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Inside Springboard’s New Software Engineering Career Track with Colt Steele

By Liz Eggleston
Last Updated January 8, 2020

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Colt Steele is a long-time teacher who just wrote the curriculum for Springboard’s new Software Engineering Career Track. We sat down with Colt to find out how he’s designed the new Python + Node.js curriculum, the support students can expect throughout the online bootcamp, what bootcampers can do to be successful, and Springboard’s Job Guarantee.

What You Need to Know:

  • The Software Engineering Career Track will teach Python and Node.js (the point is to learn many different languages)

  • It’s self-paced and at ~20 hours per week, expect to spend about 9 months completing the bootcamp.

  • The curriculum is delivered via video – but also has text handouts if that’s your learning style.

  • Graduates should expect junior-level developer jobs – and the Job Guarantee does apply to this course!

You have a long career teaching coding – how are you working with Springboard now? 

I’ve taught at a few different in-person bootcamps and eventually became the Director of Curriculum at Galvanize. After that, I built the curricula for web development courses at Udacity.

At the same time, I had launched some online courses of my own. I recorded and uploaded a ton of videos and they kind of took off! I quit my job to pursue that, but it wasn’t the same as teaching a bootcamp. I missed being able to give students feedback and the community aspects of bootcamp.

So for the past year, I’ve been working on the curriculum, quizzes, assessments, projects, portfolio pieces, and videos for Springboard’s new Software Engineering Career Track. I'm also working on planning, market research, and coordinating with hiring managers at companies to find out which technologies are in demand. 

There are a lot of bootcamps now – what inspired you to work with Springboard in particular?

I wanted to take what I knew I was good at (teaching online and making non-boring videos) and do something with it. I was familiar with Springboard before they reached out to me – what they're doing for data science is exactly what I want to be doing for software engineering and web development! 

I had been thinking about launching my own online bootcamp for a while. If I were to start my own bootcamp, I would have wanted to take a similar approach to Springboard – the mentorship, mock-interviews, career coaching, code reviews, and the community experience. I’m looking forward to the freedom to teach online with a group of dedicated bootcamp students – it expands the possibilities for projects and better outcomes.

How did you learn to code, Colt?

My first exposure to coding was playing with Lego Mindstorms when I was a kid. My high school offered an AP Computer Science class that focused on Java. Later, I studied computer science in college but I never graduated. The classes were theoretical computer science and algorithms in Java. We weren't making websites; we didn't talk about HTML, CSS, or JavaScript; we didn't make games or applications. It was purely command-line. I enjoyed it and I was relatively good at it, but I didn't view that as something I wanted to spend my life doing. 

I ended up in this class at NYU called Physical Computing which was all about making art with computers and gallery installations mostly using JavaScript. I was inspired to learn to code again in that class. That's when I first started to make stuff that wasn't just Java algorithms from high school. I quit my mid-college crisis and finally settled on studying Computer Science. 

Springboard is well-known for Data Science, but the Software Engineering Track is new. How did you develop a whole new curriculum?

In designing this Career Track, we’ve been working with Rithm School and started talking to hiring managers early on. We learned that many employers want to hire students who are exposed to multiple languages and are comfortable learning new things. 

What will the new Springboard curriculum cover?

We start with front end, JavaScript, some advanced CSS, working in the console, getting comfortable using git and collaborating with Github. Then we work with Python to talk about server-side, writing servers, working with databases, and SQL. We do this to give students more experience with another language. We’ll then cover Node.js in-depth.

One of the core parts of the bootcamp curriculum at Springboard is teaching students how to learn. When I was teaching at in-person bootcamps, I used to build in days where I would ambush students with a completely different language and tell them nothing about it. After weeks of teaching JavaScript, I'd ask them to make an application or game by the end of the day in a different language. Those were always some of the most successful days in bootcamp. 

