Bloc is an online coding bootcamp that incorporates 1-on-1 mentorship to prepare each student for a career as a professional software engineer or UX/UI designer. Bloc's apprenticeship approach is tailored specifically to each student's learning needs. Not everyone can quit their job or move to a new city for a bootcamp, so Bloc has designed a comprehensive bootcamp with this in mind. Students can enroll full-time, or complete the program at a part-time pace. With Bloc, a dedicated mentor will provide 1-on-1 instruction to clarify concepts and pair program with each student. Bloc also offers 80 hours per week of real-time access to an experienced developer to answer any questions students may have.
Career readiness is important to Bloc- their flagship Track programs include job preparation material and career prep workshops. Mentors will help students put together a portfolio and prepare technical interview questions. When ready, students work with the Career Support team to navigate the job search process with an individualized game plan and exposure to Bloc's Employer Network.
No prior development experience is required to enroll in Bloc, but a strong desire to learn and take on challenges will be important in each student's success!
Recent Bloc Reviews: Rating 4.68
Recent Bloc News
- 2018 End of Year Coding Bootcamp Podcast
- From Spoken Languages to Coding Languages with Bloc
- Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?
Bloc's Designer Track is an online, self-paced training program that enables career-minded adults with busy lives to go from beginner to job-ready designers. Designer Track offers the only holistic learning regimen of skilled mentors, industry-vetted curriculum, gated assessments, and a community of fellow designers to support you. Over 90% of senior designers say designers need to know how to code in today's market. You'll study the Design Process in depth, including UX research, visual design, AND frontend development. You'll also build real-life projects that will make up your portfolio. These skills combined with the Career Services curriculum will ensure that you are the most competitive candidate on the market. After you complete the program, you'll work with our world-class Career Services team to ensure you find a job. The Designer Track is backed by our Tuition Reimbursement Guarantee, which means that if you don't find a job within 180 days of finishing the program, we will reimburse your tuition in full.
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Financing available through our partner Skills Fund.
- Tuition Plans
- $8,500 with payment plans available.
- $1 million Close the Gap scholarship fund dedicated to aspiring women in tech $500 partial diversity scholarships available $500 partial veterans scholarship available Visit https://www.bloc.io/web-developer-track to learn more.
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
In PersonPart Time
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Financing available through our partner, Skills Fund.
- Tuition Plans
- $8,500 with payment plans available.
- $1 million Close the Gap scholarship fund dedicated to aspiring women in tech $500 partial diversity scholarships available $500 partial veterans scholarship available Visit https://www.bloc.io/web-developer-track to learn more.
- Minimum Skill Level
- Basic computer knowledge
- Placement Test
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I'm a design student with Bloc and I'm very glad I decided to take this course. They've taught me things that I wouldn't have thought to learn myself, like tons of design software, color psychology, step-by-step coding, logo design, and so much more. The feedback I get on my assignments and the online technical coach assistance has been a huge help for me, along with weekly mentor appointments. I'm only about halfway through and I feel like I've learned so much! Plus, there's a scholarship for women so let's get coding ladies!
When I signed up for Bloc's Front-End Dev Course, there were so many good reviews here on Course Report, I thought it must be due to having an amazing curriculum. Having been through the program, I think what's actually happening is that whenever they send feedback surveys to enrolled students they look for respondents who are having a 100% positive experience, and just invite those students to post here.
Most of the students with whom I spoke in the program were disassistfied with Bloc, many quite upset at the poor program design.
I recently finished the Bloc curriculum and am now setting up to look for work. I cannot believe that they expect us to feel ready to apply for jobs at this point in our development.
The curriculum appears to be largely designed to ship you through as fast as possible so that you have a cookie-cutter portfolio (your portfolio will likely look exactly like what all the other students' portfolios look like) and try to rush you into a job. Hopefully, in the job, you can get paid to keep learning...
If you're already living in a major metropolis, this might work? Maybe?
