Jake, tell us about your education and career background.
Jake: I went to a private university in Salt Lake City called Neumont University where I got my Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. My class started with 20 students and graduated with six, so it’s a very intense course. It’s 18 to 24 credit hours for two and a half years. We learned Java and C#, and .NET.
My first job was at a company called Master Control. I soon realized they were using outdated technologies like Adobe ColdFusion. If I had been there longer, then applied anywhere else, recruiters would’ve laughed at me. I left after six months.
My second job was as a QA automation engineer at Instructure, where I had to learn to code in Ruby on Rails. I worked there for four years, and eventually became a professional services full stack software engineer working primarily in the Ruby on Rails framework. That’s where I met Dave.
Dave, what’s your background?
Dave: I got my associates from Salt Lake Community College, then I did a CS program at the University of Utah. While I was working at Instructure, Jake and I started a software business on the side building web applications, and we were hired by a company called VaultRMS in San Diego. I’m the CTO of VaultRMS Exposure Tracker, our application. It’s enterprise-level software that tracks firefighters’ work history, their toxic exposure etc. So we both work on Exposure Tracker as well as teach at DevPoint Labs.
You both got traditional CS degrees and you both learned through apprenticeships and self-teaching. How did you become aware of the bootcamp model or of DevPoint?
Jake: I was working at Exposure Tracker, at Instructure, and at our freelance web development firm that Dave and I cofounded. Nhi Doan (DevPoint Labs co-founder) hit me up on LinkedIn and even though I was busy with three jobs, I had lunch with them, and they made me a great offer. It seemed like a good time to switch careers- I had been in a tech job for almost four years and they say you should switch jobs at least every five years in tech to keep yourself fresh. So I considered the opportunity for a while, then decided to join DevPoint Labs.
Opening a coding bootcamp in an accelerator space seems like a great way to bring people from different parts of the tech community together.
Jake: Exactly. We’ve actually hired eight people from bootcamps into intern positions at Exposure Tracker and all of them have gone on to bigger and better things. Within two or three months, they have incredible job offers and we can’t retain them because we’re a tiny startup so it works out great. And it’s not just DevPoint Labs, we’ve also hired from other bootcamps in San Diego.
Did you have to be convinced of the effectiveness of the coding bootcamp model?
Jake, what was the process like building a curriculum at DevPoint Labs in a bootcamp setting?
Do you co-teach these courses? How do you collaborate as instructors?
Dave: Before I came along, Jake was the only teacher. I haven’t taught a cohort by myself, it’s all been co-teaching. Students from previous cohorts say they really like the approach of having two different instructors and the different methodologies we bring to the table. We bring different mindsets, different experiences within the web, and within software engineering itself. I always tell students there’s a million ways to get to the same solution – that there’s no single specific path to take in software – which can be hard to grasp with just one instructor. With two instructors, students can see two different methods which get the same solution.
Do you have TAs in the class also?
Jake: Yes. They are DevPoint Labs graduates. They have the experience, they know what the students are going through, and they know the instructor. It makes a much better working environment for everybody. Then they rotate out as they find jobs as full-time developers.
What do you think about being educators? Have you found a teaching style that you like?
Jake: I love it, I love teaching. It actually makes me a better developer. It makes my daily job at Exposure Tracker much easier and keeps me honest about my code, too.
Dave: If you’re going to teach something you need to be practicing it. If you’re telling students that these are best practices then you better be doing these best practices in your applications because you’re probably going to hire a lot of interns that are going to work on it. It just keeps you honest and sharp about your skills.
Do you think it’s important to keep your own projects?
Dave: Oh, definitely.
Jake: We talk about that all the time at DevPoint Labs because the biggest pain point right now with bootcamps is instructor turnover. As a bootcamp, you have to find the right balance between instruction and development. You want senior developers as instructors but you will burn out as a senior developer just teaching the basic concepts over and over again.
A bootcamp needs to have a freelance division where the senior developers can express their skill sets, or time allowed for senior developers to do side projects. Otherwise the developer will want to move on to other projects or enterprise companies. So at DevPoint Labs teachers get one week off between each cohort.
Jake: We give the best instruction we can but there are other outside factors with students that determine where they sit on the course. Our main goal is to have them hired as junior developers.
But Dave and I both started in QA automation engineering and I always tell the students not to limit themselves to junior development positions. Get your foot in the door at a top company, then work your way up to that junior developer position.
How do you assess students’ progress through the course?
Jake: We give quizzes all the time and take attendance. It’s not like we have a graded course or tests you have to pass to stay in the course, but we do like to gauge where our students are and if they’re attending classes or not. So we have tools within the system to gauge how many classes they missed or how many quizzes they’ve taken, and we provide feedback for them. We go through students’ Github accounts and if we see issues creeping up, we’re able to catch them pretty fast with those tools.
Dave: We also meet on a weekly basis to talk about how we can better identify students who need extra help earlier on in the course. We’re really lenient about giving students second chances. If they come in and they’ve had life problems or anything, we’re not going to say, “Thanks for the money, see you later, sorry it didn’t work out.” We’ve had multiple instances of students coming back the next cohort and finishing out.
Do you all get to be involved with the admissions process?
Dave: Ty and Nhi often bring me and Jake in to meet with candidates if we’re not sure we can provide benefit to them. For instance, one of our students coming in next cohort has the number one rated YouTube channel on Ruby, so they brought us in to see if he would gain anything from this course. We don’t want to just take people’s money and run. We want students to come out singing our praises.
Jake: We also do the women’s scholarship for the full stack Rails course, and that’s only one scholarship per cohort. They like to get the whole administrative team in on that process.
Do you have Utah meetups or resources that you recommend in your area for aspiring bootcampers?
What advice do you have as employers for other employers thinking about hiring from a bootcamp?
Jake: For us, it’s easy because we’re able to get to know the students. A lot of our students go to these meetups. So really the most important thing is getting to know who your potential people are so that you can pick the cream of the crop. A good way to do that is to send a guest lecturer, bootcamps love that. A guest lecturer who can stay afterwards and talk to the students and get to know them.
Dave: My advice too for them would be to have a more open mind. I’ve seen a lot of our graduates get rejected right off the bat from the HR people. They automatically see “bootcamp” and say, “Sorry, you don’t have enough experience for our company.” They don’t even get into talking about their skills. I think recruiters and HR professionals need to have an open mind and look at the technology stack we’re teaching and see if it’s a good fit. For some enterprise companies, I feel like there’s still a stigma surrounding bootcamps. That needs to go away for these students to get a fair shot.