Curious what you’ll get in a remote coding bootcamp? Today, Matt Lane from Rithm school is here to share a virtual tour of the Rithm School online classroom. Matt walks us through the differences between Rithm School online versus in-person, share his screen and give us a tour of the classroom (including how you’ll communicate with students and instructors, where you’ll find the curriculum, and how you’ll pair-program remotely), and shares advice for students who want to excel in an online bootcamp to get a job when they graduate.
Matt is a Cofounder and Lead Instructor at Rithm School. Matt, can you tell us how you got into tech?
I took a semi-traditional route into tech. I did a bachelor's degree in math and a PhD at UCLA in math. But it was not applied math and I didn't know how to program. After I finished my degree, I got a job working at a small math education startup that was originally not a technical role. It was basically a content role. We wrote math lessons for middle and high school math teachers.
You're moving classes online for now, do you plan for Rithm school to have a full-time remote immersive even once things "go back to normal"?
Never say never! We're a small team. We have about 7 full time employees. We don't currently have enough instructors to hold both an online and an in-person immersive. Right now, the plan is to return to operating in person as soon as we can.
Do you currently have students from outside of San Francisco who are taking Rithm School online?
Yeah! A lot of our remote students are people who were in the Bay Area but have since moved away because of the virus. We definitely have students on the East Coast and in the Midwest. We have international students applying now as well. I think we'll be seeing more of that in the months to come. That is one of the silver linings of this whole situation.
What do your most successful students do when making this transition to online learning?
In general, the things that contribute to students' success are not so different from what we see in person. For example, one of the most important things is knowing how to advocate for yourself. Don’t be shy about asking questions and communicating your needs and don’t be afraid to raise your hand in the middle of a lecture. All coding bootcamps are quite concentrated in terms of how much time you have in relation to the information you're learning. I want to make sure that students get the most value out of that time. Students who are proactive in getting the most out of us while they have access to us will be the ones who get the most out of Rithm School.
Do you have advice for online bootcampers who are setting up a "classroom" in their home?
It's definitely tough right now to have dedicated space. Even I have had to invest more in establishing a dedicated workspace at home.
Be intentional about not cooping yourself up too much. When we take a lunch break, be sure to get outside or do something to break up your day. I don't think it's good for anyone's mental health to be sitting in a dark room all day on a computer. Check in with yourself every day and make sure that you're getting time away from the computer. That can be harder to do when you're living and working from the same place.
Is the teaching style still synchronous and immersive at Rithm School Online?
Definitely. Students are still joining class in the morning, all together, at the same time every day. Cohorts start together. We build in breaks for students so that they don't get too sucked in.
How are you making sure your online students are getting those career networking opportunities that in-person students usually get?
We have a dedicated, 3-week long outcomes portion of our curriculum. Traditionally, during that time we would take our students to Meetups and organize with companies in the Bay Area to do tours. Obviously, that can't happen right now. But we can still have guest speakers come in and talk and we host alumni panels so that job seekers can talk to people who have walked the same path. One unique part of our curriculum is a three week mini internship. Students work on a company project so that they get experience in a real-world code base. We're fortunate to have this adaptable curriculum.
Will Rithm School students still be working on a real-world project with a company in the online classroom?
Yeah! We partner with organizations and students get to contribute to their code base. When we teach in-person, our instructor basically serves in the role of Technical Lead or Engineering Manager for that project. It's a ½ work environment, ½ school environment. The biggest difference now is that everyone is working from home. But it's pretty much the same otherwise, and that’s good practice for a remote job. During this time, a lot of our students will be going into remote jobs.
Can you give us a tour of the remote classroom at Rithm School?
Sure! Primarily we work within Zoom. Everything is still live; we don't do self-guided learning. A big part of Rithm School, because we're so small, is fostering community as much as possible. You'll find the high-level overview of what our day to day looks like on our website. We start with a morning lecture or activity and do an exercise at 9:15 or 9:30am depending on which cohort you're in. Then, we all take lunch all at the same time. In the afternoon, we rinse and repeat with another lecture or activity and a new exercise.
Students and instructors are all meeting together at the same time. We try to make the lectures interactive, we ask the students questions, the students ask us questions. We do pair programming for all of the exercises, so students are never on their own. They're always working with someone else.
How do students communicate with their instructors remotely?
We also use Slack quite heavily. During the exercises, students are paired up and sent to a Zoom breakout room and the instructors float around the breakout rooms. When people are working on a problem in a Zoom breakout room and find themselves struggling, they can ping their instructor on Slack to get help. We're trying to capture as much of that community, teamwork aspect as we can even though we're not together in person.
Has the curriculum changed for the online classroom?
The curriculum and materials are all quite similar to what we did in person. For example, students get access to all of the lecture slides, notes, and examples to review the night before or after the lecture. When we were in person, we recommended that people print out the lecture notes beforehand so that they could use them during the lecture as a guide to taking notes. Nowadays, it's a bit different. We still provide the curriculum content beforehand and it's still presented in a similar way. We share our screen to do live demos. When we get into later lectures on frameworks, we have demo applications that students can download and play around with that accompany the lecture.
Another silver lining to being remote is, we record all of our lectures. We do this with the expectation that students should be in class in real-time but for folks who want to listen to the lecture again later. It's a nice bonus for folks who are learning online.
How do students pair-program remotely?
