Authman was a game and web developer for 22 years before he joined Coding Dojo as an instructor at the Dallas, TX campus (it opened in March 2016). Originally from San Francisco, Authman loves the southern hospitality in Dallas and has made it his new home. He tells us about his previous teaching experience, his faith in the bootcamp model, and why he spent a month learning as a student at Coding Dojo before he started working as a teacher.
Tell us about your career/educational background and programming experience.
I started programming games at a very young age in 1994. Back then coding bootcamps didn’t exist, and the internet wasn’t popular, so I taught myself how to program through books. I continued programming until I started studying physics at the University of California Riverside, then switched to computer science. During university, I started taking web development side jobs, which helped pay the rent. After graduating I was hired as a web developer for a great company called Altura. It was easy for me to move around, grow my skills, and interact with lots of different teams. I continued working as a developer until I was hired by Coding Dojo Dallas in early 2016 to open new cohort here in Dallas.
Since you studied Computer Science in undergrad, did you need to be convinced of the effectiveness of the bootcamp model?
I never once doubted the bootcamp model. During college, people who have never programmed before learn to do so efficiently within 16 weeks, whereas that took me years to pick up without a dedicated teacher or professor. Observing this demonstrated that with proper mentorship, people can accomplish incredible things. Here at the bootcamp, that means learning three full stacks--programming languages and tools--in 14 weeks.
When did the Coding Dojo Dallas campus open? What are your first impressions?
Dallas is brand new; it opened in March 2016. I’m the lead instructor at this location, along with one other instructor. We’ve got our first cohort of 11 students now. The majority of students are very enthusiastic, and a couple of them have blogs documenting their experience. The students are very self-motivated which is awesome, particularly for a bootcamp instructor. It’s part of our job to keep them motivated so when you have a group of students who have internal motivation, it really synergizes the experience. We can’t always guarantee you’re going to have that kind of group, but when it does happen it’s a blessing.
Why do you think Dallas is a good place to learn to code and to be a developer?
I personally love Dallas and I am thrilled that we have a Coding Dojo campus here. I was born and raised in San Francisco, then moved to Southern California for college, but I’ve actually lived in Dallas for a year and I really like the community in the Dallas metroplex, as well as the mid cities and suburbs. People are very genuine, and the Southern hospitality is very refreshing.
Why is Dallas a great city for a programmer?
I believe if you have a solid coder who is self-sufficient, responsible, and a good communicator, they can work anywhere in the world. If you have a lot of businesses hiring in the area, that’s even better. When I was looking to switch jobs last year, I saw tons of postings for different types of coding jobs advertised in the Dallas area.
Did you have teaching experience prior to teaching at the bootcamp?
I had tutored at junior college for math, C++ and Java. At San Francisco State University I co-taught a summer course with a professor of computer science which was funded by the National Science Foundation. The intent was to channel women and people of color into STEM fields. I worked with the professor to design and teach the course, and also made it fun to catch students’ attention. I also have experience working in teams and doing onboarding training with new developers.
What have you done to become a better instructor at Coding Dojo?
I actually enrolled in a Coding Dojo cohort as a student to observe the student experience. I went to the Seattle headquarters, took off my programmer hat and acted as a regular student for a month. That was a very interesting experience, and helped me to understand the Coding Dojo mantra and the culture of the company. It’s a standard procedure for all new teachers. It’s critical for instructors to experience the program so we can replicate the experience for students. Just because someone is an awesome programmer, it doesn’t necessitate they will be a good teacher. I did that for one month, but some instructors did it for three or six months. The goal is to achieve a cultural transfer.
Why does Coding Dojo bootcamp teach multiple stacks - LAMP Stack, Python, MEAN, Ruby on Rails, and iOS?
Considering the limited time students have, the only real way to make sure they retain the information is by repetition. Whenever you learn new things, they must be cumulative. The first stacks we teach have a lot of rudimentary information, then the more advanced stacks assume things which were already taught in elementary stacks have been retained. The intent is that by teaching students three full stacks and having them rebuild similar assignments in each stack, we’re trying to teach them that you can learn anything, you’ve got the experience. If a company wants you to learn a new stack, you know you can pick it up in a week or two. Our goal is to bolster self-sufficiency of students.
What’s the structure of the Coding Dojo curriculum?
In the first two weeks, we have students from all backgrounds, including some who don’t know how to code, and some who have dabbled. So we start from barebones. Before they come on site, they complete the Coding Dojo Algorithm App - which helps beginners start thinking like a computer. Then they come on site and start with the web fundamentals track, including HTML5, CSS, JS, and code repositories. The students here in Dallas have already done that. The first stack they study is LAMP (Linux, Apache MySQL and PHP). At any point in a fully functioning Coding Dojo campus, there will be three levels of students learning a different stack. Next month the current Dallas cohort will be learning MEAN, and a new cohort will start learning Python.
