NOTE: This Q&A may be outdated. Tealeaf Academy is now Launch School.
Tealeaf Academy is an online, Rails bootcamp that offers three robust courses in web development for students with varying levels of experience. We talk to Kevin Wang, a cofounder of Tealeaf, about what makes their online program effective and the types of students who excel in their courses.
How did Tealeaf start? What’s the story behind it?
We started about 2 years ago, before there were many coding bootcamps. My cofounder, Chris, and I just wanted to teach. We ran the first course in February 2012 under a different name - RailsTutors. We both came from a software development background. Chris went through a few senior technical roles before building and launching his own startup; I worked for one of the top Ruby shops in the world, after spending a few years building technical training solutions for IBM's Data Management division.
Take us through the curriculum. What will students master after going through your program?
We designed the curriculum to mirror the natural learning path for a junior developer. First, we guide our students to learn foundational skills and the basics of the Ruby programming language. You move on to learn a specific toolset- we focus on Ruby on Rails. Then, we take our students beyond this, to learn how to build a project. Learning to code is not enough, in our opinion. It’s about learning to be a programmer, solve complicated problems, and apply tools towards specific projects in a methodical way. That’s why we divided Tealeaf into three courses.
Our curriculum is designed to take our students beyond just a beginner level developer. The truth is, it is not so difficult to read a book, follow a tutorial, or launch a simple, toy app and become a beginner web developer. It is, however, very difficult to reach the next level of proficiency without professional working experience. Our program is designed to bridge that gap. We don’t want you to leave our program and still feel like a beginner; we want to take you far along enough and introduce you to the workflows, concepts, tools and best practices of experienced developers. Of course, you will need more practice to let things settle, but we will have expanded your horizon much broader than just learning a framework and building a simple prototype.
In fact, our graduates have told us that when they talk to graduates of other in-person bootcamp programs, they feel that they (our graduates) know much more and have much more confidence. We’ve had people who run consultancies, CTOs send their experienced developers to go through our 3rd course. As far as I know, nowhere else online can you find this type of non-beginner , profession level training program.
What are you looking for in potential students? Do students need to have a technical or programming background?
Our philosophy is that anyone who wants to learn to be a developer, we’re willing to teach them. But we tell our students that it won’t be easy and they have to work hard to become a professional-level developer. One of the goals of our first course is to show complete beginners how real programmers work and think, and solve problems systematically. It's not just introducing the programming syntax, but introducing a mindset and temperament.
So you never reject an applicant?
It’s not that we reject them, but we talk with each of them. We’re not a good fit for everyone, so we explain our structure, and our teaching philosophy. For some people, this is not the best fit, so we may suggest Bloc, Thinkful, or an in-person program.
What makes you different from Bloc & Thinkful?
The biggest difference is that we focus on depth. It’s very easy to become a beginner- there are a lot of materials out there, and it’s not too difficult for someone to use a tutorial or a book to build an application. But if you look at where companies are hiring, they’re looking for people with more experience. We take you further than any other bootcamp, which includes online and in-person programs. I’ve visited a lot of in-person bootcamps myself and we actually have many graduates from the in-person bootcamp, and they skip the first two courses and start in our 3rd course. Even after their weeks of training, they still haven’t gone deep enough. We want to take our students to an intermediate level, get them exposed to non-trivial problems and learn to build production quality applications.
Even though Tealeaf is online, is there any in-person aspect of the program?
We staff TAs, we have about 10-15, all over the world. In a week, we have five days of TA-led sessions, where our students can come in with questions and get help- we’re around to help them. We also have a running chatroom for quick help.
Do you have cohorts, or are your students all on their own track?
We have a prep course, which everyone has to take. It's fully supported by us, including live interactive sessions - we want to make sure our students are well prepared to go through our intensive program. There’s no time limit on that. Then, we have monthly start dates, and students can complete it at their own pace. The 3 courses are designed to take 4 weeks, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks to finish, respectively, but students are free to take longer time if necessary. We charge by courses, not time spent with us - our students pay us for specific goals, and we want to make sure we deliver values and match their expectations.
How many students have gone through Tealeaf?
That’s a hard question, because we now have three courses. We’ve probably had about 100 people go through all three courses, but some people do one or two courses.
Does Tealeaf offer a refund policy?
Yes, a full refund. For two reasons: first, our program may not be the best fit for everyone, so if someone realizes that, then we don’t want to take their money. They can take those funds and put them towards a better experience for them. We don’t do one-on-one tutoring, but someone might benefit more from that. Second, we want to take the pressure off of our students. If they commit, we’ll take them there, but we want to remove the risk.
How many of your students are outside of the US?
About half & half. We’re online, so we don’t push people away if they’re not in the US. Antarctica is the only continent we don’t have students in.
Does Tealeaf help graduates find jobs in tech once they've completed the program?
Chris and I have professional experience in the US, so our network and connections are most relevant to people in the US. We have used our connections and contacts to help students get an introduction, but because we have students from all over the world, we can't provide a guarantee. Also, we get a lot of professional developers,or existing Rails developers who are already employed. And we have companies who send their employees to be trained with us. We’re not purely a get-a-job school.
With in-person bootcamps, after you spend over $10,000 and take 3 months off of work, you’re probably going to be looking for a job, because that’s a huge investment. But we’re flexible, online, and more affordable, so we have a more diverse body of students with different goals.
If a student sticks to the schedule of the program, what is their time commitment?
It depends on the experience level. For a professional developer, maybe 15 hours/week. Someone with less experience could spend 20-30 hours/week.
After the California regulatory agency story came out, is Tealeaf concerned at all about becoming accredited as an online post secondary institution?
It doesn't impact us, so we're not concerned about it.