blog article


Remote Classroom Tour at Codesmith: Tips for Learning Online

By Liz Eggleston
Last Updated May 11, 2020


Phillip Troutman is the Director of Instruction & Curriculum at Codesmith, and he gives us a virtual tour of Codesmith’s remote Full-time Immersive classroom. Curious about the differences between Codesmith online versus in-person and the tools they use to keep collaboration strong in the remote classroom? Phillip answers those questions, plus advice for students who want to excel in an online bootcamp and get a job when they graduate.

How did you learn to code and what brought you to Codesmith?

I studied computer science in high school and college. Before Codesmith, I worked for the Department of Homeland Security for 7 years. I focused on technical advising and different security-related hardware and software applications. I found myself not feeling completely fulfilled in that type of role. Now, I am the director of curriculum and instruction at Codesmith. I oversee the development of curriculum and instruction across all of the programs that we offer. That includes the immersive programs (usually in-person), our newer online programs, and our online prep programs. 

Once students are allowed back in classrooms, will Codesmith still offer the full-time immersive bootcamp online? 

Even before the COVID-19 situation, our broader goal was to bring the signature style of Codesmith curriculum, instruction, and engagement to a broader community of people that were not physically in Los Angeles or New York. The Part-time Remote Immersive program was the first big successful step in that direction. It's been highly successful over the past 10 weeks now. We have residents from Australia, Malaysia, Canada, and all over the world. But there still is that group of folks that is looking for that online full-time immersive experience, which is why we're excited to be launching our Full-time Remote Immersive, this summer! 

What measures has Codesmith taken in response to COVID-19?

Codesmith is taking the COVID-19 situation very seriously. Our top priority is the health and safety of the team and the residents and everyone involved on our campuses. As of March 12, 2020, we transitioned all of our in-person workshops and courses to fully remote. We were very fortunate in that sense because we've been doing remote programs for two or three years now. CS Prep, JavaScript for Beginners, and the Part-Time Remote Program were already completed online. Those are led by some amazing instructors that have already started building this vibrant community in the online space. The transition we had to make from our in-person immersive programs into the remote setting actually felt natural! 

What do you notice in your most successful students as they shift to remote learning?

Being among like-minded excellence-driven individuals that have that shared goal of developing themselves as engineers, mentors, and leaders in this space helps everyone thrive. The most successful students are the ones continuing to embody that community. 

This can look like a number of things: people that are coming to lectures and pair programming fully committed and present. Pair programming is a huge portion of the Codesmith curriculum. Interfacing and engineering with different people in your cohort is important. 

The most successful online Residents are people that are setting up additional study groups on days that they're not even required to be at Codesmith. Residents in the program are still gathering with 15 or 20 of their cohort mates and putting on additional study groups or workshops to reemphasize or relearn technologies that were covered in the week prior or that are coming up in the next week. All of these different aspects that develop and embody this culture are where we see residents shine in this transition to the remote setting

What's your advice for students about setting up their online learning workspace?

This is a small passion of mine! I loved setting up my own home workspace. For our students who were attending in-person programs when we transitioned into the remote setting, we provided a $1,000 stipend to set up their home to attend our courses remotely. 

There are two particular tools that contribute to a well thought-out office for these remote settings. One is a decent webcam for all of our online meetings. Second is an iPad or some sort of online writing utensil. When you're in person, it's natural to be working with another engineer and have a thought you’re struggling to communicate and you're able to just pull up a whiteboard and write something out. iPads allow you to do that same kind of thing in an online setting. For all of our remote programs, current and future, we provide an iPad for the residents in the program to make sure there's still that fluidity of communication. 

Everyone is going to have their own needs when it comes to their home office setup. Overall, you need to set up your office or your work environment to avoid as many distractions as possible. That can be something as easy as getting a good set of noise-canceling headphones, an ergonomic chair, whatever you need to do to eliminate distractions so that you can be fully engaged in what is going on in the curriculum. 

How do you make sure that remote students don't miss out on anything that in-person students get? 

At the forefront of the Codesmith team's mind when we are creating these programs is making sure that we're carrying over that same style of curriculum, instruction, and engagement. We utilize tools to achieve our values in a remote setting. It came down to four things:

  • Hardware and software that help implement the curriculum better. For example, Slack, GitHub, Zoom, and hardware like iPads and Apple Pencils for whiteboarding and ideas. 

  • Adding training specifically for residents on how to be effective in a remote setting. We wanted to intentionally set up something to create the opportunities that usually happen naturally in the in-person program. For example, you and I both love coffee and we find ourselves in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee and I ask you how you thought about solving the problem we're talking about. That's a natural thing that happens in an in-person program that doesn't naturally happen in a remote program. 