For those of us who are supposed to move to a metropolis, or find work remotely, it's completely unrealistic to think that the skill set we have at completion would be enticing to a potential employer.
Within the curriculum, they are too ambitious with building their own curriculum and don't spend enough time explaining basic concepts. For every idea that they mention, there's dozens that they just throw at you and expect you to "mind read" to understand. For example, the .prototype. and .__proto__. aspects of JS, the GET/POST aspects of HTML, what a Router is, and how to build an app. All of those ideas are just handed to you as a template, with little explanation, and then when you don't understand what's going on later... it must have been you, the student, who just didn't get it.
The latter mentors I dealt with were okay, but I had some big issues with a few of them. One of them skipped meetings and blamed it on me, and another just dumped meeting with me as he was quitting the job. To the administration's credit, they tried to make amends, and I do appreciate that. The latter few mentors I had were quite good, although the weekly meetings were so short, we were always rushing to try to cover my questions.
What would be better is if they stopped trying to write their all of their own curriculum from scratch, utilized some quality textbooks to get some basics down, and then used the freed time that would allow to restructure their curriculum. They should instead focus on getting students to be able to conceptually repeat basic concepts without having to read instructions or follow step-by-step tutorials. They really need to hire someone with a master's degree in curriculum/instructional design.
Since finishing, I've had to buy three textbooks and three Udemy courses, just to put together my first self-created portfolio piece. It took an extra two months of full-time (40+ hrs/week) individual study just to put together a basic web app, and I'm not sure that Bloc's curriculum was all that helpful.
The only thing that really was helpful from Bloc was to get an idea into current practices, and get an overview of the topics we're supposed to cover.
Is that worth the $8K/9K that they're asking.
No. No, no, no, no, no.
There's also PERN, where the P stands for PostgreSQL. This is gaining in popularity, as MongoDB is universally hated in the development world, despite its usefulness.
If you just go through Amazon text books, Udemy courses, Lynda.com, and then go to intermittent workshops every now and then to get feedback from experienced professionals, I honestly think you'd get the same result, but without having to shell out thousands of dollars.
Another thing worth mentioning: The gold rush for web and front-end development is kind of over. The industry is now overloaded with cheap talent. You can still do it and get paid, but you won't find as many desperate clients as there were several years ago, when all this stuff was built.
If you're looking for a computer skill set that's extremely in demand, you might consider Python and TensorFlow, for their Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning potential. Many of the web coding Bootcamps are now consolidating in the web field, due to the change in the industry, and expanding into the data/machine-learning space.
So great so far! I am a month in and havent had a single complaint. Your road map to success is structured well and convenient to follow. I love that you can do school on your own time. Mentors are super helpful and down to earth. I look forward to everything the program has to offer!
A bit of background first; I've been a designer for quite some time now, however having mainly a focus based in print, branding & logo design, I've been wanting to shift my focus more into digital products. I initially did some research on ux/ui courses and found that Bloc would provide the most value for me (with the addition of Frontend development available through their Designer Track program). There were a few other schools I looked into as well (general assembly, ucla ux/ui [in person program]), however I felt that Bloc fit my busy schedule best. Allowing me to work on my assignments at my pace helps me better balance my 9-5 job and home life and still get my assignments completed. The one thing that I do not like about Bloc is that they do not offer more flexible time limits on their programs. While it IS self paced, at the entry price, you have 8 months to finish the Designer Track. So in terms of value, if you are full time employed, be sure you can make enough time to complete the course in that time limit. You can "purchase" additional time, however this can get expensive so make sure you thoroughly check the sylabus and ensure that you can complete the course in time.
The course itself is amazing. I have a lot of experience in design, however I find each checkpoint to offer new knowledge or challenges that help me grow a a designer. So the course is great for beginners and experienced designers as well. Bloc offers a lot of "face to face" time with mentors and students as well through resources like their Slack channel, seminars and daily design reviews. Support is always there when you need it, which is great! The one piece of advice I can give new students is to make sure to plan ahead, even though this is a self paced course, it is good to set your own goals and make sure you meet them so that you do not fall behind. So far my experience has been amazing, I highly recommend Bloc if you are looking to make a career change or to pick up some new skills in the UX/UI field.
