CareerFoundry combines the flexibility of online learning with the proven guidance of mentors, training students to become employable developers and UX designers in three months. Watch the live webinar to:
Hi everyone, thanks for tuning in to this live Course Report Q&A. My name is Liz Eggleston and I work on Course Report which is a resource for finding the right coding bootcamp that’s right for you. So if you haven’t looked at Course Report yet you can use our directory to find schools that fit your needs; you can check out our blog, we’ve got interviews with students, instructors and founders at bootcamps across the world, some application tips and other resources like that.
Today we are joined by Martin Ramson. Martin is the CTO and cofounder of Career Foundry which is a really cool online mentored bootcamp based in Berlin. Martin is going to answer all our questions about changing careers which he did himself, resources you can use to really understand if you want to take that leap into web development, and he’s going to give advice to students who are thinking of taking a Career Foundry course.
I want to remind everyone that this is going to be a Q&A style webinar so please use the questions tab on the right side of your screen to send in any questions you have or you can also tweet @coursereport.
One other reminder is that we’re going to have a great exclusive scholarship for everyone who’s tuning in, so you can use code coursereport in the referral section of your Career Foundry application and you’ll get 10% of your first course, which is awesome. I’m also happy to answer any questions you have about discounts, scholarships and anything like that after the webinar.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Martin.
Thank you for hosting me.
Do you want to just introduce yourself then we can get into some of these questions.
I’m Martin, I’m one of the founders of Career Foundry. I come from Sweden originally and moved down to Berlin, Germany about 10 years ago. Berlin has become a huge startup scene here in Europe and quite interesting to see what’s going on here.
My background is as a product manager; I was a product manager for about 10 years then I changed my career to web developer and through that process started Career Foundry.
So you started as a product manager, transitioned into a web developer. Why did you decide to make that transition?
I’d thought about it for a very long time. Actually, I didn’t think about web development, I thought about creating a startup. I had a lot of ideas for startups that I wanted to do, and I was constantly talking about them with everybody that I knew but it never came to anything.
I just realized I had to learn coding on my own to get that going and to do something about that – so I did. I quit my job and I learned web development.
How did you learn? How did you go down that journey?
I used free tutorials so I started with Codecademy, which is cool because it’s free. I definitely recommend that for anybody who is interested because there you can find out if that is for you, if that’s something that you like doing or not. I used that and other tutorials.
I had a developer friend who helped me a little bit, kind of mentoring me, that’s how I learned. I also built a project and that project kept me going every day because I was so into it.
Did you ever get to use the skills that you were learning in web development in product management and did you find that that was helpful or did that never really overlap?
I quit being a product manager to become a web developer so it wasn’t really an overlap like that; although today I have a product – Career Foundry – so doing both. For me the biggest difference is that I can create things now in Career Foundry and that’s just awesome.
What are some of the differences that you’ve found between working at a large company and working at a startup and even more than that, what would you suggest for a new developer who’s just looking for their first job? Do you suggest that they work at an established enterprise company or a startup?
I would always advise to work at startups because it’s just so much more fun. I’ve been working for big companies for a couple of years and they pay well but that’s about it. There are a lot of drawbacks of working at a big company, including things like doing stuff for over a year and then that project just gets canned or something like that. When you’re in a startup, everything that you do matters and every person on the team matters lots more than in a big company and that makes a really big difference. Also the culture, you value each other much more than in a big company I think.
You were saying that when you decided to take the leap and learn to code and become a web developer, that you were pretty self-taught, but you also mentioned having a mentor. How did you find that mentor and what sort of role did they play in helping you learn those skills?
What was difficult for me was that although there are good free tutorials out there, what they teach is really the coding aspect but being a web developer is so much more than just that; I felt that was always missing. And having someone to talk to, learning processes and best practice and understanding what is code quality and what tools do I use; all those practical things on being a web developer is often missing. So that’s what I was looking for in help from a friend, and I was lucky to have a friend.
Through that experience I created Career Foundry which is matching people like me who want to learn to become a web developer with mentors.
That’s one of the big upsides to Career Foundry, is that you get matched with this mentor who helps you get through and that’s all online. How do you make sure that that mentor relationship is strong and that you’re really able to communicate with that mentor online as opposed to someone you’re friends with and can meet up with?
First of all, we pair the mentors with students as close as possible to their location so that they’re in the same time zone. If they share a common experience of a city it could be something to talk about and if you want to get into the scene of being a web developer, it’s good to know what meetups to go to and so on. So we try to do that local pairing is possible.
Communication online; what we are doing is we have a set of exercises that students work on, so we have 16 total and each of those is one day of work, so 2 – 3 hours of work and applying your new knowledge to your project. Then you submit that piece to your mentor to get reviewed on your code quality and things like that.
Every day you get feedback from your mentor on your project and your code and then every week we have Skype calls or Hangouts with your mentor. That’s really where the bond is created, which is very important. If you want to learn something from somebody, you really need to talk to that person. And actually, it works very well with Skype or Hangouts. Through these three months of the course, it creates a personal bond between students and mentors and that’s really awesome.
