DevPoint Labs takes students from zero to Junior Developer in 11 weeks, and instructors like Jeremy Woertink are critical to that promise. We talk to Jeremy about how he learned to code, what DevPoint Labs does to incorporate job readiness into their course, and how he's ensuring that the curriculum stays strong and current.
Tell us what you were doing before you started as an instructor with DevPoint Labs.
I was co-organizer for the Las Vegas Ruby Group. I’ve been running a local Ruby group here in Vegas for about 7 years or so. We grew pretty large and started having meetings every single Wednesday. We alternated between a formal presentation from some of the higher level devs in the group and these classroom sessions. The classroom sessions were roughly 2–3 hours long and I would cover a basic beginner topic. It would help bridge the gap between new people coming into the group and the higher level devs.
Other than that, I was working as a developer. Also, we started a mini-class here in Vegas called Ruby Weekend. That was a weekend crash course if you want to learn development and see if it might be a career for you. You would be learning to build a Rails app from scratch. It gets a lot of people excited and inspires them to actually take the initiative to start learning.
DevPoint Labs was thinking about starting a class in Las Vegas so they sat in on one of my classes and asked to bring me on as their Vegas instructor.
I actually did not realize that there were classes in Vegas!
We did one Full-Stack course from February to May here in Vegas and we decided to hold off before doing more- we’re currently working with Nevada’s Post Secondary Education agency. I went to Salt Lake and taught one of the classes. That way we could restructure our curriculum, solidify it a little bit more. But we do plan on bringing the class back to Vegas as well.
How did you get into Ruby and programming in general?
I was in the Marine Corps; I did 8 years in the Marines and when I was transitioning out from active duty into the reserves, I had a music degree and couldn’t get a job doing that.
I just looked into general tech and I had a buddy who was hiring a programmer and offered to hire me if I wanted to learn. I didn’t know anything about programming so I learned on the job.
Did you have to be convinced at all of the bootcamp model?
I love teaching. I would say it’s probably my favorite thing to do. I was doing the Ruby weekends and the hack night classes for three years before I even heard of Dev Point Labs.
I have a friend who also teaches –Jeff Casimir of Turing School. I liked what he was doing so when DevPoint Labs offered me a position, I was like, yes! It’s exactly what I want to be doing.
What have you learned over the last few cohorts and how have you changed and evaluated the courses?
One of the things that I noticed was when we first started doing the classes was that we were trying to throw too much at the students. Coming from any other field into a programming field is already a pretty ridiculous move because you not only have to learn new material but you have to also change the way you think. We noticed that they’re just not grasping simple concepts because we were giving them advanced concepts as well.
You do accept beginners into the course, right?
Yes, beginners are definitely what we were focused on. There is a range of what students already know. Some of them have been coding for a year and just aren’t grasping it; others have a little bit of dev experience. We do focus more on the super beginners- people that actually have zero knowledge.
Do accepted students do prep work?
We send our prep work out a few weeks before the course starts but it’s not necessarily prep work. We just ask students to get familiar with some terms, run through a couple of exercises; and make sure that this is something that they can handle doing. That way when they come into the class, when we say something like “HTML,” they’re not just completely lost.
How many teachers and students are there in a class? Do you try to keep a certain ratio?
We’ve had as low as 8 students and as high as 18 but generally, we want to try and keep it around the 12-15 range. We max out at 20. For each class we always have 2 instructors with 2 TA’s. We have a primary instructor and a co-instructor as well as a really large team of mentors.
The on-staff mentors will be there for tech support and little questions to keep the classes on track so that they don’t get derailed. We’ll also schedule mentor hours for after class. Class usually ends at around 5pm at night, then from 5-7pm will be mentor hours. Mentors sit one on one with the students to answer questions about the day or their progress.
Does DevPoint Labs ever hire graduates of Dev Point to be mentors or co-instructors?
Yep; we sure do. We currently have two. For almost every cohort, we’ll bring on people who we really think can help to move the students along.
The on-staff mentors just got through doing these lessons, so they can mentor the students who are struggling through it. Usually what happens is those mentors will end up picking up an even better gig as a developer with some large company or whatever, and we totally encourage that.
