Sara Chipps is the remarkable co-founder of Girl Develop It, an organization that has taught over 4,000 women to code in a supportive environment, and joined Flatiron School as CTO in 2014. We caught up with Sara to learn about her role at Flatiron School, why she beleives in the coding school, and how Flatiron Labs, their unique on-site dev shop for graduates, is helping to produce excellent software developers.
You joined Flatiron in January as the CTO. What does it mean to be the CTO of a programming school?
My team and I build technology that supports the school and the students. Our teachers and staff all use web applications that make their job easier, whether it’s for admissions or building curriculum. Our teams builds and supports that technology
Do you have a large team?
We have 10 people now.
Have you had a role in designing some of the curriculum at all?
I haven’t built any of the curriculum here. That is the role of our teachers but what I’ve been looking to do is make their lives easier by building technology that makes it a lot faster and easier to build curriculum.
Do you ever do any guest speaking or teaching with the students?
Yeah; every semester we usually teach an introductory class where students can go and learn how to get started and different stuff like that. It’s really neat getting to know our students.
Before Flatiron School, you had cofounded Girl Develop It. What was the motivation behind Girl Develop It?
Girl Develop It started out of the experience of myself and Vanessa, my cofounder, of feeling uncomfortable oftentimes, asking questions when we were a minority in the room. We founded Girl Development, where there were no stupid questions; you didn’t have to feel self-conscious asking those questions.
I’ve noticed that a lot of schools will partner with their local Girl Develop It chapters. Was that a conscious decision or did people just start contacting you?
One awesome thing about Girl Develop It chapter leaders is that they’re super plugged-in to the technology community in their particular cities.
The city gets really excited about the opportunity to educate females in the world of technology and therefore it becomes visible to people. When schools have been moving into these cities, they’ve been reaching out to Girl Develop It chapter leaders to see how they can help students, which has been really awesome.
What do you think makes Flatiron School stand out in the bootcamp world and what made you want to work specifically with them when there are so many bootcamps these days?
Flatiron School really doesn’t consider itself a bootcamp as it implies that you learn everything you need to know in a short amount of time and then go out and work. We see our job to provide you with the first phase of your education, and then we continue supporting our students throughout their careers.
One thing I think that really set Flatiron apart early on was our teacher Avi, one of the founders. He really had an amazing approach to education and especially technology education. He was passionate about getting people literate and passionate about coding, who may not have that opportunity before. That’s one thing I really love about our students.
Another thing that I think sets us apart now is our 100% placement rate. That was really one of the numbers that got me on board, was knowing that each one of our students that made it through this program have gotten a job offer within 90 days. I think that’s really effective.
One thing I’m concerned with is bootcamp programs that teach people and then just say “Okay, go do your thing now.” It’s difficult, right? When you’re new in the field and you don’t have that support system of people that can introduce you to the world and the community, it can be a really scary place. So I think between Avi and the placement team, I think that’s really what sets us apart.
Does Flatiron require that a student must be looking for a job as a developer in order or them to be accepted? Could somebody do Flatiron School and want to be a technical cofounder or start their own business?
Absolutely. Right now we have a 7% admittance rate, so 7% of the applicants to Flatiron school make it in. Adam, our CEO, who is our admissions processor, looks for well-rounded people who have lots of different interests and people who have a record of grit and being passionate about their projects.
The thing that is most important to Flatiron School is that our students love programming and want to become amazing at it. We want people here because they are in love with this craft, and not because they want to become rich or see it as a means to an end, like founding a startup.
Typically most of our students end up being job seeking as they strive to become better coders and get mentorship after the program. However, we have definitely had founders come through our program. For example, one alum Danny, got accepted into Y-Combinator weeks after graduating, as a cofounder of Statuspage.io.
Flatiron Labs is a “dev shop.” Can you explain what a dev shop is?
In a dev shop, like Flatiron Labs, we take on client work where people are looking for an external company to build their web application.
How long does a typical client relationship last?
So far we’ve only been doing this for 7 about months, so our typical client relationship lasts 7 months!
It really depends; we’ve had one client that we’ve had since the beginning, we’ve had another one that we’ve had for the past 4 months. We haven’t made it far enough yet to see a long-standing pattern.
Do you see Flatiron Labs as being more of a dev shop or like an apprenticeship or some of both?
I think the focus is on the apprenticeship. We’re not looking to make a ton of money with the dev lab or anything like that; were looking to take our existing graduates and bring them to another level of proficiency and give them some experience.
Who are the mentors or senior developers working with the junior developers in the lab.
They’re people with 3 to 6 years’ experience working in the field as professional developers. They’re people that have been in other companies and can bring some of their experience to the apprentices and guide them when they run into trouble or mentor them when they have questions.
How many people have gone into Flatiron Labs after Flatiron School?
So far we have 6.
Would you ever accept somebody who went to a different bootcamp or a self-taught developer who wants to do an apprenticeship with Flatiron Labs?
Right now, that’s not part of our program. I can’t tell you if it will be one day but right now we’re focused on Flatiron School graduates.
The goal is to get students hired from Flatiron Labs as well, right?
Yes; the students have a 6-month contract and at the end of 6 months, the goal is to get them an offer with a client or to get them a full-time offer elsewhere.
Has that been successful?
Yeah, so far so good. I‘m really impressed with how far our apprentices have gone. They’re super viable full-time software developers; we’ve still yet to let one go. We may have to soon, but they contribute so much to the team.
Are the Flatiron Labs devs being paid like junior developers?
Yes; we’re very competitive.
What is the application process like? Is it just like a job interview that students would go through for a job?
After class, before they go interview with other companies, students can opt in to interview with Flatiron Labs. The team interviews everyone who is interested and then we make our decisions based on the people that we meet.
Are there any future plans to expand Flatiron Labs outside of New York?
The answer is no. What we really are focused on is quality here in New York. We don’t want to expand until we feel 100% confident that we’re pleased with every part of this business and we still have a lot that we want to focus on. So there’s really no rush for us.
Do you see Flatiron sticking to the iOS and Rails curriculum or do you see it expanding to any other languages?
We believe passionately about the value of great teachers, and like to say that we build classes around teachers, rather than hire teachers to lead classes. So we’re always looking to hire the best teachers in their field and are open to building new courses around them, but don’t have specific goals around launching courses that might lead to sub-optimal quality.