This may be hard to pinpoint but how long would you say it took you to confidently say that you were a web developer as opposed to a product manager?
My story was, I started in April with the free tutorials and then I built a project on my own in Ruby on Rails, which was a social network that I tried to make my friends use but they never did in the end – but it was a great learning experience. That took me in total three months of building every day. I ended that in June then in August I started building the Career Foundry platform that it is today. So I would say in August I felt confident enough to actually create a product from scratch.
Wow. Was Career Foundry your first professional experience as a developer?
Yeah, it was.
Did you do freelance work or anything like that before?
No, I did not. I did have some experience with coding back in school so I did learn a bit of Java back them. So I had had a little bit of practice before but that was over 10 years ago and completely different. But this was first real project.
Can you tell us about one of the challenges that you faced whether on your journey to becoming a developer or even in creating those first iterations of Career Foundry and how you overcame that?
The challenge in the beginning is that you follow a tutorial which lays out how you can do things, and you implement them and it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work and you get totally frustrated but you realize after a while how to do it.
But then you’re not really sure if you learned the core programming or if you just learned how to do exactly that tutorial. That in the beginning is a little bit scary. You just basically have to do another. You have to do another project and another project. Then when you’ve done a few, you realize you can do this. So it’s about practice in the beginning.
There are a lot of challenges to learning coding and that’s why a structured program might help because you have everything in one place, you have access to mentors and other students that you can ask. It speeds up the time to become a developer I think, by probably double the speed that you can go on your own.
Also, the quality of your work is better because if you’re on your own, you don’t really know. It’s hard to create quality code because nobody challenges you to do so. You do the minimum that actually works but it’s completely not readable by anybody else. That is the challenge.
I think that there’s a great post on the Career Foundry blog about this. Even before somebody looks into an educational platform that’s a little more structured like Career Foundry, what can they do to try out web development and know if it’s right for them? Can you tell us a couple of good resources that may be free?
And then I would build a website. Build something that you want to build. Try for a while; see if this is something that you like. If you like programming or web development. It’s not for everybody for sure and for some people it’s very frustrating. Just the way we are different in the way we’re thinking; if we’re logical thinkers or not. That’s why I urge everybody to try it first and see if you really like doing it.
Have you found that there is a specific type of person who is cut out for programming? Do you have to have math and science background?
Oh, no. In our team in Career Foundry, we have a mix of people who have backgrounds like a wine specialist, for example. So no, they come from all kinds of backgrounds. It doesn’t really matter. I think you need to be a logical thinker and a problem solver but to find out, there is just one way - try it.
So Martin, one of the first things that I noticed students do in the Career Foundry web development course is to create a personal portfolio site, and I thought that was really cool. Why is that so important? Why did you decide that that’s the first project that people need to focus on?
We do have two different projects throughout the course; the first is the portfolio site. Then when students get to Ruby on Rails, they’re building an eCommerce website.
The next project that you’re going to start on, the eCommerce website will be basically your first piece of your portfolio that you just built. It is very important because when you do look for jobs later on, if it is freelancing or if you’re looking for a full time job, what people are going to look at are your existing projects. They’re not going to look at certificates or anything like that; they’re going to look at what you have done, what you can do.
That portfolio is really showcasing your knowledge so it needs to be good. That’s why we’re focusing on building that.
For a web developer role or a freelancing role, would they submit a traditional resume anymore?
It’s usually a resume containing links to things like GitHub, Stack Overflow, places like that. Those online resources are really showing what you can do and your GitHub account.
What makes a really good portfolio site? Are there ones that you’ve seen that have been submitted on Career Foundry or in general that are really effective?
They all make it very personal and make it specific, would be my advice. If you are generic about yourself like, ‘I like HTML’ then it’s not going to look so good. You need to say what you are after. Who are you, what are you going to do, what do you love doing?
Because especially startups want to hire people who are really passionate about things.
We have a few technical questions about technologies that are used in the curriculum and we’ll just do a lightning round. You see questions like these all the time so we’re just going to go through a few of these.
Tell us what is Ruby and what is Rails?
Ruby is the programming language and Rails is a framework. A framework is a fancy name for a lot of code that has been written already for you that does common tasks so that you don’t have to do them yourself. That’s the difference. And they’re bundled together often so you use both of the, that’s why it’s called Ruby on Rails. It’s basically both; programming in Ruby but using the Rails framework.
Can you be just a Ruby developer or just a Rails developer or does it have to be Ruby on Rails together?
You can be just a Ruby developer because Ruby the programming language is also used in other places. There are very specific uses of it. It was invented in Japan first and used in very specific back end system operational things that I have no clue about.
But most people use it together with Rails. The advantage of Ruby on Rails and why a lot of startups are using Ruby on Rails is that it’s very quick to create things; and if you’re a startup, you need to be fast. So the development is very quick. Why we are teaching it is also because it’s a comparatively easy language to learn and you get a lot of things for free, which in other languages take much more time to learn.
