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Zeke Nierenberg has been teaching since he was in college (he even taught a Computer Science class while he was still an undergrad!) and made the transition to teaching at Fullstack Academy when he saw an ad on Hacker News. He was won over by Fullstack's impressive students and relevant JavaScript based curriculum, and he shares his experience with us! Zeke stays busy when he’s not teaching by working on internal Fullstack projects, going to hackathons, and doing weekend consulting work.  

 

Tell us about your background and how you started programming.

I got started with programming when I was about 10 years old- I started with HTML. I had a few mentors along the way who were valuable resources at the right time. By the time I got to college, I was a pretty solid coder and I ended up studying chemistry and biology because I was interested in medicine at the time, along with computer science.

I ended up being a Teaching Assistant for computer science classes. I TA-ed in science as well and realized I liked teaching. In my last year there was a professor that left abruptly; I had assisted with his course several times so, with faculty mentorship, I basically taught the course.

 

They let you teach the class as an undergrad?

I had developed close relationships with several faculty and they vouched for me. The year after I graduated I ended up being hired as an adjunct professor to teach the same course.

I also tutored people along the way with varying backgrounds from a 5th grader to a non-technical CEO who was interested in learning how to code. So I had done some tutoring and some teaching.

I worked at a startup and for another tech company for a bit as well.

 

That sounds like the perfect background to get involved with a coding bootcamp. How were you introduced to Fullstack?

I saw the job listing on Hacker News and I was interested. It was the first and only time I had applied to a job from Hacker News. The listing said something like ‘Do you want to change how technology is taught?’

 

What was the hiring process like?

It was cool. The application questions were relevant. One of them I remember was ‘teach me something by writing it’--or something to that effect.

The interview process was also teaching-based. I actually got to work with students. That sold me on Fullstack... Before that it had just seemed like an idea. I learned that Fullstack students, or maybe bootcamp students in general, are much more dedicated and intense than college students. College students are in a life discovery mode. They’re not necessarily on a mission to master a craft.

 

Since you had taught in a traditional university setting before, did you have to be convinced at all of the bootcamp model of education?

I was slightly skeptical, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard of bootcamps. I wasn’t skeptical about their ability to add value; but I was a little bit skeptical about how far you could go with it in three months, considering that it had taken me many, many years to learn programming.

During my interview, though, I was working with students halfway through the program and I was impressed with how much they knew and the types of questions they were asking.
 

Fullstack Academy teaches JavaScript and the MEAN stack. Was that important to you?

I definitely had a bunch of Node.js experience before Fullstack. I would not have called myself an Angular expert before getting here, but in programming, there are a lot of things you can transfer between technologies.

There was enough overlap that I was able to be useful the first day I was there. I also believe in the rising importance of Javascript in web development, so I was attracted to the curriculum.

 

Have you helped develop the curriculum since you’ve been at Fullstack?

We actually iterate our curriculum every cohort. We don’t change everything obviously, but we add new workshops and change others. I’ve been involved with several iterations.

Sometimes we’re forced to change the curriculum because a certain open source module will change. For example, express.js might release a new version, and we’ll have to update our workshops to provide current examples.

Other times we notice that there might be a conceptual gap in the first half of our curriculum that we have to make up for in the second half. So we try to add things to workshops to address deficits that “seniors” have.

 

What do you mean by a Senior student?

At Fullstack, we teach two cohorts at once. One cohort will be in the junior phase which is much more lecture/workshop based. The other cohort is in the senior phase and that’s project based. So if we notice that we’re having to explain something to each senior group, that’s a good sign that we could fit it in the curriculum phase. We might write a workshop or add a module to a workshop that we already have.

 

How many instructors do you work with? Are you teaching both cohorts?

I work with 4 other instructors - David, Nimit, Omri, and Scott. We all teach the classes. I’d say I’m teaching both cohorts but teaching looks very different for the senior group.

 

Since you teach full time at Fullstack, do you have breaks between cohorts or do you work on side projects? How do you stay relevant in the dev community?

