Sherif Abushadi has been educating for 10 years and teaching Rails at Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco since 2012. [As of December 8, 2017, Dev Bootcamp will no longer be operating.]
In part two of our interview, Sherif dives into the Dev Bootcamp interview process, curriculum, job placement and hiring process, and more!
What can a potential student expect to see in the interview process?
First, it’s an online application. From that pool, we will pick 25-30% of applicants to interview. The interview itself is 30 minutes. The first component is “getting to know you” and figuring out if this is a person the interviewer would want to work with. Then, we’re trying to get to the root of the candidate’s motivations and grit. Obviously, the kinds of questions we ask may induce confusion or helplessness in the student. So we’re looking at how you deal with that impossible problem. Do you get upset or frustrated? Do you attack the interviewer for putting you in that position?
We generally do our interviews on Skype or Google Hangout.
Once a student has been accepted, what type of pre-work is required?
In 2013 we launched phase 0, a 12 week part-time preparatory program for students who are accepted and scheduled to attend Dev Bootcamp. Some might say you can basically think of DBC as a 21 week program with 9 weeks onsite. Students work through guided pairing sessions with coaches and instructors for about 10-15 hours per week as they complete a set of introductory challenges that cover a wide range of topics, technical and non-technical.
The benefits of this new phase have been obvious to all of us this year. Students are walking in the door much more prepared than they were last year and their questions are a week or two ahead of what we expect to see in their first days onsite.
What is your cohort size?
20-25 students, with 3 or more teachers per cohort. We have two dedicated teachers per cohort, and then 1 or more supporting teachers.
From your experience, why do you think that 20-25 students is the best cohort size?
It’s about balance. First, you want a low student:teacher ratio. But if it’s too low, then there’s too much downtime. After you get too high (over 15) in cohort size, there’s not enough of the teacher to go around. Also, diversity is important. In any group, you want to maximize diversity in cultural background, personal and professional goals. When you pair with people, you want to get a lot of exposure to different people and different working styles. And then from a business perspective, you want to make it sustainable, so there are considerations in terms of the profit/loss, number of students, and price points.
Of your average 20 person cohort size, how many are typically male vs. female?
Right now, we’re around 15-17% female students. We have an internal initiative geared to pushing that up at DBC- the Levo-Scholars program is part of that, but we’re also conducting research, polling alumni, hiring partners, and applicants to figure out how to get more women to apply and encourage greater diversity in our student body. The goal would be ideally a 50-50 split and to be representative of the population. But if we could at least get to industry standard of mid-20% women or higher in 2014, that would be a good target for us. We spend a lot of time talking about how we can be a better role model in this initiative.
Can you give us a quick run-down of the curriculum?
Can you talk a bit about “Phase 4?” What does it entail and why is it a good option for graduates?
Phase 4 is an optional three week addendum where students are invited to stay on site and continue their study, and apply for jobs, provided that they contribute some time back to new incoming students, helping them become more culturally aligned or technically capable. Depending on the graduate, they might be more inclined to act as a TA or a mentor.
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?
I just started focusing on my health this year, and one of the things I’ve taken up is hot yoga. You’re in a room that is uncomfortably warm, and you’re contorting your body in strange positions and crushing your body in terrible heat. As you do this, you’re failing. And then right next to you is someone who has been doing this for years and looks like a graceful swan. And your mind goes crazy trying to spare you this threat. The reason that you stay and push past those voices is because that’s what everyone else is doing. In a community, there is a protection from the impossible. And for exactly the same reason, on-site boot camps are more effective than online courses. The in-between moments when you realize that someone else is struggling, and another person is getting it, is why in-person is more effective. Second order to that, you have direct access to experts and so much more communication can be transferred (via body language etc) in person.
How does DBC help your graduates find jobs in tech once they've completed the program? Can you explain the relationships that DBC has with partner companies?
We have a staff of two or more full-time employees with backgrounds in recruiting per office, that is dedicated to getting students jobs. We also support graduates with an internal “Linked-In” type of system, where students and hiring companies register their profiles and use that system to make connections. Once you graduate DBC, you connect in interviews with our on-site placement team, and they help introduce you to companies that are aligned to your interests, whether that’s the financial sector, or gaming, or a big brand name. They’ll support you in prepping for the interview, and then during the negotiation process and all that good stuff. On top of that, we have teachers and alumni conduct sessions like mock interview sessions, and events on-site with alumni who can set expectations for getting a job and give technical interview techniques.
Do those mentors or companies have input into the DBC curriculum?
Yes, while the hiring companies tend not to have preferences for language or curriculum, there are strong industry preferences for best practices. Two specific examples where hiring partners have asked for deeper coverage are test driven development using Rspec and MiniTest as well as version control using git and GitHub These are two specific examples of the direct influence of mentors and hiring partners on our curriculum.
From our perspective, our 200+ network of hiring partners is the source of truth when it comes to what we teach our students to prepare them for the job market.
Find out more about Dev Bootcamp on their school page.