  • Adding events to the curriculum for things like collaboration coding. 90% of the curriculum at Codesmith is done in pair programming or group projects. We’ve built hour and a half blocks for every unit. We'll randomly pair groups up with another group or two other groups to get more of that collaboration coding. This will create an opportunity that we would normally get just by bumping into each other on campus. 

  • Implementing online networking events. We have an in-person program and we have Interview Days at the end of the cohort where hiring partners come in and interview our graduates for potential roles that they're hiring for in their companies. We've transitioned all of those pieces into a remote setting. Those have been transitioned into an online version. We’ve set up Zoom rooms for quite a few different events. We even have zoom rooms for things like Family dinner!

Has Codesmith changed the career prep curriculum for the Full-Time Remote Immersive?

There are some slight changes that we've been making to the hiring support program. Ultimately, the hiring program that takes place during the cohort hasn't fundamentally changed. The same things that were true about that program before the COVID-19 situation when everyone went remote are still equally as true today. Over 150 hours are dedicated just to lectures, exercises, and curriculum around how to make you the best interviewee after you leave the program. 

We’re still doing workshops on how to answer technical questions that we used to do in person. In fact, it's probably even more important how you can communicate about those technical pieces because you're in a remote setting. Workshops on how to whiteboard effectively is important now more than ever as well. There are so many different types of interviews when it comes to being an Engineer. You have system design interviews and whiteboarding interviews. We have lectures on all of those pieces and because of the other tools that we've implemented, all of that stuff is still facilitated in a seamless way. Outreach messaging training where our CEO himself will go through and give 1:1 feedback to people about what their outreach messages look like are still happening too! 

What kind of feedback are you getting from employers themselves right now? 

Larger tech companies like Google, Amazon, Netflix, Government Agencies, are all still hiring and some are increasing hiring at this point. Algorithms and data structures are increasingly important in interviews, and that comes at a great time for Codesmith because over the last six months we've revamped the data structures and algorithms curriculum. We developed our 120-hour data and algorithm curriculum in partnership with Google Engineers.

There's also a site called Candor.io that has a list of current companies that are still hiring engineers and how different industries have been affected. 

What is the Codesmith online classroom like?

We set up the online classroom utilizing tools like Zoom, iPads, GitHub, and Notability. We have that live environment and communication open between instructors and the Codesmith Residents. 

How do Codesmith students work through the curriculum over 3 months?

We focus on it from a few different angles. Calendar and curriculum pieces, standups, and Slack messages directly from the Codesmith team alerting people to the Zoom room they need to be in. We provide a calendar for students to follow along day-by-day, minute-by-minute for the duration of their time at Codesmith. It has links to different Zoom rooms (essentially different classrooms) that they're going to be in throughout the day. 

We've increased to three standups throughout the day. In the in-person setting, you just get up and move to a different classroom. In a remote setting, you have to be more intentional with that communication. 

What would a typical day look like during a Codesmith remote program?

The day starts at 9am with a standup meeting where a Codesmith team member will hone in on how the day and the week are going to be structured. Then we move into Hack Hours, which are daily algorithms that residents focus on throughout Codesmith. 90% of what folks are doing at Codesmith, even in the remote program, is still done in pairs. Whether that's 1:1 with another engineer, group settings, or social zoom rooms. 

How are students pair programming remotely?

Students also pair-program in Zoom. Every pair-programming pair and group project has premium Zoom accounts that are assigned to them for those projects where they have full 24/7 unlimited access. They can use those tools to continue technical communication throughout the Codesmith. 

Is this a good time for folks to make a career change into tech? 

We're extremely fortunate in software engineering right now. There have been some changes as far as which companies are hiring engineers right now. But fundamentally, software engineering is a safe and exciting industry to be moving into. Companies are now transitioning how they do work. Zoom itself has gone from 10 million users to 200 million users in a matter of 8 weeks! What better time to be a systems admin for a company like Zoom. It's a great opportunity to work in an industry that easily works remotely. 

What is your advice for a complete beginner who is at home right now at the beginning of their journey? 

We're seeing a bit of an influx in people who are dabbling in coding and trying to figure out if its the right move for them. You need to find your community of learners to get your feet wet. See if this is what you want to do. By no means should you jump into a three-month immersive bootcamp without fully understanding whether this is a career that you're passionate about. 

That first community that you find should be free – at least to get your feet wet! A great opportunity is the free workshops and videos on CSX Community at Codesmith, which is our free platform for learning the basics of JavaScript. There is a vibrant community there on Slack with over 4,000 users that help each other through their beginnings. 

Find out more and read Codesmith reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Codesmith.

About The Author

Liz pic

Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. 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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