Steven Weiss and Shawn Broukhim graduated from the General Assembly Web Development Immersive in April 2014 with a baseline knowledge of software development, but felt like they needed more structured learning and career development. They both got fellowships with the NYC Dev Shop, the self-described "Grad School for Bootcamps" and are currently working in project management and development. We talk to Steven & Shawn about their advice to future General Assembly students, how they've continued to learn after graduating, and their fellowship at NYC Dev Shop.
What were you both doing before you went to General Assembly Web Development Immersive?
Shawn: I worked in music for a while. I wasn’t doing anything really with technology, but I took an online course to learn programming for sound.
Steven: I worked at NPR for years as a sound engineer – oddly similar. It was super fun and I did that for a long time; I worked at a lot of voiceover studios editing and producing and it became unfulfilling after a while. The industry kind of plateaued as I’m sure Shawn probably found as well. There aren’t many new jobs popping up in music and sound. Similar to Shawn, I looked towards online courses whether it be Code Academy or any tutorials I could find, and started trying to learn on my own. I saw GA as a way to take an abbreviated schooling rather than something like grad school.
Did you both feel that the online courses that you did helped you get into GA or did you feel like you needed any technical experience during the interview and application process?
Shawn: There are very few technical requirements or background. The courses I did online just sort of piqued my interest. They made me realize that this was something that I could pursue.
Steven: It seemed helpful to have seen certain terms before and to see visually how things are set up but there didn’t seem to be many technical requirements.
You learned full stack development: Ruby on Rails; have you expanded your learning since then? Have you learned new languages since you graduated?
Shawn: I would say I’ve learned new things, done the bulk of my learning really, after the class. We’re basically introduced to a lot of core concepts in GA. It gave us the groundwork to then begin or continue our journey as web developers.
Steven: Yeah, I took a different turn coming out of the course and I’m now doing project management. I went deeper into what we had learned at GA. I would totally agree that it gives you a good baseline – but it’s up to you to take it beyond.
What level did you feel you were at, at the end of the 3 months? Did you feel like you were ready to start interviewing for a junior dev position?
Shawn: I think the reality is that after finishing, I did not yet have enough experience to be a developer. There were jobs I was applying to but in actuality, this New York Dev Shop fellowship is a better situations for me- it will hopefully lead to a junior developer position.
Steven: There just seems to be a need for a middle ground coming out of a bootcamp, because while you do learn so much, still, it’s 3 months; it’s not that long. I’m sure some people do get great junior dev gigs but I think it’s a lot harder than that.
Did you go through the whole interview process with the jobs you applied for?
Steven: Yeah, it was definitely possible to get interviews and to go out on them. It was a challenge, though. Bootcamps can be met with some resistance.
Shawn: I interviewed in a number of places and the two positions that I was offered were for apprenticeships. I found that a lot of the people I talked to at meet-ups and events that GA offered, were looking for CTOs or positions I wasn’t necessarily qualified for.
Steven: Coming out of that learning environment that’s structured strictly around learning; I think a lot of us wanted to continue that. We knew how much there was to know and we knew about 1% of it. So we want to learn more but we need an environment that will encourage that.
Can you talk a little bit more about feeling like there was a stigma around it?
Steven: It’s just numbers. There’ll be some good people and there’ll be some bad people. A lot of those companies are seeing a lot of applicants from these places - tons. We all apply for the same jobs; we’re in the same job world.
Shawn: The reason why I think there is a stigma around bootcamps is that the number of students coming out of all these classes seems to be expanding quite quickly. There’s no way that the quality of every individual program will increase with that.
Steven: It has to be much more of an individual experience coming out because there are lots of people coming out and it’s hard to generalize from everyone coming out of boot camps – which is difficult because we’re all associated with it to begin with. I think the hard thing would be figuring out how to make yourself more of an individual coming out. That was a challenge I faced- how are you different from these 27 other people coming out of the same exact thing with the same exact amount of experience? I think that would be the challenge.
Were you pleased with the quality of instruction at GA?
Steven: I thought the instructors were the best part. We had three instructors who each specialized in a different area.
When did you start the NYC dev shop? Can you explain what NYC Dev Shop is?
Steven: We started early June. NYC Dev Shop is a development firm that builds sites and apps, focusing on MVP’s for startups. We’re mostly based in Ruby on Rails, and a few other technologies for mobile. They also host New York Tech Day and a D.C. Tech Day.
