Many bootcamps are moving online in 2020, but Hack Reactor has actually offered their immersive bootcamp, Hack Reactor Remote, since 2014! Today, Jonathan Lewis from Hack Reactor walks us through the Hack Reactor online classroom, the differences between their in-person and remote bootcamps, and his advice for anyone who is asking themselves, “is this the right time to do a coding bootcamp?” Read on or watch the video walkthrough to see if Hack Reactor’s online classroom is the right learning environment for you!
So how did you get into tech, Jonathan? Did you take a traditional path into software engineering?
My story is actually pretty similar to many of the students that we see come through Hack Reactor and other bootcamps. I had a degree in film production and I was working in various other jobs. I had started down a career path and I started wondering, “what am I doing with my life?”
I realized I needed to switch careers. With all the research I did – and maybe a lot of people reading this are at this point – I decided I wanted to do software engineering. But I didn’t know exactly what that would mean or how to go about it. Once I did my research and started narrowing down on a career change path, all of my data told me that a coding bootcamp would be the best choice.
I did the Hack Reactor bootcamp in 2017 and I loved it so much that I wanted to be a teacher’s assistant for a few months. Afterwards, I applied to five companies, got offers from two of them, accepted one and started working in the tech industry. Now I’ve worked in the industry for a few years and taught!
What is the difference between Hack Reactor Remote and the programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York city (which have also gone online for COVID)?
We have campuses in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that normally operate bootcamps on site. We've also had an online program, Hack Reactor Remote, as you mentioned, since 2014. We’ve moved all of our immersive bootcamps online since the pandemic began. We’re all working together across our campuses to deliver the best online immersive bootcamps but we’re each still our own individual campuses.
By and large, they're adopting a lot of the specific methodologies that we've developed over the last few years. What's different that we're doing from when they were onsite is, rather than the student walking into a classroom on time and sitting down with the group, they show up into a Zoom room on time and we start having our lecture. I mentioned that “on time” part because a big part of the program is accountability. It's not an at-your-own-pace program. We have absolutely the same level of accountability and the same level of interaction as we did onsite. The biggest difference between online and in-person is that when you disconnect from a zoom room, you're not next to the person who just left the classroom, right?
There are little breaks between live components, but they are relatively short. And we try to supplement that with things. During lunchtime, you can join a group zoom room so that you don’t have to eat alone if you don’t want to. On Saturdays we have a Zoom hangout in the evening. Onsite, every activity was done at the exact same time on the same schedule for the entire cohort. Any moment, if we get together in a lecture or start pair programming, then the LA and SF campuses are doing the exact same thing.
Have you noticed something specific that your most successful remote students do?
In the past, students in the remote program chose to learn remotely. Now we have many students who don't have another option! Regardless, the most successful students trust the process.
The most successful students take and apply the feedback we give you. Consider your cohort like an athletic team and our instructors like the coaches. Coaches and trainers are going to give you feedback based on what they observe about your performance in real time. If you apply that feedback, whether you're trying to lose weight or get fit, or you try to learn how to program, you are going to excel. Being able to take and implement feedback is crucial. And another successful attitude that goes hand in hand with accepting feedback is a growth mindset.
These things that characterize success have to do with things aren't necessarily technical. Technical capability is actually not that strong of an indicator of how successful someone will be. If someone comes in, even if they're technically not strong, as long as they are happy to get feedback and communicate with their instructors, they’ll see success.
How do you suggest someone prep their lives for an online bootcamp like Hack Reactor?
When you’re doing a remote bootcamp during the pandemic, your learning space is probably also where you live. Having a space that you can control and making it be comfortable is important, whether that's the humidity and the temperature are comfortable, the seat that you're using, having an external keyboard and mouse, having two monitors so that you're able to deal with coding on one and researching on another, or a headset or headphones and a microphone. You’ll also want to communicate with whoever is living with you, too. Tell your family, loved ones, roommates, have a conversation with your pets! Tell them that you need to focus and work. Students who prepare their space before the bootcamp are going to be able to focus and not be distracted.
