Since 2014, General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) has helped thousands of students make a career shift into coding. But in March 2019, WDI will be revamped to become Software Engineering Immersive! What will change (and stay the same) in this new course? We talk with Karolina Rafalski, who helped oversee the program shift, about what exactly will be added to the curriculum, admissions process, and job placement.
Tell us about your background and your role at General Assembly.
My story is a bit unusual for a General Assembly instructor. I spent 10 years teaching and developing curriculum at colleges, but I decided I wanted a career change a few years ago, so I took General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) course and eventually I started working for them! Now, after two and a half years, I’m a Lead Instructor and Chair of the Product Advisory Board, which is the hub of communications for tech instructors across our 20 General Assembly campuses. Together we develop our core curriculum, share ideas, and research the latest tools and technologies to teach. I get to take my experience in teaching and curriculum development and combine it with coding to make a great educational experience for our students. Since a lot of the GA team tends to come directly from the development world, I bridge the gap – I speak both languages, so I’m a bit of a translator!
How is developing curriculum for a coding bootcamp similar to/different from developing university curriculum?
I worked on building curriculum for biology labs, which is focused on skill-building – very similar to General Assembly. At GA, our approach is skills-first followed by theory, while universities tend to teach theory first and then skill-building. I like that we are able to quickly adapt to job market needs and are always considering the latest technologies in terms that benefit students and employers.
What inspired the change to relaunch General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive program to a Software Engineering Immersive program?
General Assembly has always been laser-focused on developing curriculum that’s aligned with the marketplace. We perform a lot of research to discover what our students end up doing for work, which technologies they’re working with, and what their employers and our enterprise partners are asking for in new developers. I think one of GA’s strong points is that we listen to students and companies and then we try our best to match those needs.
Our Education Product team did their research and then reached out to me to push the curriculum forward. We were hearing that students were equipped to hit the ground running on Day 1, but when compared to computer science graduates, they were missing some of the fundamental core concepts underlying their new skills. We found this missing piece and wanted to help our students level up in computer science.
The revamped Software Engineering Immersive program will cover both computer science topics and the application of them to the full-stack app development.
What is the difference between “Web Development” and “Software Engineering”?
Web development is a subset of software engineering. A web developer is a software engineer who builds software for web applications. Software engineering refers to the application of engineering principles to create software. As web applications have expanded in complexity, web developers have needed to apply more engineering principles to their web applications. Software engineering practices like version control, writing specifications, product development lifecycle, design patterns, code refactoring, writing unit tests, and managing dependencies have become paramount to creating modern web applications and therefore web developers must be trained as software engineers.
Web Development and Software Engineering are converging over time. Look at the history of web development – it used to be static web pages and articles. When companies like Amazon and Facebook started building more dynamic pages, they became very involved and complex - almost as complex as an application you might run on your computer. We want to give students the opportunity to discover what they like and have the skills to continue to grow.
What are the main changes to the bootcamp curriculum for the Software Engineering Immersive?
The main change is adding computer science topics to the curriculum like data structures, algorithms, and algorithm analysis. We’re also including topics related to computer science that often arise in the technical interview process. Over the years, we’ve adapted our curriculum to support the market demands – at one point we were teaching Ruby on Rails and then we started teaching Backbone, then Angular, then React, depending on what was in demand at the time!
The timeline will be the same: our full-time program runs 12 weeks with classes running from Monday through Friday, and our part-time Flex path is 24 weeks during evenings and weekends.
We’re also working on some other global changes in Admissions and Career Services to provide students with quality career coaching and ensure they’re really ready to take our course.
Will admissions standards change when you make the change to Software Engineering?
What resources do you recommend for complete beginners? Do you have any favorites?
Our bootcamp prep online or in person before Day 1 of the Software Engineering Immersive has GA-quality materials and that give people a chance to see how we teach. It’s a great starting point that offers interactive content that helps get individuals up to speed in basic principles of the field.
For aspiring bootcampers, sometimes the challenge is simply not knowing which questions you want to ask. Going to meetups is a great way to talk to people and get comfortable. I went to so many open houses at different bootcamps trying to find the right fit for me. Do your research, visit a campus if you can, attend an online info session - connecting with people and having real conversations is a great way to ensure you’re making the right choices.
How do you think the curriculum changes for the Software Engineering Immersive will improve job placement?
In our research, we found that Web Developer and Software Engineer were the top two job titles graduates are getting. According to our analysis of job postings on Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn, 'Software Engineers' earn a higher salary on average than 'Developers’, despite the role similarities. We wanted to help students attain more of those Software Engineer jobs as more markets open up those roles so this change is really a realignment to help students have even better opportunities to land those jobs. We’re always looking for more ways to support our students as best we can.
When will this change to Software Engineering go live?
The first cohorts in the new Software Engineering Immersion course will be in March 2019. We’re also planning to provide new resources, activities, and lessons to current WDI students and recent graduates on our online learning platform (myGA) and via live remote sessions.