Juline is a program coordinator for Bloc, focusing on prospective students, growth, and advising students. We talk with Juline about Bloc's extensive mentor network, how Bloc is preparing graduates for careers in tech, and why the online approach can be a great fit for students.
What’s the story behind Bloc?
Bloc started 3 years ago, when it was just Dave and Roshan. They were mentoring people personally and they put together a curriculum, working in online cohorts. They had some in-browser exercises, and they did some videochat meetings, so it’s always been online. What they realized eventually was that content was important, but what really helped people learn was having a mentor and the apprenticeship model. We think it’s a really cool model that can grow into other industries.
Take us through the curriculum. Which programming languages will students master in 12 weeks at Bloc?
How large is your mentor network?
We just hired several more mentors, so we’re at least 30 at this point. Most are web development, but we’re always looking for design mentors (we just launched our design course). We’re always on the lookout for really talented to take on as mentors. We get a lot of applicants and turn a lot away- we’re pretty picky about who teaches our students.
Does Bloc give mentors training?
Not in web development, because our average mentor has a decade of experience as a professional developer. This is an important distinction- when you learn in traditional university classrooms, you often learn out-of-date tools and techniques. We think it’s important that our instructors are practicing developers. They do go through an onboarding process where they learn about Bloc.
There are a number of in-person bootcamps, and a lot of arguments about having a cohort to help you get through the intense curriculum, why do you think online bootcamp is more effective?
We get a lot of people concerned with how in-touch the class will feel compared to a classroom model. This is something we’re always striving to improve. The difference between us and a classroom model, is that we are more one-on-one than any other bootcamp. It’s a true apprenticeship- you’re getting to learn from an expert in the trade. There’s a lot of facetime, even though it’s online- we do video chats and screen sharing. One of the most valuable parts of our program- and of bootcamps- is pair-programming. At Bloc, you pair-program one-on-one with a professional developer. In an in-person bootcamp, you generally pair-program with another beginner. Personally, I’d rather learn from a professional. We just brought on a program coordinator, Karen, who is working on building and improving our student network. We host “drink-ups” once a month, and invite any of our students and mentors in the Bay Area to meet up with us. We also have some students in the area who just drop by the office.
How many students have gone through Bloc?
We’ve had about 300 students total go through Bloc, and we have 70-75 currently enrolled. We’re constantly growing, and we do start dates every Monday, so that number is always changing. The model is very scalable.
There are a number of free online bootcamps, what are students paying for when they choose Bloc?
The obvious difference here is that there’s no real human contact and no one to help you when you get stuck. We hire world class mentors, and they’re not cheap, so a large chunk of tuition goes to paying our mentors. You’ll actually get more one-on-one facetime with Bloc than you will with any in-person bootcamp, where they primary teach in a classroom 30-on-1.
If a student decides that Bloc is not for them, do you have a refund policy in place?
Anyone who decides within the first week that Bloc is not for them gets a full refund. After that, the tuition is prorated- you’ll be charged for the time that you spend with your mentor. We believe that if you aren’t getting value, we don’t get paid.
Tell us about the partnership with New Relic on the diversity in technology scholarship.
We have a diversity scholarship, and we offer 3 of those per month. They’re partial scholarships of $1500. Anyone who is a female, a veteran of the US military, or of a minority group is eligible.
What are you looking for in potential students? Do students need to have a technical or programming background?
There’s no required background. We have everyone from complete beginners to people who have computer science degrees who want to update their skill set. For complete beginners, we recommend that they get their feet wet with code academy, but it’s not required. We have suggested reading, like the Code Academy Ruby track and Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial to lay some groundwork.
Do you have an interview process?
We’ve stopped interviewing everyone who applies- we look over applications and we reach out if we need clarification on anything. We want to gauge expectations and goals to make sure this is a good fit.
What is your acceptance rate?
Right now, there’s just an application process. Anyone who is willing to learn is accepted. We make sure expectations are in line, and that the student can make the time commitment.
What percentage of your students are in the US vs. abroad?
We definitely have students and mentors outside of the US. About 80% of our students live in the US.
What makes Bloc different from other online bootcamps like Tealeaf and Thinkful?
What differentiates us is definitely the one-on-one attention from the mentor. There are other courses that offer some form of mentorship, but it’s not a complete apprenticeship that Bloc offers. You are required to meet 3 times per week with your mentor, but most students are in touch with their mentor every single day. You’re constantly in touch via email, messaging, screen-sharing, and pair programming. You build a relationship with this person over 12 weeks and they know your strengths, weaknesses and goals.
Does Bloc help graduates find jobs in tech once they've completed the program?
Unlike some other bootcamps, we don’t guarantee job placement, it’s not our realm. You’ll have the skills to get a job if you go through Bloc, but after you graduate, it’s on you to find a job. The point of Bloc is not to get you a job, it’s to get you a skillset. Sure, a lot of Bloc alumni get jobs, but it’s not our focus. A lot of our students don’t want to get a job- they want to start their own companies or freelance. Although, we’re experimenting with some things- we pass along leads and our mentors are all in the industry, so they’re usually offering advice on interviews and giving support. Bloc was built for entrepreneurs. From our last alumni survey, 40% of our students have successfully started their own company. 35% are now professional web developers. The remainder are still working in the field they were in beforehand.
In light of the VentureBeat article about California regulatory agencies cracking down on bootcamps, is Bloc concerned at all about becoming accredited as an online post secondary institution?
Basically, we’re not affected by that at all and we’re not concerned about it.
So you’re not planning to get accredited?
Right. If you take a look at most of the hottest tech companies today, when they interview developers, they look at your code and what you’ve built, rather than what university you went to. Furthermore, if you look at world class entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, none of them went to school for web development, and Bill Gates dropped out entirely. We focus on results, real skills, not a piece of paper.