Tell us about the teaching style for the Full Stack class.
We follow the ‘I do, you do, we do’ pattern. I will talk about a subject and then I will show an example of that topic and then I will have the students do a mini test on that topic, then they will go create it. The other instructors and mentors walk around and check on them. When everyone’s done, we do it all together to reiterate what it was we just did.
We usually split the day up into two separate parts where one part is a very structured lecture time and the other part is a very hands-on lab project time.
Cool. So they’re working on assigned projects?
Over the course, the students will create several different projects and 100 mini example projects. By the end, they will have created basically one large application which will be their final capstone project. That way when they graduate, they have something to put on their portfolios; the live application with the domain hosted.
Do they work on that capstone project as a team or do they do that on their own?
They do it in small teams. When you work for a company, you’re going to be part of a team. So one of the big things we focus on is that everyone knows how to properly work on a team. We keep the teams small, though. That way each one of the students has a chance to cover a large portion of the application.
In addition to the student collaboration and teamwork which is huge for being ready for a job, how else do you incorporate that job readiness in the curriculum?
We actually do several mock interviews throughout the whole course. Each one of the interviews is designed to basically teach and test the students on different interview practices. We will do question-based interviews, we do whiteboard–based interviews. We even do an interview where we bring in potential employers. We’ve had a couple that have been actual interviews and had students hired from the interview.
We even do interviews where we intentionally sweat the students to make them nervous and make them jittery because when you get into one of these interviews, you get really nervous. We want to get all the nerves out now and then we’ll tell you how you can combat those nerves.
In addition we do a lot with Github in class and mimic what it’s like to work at a company. One example is we work on projects as a class and students will make pull requests then submit their code. The best code will get submitted to the master branch.
How has job placement gone so far?
We have a 85 – 90% hiring rate. On top of the fact that we partner with a lot of companies and have our hiring partners come in for our Launch Day. The hiring partners get a chance to talk one on one with the students.
But when a student signs up for DevPoint labs, they don’t end their relationship with DevPoint Labs at the end of a class. We have students who went from cohorts months and months ago, one of the earliest ones; if they lose the job that they had got, we still work to try and get them more work. We have a little community where if someone gets some side work or something like that, we’re always constantly passing that along.
Once you’ve signed up with DevPont Labs, you’ve basically joined the family and anytime you need work, we will do anything we can to try and get you work. Even if someone doesn’t get hired right away, they eventually will get something.
Do most graduates stay in Salt Lake City and work for companies in Utah?
Yeah. All of the Salt Lake cohort stayed within the Salt Lake area. The whole area is basically a lot of smaller towns that are right next. For the Vegas cohort, I noticed a lot of those students dispersed to L.A and Salt Lake.
Is Ruby the most popular language in Vegas and Salt Lake City?
In the Salt Lake area it’s definitely used quite a bit and it’s used way more than it is in the Vegas area. In the Vegas area, Ruby isn’t really used a whole lot. In our class, we’re not necessarily teaching people how to be Ruby developers. We just want to teach them how to be web developers.
Our students might not get jobs as Ruby developers when they graduate. They might get a job as a PHP developer. The syntax changes but that’s about it.
Can you tell us about the Code and Ski Promotion and how it fits in with DevPoint Lab’s goals?
Because it’s the holiday season, we decided to extend the length of the class and incorporate longer breaks for the students. Some of the students will travel from as far as Virginia and New York to come just specifically for this class. They’re away from their family and they’re on the other side of the country, so we want to be able to give them things to do.
We got a discount through one of the ski lodges resorts in Utah, and we’ll shuttle the students up to the ski lodge and they can hit the slopes on weekends.
Will you be instructing for the iOS class or will another instructor take that class?
I probably would not do the IOS course although I do know some Objective C. My position is going to start migrating toward a director level, ensuring that the instructors we do have are qualified to teach the material and that the material stays up to date and we don’t have instructors teaching an old version of Objective C.
I know there’s some talk about possibly making certifications for bootcamps. If anything like that comes up, I want to make sure that we’re adhering to those standards. Anything that emerges that helps ease the transition for our students to get into new jobs we’re all about that.