dave-eleven-fifty-instructor-spotlight

Having worked professionally with C++, Java, COBOL, PHP, and Microsoft platforms early in his career, Dave Strus became obsessed with the Ruby language in 2004. Now, when he's not running his web and mobile app consultancy, Fretless, he teaches at Eleven Fifty in Indianapolis. We talk to Dave about the ideal Eleven Fifty student, creating the curriculum for the Ruby on Rails and JavaScript courses, and which technologies students will learn in each class. 

 

Tell us about your education background and what you were doing before you started teaching with Eleven Fifty.

I am the cofounder of a company called Fretless, which is a web and mobile app consultancy based in Indianapolis. Prior to that, the Fretless team had all worked together, and we knew each other through the Indianapolis Ruby community.

 

How did you get connected with Eleven Fifty?

My business partner Miles organizes several local events for programmers, and someone from Eleven Fifty contacted him about sponsorship opportunities. They quickly got to talking about the need for a Ruby Instructor at Eleven Fifty. So we met the founder Scott Jones at a conference, and before we knew it, we’d worked something out.

 

Had you taught before? What made you want to move towards education?

My second job out of college was working at a proprietary school. I taught four computer-related classes and enjoyed it, but my career took me elsewhere.

Whenever I’ve had an opportunity since then, I’ve done some training and/or written or recorded instructional material. I’ve always enjoyed that at least as much as actually programming.

 

How did you get into programming in general as a career? Were you a CS major in your undergrad?

I was. I do have a computer science degree. Still, like a lot of developers, much of what I do day-to-day is actually self-taught. Like a lot of nerds, I originally thought I would make video games. I pretty quickly changed course.

 

Did you have to be convinced of the Eleven Fifty bootcamp model at all as it’s fairly new?

The bootcamp model didn’t make me hesitate at all. All of us at Fretless have attended bootcamp-style training in the past. I think it’s very effective. I’ve never done a month-long course; the ones that I have attended in the past have been 5 days long and not nearly as intensive.

 

Did those experiences help you develop the curriculum for the Eleven Fifty courses?

Yes, previous experience with bootcamps definitely informed our process for developing the curriculum. I think the most important thing is to be as prepared as possible. One always knows that one will end up improvising, especially when one finds out exactly who is in the class. The more you prepare, the better prepared you are to improvise.

 

How many cohorts have you taught?

We’ve done one Ruby on Rails course so far and we’re scheduling the next one already. We also have the Javascript applications course coming up.

 

Was it successful? What did you think after doing your first one?

It went really well. If anything, it exceeded my expectations; the students exceeded my expectations, and everything went incredibly smoothly. The folks at Eleven Fifty were a tremendous help, and you cannot beat the venue.

 

Were the students above the level that you expected?

On average I would say they had more experience than I thought they might. Thankfully, the way that we designed the curriculum, that didn’t really spoil our plans or anything. It allowed us to go deeper on certain things, and that was a lot of fun.

 

Do you feel like the curriculum is agile enough that you can adapt it to the students’ needs?

Yeah, the students’ experiences levels would impact how much time we spend on the basics of Ruby, the programming language itself. It was designed with beginners in mind, but with the more advanced crowd that we had, it was also easy to adapt to go deeper on certain aspects of the language and the framework.

 

Did you have a hand in the admissions process at all?

We were involved, but that’s primarily Eleven Fifty’s territory. We recruited a couple of people ourselves, and Eleven Fifty kept us informed of who our potential students were.

 

Who do you feel was your ideal applicant? What level of experience would you expect someone to have in order to start at Eleven Fifty?

Some very basic programming experience is obviously required. As a prerequisite for this course, we suggested TryRuby.org, which is a 15-minute introduction to the language, if you can read through that and it makes sense, you ought to be able to handle it. If you’re already a junior rails developer with a year or two of experience, you will almost certainly get something out of it as well.

 

Did you have any students who were already working as developers?

Yes, the majority already had jobs as developers and were sent by their employers, although they did volunteer. Eleven Fifty’s slogan is that they take you from 20 to 120 as opposed to zero to 100, so they’re a good fit. We also had some students looking to change careers.

 

Are you a fulltime instructor? How much time do you devote to Eleven Fifty as opposed to Fretless?

My day job is Fretless. When there’s a course scheduled, I don’t take any client work for a little while ahead of time so I have plenty of time to write the curriculum - because I do take my time on developing the curriculum.

 

Is Fretless considering hiring any of the Eleven Fifty grads?

We are not actively hiring right this minute but that has certainly crossed my mind.

 

Tell us how the 7-day course is structured?

In the 7-day courses, the weekend can be taken separately from the week. You can take either the weekend or the week individually, or you can take the whole thing. In this case, everybody took the whole thing except for one person who did not do the weekend course. She had sufficient experience, so that was fine.

All of the lecturing is extremely hands-on; we’re never just talking. They’re always doing a project and we stop pretty frequently for labs. We may talk them through the beginning of a task and then throw it to them to complete, giving one-on-one help as needed.

We are working on at least one app in common with the other Eleven Fifty courses. We are not yet to the point where the projects are all the same across courses. One of them was the Eleven-note app—essentially an Evernote clone. So whereas the iOS course builds a mobile front end with the assumption that the back end was already written in another language, we wrote the back end in the Rails course. In the Javascript course, we will write a Javascript-based front end that again consumes an existing API.

 

Will you do three projects in the Javascript course?

Yes.

 

Which technologies will this upcoming course cover?

First and crucially, we will talk about the Javascript language itself. It can be tempting to jump right into frameworks without really discussing the language, which is the same as Ruby and Rails; it can be tempting to jump right into Rails without discussing Ruby.

So the Javascript language itself, the prototype chain, binding, events, some discussion of jQuery and manipulating the DOM—the Document Object Model. Then we’ll look at several frameworks like AngularJS that are designed for building single-page apps. We’ll introduce KnockoutJS and EmberJS, but that portion of the course will be primarily focused on Angular.

 

Everyone I talk to wants to dig deeper into JavaScript, so that sounds like a good opportunity.

To me that seems like the ideal audience: those who want to dig deeper. I think people who do a lot of back end coding but have never really messed with Javascript or built single-page apps, I think that’s a perfect transition.

 

Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you wanted to include about the Ruby on Rails course or Eleven Fifty in general?

One thing I would say about the preparation is that it’s important to account for the fact that people will be there for 10 to 12 hours a day, as most attention spans do not last that long. It is definitely a skill to design a curriculum that can keep people engaged for that long. That’s also on the front of my mind in developing that sort of thing.

 

Do you give frequent breaks? How do you keep them from getting burned out?

Keeping them very active in their participation is important, I think. We never go long without asking them questions and/or throwing them a lab.

In our class we toss around a big orange fluffy ball thing – I think it was called a “fuzzbee” that we used to indicate who had the floor to speak, which sounds horribly corny and super annoying but actually worked really well.

 

Want to learn more about Eleven Fifty? Check out their School Page on Course Report or their website here!

About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students considering a coding bootcamp. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube

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