How many instructors are there per class? Do you teach alongside other instructors? Are there TAs?
We have two instructors here, myself and Chris Tran, and we have another one joining in May when we will have 3 full cohorts. We both have the ability to teach any of the stacks, which is what we require of any Coding Dojo instructor – they have to be able to teach Ruby on Rails, LAMP Stack, MEAN Stack, Python and iOS.
How many hours a week do your students put in? What’s the schedule like?
In terms of hours, students are putting in 10 to 12 hours per day at the Dojo. We recommend students commit 70 to 90 hours per week to retain information.
The Dallas Dojo is in the heart of downtown Dallas, so students like to get in really late or really early to avoid rush hour. They come in around 7:30 am or 8 am. They start with algorithms in the morning, then we have lectures, and students start doing coding. We may have another lecture in the afternoon, then students continue coding for the rest of the day.
What have you found is your personal teaching style? Are you hands on, do you like to lecture, do you let people get stuck and figure things on their own?
All of the above; it depends on the students. There are always going to be more students than instructors so the instructor has to have a limit. You can’t dedicate four hours to one student – that would cause other students to suffer. But the way we teach is to start by having students sweat it out. They have to experience bootcamp life – it has to be tough, students have to put in effort. But at the same time, time is the currency of life so if we see students are struggling, we encourage them to talk with other students and work as a group to figure things out. This encourages students to teach each other – which helps prove you’ve mastered the material. If multiple students don’t understand something, they will come to us in groups of two or more and we readdress the disconnect.
Let’s talk about the Belt tests – what are these like and how do they assess students’ skills?
It is a Dojo, so we have them complete Belt tests which are designed to assess proficiency in the entire stack they are currently learning. We have five Belts – one per stack, with an additional ‘soft’ Belt potentially awarded at the end of the introductory Web Fundamentals track. They have to build an entire web app in a specific time period. Then instructors go through and assess aspects of the code. If students misused technologies or languages, points are deducted. If they score high enough, they are awarded the Belt. If they weren’t able to accomplish the task, they are asked to repeat the Belt and given list of areas to polish up on.
How many times can students repeat the Belt Tests?
Typically for each stack we will have six or seven permutations of the Belts. We don’t have an upper limit, they could take a Belt 1000 times if they want to. No one’s going to stop them, but typically students will pass on the first, second or third time. We prep them, they do Belt prep and a mock Belt, so students aren’t going into Belts blindsided. They take the Belt before the end of a module, however if a student doesn’t pass they don’t have to take the entire module again. Typically between the most advanced and most struggling student in a cohort, there’s only about three days of instruction material which needs to be mastered. So if someone doesn’t pass a Belt, rather than making them retake the entire stack, we focus on catching them up in the areas they need help with.
Can students take more than 14 weeks to finish Coding Dojo bootcamp?
Yes, it’s absolutely allowed. Interspersed within the 14 weeks there are three weeks where students are allotted time for working on their own projects. The goal of that is for students to have three complete projects in their portfolios to be in a good position for employment. Students who are behind or need to repeat a Belt can utilize these project weeks to catch up and get current.
What about attrition? If somebody fails a certain number of Belt tests, are they kicked out?
I’ve never seen a student being asked to leave for struggling with a Belt or something. If a student is asked to leave, it’s most likely due to behavior-type issue.
Are you involved with Coding Dojo job placement?
We have a dedicated career services team, and we will have someone on site for the Dallas campus. These people are trained and well-versed in that field and have more connections than I do. They help students polish their resumes, practice salary negotiation, and even perform mock interviews.
The career team will come onsite in Dallas in the last few weeks of the bootcamp.
What resources or meetups do you recommend for aspiring bootcampers in Dallas?
Coding Dojo has the free Coding Dojo Algorithm App which gets people from 0 to step 1 to prepare them for entering the bootcamp. For people interested in programming there are so many websites out there. They don’t teach self-sufficiency as well as we might, but they will give you an idea of what programming is all about.
We regularly have open houses at all Coding Dojo locations where prospective students can come ask questions and get information about the programs. And we also have an instructor meetup where students who have applied can meet with staff. Coding Dojo encourages instructors to have outside programming interests, to do research, and present at open tech forums, which are open to the public and broadcasted online. The last three were on data mining, scalability and another on internet security.
Is there anything else that you want our readers to know about Coding Dojo bootcamp?
At Coding Dojo we have a strong belief that anyone can learn how to code, if they want to. They need two things before they come onsite: patience, and perseverance. We can’t teach those things. They have to persevere through the struggle to become an excellent developer by the end of the program. It’s a huge commitment for 14 weeks of your life. Your classmates and instructors will replace your family and friends. Those are barebones requirements, so anyone who has those aspects will be able to learn how to code.