Living in Dallas there were quite a few options for coding boot camps in my area but most are $10,000+ for tuition and require 3-5 months of full-time dedication. Which unless you have a lot of savings to pull from is just not a financially sustainable option. On top of this I wasn't sure to choose then one of my friends who graduated and got this amazing job suggested me about Bloc and how amazing his experince was. So then I contacted a student advisor with Bloc about my indecision she was very helpful in providing me with resources I could try in order to make my choice. Bloc was the best choice for me because it allows me to learn at my own pace. Best part about Bloc is its online and tution fee guarantee, only who are confident enough can give that guarantee. I am about a month into the Web Developer track and love the module layout. It makes it is easy to see my progress. The weekly mentor meetings are helpful in clarifying concepts and asking for additional resources. The additional weekly learning sessions are very insightful and focused on specific topics. Also, the Slack community is very helpful for getting quick assistance from other students, alumni, or assigned mentors. I am grateful an option like Bloc exists so that I could have the opportunity to make a meaningful career.
I am the quintessential coding school fairytale story. I was a bartender and now I am a few months into a great job as a software engineer and I still can't believe my new life is really mine sometimes.
I picked Bloc partly because of the pacing. Unlike a bootcamp, I could still work my old job and support myself and do the coursework when I had time. You really do sort of set your own pace, too: they had one program that was about 6 months and one that was more like a year, which is the one I took, but when things were going well and I wanted to work ahead they didn't mind so in the end I was done in maybe 7 months.
They do a good job of helping you a lot at first but weaning you off of it. You get a lot of detailed instruction on earlier projects then later ones becomre more like just a set of criteria to meet and you do it your own way. This means you do a lot of googling, and you have a very active Slack channel to ask questions if you get stuck, and you save up questions for you mentor meetings as well. Now that I'm out working in the field I can say this is excellent prep for what it is really like at a programming job: getting a set of criteria for a project, only knowing half of it already, doing research to teach myself the rest, and reaching out to ask a coworker questions if I get stuck, is literally what being a real programmer is on a day to day basis.
This actually helped me a lot in job interviews, too. The way that Bloc works like real tech companies do was something I could really use for selling myself. It does mean that you get out of Bloc what you put in. You do a lot of self-teaching and a lot of self goal-setting and you really have to be internally driven. But if you have those qualities then Bloc will become whatever you want it to be (for instance, on my final project I decided to use several technologies Bloc doesn't even teach, and just figure them out myself, and my Bloc mentor was still totally up for helping me and guiding me with that).
So, if you are an internally-driven person, and someone who just loves to learn for learning's sake, you are the kind of person Bloc is made for.
Living in Los Angeles there were quite a few options for coding boot camps in my area but most are $10,000+ for tuition and require 3-5 months of full-time dedication. Which unless you have a lot of savings to pull from is just not a financially sustainable option. On top of this, I wasn't sure I wanted to go into UX design or would prefer to learn how to become a web developer. When I contacted a student advisor with Bloc about my indecision she was very helpful in providing me with resources I could try in order to make my choice. Bloc was the best choice for me because it allows me to work a day job and learn at my own pace. In addition, I was able to receive a scholarship which significantly helped with my ability to afford the program on top of the flexible payment plans they have available. I am about 2 months into the Design track and love the module layout. It makes it is easy to see my progress. The weekly mentor meetings are helpful in clarifying concepts and asking for additional resources. The additional weekly learning sessions are very insightful and focused on specific topics. Also, the Slack community is very helpful for getting quick assistance from other students, alumni, or assigned mentors. I am grateful an option like Bloc exists so that I could have the opportunity to make a meaningful career change.
