Nik Daftary is a MakerSquare student who officially joined the team after graduating, helping MakerSquare expand to San Francisco. We asked him to share his experience at MakerSquare and talk about the future, and Nik delivered! Check out his insightful perspective on all things coding: how he started learning on his own, why he chose Makersquare, and his honest advice to anyone considering applying to a coding bootcamp.
There’s this idea, “fake it till you make it”, where if you convince yourself enough that you can do something, eventually the rest of you will catch up. Oh and there’s another thing: impostor syndrome - where no matter how far you’ve come, you still don’t believe that you were in charge of your success. For me, I wasn’t convinced that I had the right skillset to work at the level I wanted to be at. So I did what most rational people would do, and jumped ship to follow a dream. I joined MakerSquare because if I wanted to stay relevant in the tech industry, I had to know how to understand technology.
My first realization of the importance of knowing how to code came In 2008 when I co-founded my first startup, Moodfish. For four years, I led business development, product marketing, design and management and the one skill I wish I had from the beginning was a sense of software development. Not having that understanding severely limited my ability to understand what it took for our developers to build the ideas we had. More importantly, it was inefficient. When our developers were working into the late hours of the night, there was generally little I could to help in building the codebase. I picked up books and rails tutorials along the way, but they only helped me grow more familiar with the codebase. At the end of the day, I still couldn’t write good code. And I couldn’t understand what it really took to build complicated software.
After Moodfish, I wanted to build more, and experience the world of mobile payments and on-demand logistics. With the next two startups, surprisingly, the same theme applied. My focus was on business development and product management, but I wanted to get closer to the actual product we built. I constantly had the feeling that I had to know what it took to build the product in order to effectively manage the growth of the product. In July of 2013, I took my first real step in filling that gap.
At first, I went back to the online sites like CodeAcademy and Learn Web Development by Hartl. I was learning how to build things, but I wasn’t understanding the “why” behind the code. So I took on a mentor to help put explanations to the code. That helped, but I still wanted/needed something more engaging. I began looking into 2 year associate programs, and through Quora’s programming bootcamps topic, I began learning about the myriad of immersive programs out there. For any number of reasons, an immersive program made far more sense to me than the alternatives. Location made a difference, but finding the right fit was even more important. Having tried out CS in undergrad and not feeling inspired, I had to find a program that was equal parts demanding and equal parts inspiring. When MakerSquare kept popping up on my radar, I had to check things out.
I attended one of the program’s demo days where students showcased their final projects. By the end of the demos, I could not believe how within 12 weeks, people with limited programming experience were now capable of building the projects they showcased that day. What really interested me though was how the students were able to talk about their projects - the strengths, limitations of the current code, and even how to fix the limitations. That they cared that much about what they had built, made me feel that this program was different - that it inspired its students. I dug around a little more that night trying to figure out how a program could singlehandedly inspire so many students. The leadership was great, the instructors were fantastic and it turns out, the students themselves were pushing and coaching each other to keep going and to keep building. After that night, I knew where I wanted to learn software development.
Looking back, MakerSquare was different than I expected. I thought the program would have focused on learning how to write code to make one thing do another thing. Inputs + Code = Outputs, right? Instead, there were days where we spent hours talking about why certain things operated the way they did. Though we spent a fair amount of time writing code on our own, we spent even more time collaborating on code in groups. I wasn’t just learning how to write code, I was learning how to collaborate on code. One of the best things I got out of MakerSquare was an understanding of why good software development matters. While it’s nice to see code just work, when you’re working with teams of developers, it’s important that everyone involved knows how to write good code. Ample commenting was part of the equation, but so was structuring your code the right way so others could clearly understand what you were doing. Ahem…git blame.
When we weren’t working, the team behind MakerSquare made sure we had ample opportunity for rest. Learning something as complex and nuanced as software development isn’t something you can rush. They held ample picnics and frisbee in the park, happy hours, optional workshops to use new frameworks, and even hosted speakers like Alexis Ohanian and Bob Metcalfe to give us a bigger picture look where the tech industry was going. We worked our tails off, but everything still felt so well balanced. I am so thankful they kept the pace at 5 days a week. Anything more just would have killed the concept of work/life balance.
By the time I finished MakerSquare, I knew how to translate ideas in my head into actual product prototypes. I had no illusions that I was on par with a seasoned software engineer, but I knew if I wanted to learn from that engineer, I now had the skillets to do so. While most of my peers joined startups and established tech companies as junior developers, I wanted to continue down the product development and product marketing path. I interviewed with a number of companies in and out of Austin and came close to convincing myself to move a couple thousand miles away. Instead, I chose to help MakerSquare bring what it did for me to many more aspiring developers. I loved the intellectual diversity of my peers, and I loved the approach MakerSquare took to teaching software development. MakerSquare had a great product, run by a great team with a lot of heart. And having always wanted to better the education industry, joining this team just seemed like a natural fit.
Today, I’m helping the team expand to San Francisco. Our first class is on June 2nd. In the short-time I’ve been in SF, I’ve come to a few conclusions. One, MakerSquare is one of the top programs in the industry. Two, there are some fantastic immersive programs out here, each with their own merits. And three, our program has already grown stronger in the short time we’ve been out here.
As a former student now looking outside in, one the greatest strengths MakerSquare has is the perspective brought to learning software development. Our admissions bar begins with prior technical knowledge but really focuses on finding students with the drive and personality to excel in and out of our program. From database engineers, to economists, lawyers, teachers and photographers, a student’s drive to learn, build and contribute to teams is far more important than where they’ve come from. Finally, we believe in our instructors, a lot. But we also know that the more students you put into a class, the more difficult it is to offer personalized attention. During my time in cohort 2, we had about 30 other students in my class. It felt big, but never to the point where I felt my access to our instructors was really limited. Since then, MakerSquare has capped its enrollment to 18 students per class. 18! With that high of an instructor to student ratio, we can teach software development in a really focused manner. And, there’s a lot more room for instructors to work with students at an individual level.
Looking forward, there will continue to be a huge demand for software developers. For every student enrolled in MakerSquare, we know we’re doing our part to help build the next generation of developers who want to learn and excel in the wild world that is the tech industry. For anyone interested in building a software development skillset, there are two pieces of of advice I can give. One, make sure this is something that you really want to do and two, interview programs that interest you. Take some time to go through the free resources out there and build a few things on your own. If you’re still loving the idea of building something from nothing, then consider taking the jump into some kind of structured program. The guidance and focus on understanding the why behind the code will get you the foundation you need to build good software. When you do choose to apply, make sure you’ve taken the time to interview the programs that interest you. It’s incredibly important that you find a program that inspires you to learn.
If I could do this all over again, the only thing I would change is having learned how to do this six years ago.