Roger Le is an instructor for Coder Vox, a 12-week coding bootcamp that just launched their full-time PHP course. We talk to Roger about the differences between bootcamps and academia, the lessons he's learned at Coder Vox, and the project-based curriculum at the coding school.
How did you get involved with Coder Vox? Did you have a background in education?
I was a tutor and a mentor when I was a computer science major at UT Austin. That’s where my academic experience comes from regarding teaching. I’ve been teaching my friends how to program for a long time, breaking things down into digestible chunks that we can approach together.
It’s cool that you have a traditional background in computer science and now you’re doing the bootcamp approach to teaching to coding.
Yeah, I wish there was a bootcamp I could have attended back in the day to prepare me for all the coding that was necessary. In academia, the way it was presented was rather dry; there wasn’t really a lot of motivation or the environment wasn’t right to help you study unless you were already doing it yourself.
What did you do between graduating UT Austin and working with Coder Vox?
I worked as a software developer for 6+ years- in my day-to-day I was using the LAMP stack and doing some front-end, middle tier, but I’m mostly a back-end engineer.
Coder Vox was offering part-time programs, but you’ve now launched the fulltime program that starts in September?
Yeah, we started in January doing part time classes and had a lot of success with it. We’ve taken the feedback and experience to refine and shape our curriculum for the full time course, while catering to a different student demographic.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from that time?
We learned that requiring all that pre-work really does matter and having our students build that foundation before they even get started with us makes a huge difference in bringing them up to speed.
In the part-time program, some of our students have never programmed anything before, so having them work with basic HTML and CSS goes a long way to understanding how all the pieces work. That shaves off a lot of time actually, when it comes to web programming.
How many hours of pre-work does Coder Vox require now for the fulltime course?
I’d say that we would expect them to do about 60 to 90 hours of programming in their own time before they get started in class. It varies on their previous experience.
What type of student is the ideal student for Coder Vox? How many students will be in the cohorts?
We do want to work with beginners, but having someone who’s really curious and wants to get into the tech industry would be the ideal student. For this initial class we plan to have a smaller course size so the body of students we have graduating will have the individual attention they need to really get their career started.
I wouldn’t want any more than 18 students but I’m really targeting between 10-15 tops.
Will you be involved with admissions at all?
I have not been involved with admissions; Jon Lue, the founder, has taken on that role. I’ve been more focused on the course objectives and creating the problems and challenges for students to work in addition to being in front of the room.
Jordan, the other cofounder, comes from more of a theoretical CS standpoint, while I come from a more practical and applied programming standpoint. He’s been directing the curriculum and is my second brain when it comes to creating problems/challenges and keeps me from making problems too easy or too hard for our students.
So what will the curriculum look like?
The first two weeks, the current plan is to have them learn HTML5, CSS3, as well as a bit of Twitter Bootstrap, jQuery and get them started on Github to build a portfolio of code that is theirs to keep and show the world.
The three weeks after that, they’ll really start working on the LAMP stack. They’ll be familiar with MySQL; they’ll start programming with object-oriented PHP and MVC framework. We’ll tie that in with AJAX and then API integration.
Will Coder Vox devote time to real projects?
It will be project-based, we’re going to be teaching them the fundamentals behind them before we get into tools/frameworks so that they understand what’s happening underneath all the magic that those frameworks do. Tools/frameworks change over time but the skills they learn in the real projects will be applicable to any software project they’re on now and in the future regardless of what shiny new tools come out in the future.
What does a typical day look like? Is it lecture in the morning and then lab in the afternoon?
Yeah, exactly in that order. Lecture is nearly an hour and a half depending on the topic and then lunch and then lab. I’ll available as well as mentors, to really enforce the concepts through doing, rather than just me talking. So the day will be highly activity-based learning. It keeps people engaged and then it also gives me instant feedback of where the students are at and what challenges they’re facing.
Do you envision that you might be able to change the curriculum up if people are not getting something?
I’m definitely actively looking at getting that feedback instantly of where the students are at. These people have various backgrounds. If the majority of the students are not understanding a topic, we’ll re-evaluate our examples and come up with exercises that reinforce that concept. In addition, if something is not clear, mentors are available to explain concepts in a different perspective that enhance their learning. I use the curriculum more as a guideline rather than it being the “Bible”.
Do you think that 12 weeks is enough time to teach everything in the curriculum?
There’s a lot of ground to cover, they won’t be experts, but they will be a world class beginner at the end of 12 weeks. Our goal is to get our students to think and figure things out and not just memorize and use a particular tool and/or framework. We teach them to think for themselves so they know the “why” and think of the optimal “how” among the many different ways to approach a challenge. Inspiring programmers and building the developer community to build the future is our passion.
Why has Coder Vox chosen PHP over a more popular language in the bootcamp world like Ruby?
I think Ruby is a great language. I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with it- I’ve worked primarily with PHP professionally but learned Java in school and a lot of that knowledge transferred to quickly learning PHP. PHP powers a lot of the web, including Facebook and Wikipedia. I think the goal is to get their first language down and then if the students want to learn iOS or another language like Java, they need to have at least the lingo in their toolbelt and know how to research their own way to learn a new language.
I think it’s a little bit easier to get students started with PHP from my experience. And there are a lot of firms in Austin who use PHP, so there are a lot more positions available in the PHP marketplace than Ruby.
Do you expect that when somebody finishes the Coder Vox course that they would be able to teach themselves Ruby or Python or another language they might need for a job?
Our curriculum focuses on solid fundamental programming practices. The fundamentals of programming have stayed relatively the same over time, and it applies to most modern languages, not just PHP. Once you’ve mastered one language, you can apply the same concepts to other languages, so picking them up is just a matter of adapting to differences in syntax rather than learning from scratch.
Will Coder Vox be accepting a placement fee or recruiting fee when you place a student in a job?
There’s nothing set as of right now, but we have thought about that. We’ll have to look at how that would impact the relationship of student and teacher. That relationship is our main focus above all else.
How will you work soft skills into the curriculum?
We’ll be working on marketing yourself through your Github profile and LinkedIn. In terms of developing their emotional intelligence, we want to teach our students how to develop their communication skills so that they can effectively communicate not only with their fellow classmates but also their future co-workers, managers, and clients.
What makes a really good student at a boot camp and particularly at Coder Vox and what sort of person do you see not succeeding in that environment?
From my experience in teaching the part-time program, a student who is not willing to go beyond the classroom to learn or give himself a project and instead relying totally on the instruction inside the classroom is most likely going to have a tougher time in getting the material and content.
Someone who I see succeeding is someone that is willing to work on that outside project and have us break it down with them, and they can generate their own project ideas with some of our guidance. Coder Vox provides the environment, resources, a community, and guidance that empowers people to learn and grow in the digital age.
Anything else you want to add about Coder Vox?
We want to help students keep up with not only mental health but also physical health. The founder of Coder Vox attended a boot camp himself so a lot of things and ideas and experience come firsthand.