I started BLOC on May 14, 2018, I am very pleased with the program. I have learned so much already, it is very challenging, but the feedback you receive from the grading team, and the assistance you get from the Slack community technical support, and other students, you never feel like you are out there on your own. It is an 8 month course, but I’m doing it on a full time basis, so I want to try and finish sooner, so I can look for work in this new field. If I have one complaint, it would simply be that I wish that assignment instructions had a bit more detail about what is needed. There were times that it was unclear what was needed, and I wasted time doing something that wasn’t necessary to complete the assignment. Make it plain.
I started the UX Designer track about 2 months ago and honestly think it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is so hard to balance work, kids and education, but the flexibility of this program is allowing me to dive in and accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.
The program is really rigorous but the amount of knowledge and skills I am gaining rapidly is so encouraging. I have taken many courses online in the past (that I enjoyed and learned from) but Bloc is really different from my prior experiences. It is efficient and comprehensive.
The weekly mentor meetings are so helpful, as are the coaches on the slack channel. When I am stuck, I can get help immediately, in real time. Though I am working really hard, I am really enjoying the process and feel excited and hopeful about new career prospects.
"Bloc Rules! "
I started the course 8 weeks ago and have enjoyed it all. They mentors and student success team have all been super supportive and the community on slack is always a great reference point if you are stuck. I would recommend this course to anyone looking to begin a career as a web developmer.
I joined 2 months ago and have had a fantastic run. Mentors are helpful in providing high level advice and working with you on numerous projects, grading team is super responsive and helpful in not only getting the answer but also making sure you understand the concept well, and the community is very helpful in keeping up the motivation and sharing ideas. Great course overall!
The seventh week into the Designer's track program. This program has been a dream course ever since I found about it. The support received from Slack, the community, and the mentors are on the spot.
Just put the effort and hours you need to succeed, but the Bloc team is always looking forward to helping you, on whatever problem you have.
The curriculum is the right amount of information you need. The course builds on it, so you don't have to worry about looking for more info. I say this because in today fast paced world and living you get overwhelmed with all the information you receive, especially in your email and your smartphone, its an issue Bloc has foreseen and embedded into their program.
I highly recommend this program!
I'd been working as a frontend developer for a couple years and was hoping to learn some new UX/UI deisgn skills by taking the Bloc course. Bloc made it seem like this was a good option for people, like myself, who had some industry experience already.
Enrolling and completing this course was a mistake. I feel that I have wasted time and money in doing so. I was hoping I would gain valuable knowledge by enrolling but I did not. As someone with prior experience, I have learned more about UX/UI design as a front-end developer in the industry. Not with Bloc.
My mentor was extremly kind though he was constantly running late and then our meetings would be rushed. He would also forget about feedback he would give me in previous weeks and contradict his own design critiques. When I tried to switch mentors, there were none other available.
This program has already exceeded my expectations and I'm only 1 month into the program! What's incredible about Bloc is that they give you the flexibility and affordability unlike many other bootcamps. I am planning to complete the program in approximately 5 months, so I will only pay ($1250 x #months enrolled). This pro-rated concept within the framework of a bootcamp is very empowering! Not only to influence you to finish within the time frame you'd like, but to save a lot of money as compared to other programs that force you into a set number of months for a set amount of many thousands more than this programs' average rate. Highly recommend this program!
The Bloc course has been awesome so far! I am 6 weeks enrolled in the Web Developer Track. It has done a great job of building community, mentorship, career preparation, and knowledge. I would definitely suggest this to anyone who has 20-25hrs/week to learn. The reason 'cirriculum' was given a 4star was because I do not feel like each concept is given enough required practice to learn. This is where the instructors and community had a huge impact on me in getting me more resources to truly learn the concepts that I needed to progress.
I will try to post another update as I progress further in the course!
Having a bit of a technical background ( Tech Support/Community Manager) I was thrilled to be awarded a Diversity scholarship from Bloc - which was the only thing that enabled me to attend a coding bootcamp! I am now leveling up my skill set and already interviewing for Jr. Dev jobs - my mentor is really great and the curriculum is interesting so far!