The thing is, if you have learned one language and one way of creating applications, learning the next one is not that difficult. But starting with something like Node.js is a challenge. I think it’s too big of a challenge at once.
What is the very first thing you learn to do in a Career Foundry web development course? What are the first basics?
The very first is installing all the tools that you need and they’re all part of the course. There are tools that web developers are using every day, so we only teach things that developers are using. So it’s about those tools.
Then you’re going to create your first website for the first exercise and also put that live on a hosting service – so you’re going to have a live website after the first exercise.
So you do that portfolio project and you were also talking about an eCommerce site. Can you tell us about that project?
The Career Foundry course is built on Ruby on Rails. For example, having users that sign up for your service, you can have products that you’re selling and you can have for example, credit card payments and you can have a database of things. So you’re going to build an eCommerce website where you’re going to sell something.
If you have an idea for something you want to sell then you should go for it through the course. You will implement things like reviews of your products and also included is how to do automatic testing and code reviews and all those things that you need to know as a programmer. Then you will launch it on Oroco which is the hosting service where Career Foundry is also hosted, so we’re basically teaching everything that we use ourselves.
Would you say that once a student has completed that kind of project and that’s on their portfolio, is that enough to present to a potential employer if their goal is to get a job or start freelancing or do you suggest they do another project on their own?
Getting a job as a web developer, you have the problem of most employers wanting experience so we do advise our students to do more projects, either with other students – we have an alumni community where people are building stuff together – or taking freelance jobs.
There are small, tiny projects and there are huge projects. You can be building a website for a restaurant on your block if you want to. That’s quite a small project but still, it’s a real project that you can put on your portfolio website. Then you can take it up a notch for every time until you are confident in what you can do, so freelancing is also a good way.
Doing a group project has the added benefit of learning the group tools and learning how to work in a group as well, so that’s also recommended.
So Career Foundry is online and you can do it part-time so a lot of your students might be working simultaneously at their current job and also doing Career Foundry. Do you have advice to those students for balancing their time? Is it possible to do both?
Yeah, for sure. We do have loads of students who do that. It is tough for sure because there is a lot to learn; but you need to create a structure in your life that allows for an hour every day at least, of work. Or if you set aside more time during the weekends or have certain days that you put down more time, but having structure definitely helps. Having a habit like you do it every day. You try to have something that you work on every day, that helps.
I would imagine that there would be a lot of employers who would pay for their employees to go through Career Foundry because it’s a great resource to upscale and get new skills for their current job. Have you had experience with that and do you advice to convince an employer to pay for a career Foundry course?
We do have quite a number of students that their employer paid. It’s not a big price to pay for the company so it’s not too difficult to convince them. What you can say is that since this is a very flexible program, you can do it, it doesn’t have to be during work hours. So you can do it on the weekend, evenings; it doesn’t affect your performance at work.
Lauren has a question for us: What is the best way for online learners to develop a community as opposed to an in person program? Does Career Foundry do things to make sure people are meeting offline or do you have advice for people who may be looking for that kind of community?
We have a student community that is online, on Slack, if you know the program. It’s pretty cool. It’s a very giving community; people are constantly posting their work there and getting peer feedback. We also have groups in certain cities where people are meeting up but that’s nothing that we organized from our side, it just kind of happened. If you want to meet locally I would go to Meetup. There’s a lot of things on Meetup.
You had mentioned doing some group work once you’re done with the Career Foundry course. Do you suggest any particular hackathons or things like that? I think I remember students from Career Foundry stating something like Career Foundry having organized an offline hackathon or meetup.
We do hackathons maybe once per month. That’s a fun way to get experience and meet people.
Well Martin, that’s a ton of great information about Career Foundry and about your story. Is there anything that we did not cover that you want to add about your journey to becoming a web developer, starting Career Foundry or the course itself?
I don’t think so. My advice is generally just trying it. If you like it you can become a web developer and you can be creative online. That’s a huge difference for me at least. I feel that I’m not just a consumer online but I’m a producer online; I can create things that other people are using. So I would try it, build something, get out there and don’t be afraid of making mistakes because everybody does in the beginning.
Amazing. That’s all wonderful advice and really specific takeaways as well, we really appreciate it. Thanks so much everyone for joining us on this webinar and for asking questions. Martin, we can’t thank you enough for being here.
Martin has a couple of really cool blog posts on the Career Foundry blog which I will send out after this webinar. Remember that you can try the first lesson on Career Foundry for free. I did it yesterday and it’s really cool. If you have any additional questions for Martin about Career Foundry, I’ll send out contact information after this. And if you have other questions about Course Report, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll send out the recording of this webinar and some information about that 10% off code for Career Foundry that I talked about earlier, so check your inboxes for that. You can share it with any of your friends who may have missed this webinar.
And of course, visit CourseReport.com and sign up for our email list. You’ll get all of our future updates on webinars and interviews. You can tweet us and tell us which school or topic you’d like to see at the next webinar.
Thanks so much for joining us and have a really good day!