The Tech Academy is expanding to Denver, and their new campus will be run by Cole Dixon, a former student and instructor who worked in tech for three years before returning to the school that jump-started his career! Cole tells us what the new campus at The Tech Academy is like, how students will interact with instructors and students from campuses in Portland and Seattle, and the companies hiring developers in Denver.
What’s your background before becoming Dean of The Tech Academy Denver?
I attended The Tech Academy as a student in 2015 in Portland, Oregon. I became an instructor there, then eventually became the Academy Director, overseeing the other instructors and handling advanced coding projects. I eventually decided to leave The Tech Academy to get some real-world coding experience.
When I went back to Portland for the holidays, Jack and the crew at Tech Academy told me they were thinking about opening a branch in Denver and wondered if I would be willing to step in. I really liked my job and my career at that time, but when they told me their plans for the future of The Tech Academy, I knew it was a good opportunity to come back as the Dean of the Denver campus.
Why were you excited to work for The Tech Academy? What stood out?
I didn't have any second thoughts about working as an instructor at The Tech Academy. I knew the curriculum and I'd helped flesh out parts of the Databases lesson. I felt comfortable with the staff and the students there, so I felt it was a good place to jumpstart my career.
As a student, I was scared about making the career change so I definitely wanted to make the right choice. I did some due diligence with my research – Portland has quite a few coding bootcamps, but The Tech Academy has worked their way up into the top tier. I liked the immersiveness of The Tech Academy course; they didn't make the assumption that you already knew computers. They let you start from the ground level and build your skill set.
There are already a number of well-known coding bootcamps in Denver, CO. How will The Tech Academy stand out amongst the competition?
One super beneficial aspect of The Tech Academy is the help with job placement. Not many coding bootcamps have a course to help you through job placement, and that helped me make my decision to go to The Tech Academy as a student four years ago. We'll teach you the code and from there, we help you get your foot in the door with companies. There is a course that you take after all of the computer knowledge and coding courses that is specifically tailored to assisting students in finding a job in the tech industry. There are people on our team who are very talented at placing you based on your skills and interests. We have very close ties with recruiters and other groups within the tech industry. We do mock interviews, help you flesh out your resume and Linkedin, and we help get your GitHub up and running so you can show off all your code. We do our best to help students through to the end; which is employment.
What is the new Denver campus like?
The Denver campus officially opened in July 2018. We're located in Wheat Ridge, a small, up-and-coming suburb of Denver on the west side. It doesn't differ too much from the other Tech Academy campuses other than the layout and the structure. We have the entire downstairs of a shared, modern tech office building. The open layout makes the space feel not segregated. We have whiteboard walls – students can write and do debugging processes.
Students can move between different campuses, so The Tech Academy tries to provide the same feel as Portland and Seattle. If a student was going to start in Denver and move to Seattle, they’re not going to lose any of the learning material.
How many students and instructors are there at the Denver campus?
Currently, we can accommodate 15 to 20 students on campus at any one time. I’m the main instructor, so students can expect a 10:1 ratio, if not a few more. All of our instructors teach across all the campuses in our online portal where students submit drills and show us their code.
Since we use the same online portal at every campus, students can also work with instructors who are based out of Seattle or Portland. Students will probably end up working remotely with other students from these campuses too. The Tech Academy has built a very integrated system, where they do have campuses located in different states, but none of them are completely isolated.
How does your teaching style at The Tech Academy compare to your tutoring style?
I hadn't done any formal academic teaching before The Tech Academy, but I had done a lot of Science and English tutoring and mentoring with younger students from middle school on up. In tutoring, I want a student to reach the conclusion with a problem.
At a coding bootcamp, students should expect the teaching style to be a little bit more hands off. I still want students to reach a conclusion, but I know that the same application can be written a million different ways. As an instructor, I sometimes need to step back, let students build the application, then review their code. I focus on distilling what they built down to the most practical use of their code – not making it too clunky or wordy and making sure there are in-line comments and documentation. The Tech Academy teaches a lot of best practices for the industry.
What programming languages do you teach at The Tech Academy? Do you tailor the curriculum for Denver companies?
