After Dan Blakeman graduated with a degree in International Politics, his passion for technology led him towards online marketing. After having the chance to develop a successful social network with outside developers, Dan was ready to make the leap into Web Development. The Makers Academy online program Ronin was a flexible option that didn’t sacrifice job placement assistance. Now 2 months into his Ronin experience, we talk to Dan about Makers Academy’s interview process, preparing for his next professional job, and the feedback loop he’s seen so far.
Tell us what you were up to before you started at Ronin Makers Academy.
I studied International Politics and Human Geography at University. When I graduated in 2009, I had this amazing learning experience at university, but the skills and knowledge i had gained were not immediately suited to the jobs market.
Technology was always my passion. After graduating I headed towards this and online marketing was a natural fit, I worked in online marketing for 3 years, where I was lucky enough to have the chance to build a social network from scratch with outside developers, which grew rapidly. But I was keen to keep taking this further. To me it made little sense to not learn to write code and bundle these digital skills together.
What made you decide that you wanted to take the leap and become a web developer?
The direction that technology is headed right now is very exciting and it’s where I want to be. It was just the next step. Online marketing got me close to where I wanted to go but not exactly there. There’s so much opportunity to be had, why stop learning?
Was your motivation for doing a bootcamp to get a job as a developer afterwards?
Definitely. Ultimately, I’d like to create my own business. But certainly in the short term, my goal is to get an exciting job in a young company which will help me deepen the skills I will need to run my own company in a couple of years time.
How did you hear about Ronin?
I actually had a friend who went to Bitmaker Labs bootcamp in Toronto. He couldn’t recommend a it enough and I could see how much happier he was in his career.
My original plan was to go to Toronto on his recommendation, but it was difficult to consider doing this financially. Also, one of the perks of a bootcamp is the introductions and help finding a job afterwards. So if I did a bootcamp in Toronto, it wouldn’t have helped me to get a job in the UK.
When you were talking to Makers Academy, was there an emphasis on job placement?
Definitely. I don’t think I would have applied if there wasn’t such a clear route into employment. It was made quite clear that we’d get the same placement assistance as the onsite students.
What was the Ronin application process like for you?
It was exciting. It was different than any other application I’ve ever done because it was based around your attitude and how willing you were to put in the work. Not once was I asked what my degree was or where I worked when I was 16; I didn’t even send a CV.
You’re asked what your motivations are and what you’ve accomplished up until that point.
The second stage you had an interview face to face over Skype and we did a coding test.
Did you need coding experience to get through the tests?
The coding challenge was basic, and the interviewer friendly, like a team-mate. If you’ve done Codecademy you’d be fine.
What did you learn during the first month of pre-work?
From what I read, I expected the pre-course to be pretty simple, but I think the pre-course was just as intensive as the course itself. We worked through Ruby and programming from scratch and got really comfortable with it, this was perfect as we entered the main-course feeling strong and ready to build upon this knowledge.
Does Makers Academy do tests or exams? What happens if you don’t pass?
We have a weekly challenge but it’s not framed as something you have to pass or else you’re kicked out. It’s more like a chance to reflect on how you’re doing, where you’re struggling and where you can put more time into improving. We review our challenge code in a one to one with our tutor.
Since Ronin is online, how do you interact with other students in the program?
We’re largely on Google Hangouts most of the day. At 9:30am we have a stand up to talk about how the previous day went, any issues and our plans for the day, then we’ll break off into pairs.
We’ll then have our own Google Hangout for individual pairs and we’ll spend most of the day sharing each other’s screens, talking through what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and working together on projects.
The Pre-course work was focused around solving individual coding problems whereas in the main course, you’re building actual projects together like building a social network or a takeaway ordering system.
If you run into something you don’t know during the day, what do you do?
I think it’s quite clear to us that we’ve got very intelligent and approachable coaches on hand, but they’ve been great in teaching us to not become dependent on them; because as soon as you’re in the jobs market and working as a developer, you will have to solve these problems on your own.
One of the best things i will take from this course is the importance of learning how to balance emotions and how to approach and solve things that I’m not yet equipped to solve. Makers has been brilliant at teaching us ‘how to learn’.
I’d also say, having them curate ‘what’ to learn when new to the field has been vital. Especially given they have a close relationship with leading tech companies. Having a good idea where best to spend your time has been important to me, and something that’s near impossible when trying to learn a new field alone and without access to leading tech companies habits.
Who are your “coaches?”
We have one main coach who meets with us twice a day, imagine a very knowledgeable and supportive friend, he can’t do enough for us. We also have online contact with the other coaches who are on-site. We often watch lectures and talks from them remotely, where we can ask questions and take part live, so we feel close to all the coaches at makers, even though we’re yet to meet them offline.
Since this was the first cohort of Ronin, what is the feedback loop like? Were there things that have not worked for you and how were you able to influence the future curriculum?
Makers Academy is a super agile company. We have a feedback form every day and you’re encouraged to put at least three things on it every day. If something was an issue, and you mention it, often the very next day it’s fixed.
These were often just small things like making sure that the camera is clear so we can see everything on the board whilst a speaker was speaking. Then having mentioned it, the next day Makers Academy will have purchased new equipment and rearranged its position to improve the quality; it’s just brilliant.
How many hours a week are you spending on Ronin?
It is intense. Approaching 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s your own choice really. You decide how much time you want to put in. I quit my job so I could do Ronin to the nth degree.
How have you stayed committed to an online program?
Makers Academy is onto a good thing with the application process; they’re selecting people based on their motivation. I believe, if you’re willing to quit your job and spend a lot of money to commit, you’re going to stay it through to the end.
It’s also amazing to be able to do this alongside 12 peers at the same stage as you, we’re all ‘sharing the journey’ and supporting each other daily.
Has Makers Academy started preparing you for post-bootcamp and getting you ready for interviews and resume prep?
Since we’re only two months in, we’re encouraged to really focus on the skills for now - although job prep is always there in the background and you’re constantly guided towards best practices.
What are some of those best practices?
A concept that is constantly drilled into us is “test driven development” If someone experiments with a new idea in code without testing it, we delete those files. Also, we’re learning the very best practices with object-oriented programming.
They make it quite clear to us that in the job market there are ‘hackers’ and there are ‘professionals’, and they’re guiding us towards being a professional that other people can work with in a team– that means great communication, writing clean code, and adhering to best practices so other developers can quickly take up your code and extend it where needed.