We have an internal software platform that I work on. We just actually launched a major version of our software called LearnDot. I’ll also write open source libraries sometimes; I’ll go to hackathons, and I do a little bit of weekend consulting as well.

Staff are encouraged to spend time working on Fullstack projects to keep up with the latest tech. Sometimes that means taking a little time away from teaching to be “heads down” on something.

 

From your experience, have you found that there is an “ideal Fullstack student?” What type of person do you see really excelling in the class?

I think there’s more than one kind of ideal student. I think you have to seriously think about how much you like programming. It’s a very intense experience so you have to be someone who knows they like coding. We’re very lucky. We select a group of people who are very excited to be coding.

A good dose of curiosity is also useful; because there’s so much to cover, having some sort of internal driver is also very important.

 

Are there technical requirements to get into Fullstack? Does an applicant have to have experience coding?

We have an online coding assessment and then technical interviews to get in. You don’t have to have prior knowledge to apply to Fullstack, but if that’s the case, we’ll give out some resources like books and websites to start learning. If you’ve had no technical knowledge before applying, you’ll need to study a fair amount before you’d really be ready for the interview process.

So accepted students do have experience coding- some from a fair amount of self teaching, others from being CS majors or having professional developer experience.

 

Do you find that having CS majors and non-technical people in a cohort works? Is everybody able to learn together?

People come in with different backgrounds and sometimes that presents a couple of challenges but most of the time it works well. We try to create a community that’s understanding of the fact that not everyone is going to be at the same place and that’s okay as long as everyone’s growing.

Often it’s an asset because students can ask other students for help if they know they have more experience. But I’d say that between our selective admissions process and 4 weeks of interactive preparation work and assignments, all students come in at a pretty good starting point.

 

Tell me more about the pre-work.

Our pre-work is almost more of a part time remote course at this point. It has 4 weeks of materials to review, weekly assignments, and one on one meetings with an instructor. We’re constantly adding material to that portion of the course too.

 

Does Fullstack have teaching assistants in the classes?

Yes. We have a teaching fellows program. Select former students stay on for another cohort in a paid position. Their role is to TA as well as work on a thesis project, where they’ll develop either a piece of software or a workshop. Actually, right now one of our fellows is presenting on Promises, which is a way to handle asyncronicity.

 

What is the teaching style like during the Junior phase of the class?

A typical day would be a lecture in the morning followed by a workshop. Students go through building something with some guidance. They get help from teaching fellows and instructors when they’re stuck.

Halfway through the day, we meet for 30 minutes to catch up a little and make sure everyone’s on the same page. At the end of the day, there’s a review which is a lot like a lecture but can be a little more spontaneous.

 

What does the Senior phase look like?

The Senior cohort is project-based, and there are two main projects. One is personal so that you get some experience working alone; that lasts for about a week and a half. The rest of the time is spent on group projects.

We also do things like interview prep in the Senior phase and a lecture series, as well as have outside speakers whenever they can come.

 

I’ve been to a Fullstack Hiring Day and seen some pretty impressive final projects. What goes into making sure that your students are job-ready in addition to having the hard skills?

We also focus on strategy. It’s not just getting your resume ready. We also prepare people for strategies on how to apply and the types of companies our students will like- how to think about salary vs. culture. We have someone full-time who works on that. We also have curriculum covering how to succeed as a new developer, and practice sessions answering technical interview questions.

 

Will Fullstack accept a student who is not actively looking for a job but may want to learn as a hobby or is learning to start their own business?

Yes. For example, we sometimes have undergrad students who come in for the summer. We also usually have a few entrepreneurs in each cohort looking to start startups after Fullstack. Part of our curriculum focuses on startup topics, so they like that.

 

Has everybody made it through the Fullstack class or has there been attrition?

We've had 4 students total who have not made it through the course here. The class is pretty challenging and moves quickly. For those few students, Fullstack wasn't the right fit and so they ended up leaving the program. In total that makes our attrition rate very low, which I think speaks to our selective admissions process. We also monitor students' progress and really try to be proactive with teaching assistance whenever someone seems to be struggling.

 

Want to learn more about Fullstack Academy? Check out their School Page on Course Report or the Fullstack Academy website here!

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