Brainstation is a part-time school in Toronto that facilitates small class sizes and hands-on, project-based learning. Jay Field joined the Brainstation team after working in marketing and business development, and he shares Brainstation's teaching philosophy, their plans for expansion into back-end & mobile courses, and how he feels about recent attention from regulatory agencies.
Oh, did we mention he's also a student in the first cohort?
What brought you to BrainStation?
I was learning personally, through Codecademy, Codeschool, Treehouse, when I was able to link up with the BrainStation team. I have a background in business development, community building and marketing, so I came on to assist in that respect. Through that I was able to contribute in the hiring process to bring on our amazing educator team. I'm actually one of our students in the first cohort!
BrainStation has a good amount of classes now- Front-end, Back-end, Mobile, Data Science. Which class did you start with?
The Front-end class is the first cohort, which is now in Week 6.
And it’s a part time commitment. What is the general time commitment that students are signing up for?
For me personally, I had approached the concept of using something like Course Report to find an intensive, immersive bootcamp in Canada or the States. I couldn’t make the time or money commitment at that point, so there was no real option in Toronto for someone like myself, who had a 9-5 job and wanted to dabble in coding. We aim to provide that opportunity. Our student base is interested to the point where they want to take a part-time course. We have some entrepreneurs in our course working on their own projects, and young professionals, looking to be better at what they do. Technology is everywhere, so having a background in web development is useful in marketing, finance etc. We teach on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30-9:30pm for 12 weeks. So there’s 72 hours of in-class learning.
Someone working in finance may wake up at 6am, go to work, commute to our class, and be here until 10pm. That’s a long day, so we’re pretty understanding. When they come to class, it’s just project building. We’ll have a 30-minute overview of the material and the curriculum is based on their individual goals (versus an end goal for the class). So the time commitment depends on the individual, but we have students spending upwards of 15 hours/week, and others spending 5-10 hours outside of class. Overall, it’s 15-20 hours of work per week, with 6 of those hours being in-class.
What’s the cohort size for this first course?
It’s 18 students. Our standard is a 6:1 student to TA ratio. In this first cohort, we’re trying to make sure everything runs seamlessly, so we have higher than 6:1. Our cofounders are all in the classroom as well.
What are you looking for in potential students? Do applicants need to have programming or technical background?
That being said, we do aim to facilitate hiring if a student wants that. We're finding that students that came in with an original intent to get a promotion at work or authentically manage their technically team better are more interested than they thought they'd be. It’s cool to see them wanting to shift.
The backend or mobile program is a bit more technical. It would be perfect for someone who has taken our front-end course or someone with coding experience. All of our programs begin before you get to class. We have a 50+ hour prep course laid out for you to complete before day one begins.For the mobile course, you need to be able to pick up Objective C, so you will want to have programmed before.
Did you get a lot of applications for your first cohort?
We did. We cap our cohorts at 24. We didn’t necessarily turn people down, but we had genuine conversations with them about the course. It’s not your typical “night class.” It’s going to be intense and quick. We chose 18 solid students who have been able to commit, and that’s been awesome.
Do you have a refund policy in place in case a student doesn’t realize the pace until it’s too late?
We have a $500 deposit, which is nonrefundable and holds your seat in the class. We had one student who was given a full refund, Andrew, because he was given a promotion at work and he wasn’t able to continue. We’re not looking to make this difficult- obviously we want to fill the cohort as a business so that we can provide the best experience possible, but life happens. That’s one thing I’m learning as a cofounder and a student, since I’m in their shoes.
Of your 18 person class, how many are male vs. female?
7 out of 18 are female. We offer a $500 automatic scholarship for women. The co-founders and our educators are passionate about getting more women into technology, and it seems that they want to also. Toronto is holding it down for the ladies! If you’ve been part of the Canadian Armed Forces or are in the US Military, we offer an automatic $500 scholarship as well.
Can you give us a quick run down of the curriculum in the Front-End course?
As a student, I would be expected to do three chapters of reading, then I need to do some exercises (~5 hours) in Treehouse and Codeschool. Everyone has a personal project that we also work on. We have one student, Oliver, who has a men’s e-commerce brand. That’s really cool, because you can see that he’s so committed to building his website. We try to give projects that can be implemented into what an entrepreneur’s goals are.
How are you helping students find jobs? Are you doing interview training, building a portfolio etc?
Throughout these 12 weeks, they’re pushing everything to Github, so at the end, they’ll have a portfolio of projects. That’s sweet. We have some students who are content with their jobs, but want to enhance their learning and maybe freelance on the side. The extreme case is that a student wants us to open their eyes to the companies who are hiring in Toronto.
The most interesting thing is when you get someone who is now a “switch-hitter”- they have an accounting background but they know how to code, so they can work for an accounting-based software company like Wave. Or someone in Marketing who can now handle a technical team. The doors open up.
Because we’re part-time, we don’t need our own location, so we run our classes out of a coworking environment and rent out the space at night. We're running our courses out of 2 co-working spaces; Project: RHINO and The Fueling Station, as well as an accelerator, Extreme Startups.
These spaces have small startup companies as well as more mature businesses, which is cool because in Toronto, the startup scene is something that you need to be exposed to. Coming out of university, startups weren’t a publicized option for me- the typical options are business, doctor, lawyer. This opens up their eyes to possibilities that they never knew existed. Salesforce, Pivotal Labs, Wave Accounting, Shopify, 500px, the list goes on of awesome companies that I wasn't exposed to until I began coding.
If you place a student with a company, does BrainStation get a recruiting fee or does the student get a refund?
I know that’s how a lot of the bootcamps operate. That is not how we’re going to operate. If we’re able to help students make a positive shift in their lives, that’s great. You can tell from our marketing that we don’t focus on selling the concept of getting a job. We want to focus on the education. It’s not something that will make or break our business, and we don’t expect to generate any revenue from that.
Is there a demand for developers in Toronto like there is in New York and San Francisco?
Yes! For every 7 technical jobs in Toronto, there’s only 1 qualified individual available to fill the job. The gap is there, hence all of these coding bootcamps popping up.
Are you feeling pressured to get accredited or work with regulatory agencies in Canada?
No sweat there. Since we're part-time and professional development focused, we're in the clear. We approached the Ministry of Ontario Education, in our province, just to be proactive. Last May Bitmaker Labs went through the same issues that Californian boocamps are going through now, it's brutal. Clearly Bitmaker was making a positive impact on Toronto's economy and filling the gaps that exist. Two of our founders were on the founding team at Bitmaker, which is why we were proactive right away. I get why the regulations are in place- to protect consumers- but there’s a fine line between protecting consumers and harming the economy and innovation. All of the bootcamps I've talked to in Canada are legit and there's room for all of them. Be sure to check out my Open Letter to Technology Educators, it was recently published in Techvibes.