Ronin is the newest learn-to-code option from London bootcamp Makers Academy, designed to deliver the same outcomes as their in-person offering. Looking forward to their second cohort, the team at Makers Academy talks to Course Report about their plans for Ronin, the emphasis on Software Craftsmanship principles like Test Driven Development and Pair Programming, iterating and learning from past cohorts, and admissions standards at the full-time, immersive online bootcamp.
Ronin is online, but it's not a flexible, self-guided program, right? Tell us about the commitment required.
Paradoxically, we don't see Makers Academy, or Ronin, as a place where we 'teach' people how to code. In fact, ‘teach’ is a dirty word around here! We see our role as coaches, not teachers.
Although few would admit it, Coding Bootcamps, and online coding courses in general, are not in the business of 'teaching' people how to code. We're really in the motivation business. There are loads of great resources for learning to code out there, most of them free! Finding the material isn't the hard bit. The hard bit is pushing yourself to code for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end. Coding bootcamps – whether online or offline – are designed in such a way as to really push people to immerse themselves in programming for a prolonged period. That’s where the real value lies. To use a metaphor – how many people learnt to speak French by taking evening classes? Practically none. But get yourself a French girlfriend and move to France for a few months, and before you know it you’re rattling off the passé composé like you were born with a croissant in your mouth.
Coding bootcamps immerse their students by literally expecting them to be ‘at school’ for 60-80+ hours per week. This is a huge part of what makes them so successful. The ‘curriculum’ is way less important than just actually being here, writing code, over and over and over again until it becomes second nature.
With a part-time course, you’re never going to get this sort of immersion, so the rate of learning will be an order of magnitude slower. Basically, if you want to learn part-time, it’s going to take you 1-2 years of hard work and even then there are no guarantees.
Some part-time courses try to mock this immersion by having weekly meetings with a mentor, but we don’t think this is anywhere near enough, and it encourages people to do the bulk of their work at the last minute, the night before their meeting with their tutor, in order to ‘keep up’ and ‘save face’.
Also, very few programmes promote pair programming, and none to the level we do, which is strange, given that pairing has proven itself to be the most effective learning technique for junior programmers.
Students of Ronin are expected to attend a remote daily standup at 9am, and another at 2.30pm, and they spend the rest of the day in lectures, workshops and remote pair programming. That way, they’re still being fully immersed in writing software, even if they’re doing it in their pyjamas from home!
So yes, in short, Ronin is full-time, and you need to be fully committed to it, just as you would be with any face-to-face bootcamp. For now, at least, this is the only way that we can say with confidence that you can become a professional developer in just a few months.
What does it mean that Makers Academy and Ronin ascribe to “Software Craftsmanship principles”?
Here at Makers Academy, we’re strong (but not dogmatic) advocates of Software Craftsmanship Principles like TDD and Pair Programming, not just because this is the most efficient way to write good software that the world has come up with so far, but because these principles really support early stage learners, encouraging them to write clean, elegant, scalable code. We see programmers as artisans as much as they are engineers, which is a key element of the ‘Software Crafstmanship’ movement. A lot of our competitors forego these techniques so their students can ‘go faster’, but at Makers Academy, we’d much rather you go slow and do things properly – and our hiring partners agree with this approach. This is why graduates of Makers Academy, and especially graduates of our new online course ‘Ronin’, stand so far above graduates of similar courses, and all the other juniors in this industry.
How are students able to pair program and collaborate during the class? Do they interact a lot?
Yes, outside of lectures and workshops and group activities, students spend the vast majority of their time pairing. It’s an incredibly collaborative environment, which is very different to any other online course. From 9am-6pm, Monday to Friday, and usually much more than this, students are intensively and collaboratively learning to code. This is mostly done through group Hangouts and Slack.
This is your second Ronin cohort- what have you learned, changed, or iterated on for the upcoming cohort?
We’ve learnt a lot! For us, the most important thing we’ve learnt is that students can learn at the same phenomenal pace that our face-to-face students. We’ve also found that the very nature of working remotely in teams forces people to develop exceptional communication skills, and that the medium has encouraged a huge amount of peer-support and collaboration. For example, all our students have volunteered to research their own specific topics and give mini workshops to each other, rather than just relying on lectures and workshops from our coaches. Also, we were worried - because the students have never met face-to-face - that there might be a lack of cohesion in the group. On the contrary, the dynamic is excellent, with constant playful banter across our communication channels, even late at night and on weekends. Students seem really comfortable sharing their lows as well as their highs, and they all jump in and offer emotional as well as technical support to each other, without any encouragement from us. This has been an absolute joy to see. We aim to encourage more and more of this peer-led learning and support as we grow the number of students we accept onto the programme in the months and years ahead.
How are course materials and lessons delivered? Do students get to interact with the lessons while they're learning?
Almost all communications are done through Google Hangouts and Slack. Lectures, workshops and group activities are delivered live through group Hangouts – which are incredibly interactive - and all sessions are recorded so students can re-watch them at their leisure. The students have a dedicated coach who is available at any moment to jump in to a pairing session and help correct any misunderstanding and steer them back on track, and we have about 10,000 messages being sent each day on Slack. The whole thing is really designed to feel, to all intents and purposes, like you’re in a busy room full of people learning to code along with you – almost (almost!) as if you were at Makers HQ itself.
What are you looking for in a student? Do you use the same standards as the in-person MA class?
We use the same high standard as we do for applicants for Makers Academy… If anything, we have a slightly higher standard for Ronin applicants, as we need to know that the person is serious and won’t give up when the going gets tough. The course is hard – it’s meant to be – but you definitely don’t need technical experience to apply. If you’ve made an effort to learn some basic coding, and you’re serious about rapidly getting yourself to an employable level, you’re ready to apply.
I see that your students get to work with a real client. Can you give an example of a student project?
This ‘client-work’ has been really well received by the students as well as our partners. The current Ronin cohort haven’t got there yet as final projects don’t start for a few more weeks, but here are some examples of previous projects that were created in recent “final project week”s.