Kush Patel graduated from the first cohort at Dev Bootcamp and saw some room for improvement, so he created App Academy in 2012 with Ned Ruggeri, a former Google engineer and fellow University of Chicago alum.
We talk to Kush about App Academy’s application process and why they charge students tuition only after they get a job that they want to accept.
What is your story and how did you end up in the Coding Bootcamp space? Do you have a background in education?
I graduated from the University of Chicago and went to work at a hedge fund in Bombay. I really enjoyed that, but I was looking for a change, so I decided to come back to San Francisco to get involved in the startup scene. I attended the first class at Dev Bootcamp, and I really enjoyed the experience, but also saw a few places where changes could be made. To be fair to them, it was their first class, and they’ve made significant changes. We were also excited to do a mobile version of the bootcamp. My cofounder, Ned, was working at Google on the Search Index Team and has been a developer for 10-15 years. I had actually met him in college, and he was always the person I went to for help with math, stats, computer science questions, just because he was a fantastic teacher. We decided to start the first iteration of App Academy- the first class we taught was an iOS course, so half web and half iOS. After that, our classes have all been purely web development.
Why did you switch from iOS to purely web development?
A couple reasons. First, our goal has always been to train software engineers to write quality code. To be a legit iOS developer, you want to be able to create backend web services that feed data into your iOS application. Unfortunately, teaching web as well as iOS in a 12-week course was just too much to ask. Our other goal is to find people jobs, and the market for junior web developers was as strong as the market for junior iOS developers, so we were covered there. It’s possible that we might have a two-week iOS course available to students who have completed the 12-week web development course, but by the time students are done with this course, they could learn iOS in a couple of weeks. At that point, they already understand the fundamentals and can apply those to learning iOS software development.
Which programming languages will students master in the 12 weeks at app academy?
We have equal emphasis on Ruby and JS. We want to train students across the stack, and introduce students to programming through Ruby. That said, we try to teach as much language and framework agnostic software development as we can.
What is your acceptance rate?
We have roughly a 5% acceptance rate into our program. The average San Francisco cycle is 40 students, and the average NY cycle is 20 students.
How does App Academy select instructors?
Ned is now the lead instructor in San Francisco. We’ve tried to hire externally, but we’ve always had a hard time doing that. Since our bar is set very high at App Academy for students, we recruit the top 5% of our students to be our Teaching Assistants. They are usually students that have come in with a few years of experience under the belts.
What are you looking for in potential students?
We are cool with complete beginners, and have seen complete beginners be extremely successful in the course, and go on to work for fantastic companies and make crazy salaries. Our application process is customized to the applicant. If someone comes to us with no experience, we’ll assign them some introductory exercises and give them a coding test that would be appropriate for them. We do multiple coding tests and interviews to really get a sense of the applicant.
Once a student has been accepted, what type of pre-work is required?
Everyone who shows up on the first day of class can write a non-trivial computer program. After we accept a student, we give them 50-100 hours of prework. We think it makes sense to just focus on Ruby in the prework. We believe very strongly that the best way to code is by doing. This was a major problem when I learned to code- I went about it in the same way that I learned math- by reading for 90% of the time an doing proofs for 10%. For coding, you have to flip that on it’s head.
Of your average 18 person cohort size, how many are typically male vs. female?
Last time I ran the numbers, we were ~20% female. We’ve been lucky, and we’ve tried to do outreach, especially since there are options like Hackbright Academy (an all women school) around the corner. But given the overall environment (an average CS program has 1 woman out of 10), I think we’re making progress towards the goal.
So there are a number of online boot camps and online classes that teach Ruby and other languages. Why do you think in-person classes are the most effective?
One of the main reasons that these courses succeed is the immersion aspect. You’re going to be living and breathing this, and one key aspect of immersion is community- we have 30-40% of students living on campus. It shows you how tightly knit these people are, and there’s a natural competitiveness as well. We’ve had many applicants who have graduated from Bloc or Tealeaf, and I’m not sure that they know anything more than another applicant. I’m not sure that we can ever get to that point.
App Academy is one of the only boot camps that we’ve seen that only takes tuition if the student gets a job offer. Why did you decide on that payment model?
This is one place where we saw that we could offer an alternative to Dev Bootcamp. I don’t think it’s a flaw to charge tuition up front- that’s business as usual. But we were confident that we could teach people a lot in 12 weeks and get our graduates jobs, so why not put our money where our mouths are and decrease risk to students.
How does App Academy help your graduates find jobs in tech once they've completed the program?
Since we only get paid when we help a graduate find a job, we basically don’t stop working with students until they find a job they’re happy with. It takes an average of 4 weeks in San Francisco for graduates to find a job and roughly 2 weeks in New York. It happens pretty quickly, but we do a ton to help make that happen during and after the course. During the course, we’re helping students build a portfolio and an online presence, doing a bunch of whiteboarding problems, resume polishing, interview practice, and making introductions to companies.
Can you explain the relationships that App Academy has with partner companies?
We have a good number of partner companies, and also a huge network of companies where our graduates are working now. So the App Academy alumni network is huge- a student can get introductions through current developers, which really increases their chances of interviewing. There are huge network effects with the alumni networks at these schools.
If a graduate chooses to take a job with one of your partner companies, does App Academy offer them a rebate on tuition? Do you get a fee if this happens?
We get a recruiting fee if we place a student at a company we have a placement agreement with, and in that case, the student gets a discount of $5000.
Are the recruiting fees the same for every company?
No, it varies from company to company.
The job placement stat on the site was "over 95%.” Have you seen the same success in recent months?
If I look at the past 8 months in San Francisco and New York, 100% of students that have had enough time to complete the job search have been placed 100%. The average salaries are $103k in San Francisco and $85K in New York, and have risen higher for recent cohorts.
Aside from your clearly unique approach with only charging students tuition if they get job offers, what else makes your boot camp different?
The course is not for everyone, but if job placement is important to you, look at our recent statistics and match them against other bootcamps. Also, we’re a full-immersion course, including living on campus, so that is an important aspect. And third, our tuition model goes beyond low risk, free housing. We have a different incentive structure from other schools. We’re focused on getting you a job that you’re happy with- we’re not just checking boxes when you get an offer. We want to find you a high-paying job that you want to take.