Hopefully, students will leave feeling like they can take on whatever programming languages they need to. They should have confidence in their skillset, not just in the specific things that they know but in their ability to learn the other things that they need to know.

Why did you choose those specific programming languages?

Python is in demand. We chose it because hiring managers that we spoke to wanted Python developers for web development. Learning Python also makes it easier to add on some data science skills later on. Senior Developers and Hiring Managers (the people who will be interviewing bootcamp graduates) told us that they were looking for graduates who can pick something up with confidence and not have fears about switching over to another language or technology. 

I’ve learned during my teaching career that it's best to show students more than one language. This way, they start to see how similar they all are. Almost every language has variables and loops and functions. They can start to see the concepts that are broader across all languages which makes it easier for them to then learn a third and fourth language. They have different names and different approaches, but you're not suddenly going to be able to do something with Vue that you couldn’t do with Angular. You might learn React, which we teach, but then you get a job using something completely different. You should have the tools to be able to interview and adapt your skills once you're employed. 

How is Springboard different from Udemy or other online resources?

The biggest difference is the size of cohorts. At Springboard, there is a smaller cohort of students and there is more staff to help them. There is also a built-in online community.

As an instructor at Udemy, I wanted to be able to help students by reviewing their code and then giving them valuable feedback. That wasn’t possible with Udemy because of the volume of students. We couldn’t offer mock interviews, which is something that I always found extremely helpful during in-person bootcamps. There was also no way for me to show students the problem-solving skills they need to be good engineers without holding them accountable. A Udemy course couldn’t do that. I was required to show students the problems and the answers at the same time. I couldn’t teach them how to learn. 

You’ve spent a lot of time on video content for this course – is that how students should expect the curriculum will be delivered?

It's a huge amount of video but it's not exclusively videos. I recognize that video is not for everyone, and I'm aware of that when I'm creating courses. We have created specific, step-by-step instructions that are text-based for every section, every video, and every topic. This is one of the things I'm most excited about. It's like an HTML page with a table of contents, code samples, detailed notes, and accordions that show or hide certain answers so that you can quiz yourself. Everything we teach has these handouts that students can take with them as a reference even after they graduate. When you're working on complex multi-file projects, video helps, but if you're just talking about terminal commands, it can be easier to look at text. 

On top of all of that, students do quick exercises, in-depth projects, and then larger capstone projects. The capstone projects expect students to take a couple of weeks of work to build up their portfolio. 

Lastly, there are some additional opportunities for learning we’re calling 'Office Hours.' This is a time for students to log on via audio or video. We will be offering time with expert speakers, Q&As, and student showcases. This gives students exposure to the real life of Software Engineers, time to see what their cohort is creating, and interaction with their community. We wanted to make something that's synchronous where students can have a conversation. 

It's important to emphasize that the people who are building this course have all taught in-person before. We have real instructors who have done this before and written curriculum for years, rather than a collection of experts who are here to teach their first course. 

How long will this Career Track be?

This bootcamp is self-paced. At ~20 hours per week, we expect it will take about 9 months to complete the bootcamp. 

Will there be mentors for this course? 

Students will be able to meet one-on-one with a mentor weekly plus they’ll have access to a Springboard career coach. Students in the program pick a career coach who can answer their questions, talk about non-technical aspects of their career shift, get resume and cover letter feedback, and help get their LinkedIn profile setup. 

Is there anything that you did differently with the Software Engineering Career Track than the Data Science bootcamp at Springboard? 

From everything I've heard and seen, Springboard’s existing programs were well-reviewed and resulted in great outcomes, but I also knew that their curriculum was something that I could definitely help with. A lot of the existing courses are curated by experts, but are not fully comprised of content created in-house. I was excited to create videos, assignments, notes, and projects to make the curriculum for this career track from the ground-up.

There’s a Springboard job guarantee for this course – did you also create the career curriculum?

