David Yang and Nimit Maru have been friends for ages, and after many successful years in business, decided to turn their love of educating (and coding) into a full-time gig at Fullstack Academy.
We were so excited to sit down with David and Hannah Jane, a graduate of the first Fullstack cohort and employee at the company now, in the Fullstack classroom space. We learned a ton about the school, their unique CTO Program, and how Fullstack students are crushing hackathons before they even graduate!
Tell us your story, how you got into the bootcamp space and if you had a background in education or development.
David: Nimit and I actually met more than 15 years ago in undergrad; we were really good friends from day one and have been working on projects ever since. Two years after we graduated, we both went to Yahoo to work together.
In 2008 moved back to New York because my family was here, and Nimit started a company called Bloomspot. I was working here at Gilt and before that, RecycleBank. Nimit had sold Bloomspot to JP Morgan, and then went to Wharton for his MBA. After he graduated he was like “David what’re we gonna do next?” Business school students had really started focusing on entrepreneurship and startup technology. So we decided to offer them additional content so they could be better entrepreneurs and fit better in technology companies- we called it the MBA Code School.
This was Nimit and I, backpacks in hand, going to all the business schools in the East Coast, teaching one or two day seminars to business students. We went to Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, and through that process, we just really fell in love with the idea of teaching, empowering people to do something cool with code. So as we looked around we asked how can we make this our full time jobs? After Nimit graduated, we’d also gotten into Y Combinator to work on ideas of code and education. So in 2012, we started working with coding-education ideas, and I think what MBA Code School told us is that the value of in-person education is still so huge. Last summer, we started Fullstack Academy. So we are not educators by training but we’ve been doing this for about 2 years now.
So you’re both co-founders and also the instructors.
Did Fullstack start with some funding?
David: Yeah, we have some education-focused investors as in our company as well.
How many people are in your cohort now and how many cohorts have you done?
David: We have 24 people in this cohort (we’re on our second). In our first cohort, we had 14. Our promise was that we would keep it small and focused. We have two instructors and the TAs who each come by for a week or two.
Have you noticed how many women and unrepresented minorities have been a part of Fullstack? Do you do outreach to get unrepresented groups more involved in tech?
David: We definitely are trying to reach out to women in the community. Actually, last weekend we ran a Road to Code event.
Hannah Jane: Road to Code was just a one-day event, we had two of them last weekend and the first day was all women in an effort to make women comfortable coming into a programming setting. I think we had a lot of really smart, interesting women here. I’m really excited about that and I think we’ve seen a pick-up in our women applications. So we’re definitely thinking about ways to close that gap and encourage more women to consider a career in programming.
Do you do any scholarships or are scholarships a part of your future plans?
David: We are open to scholarships. We have been offering scholarships to strong applicants and we’re definitely open to female scholarships as well. We have students who got in through Upstart. We don’t work with Upstart per se but we recommend a lot of students to fundraise through them.
What technologies are students learning in their 12 weeks at Fullstack?
Would you expect that a student might graduate from Fullstack and be able to take a Python job or teach themselves a different back end language after they’re finished?
David: I think that we really focus on fundamentals. We haven’t had anybody do that yet but I think they all could learn Python, especially as the similarities are greater than the differences.
Hannah Jane: We haven’t had anyone switch to Python, specifically, but we have had a students go on to work in technologies they’re not familiar with. My cohort didn’t learn Node but we have students working in Node as well as students that are learning some PHP and Scala for their positions.
Tell us about the CTO program and how that sets you apart from other coding boot camps.
David: Nimit and I have been CTOs or VPs of Engineering at various companies. It’s an understanding of things beyond coding that are important to a business. How do I think about planning a project, how do I think about communication? How do I think about words like “lean, agile, scrum”? How do we think about negotiation? I think at the higher level, programming is much more of a human project than it is a technical project. The best programmers are those who have a bit of both so the CTO program puts you on the track of management and entrepreneurship.
What are you looking for in applicants? I read on your site that you’re not looking for necessarily complete beginners but what type of student are you targeting?
David: I think we look for talent, we look for passion and we look for people who have started the path, what we call the road to code. We’re not looking for people who are just looking for a job because they’ve heard programming is lucrative. We want people who’ve done Code Academy, people who want to figure out how they can get better at this and want some guidance. We take applicants of all skill levels but we’re looking for those underlying traits. People who have demonstrated excellence in some other part of their life and can demonstrate excellence here.
In the interview, is there a technical test that applicants need to pass?
