Terrence Kunstek was the Director of Engineering at ChaCha before deciding to teach iOS development at Eleven Fifty. We talk to Terrence about the project-based curriculum in the iOS course, their innovative APPrenticeship program, and what he's learned from the first few cohorts at Eleven Fifty.
Tell us what you were doing before you started as an instructor at Eleven Fifty.
Before Eleven Fifty, I’ve been a technical team lead for about 10 years. Immediately before Eleven Fifty, I was Director of Engineering at ChaCha.
That makes sense, since Scott Jones founded ChaCha. I‘m assuming that you were working on iOS there?
All iOS and Android. All mobile all day.
Obviously at Course Report, we’re pretty supportive of the bootcamp model but did you have to be convinced at all? Did you have any doubts about it or were you totally into it?
Certainly not. I had been doing internet-based web applications in a BtoB world for most of my career. It was to a point where I just didn’t see myself writing another website. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to a bootcamp to learn iOS back in 2010. I wanted to re-train myself. I bought a Mac and spent the first months trying to figure out how to copy/paste and use a Mac. So I took my own money and went to the Big Nerd Ranch in Atlanta to learn iOS. I had such a great experience that I went back a year later.
How long was the Big Nerd Ranch course?
It was an immersive 7-day course
Did that experience inform how you developed the curriculum for Eleven Fifty?
It helped frame out what I wanted to offer and also to identify the things I didn’t want to do.
What were some of those aspects that you didn’t want to include?
At Big Nerd Ranch, they told you what instructor you were going to get, but the instructor could be anyone from an awesome guy who wrote a book to a guy who had only been employed for a month and didn’t have any teaching experience. I felt like I could’ve just spent $35, bought the book and did it at home.
On a completely different occasion with the iOS course, I got an amazing instructor. He got me through so much so fast, so I got a lot out of that by contrast. Two radically different experiences from the same boot camp. And that shapes what we offer here at Eleven Fifty. We are focused on giving a 100% awesome experience for every student.
How did you develop the 7-day curriculum for Eleven Fifty?
There’s two things we wanted to do. First, we wanted them to work on real world projects where someone hands you a stack of screenshots and says “Go build this.” Because that’s the real world.
I started there and said what are three apps people want to learn? We know that EverNote, Snapchat and Tinder were “billion-dollar apps”. So we figured why not teach them those?
We started there and did a first pass; we wrote the apps. Then we did the second pass and wrote the apps in a way that a junior programmer would know how to do it versus how a senior programmer might.
So people are learning the technologies through building those apps. You’re not doing a traditional lecture?
Learning really happens when students are deep in the code, so we keep them there 95% of the time. The students are totally in the driver’s seat for their own apps, which optimizes the learning experience. There is a small amount of traditional lecture because sometimes an image does say a thousand words. For example, when I was showing controller inheritance, an image there can replace an hour of lecture. So we do use slides where appropriate and beneficial to students, but most of the time our students have their hands in the code, learning in a way that sticks with them.
Are you having people do pre-work before they get to Eleven Fifty?
We kind of market ourselves as taking people from 20 to 120 (as opposed to 0 to 60). If you’re starting out brand new, or if you’ve never actually done any programming whatsoever before, you’re going to have a rough time at our school. If you’ve programmed something (practically anything) before, you probably have enough background to benefit from our courses. Previous experience enables students to grasp concepts fairly quickly and apply new syntax to concepts that are already familiar.
All students, before they arrive, are communicating with our Chief Operating Officer. They go over prerequisites they should complete before the course begins. If someone hasn’t done any programming, they may be told to “go do this exercise, watch this video or read this book”. Those simple preparation efforts will help onboard students for this experience.
Do you have a hand in the admissions process at all or is someone else doing that?
Whenever someone is on the fence about whether they want to attend Eleven Fifty, we have them speak with an instructor to make sure they have a good starting point before they come. We’re not going to take someone’s money, have them flounder for a week and then go home feeling depressed. That will never happen here like it can happen at other schools. We are extremely proactive with our students to make sure they are prepared properly and getting all the support they need.
How many cohorts have you done?
We are just completing our 4th cohort.
Has everyone been able to get through the class and graduate at the end of 7 days?
