gr8code is a coding school in Tampa, Florida, founded by three successful women who saw a need for affordable coding education. We chat with Justin Davis of gr8code about their Front-End Development bootcamp,what makes the school unique (brand new MacBook, anyone?), and their ideal gr8code student.
Tell us about your background and how you got involved with gr8code.
I have 20 years of experience in technology. The vast majority of that time I was building websites and web apps and I’ve also spent the past decade as a User Experience designer helping companies make the front side of their website more useable and more successful. I run a little consultancy called Madera Labs. So I’ve been able to build a lot, see a lot and do a lot in the technology industry. I’m a pretty voracious networker and I know the founders of gr8code personally just from working around the Tampa Bay area. When they were starting the school, we sat down and talked about it. We talked about what the goals were and they asked me if I would be interested in participating in it and I said that would be a really great opportunity and I’d be really excited to give back.
Can you tell us how and why gr8code was founded?
I’ve known two of the founders for a while and was introduced to Phuong through gr8code. I believe they kicked off gr8code earlier this year and it had a kid camp component to it where they taught kids to code.I went in and mentored the kids here and there and helped them put together lessons. It is remarkable actually, that kids can do this stuff. It’s unbelievable; 8-year olds writing code is an incredible, incredible thing.
I think Virginia, Deborah, and Phuong saw the same trend happening; there is a massive talent demand and there’s a really big talent shortage here. We’re in Florida, not San Francisco, although I think the talent shortage is pretty much everywhere.
They looked at what was happening nationally and saw a lot of these bootcamps helping to address this problem, helping to build a local economy, bringing new jobs and helping to build startups as well as helping the larger companies to fill out their own employee ranks.
Have you been in Tampa for the last 20 years, working?
I’ve been in Tampa for 3 years and was in Nashville before that.
Can you tell us about the job market in Tampa for tech jobs? Is it largely startups or enterprise?
It’s a big enterprise-level market. We have a burgeoning startup scene that over the past 3 years has exploded compared to where it was 2-3 years ago, virtually non-existent. Now there’s this startup activity.
The central Florida area is the number 4 tech hub in the country- there is a lot of enterprise-level jobs, so you have a lot of very big companies, people like Raymond James and others who employ massive amounts of people. If I were to guess, I’d say that’s where the majority of the jobs are in Tampa Bay.
When does the first class start at gr8code?
It’s on September 22nd .
That’s coming up! Do you know how many students you’ll accept for it?
Between 10 and 15. It’ll be primarily myself and Matt teaching. Mitch will be helping but it’ll be primarily myself and Matt. I’ll be 70% -80% of that and Matt’s going to fill in and help around and give some perspective on some specialty areas, as well as help out in other things.
What does the application process and interview process look like?
Obviously, we’re going to collect some information from applicants via the application. Then there is an interview process with me which is a phone interview. If you’re local, we might get together in person but typically, it’s a phone interview.
My goal in that is to find out any prior type of technical background and just see where you’re at because we have to move really fast in the courses, so we want to make sure that people at least have some base level of understanding of technology. They don’t have to know how to code coming into it but they need to understand how the web works.
Does that mean that applicants should complete some sort of online program?
If you’re ideal, you’ve done some HTML and CSS work. But you’ve not done a lot, you’ve just tinkered around with it. You understand the basics but you haven’t really done anything advanced. That would be ideal.
We’re probably not going to get a class full of all those types of people – and we don’t necessarily want to. We want people who come in and say, “I’ve never done any of this but I really want to do it.”
The course is going to go from the ground up from the very beginning; we’ll learn what HTML is, what CSS is…so it does start at the beginning but it goes very rapidly from the start. So if students come in with a little bit of that experience, it’s just going to help their ability to get moving quicker. Because a lot of knowledge, especially with technology and development programming and that kind of thing, there’s a lot of contextual stuff you have to get your head around at the beginning; how things are set up and how things work. Once you do that, the learning game comes much quicker. If we can put people in a position where they already have that sort of initial conceptual tier in progress or in place it means they’ll be able to accelerate through the program quicker.
Will you give students prep work once they’ve been accepted?
Depending on the student’s level of prior experience, we may ask them to complete some very light tutorials or code school lessons from some other programs. We haven’t put into place yet any kind of formal screening in terms of a technical test yet.
I will say the other criteria that is really important to us is attitude. I think attitudes more important than technical chops when they start.
You can start the course not knowing any code but if you come in with the right mindset, you’re going to slay this thing and you’re going to be successful. The last thing we want to do is take people’s money and be like, “Hey thanks! Sorry it didn’t work out because you don’t have the right attitude.” It’s all about trying to fill up a class with the right students so that they’re all successful and they all get placed and they all get really great careers. That helps them, obviously, and helps us. We’re taking a lot of care to make sure that’s done right.
The immersive program is a front-end bootcamp; can you tell us about the curriculum?
I’ve done a lot of work on the server side. We went round and round with this. When we first started talking about gr8code, we talked about what the most important thing we could launch with and obviously for us, employability was really, really important; that’s really key.
A lot of these boot camps do a 9-week Ruby course. There’s not as much Ruby and Rails development in Tampa as there are in other markets. When you look at Florida, it’s an enterprise level market. We settled on front-end development because it’s something we feel that we can teach in 9 weeks with a really high-level of competence – and it’s something that every single company that builds anything for the web uses.
When we looked at that, we said it’s really important to start there to give our candidates the greatest chance of shooting out into the world and getting a job really quickly.
How are you preparing students to actually go into the world and get a job?
We were thinking about that from day one. Everything was designed with that end goal in mind. It’s not enough just to teach code, we have to teach people how to work well. Doing a front-end boot camp gives us the ability to give our candidates a competitive edge by equipping them with other non-coding skills that are highly sought after by companies. That skill set - developers who understand User Experience Design (UX) - is more and more in demand today . There’s a common term - “the Unicorn” - which is a developer who also has really good user experience skills. That’s what we’re trying to create.
Because of my unique skill set and having such deep experience in UX Design, we can give those students a really unique blend of skills to make them that much more valuable. We’re also going to talk about how to work on development teams, how a project works, how to interview well, and how to ask the questions when you’re in a meeting. So it’s a very cross training type of course. It’s not just about schlepping code, it’s about becoming a really well-rounded technology professional
How are you dividing up the 9 weeks of class?
It’s a series of projects. Obviously, it builds on itself over the course of the 9 weeks. The instruction is done through a combination of lecture, hands-on labs where you’re doing exercises, and assigned projects throughout the course of the curriculum.
We don’t know exactly how many yet but we’re going back and forth between 2 or 3 different projects. Also, there will be quite a bit of independent study outside the classroom.
Any plans to expand outside of Tampa or to do a back-end course?
Those are things that we’re talking about right now and once we get this first cohort off the ground, certainly we’ll be in a better position to look at we want to do following up. I think bringing in a back-end course is something that is very high on the list right now.
Justin, is there a anything else that you wanted to add that we didn’t touch on?
One thing we are doing that’s kind of unique as well as part of the course, students get a brand new MacBook. That allows us to make everything as efficient as possible because we’re all on the same platform and in the same development environment.