you can’t take an Iron Yard course. It’s exciting for us to see a high schooler or someone who’s working a job as an engineer be able to actually study and study in a way that gives them access to people who do this for a living and rub shoulders with other people doing it in an in person format. I think that makes the experience a lot more powerful. Increasing access for people who may not be ready for the format of an immersive program is really exciting for us. Partnering with Thinkful and doing this has been neat to see people who wouldn’t normally come through our program actually able to interact with us.
You mentioned collaborating on the curriculum, can you give us a rundown of some of those technologies and why you chose them?
Eric: From our perspective, one concern for us is that we pay very close attention to our curriculum, so when you’re looking at doing online and partnering with someone, that was a significant concern for us. The Thinkful team has done an amazing job of actually structuring their curriculum components and making modifications based on our feedback as far as our front end curriculum goes in the immersive.
Eric: It is a custom curriculum, which is really appealing to us.
This course is called "self-paced," but what does that really mean? How long do students have access to a mentor or to the in-person mentor sessions? How long should it really take?
Bhaumik: The reason it’s called self-paced is that it is a 2 month course that you complete for joining Iron Yard. But some of the students do work at a much quicker pace and maybe they’re a week or two ahead of their peers and the others might take a bit longer. We’re letting students take whatever pace they want and the in-person sessions, they’re able to wrap that up and stay on the same page. Let’s say there’s a complete beginner student and then a more advanced student, the advanced student can work with the beginner on catching up with concepts and reviewing because the best way to learn is to teach students. The personalized aspect of that self-pace comes with your 1-on-1 mentor. That mentor is with you all 8 weeks and it’s the same one every week, so no matter what pace all the other students are going, you and your mentor can decide how fast you want to move through.
Eric, tell us a little bit about the in-person guidance that students are getting at the campus in Durham and Tampa Bay?
Are the Iron Yard classrooms in Durham and Tampa Bay standalone classrooms, or are they set within a coworking space or in an Iron Yard accelerator?
Eric: It varies in every city. In Durham, we’re in a complex called the American Underground, and there are a ton of tech companies there, and a venture fund there, and an accelerator program there. There’s a ton of stuff happening. It’s really the standard for us in terms of wanting to build a tech hub in a space with all different levels of companies from a person with an idea to a software company that’s working on going public. They have everything there. Our campus is really located in the epicenter of what’s happening in the tech scene in the Triangle. In Tampa Bay, we’re in downtown St. Petersburg and we’re right across the street from American Express’s development team. Raymond James has a development office there and then there’s a ton of startup activity all around the neighborhood. It’s not a part of a larger tech hub. It’s standalone. We just have a floor of a building there. We’re rubbing shoulders with all the companies around there. It varies from campus to campus and is unique to every location.
I just want to ask some nitty gritty questions and then we’ll try to wrap this up. How much does this self-paced course cost?
Bhaumik: The cost of the course is $2500. You can pay upfront or you can pay in two monthly installments. Iron Yard is awesome in that if you complete the course and join Iron Yard afterwards, $2500 of that can be applied to the in-person tuition and as you mentioned earlier, anyone watching this can get a $100 discount. Just send me an email.
You have to be in Durham or Tampa Bay to do this, right?
Bhaumik: Yeah, or within driving distance. If you have questions, you can ask us and figure out a time that works for you.
Could somebody potentially take this course as a way to just learn front end development in a different way? Do they necessarily have to go to a bootcamp or Iron Yard afterwards?
Bhaumik: For that, my example is again that high school student. He is just killing this course and we were kind of hesitant of letting him join in the beginning because we didn’t know if a high school maturity level would match someone who is 40 or 50 taking this course. Once I talked to him, I saw he was motivated. He wants to get a job at the end of this course. In my opinion, if he goes through all the content in the 2 months, and attends all of the in-person sessions and is connected to all of the local developers in the area, I think that he could at least get an internship or start getting in the line of a junior developer. If they want to spend more time and get in position to become a senior front end developer, and learn much more advanced content, which Eric can go over, then the front end bootcamp is the perfect next step.
Eric: It kind of depends on what your goal is. Sometimes that’s relative to your pre-existing skillset. If you’re already a hacker, online education can be a really productive tool for you. Developers who work full time jobs, they learn by reading documentation and going through online tutorials. That’s just part of being a developer in general as a career. I think what we have a keen focus on is helping people accomplish their goals relative to where they are when they start the journey. Can you take a several week online course and become a professional developer? Yes or no. It’s really hard to answer that question because each person’s situation is individual. What we know from the data is that for people who are dipping their toe in the water and who have a very cursory knowledge of programming, the immersive program is the best and fastest way for them to build the skillset they need to launch a career in the shortest format possible. As I said before, that format doesn’t work for everyone. People come in with different skillsets and different goals, and that’s why I think the partnership with Thinkful is so great. There’s a much lower barrier of entry, and if you want to go into the immersive program, and you decide that’s what you need, then you can apply your tuition to the immersive program. If it’s not, then great, you got the value out of the program and there’s no pressure to keep going if you got what you needed out of it relative to your individual goals. I think it’s a really great offering for people.
Bhaumik: Let’s say you went through this blended online/in-person model, maybe you’ve learned how to learn code online, maybe the next step is that you learned how to learn online, so you can go do more on your own, or maybe you still need that in-person guidance and mentorship and then you’ll continue with another Iron Yard bootcamp.
It sounds really well structured with lots of different outcomes for different students. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Bhaumik: Right now the courses are only in Durham and Tampa Bay, but if you’re interested in joining another Iron Yard campus, we’d be happy to talk more. We’re focusing our attention on making this work and helping people who want to get into Iron Yard. If this works, we’d be happy to join another Iron yard campus.
Eric: We’ve had a ton of interest in a lot of different parts of the country since we rolled this out. We’re getting questions from a bunch of other campuses. This is absolutely something we’d love to see at every single campus. We’re working on making that happen. Let us know if you want to see it in your city.
Thank you so much to Eric and Bhaumik for joining us! Of course, take advantage of the $100 off they’re offering for the Self-Paced Course by emailing Bhaumik. Visit Course Report, reach out to us on Twitter or Google+ and let us know what you want to see on our next live Q&A or webinar. See you at the next one!