We’re a small fellowship team made up of Shawn, myself, one designer and another developer named Jared who went to Dev Bootcamp. We start out with some internal projects then we’ll transition to client projects.
Shawn: The structure of this fellowship is 12 weeks long and within that 12 weeks we build 7 different projects from scratch.
Are you building those for clients?
Shawn: No; the first 5 are just internal, just exercises essentially, and the last two are for actual clients.
Shawn: The founder, his name is Alec Hartman. He basically described this program as ‘grad school for GA.’ We’re building on the skills we learned at GA; technologies that we used here will apply.
Steven: Basically a transition to go from educational to eventually professional.
Do you notice that NYC Dev Shop is particularly committed to hiring bootcamp graduates?
Steven: Yeah, there’s a couple of us. There are two developers who are grads from GA. And within this fellowship, three of the four of us are from GA. I think they do recruit quite a bit from the bootcamp grads.
It seems like developers and designers coming out of these bootcamps were just like blank pages. And since we know only a baseline level, they can mold that to whatever works best for them and the environment there.
Shawn: But it’s kind of a unique situation because they’re really investing a lot of time, energy and resources to develop our skills.
Steven: They expect, rightfully so, for you to be able to start immediately. It’s like “We hired you, now get to work.”
What are your roles there?
Steven: I’m a project manager. Shawn is a developer.
Steven, do you miss coding?
Steven: I’ll work on a little bit of stuff on my own; I want to continue learning. But it’s not where my strong suit is. I worked in the professional world for a while before, so my plan was to use the skills I had before along with the development skills to facilitate the client side. It really helps that I understand developers. That’s what I thought separated me from other boot camp grads that are coming out now.
So I’m just trying to use that to my advantage and it seems like a great fit here. I get on with the team pretty well, I worked with clients so far pretty well.
Shawn: I think it’s easier for us to work together because we’ve known each other for a while.
Shawn, when you started in NYC Dev Shop did you know that you wanted to do development?
Shawn: That’s definitely what I wanted to do. After I graduated, I’d grown used to having that structure from GA. When I finished, I wanted to look for something to continue that.
Steven: I think there’s a void after graduating from one of these bootcamps. I’ll bet all of us felt like, I’ve done this all day every day for 3 months; now what do I do? That transition could be served a lot better.
Can you tell us about some of the mentorship and support that you get at NYC Dev Shop. Do you have a senior developer or a mentor working with your team?
Shawn: In terms of development itself, the code that we’re writing, it’s been hands-off in terms of instruction and senior guidance because they want us to hit the ground running and learn as much as we can through trial and error.
But we have the opportunity every day, multiple times a day to ask any questions that we have and check in with the founder who also happens to be a senior Rails developer. We check with him multiple times a day; we can ask questions oc the developers but the developers who are on staff are busy working on their own projects.
Steven: You can ask basic questions to get background or if there’s a big problem but it’s guided self-learning.
How long have you all been in the fellowship?
Steven: About 5 weeks
After the 12 weeks could you be potentially hired on as a fulltime employee at NYC Dev Shop?
Shawn: I think that is the goal if there aren’t any major setbacks.
Can you give us an example of some of the projects that you’ve been able to work on in this role?
Steven: They’re covering just general categories of sites that we build; either an e-commerce site or something based around social media and interaction.
Shawn: We built a polling app where the users get sent a text every day and have to respond; We built a photo app and a dating app.
Are you paid while you’re doing that fellowship?
Shawn: A little bit, yeah. We get a weekly stipend.
What’s next? Are you definitely satisfied enough that you want to stay with NYC Dev Shop?
Steven: That’s the hope for now; just to expand the roles we’re doing into professional work.
Do you want to add anything that we didn’t touch on about GA or about your role now?
Steven: I would stress that GA is such a personal process; it’s up to you. The big thing is knowing what you’re going to do after the fact. Where are you going to get a job? Do they help you get a job? I would stress to people it’s your own responsibility.
Shawn: The thing that I learned after is really like Steven said, the importance of taking your own responsibility for what happens after the course. GA has resources but I feel that’s all still a work in progress in a lot of ways, especially as they scale. Things are changing; they can’t make the same promises that they did when it was a lot smaller. It has to be on you to make something happen afterwards.