Sherif Abushadi has been educating for 10 years, and teaching Rails at Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco since 2012.  

In part one of this two-part interview, we talk to Sherif about the Dev Bootcamp application process, what they look for in future students, and why working at Dev Bootcamp is the best job he's ever had. 

 

"Learning to write code, as with learning anything new, gets really confusing, and that confusion ought to be a sort of delight.  Confusion is the last recognizable milestone before you learn something so, in fact, you ought to welcome and use confusion as a guidepost to learning." 

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

I’ve been teaching professionally for over 10 years, since 2001.  I started with a year-long stint at Johns Hopkins, teaching short courses on JavaScript, Cold Fusion, Database Design, Visual Basic, and Web Design.  After that I spent about 5 years designing courses and teaching over 1500 professionals across 200 companies how to think about process-driven solutions design and implementation.  One of the biggest challenges was “how do you explain a system that’s running on 4.5 million lines of code to a Business Analyst in two days?”  You have to cherry-pick what you teach and make it relatable to their questions. There was also the challenge of how to serve an audience with mixed motivations and experience.  And then most recently, I spent a year teaching agile software development and driving agile transformation at Verizon, Caterpillar, and Nationwide Insurance among hundreds of professionals.   Learning how to learn has become an obsession that I nurture shamelessly.  

How did you get involved with Dev Bootcamp?  

I met Shereef Bishay in 2012 over a phone call and after about 5 minutes I felt like I was talking to myself.  We agreed on so many of the fundamentals like what it really means to teach and learn, how much time it takes and the levels of passion and commitment you need to really change the way you think.   

So I flew out to DBC that summer and met an amazing group of super smart, very motivated students. I spent that week working with students and meeting the staff and just fell in love with all of it.  You can ask them, I was kind of giddy for the first few months.  It didn’t take much to get me to sign up after that.  I had been teaching long enough to realize that this was the right way to do it: get people to commit full time to learning something, immerse them in a world where everyone else was laser focused on the same goals, give them support and encouragement and everything else just falls into place.  Here I am a year and a half later and I still believe this is the best job I’ve ever had.   

 

Which programming languages will students master in the 9 weeks at DBC?  

First, it’s important to recognize that mastery is a very lofty goal – we’re talking about becoming a world class beginner in 9 weeks, not a master.  Second, the languages are almost incidental to the lessons that we teach.   We focus on three fundamentals, which are then projected into languages.  Those are problem solving and self-expression using code, communication and teamwork (pairing and working in groups), and self-awareness & high-performance learning. It just so happens that the students are learning Ruby, SQL, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Sinatra, and then finally Ruby on Rails.   So when you’re looking at the curriculum from the outside, it seems like the technology is what’s important.  But really, there is this tension that comes up between the machine and the constraints that it imposes on you (ie. what can you actually get a machine to do in 2014) and what you want to do, realizing your vision.  And it’s in this tension that you use these languages to solve a problem.   

 

Why does Dev Bootcamp teach Rails?  

Three reasons.  First, it’s what the market is demanding today, so there are a lot of job opportunities when you graduate.  Second, the community is vast and supportive, so there is tons of documentation, sample code, timely answers on stack overflow, an abundance of meetups, conferences and books.  Ruby is a very easy language with which to express yourself.  There’s a massive community and tons of online learning resources. And that’s important because as you’re learning, you want to choose a technology to study with the lowest possible friction to getting your questions answered.  And then the third reason is that our team of instructors just knows Ruby on Rails very well, so students have a diverse drinking well of experience to draw from.   

 

Which cities is DBC currently operating in?  Why are those cities specifically good for a coding bootcamp?    

Shereef Bishay started the first immersive bootcamp in San Francisco in the spring of 2012 to provide developer talent to Silicon Valley startups.  A year later he partnered with Dave Hoover to open our second campus in Chicago in the spring of 2013 where Dave had spent several years building software teams at Obtiva and Groupon.  Our New York campus, led by Lloyed Nimetz and Tanner Welsh, welcomes their first class this March of 2014 after getting a lot of requests to have an east coast presence. Having all three locations means students all over the US have access to Dev Bootcamp and gives our alumni a hiring network in three amazing cities.  Each city has their own unique flavor and culture as well as an underlying need for new developer talent.  

 

Do you think that potential students should only apply to boot camps in cities where they're looking for a job?  

If you can afford it, absolutely, it’s about exposure after all.  If you can afford the trip and living expenses, being immersed in your target community from the very start has major advantages.  There are so many community events happening in San Francisco, Chicago and New York on a daily basis, for example, that if you want to live and work there, starting early means more awareness and more access.  If you can’t afford the move, you can certainly try to find a boot camp local to where you are to reduce the cost of the experience (you aren’t paying for travel, room & board or communications).  Assuming the quality of education is the same, I could see the advantages of staying local if you have family or other obligations to balance.  About 50% of our students who attend San Francisco are native to the SF area, so they benefit from both sides of this equation and are also in a convenient place during the interview process.  

 

What are you looking for in potential students?   

When we meet students, we’re basically thinking about a couple of things.  One thing is that the incoming student is culturally and motivationally aligned, meaning they have the kinds of motivations for attending the program that we believe will actually have staying power.  If you have somebody who has decided “I want to build this app and make a million dollars” or “I want to start a new company and need to know how to manage these monkeys who are going to be coding for me,” then what I’ve seen as a teacher is that they aren’t able to muster the grit to deal with the lowest of lows that you arrive at on a Friday night after a week of utter confusion and failure.  Being able to muster the grit that you need to push through those trenches is what we need all of our students to have.  It gets really confusing, and that confusion ought to be a sort of delight.  Confusion is the last recognizable milestone before you learn something, so in fact, you ought to use confusion as a guidepost to learning.  Students who are here seeing Dev Bootcamp as a ‘means to an end’ will tend to slip back into their competencies and will avoid the toughest problems.  Our interview process is created to filter out students like that- and to encourage them to realize this in themselves while selecting for students with a deep passion for the craft of software development, or at least what they know of it when applying.  

 

Is Dev Bootcamp exclusively looking for applicants who have programming experience? Do any stories stick out in your mind of students that might not typically fit the "tech profile" but really succeeded in the program?   

Not at all.  It’s not at all about your experience.  Sure, students with a hard science background tend to have an easier time with some of the work that we do, but it’s an even playing field when it comes to systems design and building usable applications. Someone with a humanities background can be just as effective, if not more effective because they have an intuitive sense of what it means to enjoy using an application.   If I could draw a line around our strongest students, they would be students who have somehow already stretched their learning muscles- they’re graduates of a PhD program, doctors, lawyers.  One of our students was a PhD in linguistics, another of our best students was an ophthalmologist, and another was a lawyer.  It’s all about recognizing how you deal with confusion and knowing how to study well.   

The opposite is true too. Students who come from a background where they haven’t explored learning might not be as successful.  Typical self-defeating statements like “I’ll never be good at math” are indicators of students who will find every reason not to push through the confusion.  

 

Next week, we'll be posting Part 2 of this interview, as Sherif dives into the Dev Bootcamp interview process, curriculum, job placement and hiring process, and more!  Find out more about Dev Bootcamp on their school page.  

About The Author

Liz pic

Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students considering a coding bootcamp. 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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