Hannah Jane: First they’ll send in an application with some general questions about what they’ve worked on so far, what their background has been. After that we send them a code assessment that they can take online. Based on their performance, we call them to do an interview; one part of the interview checks for cultural fit and just seeks to get to know the candidate, the other part is a review of their performance on the assessment and some additional technical questions to see how they think about problems in real time.
Describe your curriculum and your teaching style.
David: We break up our semester into two sections, one of 8 weeks, one of 4 weeks. The first 8 weeks, it’s lecture followed by exercises and workshops. We have our own learning matrix system where we’ll present a challenge and then walk them through how to think about it and then they work on it individually or in pairs.
It probably balances between 20% lecture and 80% exercise. I would say that we’re teachers who use these kind of constructivist activities where you’re given little tools and given these levels to jump to and try to build your knowledge. Then we layer that upon layer. One criticism that we get is that if you miss a step, things layer up too quickly. But that’s how it is in programming. You have the basic fundamentals and then you build a lot of interesting things.
And what’s happening in the last 4 weeks?
David: In the last 4 weeks, they start to have their project fair. So we have time for them to work on their personal project and a time for them to work on their group project. We have two to three projects at the end of hiring day and they can then show their portfolio.
Can you tell us about some of the student projects?
David: Just as a point of reference, this semester our students have already won $6,000 in prizes.
Hannah Jane: The project they won $5,000 for overall was creating a network for Step Up Women’s Network, a nonprofit that does mentoring. It had a Facebook user from the Step Up Women’s Network, and that account would mediate discussions between a mentor and a protégé. The application would allow you to configure things like anonymity, and it would raise alerts upon various things being disclosed that weren’t supposed to be disclosed. So the idea was that anybody who was starting a mentoring network could create a Facebook user and then have all these things that protect both sides of the conversation.
Another project that they had done already was for a wedding company where you could create Dropbox folders where the sharing was mediated by your Facebook friends instead of by Dropbox share folders.
Another team won $1,000 for doing Snapchat for legal documents and data privacy (GhostDrop). Their project was really interesting considering the number of industries the problem spans and the political implications.
Hannah Jane, what projects did you do when you were a student at Fullstack?
So if a student accepts a job with one of your hiring partners then they get a refund, is that right?
And is Fullstack also getting a recruiting fee or a hiring fee?
David: The idea is that if we do get a placement fee we will share it with the student.
How do you structure that? Who are some of your hiring partners?
David: Hiring partners are companies that we are in conversations with to give them access to our students. Some big companies and medium companies. We’re still working on that list right now.
Can you tell me about the hiring day?
David: The hiring day is kind of like a speed dating event where we have people set up projects and monitors were set up and then companies come in and walk down the aisle, and talk with each student.
Hannah Jane, when you went through that Hiring Day, did you feel like you’re really prepared to talk to those hiring companies?
Hannah Jane: Yeah; some people came in and were surprised that I had done this much work in 12 weeks. I felt fully prepared. It was actually really fun and interesting talking to different engineers from the companies, hearing about what they’re doing and getting to show off all your work.
Did you do interviews with other tech companies before you accepted this position with Fullstack?
Hannah Jane: I just had to come back! I interviewed and had an offer from a really interesting data encryption firm in Atlanta who was raising money like crazy. But New York and Fullstack just drew me back. I love it here and I believe in what Fullstack is doing.
Have you published job placement stat at all?
David: In our first cohort, we got some great job placements. They graduated in December so we’ll have our official stats by mid-March for our first class.
If a student comes to Fullstack and they don’t necessarily want to be placed in a job but maybe they want to start their own business or build their own product, is that something that you can support?
David: Being an entrepreneurial ourselves, we love to support that. We encourage people on day one to have an end goal in mind – what do you want to be able to build? I think that when students have that, it clicks a lot faster. In the end we really care about the outcome for the student. I think the success that people have will determine us as a company, not the placement fees.
Hannah Jane: We have students that have launched into their own projects and current students that are planning on going that route.
After all of the articles talking about cracking down on California boot camps, do you all feel any pressure to become accredited or are you working with New York regulatory agencies?
David: Actually, I looked up New York regulations on bootcamps and we are looking into that process now. I’m relatively encouraged by the fact that that New York has been friendly to this kind of innovation.
I’m not too concerned about the regulatory impact, and I could be naïve, but we’re happy to work with regulatory agencies. I think government and education have always formed special relationships and I see no sign from New York that this is something that they’re discouraging. I think in any industry you’ll see good players and bad players and we definitely want to be known as one of the good ones.
Any plans to expand outside of New York?
David: No, no plans to expand out of New York. We want to make sure that we’re delivering the best outcomes for our students. I think New York is the place for us to do that. I don’t want expansion to come at the cost of the quality.