In January 2011, Duncan Logan founded RocketSpace, a tech-accelerator for funded companies based in San Francisco. Since opening its doors, RocketSpace now supports over 500 companies, all contributing to the flourishing community that call RocketSpace their home. Six months ago, they broke onto the education scene with RocketU, a world-class developer bootcamp, where graduating students fluent in Python on Django- (many of whom now work for the RocketSpace housed companies - think Uber, Spotify, and Supercell) will gain access to advanced courses, facility and some of the hottest tech-startups on the planet!
We catch up with Duncan and Paul (RocketU Ops) about the unique developer bootcamp and what they’re looking for in potential students.
What is the RocketSpace, story and why have you now moved into the Developer Bootcamp space?
Duncan: Ever since RocketSpace started, we have focused purely on technology companies who have raised at least one round of funding. Between our current companies and our alumni, we’re over 500 companies. Our alumni include many of the best startups in the Bay Area such as Uber, Lead Motion, Pocketgems, Domo, Kabam and Podio. We cover across gaming, B2B and B2C, a full mix of technology. If you combine the amount of raised capital within RocketSpace, it’s over 3 billion dollars; which gives us a very different background than a typical bootcamp.
The reason we got into the education space is because the one thing that is consistent across our community is that all companies within RocketSpace are well-funded, and the vast majority of that funding is to be spent on hiring talent. We see this huge shortage, and not just for programmers per se, but for programmers who can get across the bar. If you’re a company that’s been funded by any of the quality VC firms, then you will know that the success of your business comes down to the quality of people you can attract and hire. You set a bar, and never hire below it. There are some great education organizations out there, some online and some physical that want to get students from knowing nothing to knowing something. That’s fantastic, and definitely drives awareness to the importance of developer bootcamps, but those students aren’t going to cross that preset bar unbeknownst to them. Most won’t be hirable having done only a 3 or 10 week course in one particular language, they will still probably be too early for most companies in RocketSpace to hire, and will most likely have to do an internship before anything real-time.
What makes RocketU unique?
Our difference is looking for people who have a good grounding in code, and then taking them above the bar. Honestly, even on our course, only 50% - 75% of the students will get over that bar in 10 weeks. The other half will need some practical experience i.e. an internship before we can place them.
Having such a close proximity to tech companies makes us view the graduating student as our product and not necessarily the curriculum we sell. Our vision is to create a brand and quality standard around the students that graduate from our course, that will be recognized nationally.
Why do you think Python is the best teaching language?
Paul: I graduated from the very first RocketU course, and got hired as a consultant at a company coding in Ruby on Rails. I spent a weekend working through Ruby tutorials, and then started on Monday. Python & Django are a really good foundation for other frameworks and languages.
Duncan: We listened to our RocketSpace companies, and heard what they were looking to hire, we found that most were looking for Ruby and Python. And then we researched what other bootcamps were already offering, and found that it was a lot of Ruby, and less Python. Python and Django is harder, so people wanting to do this course we believe, will have a deeper commitment to get into coding. Eventually, we will add Ruby and other languages as we continue to build out the curriculum.
What are you looking for in potential students? Can you quantify how much coding experience an applicant should have?
Duncan: We get about three people / day applying to RocketU, and the course is limited to 15 students. The first interaction is really key: we’re not looking for people who want to learn coding as a hobby, we want and look for people who seek a career in technology. To maintain this level, we set a coding challenge that has to be passed, before you can be admitted into the course.
What is your cohort size?
Duncan: We only accept 15 students per class, and each class has an instructor and teaching assistant. The core education ends at 5:30pm, but our instructors continue with them beyond if individuals need it.
Of your 15-student cohort size, how many are typically male vs. female?
Duncan: It is always a challenge to attract female students into tech and onto the technical courses. Physically, out of the 600 people at RocketSpace, less than 100 are female. At the moment, in our current course, there is only one woman. We want that to be 50/50 but I think it starts earlier in the education process, we need more women studying S.T.EM. subjects coming through school.
Once a student has been accepted, what type of pre-work is required? How do you ensure that everyone is on the same page on Day One?
Paul: We have them learn up on web fundamentals; I’ll send them challenges, for example I’ll give them a picture, and they have to turn it into a static webpage. They do a lot of reading on web protocol, terms and definitions. We have everyone’s test scores from their application, so teaching assistants can engage with the students before the course, and will work closer with anyone who had lower test scores. Students are hugely receptive to this, they don’t want to be the one who is behind. Especially if they’re paying for it!
There are a number of online boot camps and online classes that teach Python and other languages. Why do you think in-person classes are the most effective?
Duncan: A lot of people choose RocketU because they’re learning to code, but it’s also a 10 week interview to work with the companies at RocketSpace. The classes are set right in the heart of our RocketSpace campus, where we have beers and events and constant interaction with the start-ups. Start-ups will present at Lunch-&-Learns, and they love the fact that we’re running a bootcamp. They’re always asking who are the best students and who looks promising because they want to hire them. And vice versa for graduates, a lot of the students know who these companies are and they want to work with them.
But also, we see people who say they’ve been trying to learn online for six months, and frustratingly they’ve gotten nowhere, so they’ve bit the bullet and decided to immerse themselves for 10 weeks.
If someone isn’t looking for a job as a developer with a company, but instead wants to start their own business, is this a red flag, or do you welcome the founder mentality?
Duncan: In all of our classes, we see a couple people in this space. We welcome it. During the course, all students have to build a product, and obviously if you’re a founder, you’ll start working on that product you eventually want for your business. At the end of the first four weeks and at the end of the course, we do demo days. This is where the RocketSpace companies’ CEOs, founders etc. will sit and watch the presenting demos. For founders working on their own products, they get vital feedback from the community, plus it’s also a way to show off their product.
Do you have any graduates of RocketU who are now applying to RocketSpace?
Duncan: Not yet, but give us a year! What’s interesting, from an entrepreneurial point of view, is I sit through demo days and look at these ideas, I’ve expected the technology to be really good, but the idea to be weak, but in fact there have been some really good ideas, where I come away saying to the student, “if you were wanting to be an entrepreneur, I think you could get that funded.”
How do you help students find jobs once they’re graduated?
Duncan: That’s key, and without beating around the bush: we profit from students getting jobs,. If a student comes out of RocketU and we place them in a company, that company will pay us for that placement. And if the company is in RocketSpace and they need a desk to sit at, well, we benefit from that as well. We really take the time to understand their needs and wants in an employer, so we sit down with every student on a 1-1 basis, and hear from them how the course is going etc.
I’ll be totally honest though, I know there are bootcamps out there that say their students get places immediately after the course and they all get six-figured jobs, but I just don’t believe that. There are definitely students that come out of our course and have to go into internships before they get a job. Once they finish the course, they’re welcome to stay at RocketSpace to keep working on their portfolio and interviewing. I would say that within four months after the course, 100% of students who want a job, have a job. But having their own demo day, and then receiving 100K jobs offers the very next day, is just not realistic for most.
Anything else you’d like to add, Duncan?
We’re hiring like mad to build and grow RocketU. People put their life on hold to do this course, so they want it to be as intense as possible. There’s great demand, and I think it’s great that there are so many people doing different variations with bootcamps. We are firm believers that America will have a thriving technology sector and that is going to require legions of quality coders for years to come.
Does RocketU sound like your next big move? Check out their school page for courses, dates, and costs.