Yes and no. Springboard offers a curriculum around those topics that goes over interview best practices, how to cold email somebody, how to send a message on LinkedIn, etc. Plus students have access to their career coach one-on-one. 

We’ve been working on creating a lot of the technical interview content and code-related career content all from scratch. We go over topics that may come up in interviews, common questions interviewers might ask to test your knowledge of something like JavaScript or SQL, computer science questions, etc. Then we have practice for whiteboarding interviews; technical interviews; strategies for how to break down a question that you definitely don't know the answer off the top of your head; how you can appear to be more competent than you may feel in that given moment. Some of that Springboard already offered and some of that we're adding in now. 

What types of jobs do you expect graduates will be able to land?

Our goal for graduates is entry-level roles: Junior Software Engineer, Junior Web-Developer, Junior Front End Engineer. I would hesitate to say that a Senior role is our goal for a complete beginner, but I’ve definitely had students in the past who came in with computer science degrees or maybe worked in some sort of adjacent field. Those students might go on to get a more advanced position because they already had technical experience. 

To get a Senior Engineer job, you need experience in a job working with other developers. It's unlikely that a complete beginner could graduate from any bootcamp and get a Senior level position because those experiences can’t be gained in the classroom. On the bright side, it’s a pretty quick process to go from a Junior or entry-level Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer. Most of the bootcampers that I taught two or three years ago are now Senior Engineers. 

What can applicants expect from the admissions process?

Students will go through a culture fit interview and a small technical assessment. We expect that students have some familiarity with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS but not expertise. For a complete beginner (we break it down on the website and in the YouTube video), you need to be able to work with things like variables, loops, conditionals, and basic functions. You should know something simple like, “Can you print out the even numbers between 1 and 100?” 

For HTML and CSS, you should be able to change fonts, colors, borders, backgrounds, font sizes, etc.

We want students to have some basic familiarity to demonstrate that they have done their research and that they're willing and able to learn something on their own. If you were able to learn everything on your own, then you wouldn't need a bootcamp! We just want to see some initiative. 

Where can a complete beginner start preparing to apply for the Software Engineering Career Track?

Obviously, I could promote my Udemy courses, but there are a lot of great places that are free to learn this stuff. Even something like Codecademy. You don't need to spend months learning this stuff. 

Springboard will also be launching a prep course soon that will covers everything a complete beginner needs to know to get in. It doesn’t guarantee a spot in the bootcamp, but it teaches you everything you need. It's also not a self-guided program – you have a community: a Slack channel, TAs, a mentor that you meet with and get feedback from. That will be available in January. The first prep course cohort will begin in February but you can sign up today.

What kind of payment options are you offering? 

We’re offering an upfront payment that saves the student 18% on their tuition, month-to-month payments that extend up to nine months, partner loans, and deferred tuition. Deferred tuition accompanies that job guarantee. Students put down a down payment and then pay monthly once they get a job. 

I’m also working on getting scholarships to help some students cover the initial deposit. For some students, even a $7600 deposit, while it is small relative to the benefit of the course, is still a lot of money. A lot of people don't have that kind of money to put down. By scholarships, I mean the student’s upfront payment would be covered and they would pay back the rest of their tuition once they got a job. If they didn’t get a job after six months, they will never have had to spend anything. 

After teaching students through Udemy, Galvanize, Udacity, and Youtube, what have you noticed in the most successful students?

I've always been surprised by students. I haven't found an indicator of success based on their background. In my experience, the thing that matters way more than background is students' curiosity and their ability to take something and run with it. The students who are pursuing their own side projects. The ones who are trying to go above and beyond. You don't have to be a certain age, from a certain background, or have a certain education history. 

The actual skills that we teach could be taught in any language. Ten years down the line, it wouldn't matter because ten years from now the stuff we're teaching now isn't going to be exactly the same. It isn’t the skill that matters in the long run. It's the curiosity, the ability to learn, the interest in learning new things – that’s how you’ll be successful.

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

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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