blog article

Interview with Jay Wengrow from Anyone Can Learn To Code

By Liz Eggleston
Last updated on January 23, 2014

Anyone Can Learn To Code, based in Chicago, launches in June 2014, and can turn you into a web developer in 12 weeks.  The best news?  You don't even have to quit your job.  

We talk to founder Jay Wengrow about his background in tech and education, his choice to teach beyond "Vanilla" Rails, and how focused Chicago students can learn to code without leaving their jobs. 


What is your background and how did you end up in the coding bootcamp space?   

I come from a background in teaching, having a Masters in Education from Loyola  in Chicago, and having taught various subjects for some time. But I was drawn to tech, having had some great experiences doing some computer programming as a child. So I went back to school for a Masters in Software Engineering and have been a web developer since then. I am currently a Rails dev at here in Chicago.  I’ve had the opportunity to mentor people at work or even friends, and I’ve realized how much I enjoy teaching tech. So on Sundays I’ve started this ACLTC mentoring service- on a Sunday, I’ll tutor anyone remotely for an hour session and then give them enough homework to get them through the week, and I’d be available via email if they have questions.  That went really well, but I decided that I want to reach more people by starting a bootcamp.  I think a bootcamp will also be a more effective vehicle for learning, because I did find that some students learning on Sundays weren’t as motivated to do all the homework.  If they’re in a bootcamp several days a week, it forces them to keep up the learning.  


Which programming languages will students master in the 12 weeks at ACLTC?

The primary focus will be on both Ruby and Rails.  Additionally, we will do some JavaScript.  We're going to go beyond "vanilla Rails" which is usually all that bootstrap students are taught.  In the tech industry, companies are moving away from that model, and towards a more modular, service-oriented model, which consists of APIs that are built with ROR and Javascript-based front end clients.  So I’m trying to teach skills that are more easily applied in the real world and more in-demand by employers.  I see more and more on job postings that they want people experienced in APIs.  Typically, one will use a Javascript-based front end client to consume those APIs.


When is your first cohort? What is your maximum cohort size?

The first cohort will start June 8th. We just launched the announcement of the first course a week ago, and I’m optimistic that we’ll fill up.  My maximum cohort size is 20.


How much does the course cost?

$8000 for the 12 weeks, but if you apply by March 1st, tuition is only $7000.  We do not offer scholarships at this time, but tuition includes our job placement services.  We’re growing a network of tech recruiters and business that are interested in our graduates.  Additionally, we’ll have experts in creating resumes and optimizing LinkedIn profiles, and we’ll also help students build out their GitHub portfolios, which is hugely important for employers.  That will start in the second half of the course. We’re not offering refunds to students who do find jobs, but we’re also not charging recruiters.  


Are you the primary instructor?  

Yes, I am.


What are you looking for in potential students?  

As I say, "anyone can learn to code."  That means that I’m accepting students with no previous background in code (although it’s okay if they do)!  What we need is people who are very dedicated to coding.  


Is there an interview process?  What can a potential student expect to see in the interview process?

It starts with users filling out a very brief application on the website.  Then I’ll reach out to set up an interview, which will be questions about their background to see what experience they might have, in addition to their interests and motivations, and try to understand how dedicated they are to this course.  There won’t be an exam, but we’ll give them a series of screencasts to watch, which are on the site now, and ask applicants to build something simple.  Most importantly, we want everyone to be on the same page.  


Once a student has been accepted, what type of pre-work is required?

Yes, there will be 2-3 weeks of prework, focusing on introductory Ruby and also introductory HTML.  


Can you give us a quick run-down of the curriculum?  

We’ll start with plain Ruby, to make sure everyone understands the basic paradigms of programming and Ruby.  We’ll move on to HTML/CSS, but we won’t stay there for too long. We’ll head along to Rails, which will be the bulk of the course.  After a few weeks of Rails, we’ll start developing APIs with Rails, and then conclude with building Javascript applications that can consume those APIs.


There will be two tracks going on at the same time.  One is the in-class project that I’m demoing.  As I’m instructing, I’ll be building a simple app (like a blog, twitter or a Facebook clone) and students will code along with that.  But additionally, each student will choose a project that’s personal to them, which they’ll be coding.  I’ll meet with them individually to determine the scope of that project, and they’ll be applying the concepts that they’ve seen in the in-class app to the app that they’re building.  When students get to work on their own apps, that’s highly motivating and engaging.  


Your classes are primarily on nights and weekends, can you explain that choice?   

The course is 22 hours per week.  But we’re doing something unique in that this is not a “drop your job and come to us” bootcamp.  It’s an opportunity for people in the Chicago area to keep their jobs and come learn to code.  We’ll be offering classes Monday thru Thursday in the evening, and eight hours on Sunday.  We will encourage whatever time they can find to dedicate to practice.  


Where will you be teaching?

It will depend on class size, but it will be somewhere easily accessed by public transportation, probably downtown Chicago.


What else sets Anyone Can Learn to Code apart?

One thing we’ll be focusing on is crystal-clear instruction.  Many bootcamps will tell you that their instructors fulfill the role of a guide, not a teacher.  In those bootcamps, the student is teaching him or herself.  That’s great for some people, but we’re focusing on quality instruction.  We’ll be switching back and forth between instruction and practice, so that students can grasp it more easily.  


Interested in finding out more about Anyone Can Learn To Code?  Check out their course page or visit their website.  

About The Author

Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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