I have already wasted so much time and energy with this useless program. For prospective students, please do not waste your money! I can not even begin to explain how awful this program is. The content is made up of links to free programs. If you are lucky enough to get the "mentor" who actually cares. You might be told, "just give it a bit longer" or "wait until you reach Blocs original content". Long story short. I am not the only person who was strung along. I do wish more people would share these experiences. Not sure what happens to negative reviews on these sites?
Response From: Megan of Bloc
My name is Megan and I'm the Marketing Associate here at Bloc. Thank you for taking the time to review Bloc! I hate to read that you've not enjoyed your experience. We rely on the feedback we receive from our students to continue to improve our curriculum. We value your honest feedback and stand behind our curriculum and our program outcomes!
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any concerns and feedback so we can continue to improve. We look forward to talking with you!
I am in the process of transitioning out of the military into software development. I was in a rut with self-learning. I really needed a structured program that would put me on a timeline and trajectory for success. Bloc has a set curriculum that will help me start a career I always dreamed of in about 8 months. It was right on time and exactly what I was looking for because I needed to start a job within the year and was starting to stress out of wether I would be ready while self-learning. I am married with a three year old working full time and I have been able to stay on track. I am not losing sleep about wether I am on pace or not on my journey to start a new career in tech. I will graduate in a few more months with a portfolio that will get me a well paying job. At Bloc I have particularly liked the mentors and Slack group available. These were things I couldnt get while self-learning and have proved very valuable. My mentors have brought items to my attention about the software/web development sector that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. I would seriously reccomend Bloc to anyone looking for what is almost a gateway to a software dev career.
Hi all! I am currently a student with bloc for two months now for web developing. I am a complete beginner when I started and I dont even know how to write a single line of code. But now, I am learning a lot and writing all these complicated codes in just a short period of time while working in a full time job. Its really amazing and I highly recommend bloc!
Bloc is a challenging, but completable coding boot camp for those of us who cannot attend an in-person program. Bloc has used it's years of experience to craft a proven program that will turn you into an industry-ready developer. Bloc is constantly evolving according to student feedback, and they always put their students' interests first. Thanks to bloc I was able to transition into a role as a software engineer 4 months after completing the program. Not only that, but my new employer was actually impressed with the skills and portfolio I had to show thanks to Bloc. I highly recommend considering Bloc.
I've been enrolled in the Design Track at Bloc for about 4 months now, and I am so happy I did. I shopped around for a design bootcamp for months, but the fact that I held a full-time job I couldn't take a break from and that I didn't live in a massive metropolitan area was really limiting my options. The only thing available locally required a lot of money up front and total M-F, 8-5 commitment.
Bloc lets me pace my curriculum in a way that allows me to work my full-time job while still letting me work towards my future. They also offer payment plans and scholarships - which seemed pretty rare when I was researching similar programs.
I won't lie, you will work hard! There's a lot of commitment even at the slowest pace. And be aware of any changes to your coursework. They're constantly updating and that can sometimes tweak an assignment. However, there's a large community available to help you. As long as you communicate with your mentor and the student success team, they will do as much as they can to help you reach the finish line!
I've had a slow start with Bloc thus far, but the knowledeg I've gain has been tremedous witht the time I've deciated to studying. The enrollment process is and straight forward. Mentors are great uplifting peole that keep you motivated and focuese, and also exmaples of software engineers you'd inpsire to become very soon. I'd recommend Bloc tp anyone with a busy schedule, but still enough time to dedicate at least 20 hours a week to help advance your create your start a new career.
* These outcomes are not audited by Course Report. In some cases, data is audited by a third party.
Bloc has an acceptance rate of 100%, of which 100% of accepted students enroll in a course. Of the students who enroll at Bloc, 41% graduate. 73% are hired in technical roles within 120 days and report an average income of $65,411.