How do you ensure that remote students are not missing out on anything that in-person students were getting?
The way that we run the remote program is analogous to the way we are running onsite programs. We’ve been doing them in parallel since, you know, 2014. From the beginning, we’ve been iterating on this remote program and finding out how we can deliver the exact same outcomes. Even our CEO has a hand in this – he knows we need to deliver the same results, the same outcomes, and the same learning experience. Our students are pair programming even though they’re not sitting right next to each other.
Our students are building production-quality applications that scale. They meet standards of building applications that are fast, that can scale. They're required to actually style the front end and handle all the intimate animations and interactivity. It's a real professional working site. They’ll add this to their LinkedIn andtheir resume. When they talk to any companies during the job search, this is what they're showing them.
A big part of the networking is our alumni network. This program is intense. I've been through the Marine Corps boot camp actually and this program is, mentally, incredibly exhausting. Military boot camps are incredibly difficult, physically, but also mentally. But the amount of problem solving is incredible. That creates this incredibly strong community. I'm not part of another community that is as supportive as the alumni in this program. I still have meetings with my former students. We meet up, we talk about interviews we've had, and we coach each other. This is the kind of community that this program breeds.
Plus, we've also got an internal recruiting team. There are companies that love Hack Reactor grads. Some of them now are Hack Reactor grads who are hiring Hack Reactor grads. Our internal team works with those companies to get our students and alumni interviews, and they give us feedback about what they think of our grads. We actually adjust our curriculum according to that, too. We have these really tight networks internally among the alumni and areconstantly iterating on how we deliver the same kind of results.
What tools are you using to deliver the curriculum to your students?
Zoom, VS Code, Slack, our proprietary learning platform, and Google Calendar.
What does the remote classroom actually look like at Hack Reactor?
There are roughly about 66 hours a week of curriculum. It is highly structured and tightly scheduled for accountability. There are little bits of time when there’s a flexible period, but for the most part, we're ensuring that students are successful because they do the work that we’ve laid out here. Students start the day with a kickoff and a live lecture.
For example, this week students will do verbalization practice, workout for self care, pair programming work, and a lecture on problem-solving in the morning. Every day, you have to solve problems that are like real-world problems that you need to solve in coding interviews. By the end of the program, I think you’ll have done over 60 of these. These are like the wind sprints of programming. Every morning you're getting out there, you're sweating, and you're building your endurance. This is an example of what it looks like when we're doing a lecture or we're doing any sort of full cohort activity. Everyone's connected together on Zoom.
Students will use Visual Studio Code (VS Code) and live co-sharing for pair programming. This in combination with presentation sharpens your ability to communicate about your code, to understand when someone else is communicating with you. The cool thing about VS Code is that the code can be shared live. As you type into the code, it updates live on the other person's computer.
We also have a proprietary learning platform that keeps track of student progress, which is where the majority of curriculum lives. Lessons get released incrementally so that students don't get lost. In these modules, students have access to videos, slideshows, instructions on how to complete sprints.
How do students communicate with each other?
Students are on video in Zoom the majority of the day in different scenarios. Students also communicate constantly over Slack asynchronously. There are channels like #gratitude, #reflections, a channel for each cohort, and a channel where students can interact with specific staff members.
What is your teaching style, Jonathan?
It's funny because I've done a whole lot more teaching remotely than I have in-person at this point. It feels incredibly natural for me. The difference really is that making eye contact is difficult and the engagement is different. People naturally have a tendency to be less engaged over video, so there's a little barrier to overcome there. We’ve adapted to that. We regularly ask for responses from students. I’ll ask everyone to answer a question through a private chat in Zoom.
How do you evaluate students’ progress?
We track student engagement through their responses in Zoom, questions asked on Slack, and over our learning platform. It's not about students getting the right answer. It's more about student engagement, right? We give students feedback based on that engagement.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Hack Reactor Remote since you graduated in 2017?