We have a lecture on the first day about the behavioral aspects of pair programming: one person will drive and one person will navigate. The driver is actively coding and the navigator is making suggestions, catching bugs, catching typos, brainstorming with the driver then they're stuck. We use Visual Studio Code (VS Code) for all of our programming. VS Code has a live share feature that allows students to edit the same code at the same time.
We would use the same technique for pair programming in person and we would still talk about these roles in lecture. It's important to give students practice in the technical curriculum but also practice in the non-technical aspects. When you're going out on interviews, you're not only being assessed on your technical capability. You're being assessed on how you communicate, how you work on a team, your culture fit. Pair programming allows students to practice both those soft-skills and technical skills.
What is the biggest lesson that your team has learned over the past few months?
We've definitely learned a lot. For the past four years, we've been a completely in-person program. We believe in the value of in-person learning and we believe that the social aspect of learning is important. We also believe strongly in small class sizes – a class of 15 is normal for Rithm School. Our model of education is basically a small community.
My biggest fear when we had to go online was that the quality of our program might not be as good. I've been pleasantly surprised by how well things are going. The first few days there was a learning curve. Every little thing from how Zoom works to making pair programming functional are all things we had to sort out in the transition. We're capturing much more of the experience of the in-person program that I ever expected. That is primarily because we're trying to do so much of the same things that we would have done in person. The technology we have now has been instrumental to this process. I didn't even know that Zoom breakout rooms were a thing before this! That's been the nicest takeaway.
One thing that I didn't expect is that everything takes longer online. Our lectures tend to take 10-20% longer online than the same lecture does in-person. In person, it's much easier to tell if people are looking confused or lost or are having a hard time paying attention because you can see their faces right there. Zoom has great features so that students can raise their hands and ask questions but it's definitely easier in-person. We tend to be a bit slower and more deliberate online.
Have you made any changes or iterated the way that you're doing online learning?
One thing we are going to start with this upcoming September cohort is a week-long extension of the program. This will give us more time to allow for the extra 10-20% that content takes to deliver online. We also want to make sure that we're providing extra support upfront. The added week will be at the beginning of the program so that people will have more time to get to know one another. We can also shorten the prework so that students can spend more time learning together because we believe that students learn more effectively in a group than on their own.
Rithm School has a strong history of getting students jobs. How has that changed during the pandemic? Are your students still landing jobs right now?
It's definitely more challenging now. Students are still getting interviews and getting hired, but we are noticing that the process is all much slower right now. Students who are in the interview process might normally hear back from a company within a few days, nowadays it takes at least a week on average. Many startups are having a hard time, too. It's kind of a mixed bag, in terms of what's going on in the industry. I know that Yelp recently unfurloughed some employees that had been furloughed in March. There are definitely good signs coming about but it's certainly not normal times right now.
We have a career coach who works with students during the three-week outcomes curriculum. Students work with our career coach one-on-one during the last three weeks of the program and even after they graduate they have one-on-one check-ins with our career coach until they find a job. We're doing everything we can to support students while they're looking for work and trying to avoid quarantine fatigue while they do so.
Are you noticing anything about the types of roles or industries that Rithm School graduates are going into?
We get students who get jobs from all over the map. There are a few organizations that have consistently hired our graduates and fortunately, they seem to be weathering the storm pretty well and are still hiring. Any organization that's doing something with asynchronous communication is doing fine right now – Zoom and Slack for example. Any organization that provides a tool to help people do their job remotely are going to be the most likely to be hiring right now. We have a project right now that a bunch of students have worked on that helps people monetize their in-person services online. It's intended for people who traditionally have made their income from in-person events like yoga teachers or fitness instructors. Tools that help during this time tend to still be hiring and doing okay.
One piece of advice that I'm hearing from you is, "Expect for the job search process to take a bit longer." Do you have any other recession-proof job hunting tips?
Students who are successful in the job search are the ones who make their own schedule, follow their own schedule, and know how to structure their time. They treat the job search as a job. They are consistently applying for work every single day. They don't get too emotionally attached to any one thing. Coming from a structured environment like Rithm School, can be a hard transition for a lot of students. We do our best to help our graduates navigate that transition.
We'll often see students who are so excited about one job and they get attached to it. They might get an interview and then never hear back. That emotional attachment devastated them and derailed their momentum. When things do happen they happen all at once and quickly. You can apply for jobs for three weeks and not hear anything for that entire three weeks. Then, in the fourth week, you might hear from multiple things you applied for. If you stop, then you won't hear anything again until three weeks after you start sending your resume out again. But if you're consistent, that momentum will carry you. Eventually, you'll start getting feedback and interviews. It'll snowball from there. The people that don't invest that time up front will have a harder time building that momentum and maintaining it.
How can students who have decided they want to transition to a career in tech take advantage of a program like Rithm School?
Acknowledging that we’re currently in a global pandemic, why is this a good time for someone to make a career change or go to a coding bootcamp.
It's a challenging time. It's a time of a lot of uncertainty. But there is also an opportunity at this time. Software Engineering jobs aren't going away. They are, fortunately, jobs that you can do remotely. If this is our future for a while, then it's a great job to have. Even once we've weathered this storm, there are a lot of Software Engineering jobs that you can do remotely. A lot of company cultures are changing I think companies will be more supportive of remote work in the future. If having a long term remote job is something that you're interested in, this is a great time to get started.
The least competitive time to get into the tech industry is now. It's only going to get more competitive as time goes on. Now may be the right time for you!