I'll include some activities or code reviews that other campuses don’t teach. But the curriculum itself is the same across Portland, Seattle, and Denver. We bring you from the front end to the back end, application engineering, and then we show you how to integrate all the languages together. In the Denver area, all the languages we teach are highly sought after – we're not teaching anything for which you would have to move out of this area to find a job.
The Tech Academy is self-paced, but how many hours should prospective students anticipate spending on the bootcamp?
That varies – The Tech Academy offers 15, 20, and 30-week courses, but the most commonly sought after one is the 20-week course. The curriculum is roughly 600hrs (this is based on an average from past to current students). Some students are able to get it done sooner than others, so it varies based on the amount of time and effort put in.
We understand that a lot of people have full-time jobs and lives outside of a coding bootcamp. Pre-planned vacations, moving, selling a house – we're very accommodating. Some students take this on as their full-time job by working for eight hours a day, five days a week. We have other students that do three or four hours at night after their job, and then a couple hours on the weekend. I would plan for about 20 hours a week, that’s totally a substantial amount of time to meet deadlines and retain the knowledge while still living life.
Tell us what you know about the tech scene in Denver. What kind of companies are looking to hire junior software developers?
Denver is a big tech hub and is constantly growing its tech job opportunities – all the way from Northern Fort Collins down to southern Denver, and over to Western Boulder – it's a very broad area. There are several big companies – there's an Oracle office based out of Broomfield just west of Denver, and Google just opened a campus in Boulder, which is not far from Denver. Amazon has been eyeballing Denver for their campuses out here and Slack is opening an office here.
With the jobs in Denver, it really just depends on what a student really wants to do. In my years of being involved with the Tech Academy, as students go through the program, every student always ends up finding that one language, or that one aspect of software engineering, that they fall in love with and really pursue.
How does The Tech Academy adapt to student needs? What if someone isn’t progressing as quickly as you had hoped?
We do see that from time-to-time. The deeper you get into coding, the more complex it can be to understand how objects relate to each other. In those cases, we take the time to sit down and walk students through it. I happen to love debugging and working a problem backwards, and that's a skill that every software developer should have, so we take the time to teach it here. We've also done a couple of lectures where students watch us debug through a problem to see how we can identify the bugs and work backwards.
Describe the ideal student for a coding bootcamp like The Tech Academy. Are there certain students who do really well in the class?
Most of our students thrive, but the ones who do really well in the program, are learning and paying attention essentially from the very first course. They're learning all about their computer – the inner workings, the lingo and all the acronyms. If you've ever been to a tech meetup, sometimes it can sound like everyone is speaking a foreign language. We don't just teach you code and let you run free with it. We're deeply instilling the thought process for you to ask questions like: Why is the code running this way? How is it going to interact when you start to throw all these other pieces into it?
Anybody who really wants to have a deep understanding of the code and why it's working the way it does, does really well at The Tech Academy.
What advice would you give a prospective student who's considering a coding bootcamp like The Tech Academy?
The Tech Academy is definitely the newest in the area, but research all the bootcamps that are around – Denver's got quite a few. Attend a couple of meetups and see what languages or types of jobs you might be interested in. Once you find a school that you like, make the commitment and try to put as much time as you possibly can into it. It's about making a huge commitment and really dedicating yourself to this career change.
Anyone is welcome to come by our campus here in Denver and ask me any questions. I'm very open about my time in the software industry and my experience – I’ll tell you all about how I came to find a career I really love.
Do you have any tech industry meetups that you would recommend a complete beginner to attend if they were in Denver and considering coding bootcamps?
The Tech Academy does do meetups from time to time on our various campuses – kind of like an 'open house' to come and see the campus, meet the staff and students, and learn about the program. We also do weekly meetups (on Fridays) where students are encouraged to join us online to hear talks with industry professionals and engage in coding challenges.
As far as specific meetups in Denver/Boulder, I would simply go to meetup.com and look for meetups relating to the coding language you enjoy, an area of the industry you are interested in, or a skill you want to learn/improve. Developers at meetups are some of the sweetest people in the world. They won’t talk down to you or make you feel bad. Even when I was very junior and a complete greenhorn, they were willing to answer my questions. They love to talk about their careers, their code, and helping junior developers. It can be intimidating, but I encourage people to take that step.