After offering an online coding bootcamp for several years, The Software Guild is launching a new version of the online program divided into four badges in 2019. We had a few questions about how these new badges would work, so we sat down with The Software Guild’s Director of Curriculum Instruction, Alan Galloway, to learn more. Alan tells us how the new format aims to make the program even more flexible for those balancing other commitments, what the learning style feels like, and how the careers team will work with graduates.
Can you tell me about your role and your background before The Software Guild?
I’m the Director of Curriculum Instruction, which means I’m responsible for our team of instructors and all of our curriculum. I have a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Math, and after college I worked for IBM’s Global Services team on the hardware services account for 13 years. Then I transitioned to a small startup called SHPS, which did account management for healthcare services. SHPS was acquired by ADP and I became a Design Engineer for ADP, working on their infrastructure and their support services for their development staff.
A recruiter reached out to me about teaching at The Software Guild, I gave it a try, fell in love with it, and have taught here for two years now. I can use my years of experience as a developer in the field and leading teams of software developers to train the next generation coming through.
Software Guild has offered an online bootcamp for a while now. Why did you and the team decide to launch this new format?
We've been running online full stack web development classes in each of our languages – Java and .NET/C#. Those courses were broken up into two sections: the principles of object-oriented programming and database-driven web applications.
While that was successful, we found that the way we broke down the course content presented some hurdles to students who needed a different pace. We’re breaking the course down into a set of four badges in order to make the course material more manageable as smaller chunks; that allows our students to possibly take breaks between sections or better manage their financial commitment to the course. This new format will replace the old format for online students.
We're making this change first for our online bootcamp and we are evaluating whether it'll be a fit for our in-person bootcamps as well.
What is the admissions process for the new badge program?
We consider how each student has completed the test and assignment, then look at whether this program is something they would enjoy, be productive at, and are interested in moving forward with. We do not have a cap on the class size for these badges. We allow anyone who's interested in the program to enroll and we work with them to find a start date that meets their needs.
Can you go over the four badges and what is covered in each of them?
Level 1: Programming Basics (2 months | $2000)
Level 2: Object-Oriented Programming (3 months | $3000)
Level 3: Server-Side Development (2 months | $2000)
Level 4: Full-Stack Development (3 months | $3000)
Our existing scholarships for Women in Tech and Veterans in Tech are available to students taking the badge program. We also give discounts as you complete each badge.
What sort of credentials do students get when they achieve a badge?
Our credentialing partner, Parchment, offers completion certificates for our in-person and online programs, and that will extend to the new badge program. People who complete all four badges will receive a completion certificate for each badge, a cumulative completion certificate from Parchment, and we’ll include linked information to the relevant curriculum they've learned. These badges are our own – they are non-credit bearing and we aren't part of any larger badge or credential standard.
What can students expect from the teaching style online?
The materials are presented to the learner through a series of lessons, videos, and pieces they can use to learn at their own pace via our learning management system, Canvas. Each student is assigned a mentor from The Software Guild – one of our instructors who works with our online apprentices.
Each of the sections has an assignment and is graded by a mentor who provides weekly feedback to the students. We also offer counseling to the students if they're falling behind the ideal pace (the upper-limit is falling one month behind). They can work with their mentor to develop a personalized learning plan, (PLP) so that they can address the areas to improve.
How often are students interacting with instructors, mentors, and other students?
Each level has two to three sections. At the end of each section, students are required to submit their work and have a code review with their mentor. Students interact with mentors via video calls so that the student can share their screen. They'll look at the code together or have a face to face video discussion.
In the early parts of the course, we encourage students to work with their mentor on a weekly basis. We also offer Open Office Hours – a fixed period of time each day when an instructor is available to answer questions and work with students. That's primarily how we provide the same sort of support and interaction we have in the in-person classes.
Students interact with each other via Slack – we have channels specific to students in each language track (Java or .NET/C#). So online students also have the opportunity to interact with the in-person students who are part of The Software Guild.
