LearningFuze is a full-immersion 12-week web development training program in Los Angeles, and Fabian Toth is the Director of Technology & Learning.We talk to Fabian about how he got involved with LearningFuze, the market for developers in Southern California, and how LearningFuze is educating students in PHP and LAMP stack.
What were you doing before you started LearningFuze?
Before LearningFuze I was a project manager at an internet company. I was working with a team of designers, developers and engagement managers. We were working on mid to large size projects for clients; anything from e-commerce to social media marketing to designing an entire back end system, things like that.
Before then I was running an agency called Search Demand for about 5 years and I was doing pretty much the same thing on a smaller scale for development strategies and design for companies that did not really have an online presence, and developing a couple of web apps as well.
I came from being an athlete my whole life. I was a swimmer and I was a Division One athlete at the University of Minnesota. I moved to California and started working at a hedge fund before finding out that technology really was my thing. So training and education has always been very close to me.
How did you get involved with LearningFuze?
I was pursuing education on many different levels and I was going to San Francisco for their EdTech startups and I had my ideas for how education should be taught and changed. Bill Cunningham comes from a background of entrepreneurship and he asked me about my ideas for education. I talked to him about a skill-driven model that I’d been developing for a very long time. It started a few years ago when Dev Boot Camp was the first one out. I thought it was a perfect way to implement what I had been developing. One thing led to another and a few months later, we were setting things in motion, building the curriculum and creating the platform for LearningFuze, which was the foray into what we really wanted to do. And a few months later here we are with our first cohort.
How did you design the curriculum?
We determined what a junior to intermediate level developer would need to have experience with and need to know to be able to be proficient. Then we worked backwards from there. We looked at the types of projects developers typically work on and are exposed to, their team environments, and their work flow. We used those types of experiences and the languages that are very relevant to our market, and we built it from there.
Getting the supplemental information for it required a ton of research and expanding on it but luckily we have very experienced people here so that made it a little bit easier to put together.
What is the technology stack the students are going to be learning?
Why did you choose that language? A lot of these boot camps are very heavy on Ruby on Rails. Why did you decide on LAMP stack and PHP?
The market down here in Southern California is very different than in the well-developed technology industries, whereas the demand for Ruby developers in Northern California is extremely popular. Here in West California the demand is probably 1 in 9, whereas understanding of PHP and MySQL is more like 1 in 4.
So we’re definitely targeting for that market because we’re in Southern California.
How long is the course?
The course is composed of a 3-week prep course online. That’s online through our platform which we’ve worked very hard to develop based on our skill-driven model. Then students come in fulltime for about 9 weeks of in-class training.
How did you decide on that 12-week timeframe?
One of the things we were looking at even from the very beginning was how to pace the class. We need to have a pace to keep things moving but you also have to make sure you’re taking care of some people that are moving faster or moving a little slower depending on their background.
We’ve implemented a mentorship program afterwards for students that are still finishing some of their projects, still honing their skills. We want to build a community here in Orange County; even after students have completed their training here and they move on to their jobs. We want them to continue to come back to share stories, talk about their experiences and bring that awareness to this market and continue to grow the excitement.
What do you have students complete during that pre-work time?
One of the things distinguishes Learningfuze and our goal is that we’ve always been about the education aspects and how people learn. The skill-driven approach really comes down to some of the aspects that might hinder people from learning at the beginning. We’ve developed a platform where you learn in the browser. You have a code editor and you’re going through what we call sequences. These sequences expose you to typing code, building apps in a very specific manner.
Will students have access to instructors during the pre-work session?
Absolutely. The prep work is comprised of self-validating tasks in the platform but there are also open-ended tasks for projects that they need to submit. We review them and give the students feedback on where the challenges are.
Throughout the whole 3 weeks, it’s a completely open Q&A discussion until they get here.
How many instructors do you have?
Currently, we have 2 full-time instructors and we’re bringing on 2 more part-time instructors for our other classes. We’re currently looking for one more fulltime instructor because we’re expecting to get a lot more students in the near future.
What do you want the ratio to be?
The ideal ratio is 1:1. What we currently have is 1:5. Actually, it’s 2:5 but our lead instructor currently takes the reins most of the time.
Are you one of the lead instructors or are you a supporting instructor?
I act more as a supporting instructor but we take leads during different portions of the program, depending on different languages or skill sets that we agree on; who’s better suited to present this information and guide through that portion of the program.
As an instructor, do you have a hand in the admissions process at all?
Absolutely. We want to know everybody that comes to LearningFuze; we want the instructor to know who’s coming in, their background…it’s going to be a personal relationship. It comes from my background in coaching where there’s a level of trust and understanding between a coach and a student. Instructors need to know where their students are coming from and how they think so they can better adjust their presentation, their approach and their expectations.
So before every cohort comes in here, we go over the interview questions; their backgrounds, their resumes, and we go over how they perform during their prep work.
Do you have an ideal student in mind for LearningFuze?
We’re in the middle of our first cohort but that picture is very clear for us. The ideal student is rare but he or she probably has learned to do some coding by themselves already. We understand that. Our expectations are catered towards people that are ready for this. They need to have pretty good critical thinking skills and have given thought to it. They should have a little bit of experience with trials and tribulations from what they’ve done in the past and overcoming them. That’ll be ideal for succeeding or getting the most out of this program.
Is there an emphasis at LearningFuze on job placement?
Yes. Actually, we take that part extremely seriously. We went out and started building relationships with local employers from the very beginning.
We bring in speakers to talk- almost two speakers per week- from our network of employers. It’s an awesome aspect of the program that you don’t get online or you can’t get from a book, to have a representative from a really big tech company come in and have a conversation with you.
Does Learningfuze have a financial structure set up with those hiring partners? Do you take a referral fee?
Not currently. Our current efforts are to figure out everything we need to do to have the most polished student and then afterwards, we’ll look at the industry and how that relationship would work.
Do you expect that everybody will get placed in a job or do you envision that students may want to start their own businesses.
Yes and yes. Our emphasis is on making students ready for the job world because that’s different from just teaching them how to code. There’s a whole different layer there that’s extremely crucial. It’s almost more important than just learning how to code by yourself. If they want to start something on their own, which some have indicated, that’s something we accept absolutely. As long as it contributes to a positive team environment, that’s something that we take on. You need that entrepreneurial vibe to have a little bit of creative spirit rather than just corporate.
Is there anything else you want to add about LearningFuze?
We’re set apart by our background going into this. We’re in it for the educational aspect and bringing the technology to this community. We’ve created a platform that we’re very excited to continue to develop over the next couple of year. I think that’s something that separates us.