Absolutely. We’re being very picky about our targeting criteria right now. The best story I have is one guy, he just came out of the air force and he wanted to learn how to program and he had almost no technical experience at all. By the end of the week, not only did he get it, but he went home and wrote his own app immediately.
So after teaching three cohorts, what have you learned? How iterative has the curriculum been?
Great question. We found that students, while they appreciate the opportunity to do this project-centric approach to learning, they do like a little bit of structure. So one of our “tune ups” is setting expectations even better--telling students what they’re going to learn and then at the end of the session, what they should have learned.
The second lesson we learned was based on time management--what do we do if the class is going too fast, what do we do if the class is going too slow? We’ve come up with improved ways to more nimbly change the pace to match the needs of the students during each section of the course.
Since you are working with students who primarily already have experience, what are the expected outcomes from the iOS class? Do you expect that somebody will be able to change jobs or get a promotion?
Categorically, I would say everyone has fit into two buckets. One is that they’re part of the development team at a company and the employer is about to write their first app, and rather than going out and contracting or hiring a new resource, they’re just investing in their employees and making them smarter.
There are also people who are in career change mode; I had a guy who was a developer then he kind of let his skills rot on the shelf. He ended up doing some server maintenance then he got laid off. He had programming experience years ago but he’s ready to get back in and write apps. After our course, he can walk into a prospective employer with a portfolio of 3 apps, which mimic the most popular apps on the app store and explain how the code works to them. That is the expected outcome.
Is there an emphasis on job placement at Eleven Fifty?
For this next cohort, we have sessions focused on job search skills, such as the importance of networking and how to brand yourself so that prospective employers can find you. As part of the class, we actually work the exercises you would see in an interview into the course.
So during the Swift part of the course, I have them write Fizz-Buzz, which is a popular interview question. Students work it out and understand why they do it.
There’s definitely emphasis on job placement. We’re planning to have guest speakers come in during the classes to talk about facets of placement. Again, looking at our people coming out of our 7-day immersive courses, we can tell that our efforts have already helped a lot.
Tell us about the APPrenticeship program!
Those who complete the course that are not yet ready to go out and get a job because let’s say it was the first course they’ve ever done, and they still don’t have enough practical experience, we have the APPrenticeship program. Our first apprentice started last week. He’s a Python developer who’s trying to broaden his skills to iPhone development and beyond.
Are you mentoring in that apprenticeship program?
Yes, each instructor becomes the mentor for apprentices who come out of their class.
Who are the APPrentices?
We talk about three tiers. There’s tier zero which has absolutely no experience and you would feel bad about loaning him to a friend to write code for you. Those people are onsite at Eleven Fifty 40 hours a week, and being hand-held.
You have tier one who can do all the work with a mentor looking over his or her shoulder onsite at our Eleven Fifty location.
Tier two is someone that has programmed for a little while. You would trust her or him to do work for clients at their site.
And then tier three is either someone that we hire on our permanent full-time staff, or we actively try and place that developer at a partner for full-time employment.
Are you a full-time instructor or are you doing this part-time and then also working on your own projects?
I am completely full-time at Eleven Fifty. In addition to instruction, we also have internal projects and for-hire projects in which I am involved as a mentor and as a developer. I also work with our new instructors to develop curriculum and adhere to our “hands in the code” very interactive, intensive, immersive teaching methodology.
I could teach those courses, but we really want to have the best people in the technology space teaching each course so we have hired an incredibly great team of instructors.
Are you all actively looking for those instructors right now or do you have them?
Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to add about Eleven Fifty or the curriculum?
I think it’s worth noting that another big differentiator distinguishing us above and beyond other tech schools is that they’re teaching you in like, a conference room in a Holiday Inn, or the equivalent. We, however, are teaching you “hands on, deeply in the code all the time” with one of the most prolific inventors of our time, in a mansion. When you walk in through that door, there’s a switch that goes off in your head. It changes you just walking in this very special space and feeling that energy and that vibe and what hard work and innovation can yield. How do you get that when you’re drinking black coffee at a hotel lobby? Or an executive retreat while they’re playing golf outside while you’re trying to learn something? This is unlike anything any developer has ever experienced before. We’ve created a very special coding adventure here at Eleven Fifty.