What I’ve seen change the most is the way that we’ve built and iterated on the ways which we communicate with students. I get a ton of information through our communication channels that helps me figure out how I can best help each individual student. We're in a fast moving age in technology. We’ve got a lot of engineers working on our team. This learning platform that I showed you is a newer, iterative platform. It blows my mind the way that Hack Reactor has built this supportive community on both sides, the students and the staff, and built that communication bridge.
We’ve also changed the way that our career services staff works with our students. They were simply career coaches when I was in bootcamp, now we have a career services manager.
Are your students landing jobs during the pandemic?
If you go on Indeed, you can see how quickly things changed and what’s trending. I’m constantly doing research to make sure I'm up to date with what I’m telling my students. You see that companies are posting slower and there are not as many new positions opening up. But you’ll also see more remote opportunities. A graduate actually has opportunities to work at places in other parts of the country that wouldn't have otherwise been available. If you're performing at a high enough level and you are a desirable candidate, which of course is our goal here, then the students can utilize the fact that they have opportunities that they wouldn't have otherwise had. This is what we do: when you have some sort of a challenge, you find the best way to tackle it. Getting students excited about these opportunities they couldn't have had otherwise and pivoting to get them ready for these new trends is what we’re doing here.
What's the best advice that you've heard recently about how to get a job after you've graduated?
We do “Ask Me Anything” sessions with graduates for our current students every six or so weeks. Our graduates always say emphatically, “Listen to your Career Services Manager.” You meet weekly with your Career Services Manager when you’re looking for a job. They'll make observations about how you’re job searching and about your results. They teach you how to track all your job search data and show your statistics. They will give you individualized feedback, and you just need to listen to them and implement that feedback.
Our career services team came up with this new program and it’s about 25 hours a week of support while you job search. You don't have to do all of it, but there is a minimum amount you need to do. This is to give students the kind of structure and support. This is a phenomenal iteration. Our career services team did a study of all of the data that they gathered from any graduates that were having a hard time getting hired. That’s how they created the new 25-hour curriculum.
How can students who are looking to upskill in the current unemployment bubble in the US take advantage of a program like Hack Reactor before they enroll in the next cohort? Where do you suggest a beginner start?
We teach workshops and we have a free prep program. The free program used to be paid. I actually did it when I was looking to go to bootcamp! So take advantage of that. Bootcamps offer sessions where you can get a chance to talk to a live person and ask questions. The prep program simulates our immersive program right down to recording videos of yourself, live components, answering coding prompts, and getting ready for our technical assessment to get admitted into the program. I highly recommend getting some exposure to someone talking about the program and showing you our teaching style.
Why is right now a good time for someone to take a coding bootcamp and make that career change into tech?
Why are people waiting? it's a fear, right? It's fear and hesitation. You don't know what's going to happen next and I’ve seen that over the years, even before the pandemic. Humans are always concerned about what they’re leaving behind. Life is uncertain! When you have something that’s working, even if you don’t love it, it’s easy to get scared of losing that. If you don’t love what you’re doing for work right now or you got laid off, all the better to jump in right now! Now is a great time, even for individuals who are worried about learning an all new career when jobs aren't being posted as quickly who might be concerned.
If you look industry-wide, especially in comparison to some other industries, software engineering is faring relatively well. Especially in markets that are trying to deliver solutions and tools for people to work remotely, This is a time of innovation. Look at how well Zoom is doing right now, for instance! Companies are having to deliver results right now and need to hire more engineers to do that. Because this is a time of innovation, now is the time to get in. As time goes on, it's no longer going to be the time of change where people need to adapt so rapidly. In a way, this is sort of that wave of change that you probably want to jump on board for! Everybody is learning and implementing new things right now, not only bootcampers.
We often have alumni reaching out to us ready to hire our graduates, even now in this climate. They'll put job postings on the alumni Slack channel. Now is the time to get into it rather than waiting, especially if the bootcamp has a good alumni network and reputation.
I suspect that the person who's waiting, if they don't do it now, they're building a habit of not commiting. Jump on the opportunity to change that habit with accountability. Do it now rather than building the habit of waiting and not acting.
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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