What’s the biggest lesson your team has learned while operating online programs at The Software Guild? How will you bring that lesson to this new program?
The most critical lesson we've learned from our online program is the importance of building a relationship and community with the students. It's easy to leave someone to their own devices to go through the material on their own, but having that personal touch of a mentor relationship, progress evaluations, feedback, and checkpoints to show they are moving in the right direction, is key to successfully finishing the program and finding a career as a software developer.
Can students start any time on these badges or are there set start dates?
Each online group starts at the beginning of the month. During the enrollment process, we work with each student to find out which start dates will work best for them. We do allow students the flexibility to go at their own pace as long as they can demonstrate their mastery of the skills that are included in that badge. Within each badge, students have to complete each section and show that they’re mastered those skills before moving onto the next section.
Is there a time limit in which a student needs to finish each badge or can they take as long as they want?
There are some constraints. We have an ideal pace, but if a student needs to leave the course for a period of time for life circumstances, then we can offer a leave of absence.
For the overall program, the ideal pace is 10 months and we allow up to 14 months to complete it. But there is some flexibility to work with the needs of the student to complete the material.
What about the pace between badges? Is there an ideal amount of time that students should wait before moving on to the next badge?
The ideal timing is to go through these in sequence. As long as a student’s life circumstances allow for it, we recommend going from Badge 1 to Badge 2, and proceeding through the flow. There's no constraint on times there, though. If they need to, students can take an extended break between badges, then reach back out to their operations manager when they're ready to pick up the program again.
Do you ever allow (or require) someone to repeat a badge if they need to?
Yes. We allow students to repeat the material if it's needed. If a student wants to retake a badge within their chosen track, that curriculum will be available. They would have access to the larger online curriculum as well as the greater support of The Software Guild Community, our alumni, and instructors, both in person and online. We have a great community on Slack, and keep everyone up-to-date on everything from employment to curriculum.
Can I take just one badge or skip a badge?
The complete program is most beneficial, but we do understand that some folks will just want to learn the basics of Java, so they may be content to stop at Badge 1 in the Java program, or they're only interested in doing object-oriented programming and C# so they might do badges 1 and 2 in C#. We allow for that. We don't have any requirements or obligations for the students to continue on in the program.
Career Services is not offered until badge 4. So if a student only completes Badges 1, 2, and 3, is Career Services not available? What is included in Career Services?
That's correct. Career Services is included as part of the 4th Badge. It includes soft skills training, interview tips, how to work with a team, resume review services, and interaction and connection with our employment network.
When students start working with the Employment Network Manager (ENM), they go through an interview process with a member of The Guild staff, talking about their interests, goals, and how they want to apply their new software development skills to their career.
The Employment Network Manager works with the apprentice to tailor their search towards the type of role and tech environment they want. The team will also invite the student to some of our in-person mock interview events, if they're in the area. If they're in a different location or different situation, then our employment network managers line up mock interviews with members of the staff, or some of our partners in the technology community.
What kind of student would really benefit from this kind of program?
Do you think the badges will make students more marketable as developers when they graduate?
I think the badges are a demonstration of each student’s ability to progress through the program. I think each badge on its own is going to show a subset of the skills that they're learning in the bootcamp. The badges provide a way to mark the progress and measure it as they go without striving towards one large goal. Students have checkpoints along the way that show them their progress and the skills they've learned up to that point.
What is your advice for students embarking on this online program? Do you have tips for getting the most out of it, especially if they're trying to change careers?
One of the key pieces is to be an engaged learner. Whether a lesson is in written format, a video, or a code along exercise, be actively engaged with the material. Take notes on the lessons as you go. If you're watching somebody write code, pause the video and write the same code along with them in your own environment so that you're getting the same results. Really reinforce the things that are being presented to you, instead of being a passive listener.
I think that interaction and having the right mindset to engage with the material and cooperate with the mode of instruction is the key to picking up the information and mastering it.