Job Seeking Graduates Placed:
After 120 days
Notes & Caveats:
Read the verified report here: https://www.bloc.io/employment-and-completion-rates
Our latest on Bloc
As we near the end of 2018, we're rewinding and reflecting on the most interesting and impactful coding bootcamp news of the year. Come with us as we look at trends, digest thought pieces, break down the ~$175 million in new funding, and more. We’ll also look at our predictions for 2019 and our hopes for the future of coding bootcamps!Continue Reading →
What were you up to before Bloc and why did you decide to switch careers?
I studied Social Policy and Criminology at the London School of Economics (LSE). I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at the time, but I became interested in ancient languages, particularly Biblical Hebrew. I'm Jewish, so understanding the Hebrew language in its biblical sense was a part of my upbringing. After university, I spent time studying and understanding this language, then started teaching it to others. It was a very difficult language to grasp because it has a different alphabet, and the writing is completely different. It's so foreign if English is your first language.
So I became a teacher of biblical Hebrew. The more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. But I was looking for more scope within languages. I have the patience to sit and work with languages. From there, I thought, “what if learned a different language, like a computer language, a more modern language?” That's how I started thinking about learning programming languages.
What made you choose to do an online bootcamp like Bloc, rather than going to a local bootcamp or university or teaching yourself?
I’d already spent three years at university and I wasn't ready to commit to another three years in computer science. I started teaching myself online, but I realized there is so much information out there, I needed someone to give it framework or a structure. I believe that everything I learned at Bloc could be learned online for free, but it would take five or six years to get to the level that Bloc helps you get to in just six months.
I looked into coding bootcamps here in London. There are not as many options as in America. A 12-week immersive General Assembly course was the only other viable option. With Bloc, the curriculum is self-paced instead of being 12-weeks full-time. Because it’s self-paced, I could take between six months and a year. That meant I could sit and learn at a pace which was more comfortable for me, and I could immerse myself in learning and understanding things. I would never have been able to take in that vast amount of information and truly understand everything in 12 weeks.
The fact that Bloc was remote was also huge for me. I was married with one kid at the time, and I was still teaching Biblical Hebrew, so it gave me the flexibility I needed to build it into my current schedule. I didn't need to rip my life apart to pick up a new skill.
What was the application and interview process like when you applied for Bloc?
Did you feel like it was a risk to enroll in a coding bootcamp before you knew you would like it?
To an extent, yes. But on the other hand, because I was already coming from languages, I knew the learning process I would go through. I kept reminding myself that when I started learning biblical Hebrew, every single day was a struggle. So I already understood that it would be a slow process. But everyday you learn more and more of the language until you become fluent. There definitely was a risk and there were parts which were overwhelming. But I was happy to take it step-by-step, day-by-day and see where it took me. I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket. I was still teaching and focusing on my family life. It was almost like learning to code on the side.
What was the learning experience like with Bloc? Can you tell me about a typical day?
I set aside five hours a day within my schedule to work on Bloc and I was really disciplined. I made sure no matter what, I did those five hours a day.
After every section, you have an assessment over a Google Hangout or Zoom video call. That was brilliant because it mimicked how we would be assessed when we apply for jobs. The assessor would ask questions, ask me to explain code, then ask me to write some code.
How often did you meet with mentors or interact with other Bloc students? Was the fact you're on UK time ever an issue in getting help?
Depending on your pace, you either meet with a mentor once or twice a week. Initially, I was doing the faster pace, so I was meeting my mentor twice a week for half an hour each. Then I slowed down my pace and my mentor meetings became once a week for half an hour. It ended up taking me a year and one month. There are so many time zones in the US that we always had a crossover. I kept the same mentor throughout the program.
All the students had access to various Slack channels. There are over 2,000 Bloc students, so there was never a shortage of people online to discuss problems with. There are also technical coaches who are there to answer your questions. It was unbelievable. Any time I got stuck, I never felt like I was on my own because I could ask somebody to help me on Slack. If no one was able to answer my question, or I wasn't getting a quick response, I could also go to my mentor. But my mentor was the last point of call. I think people get concerned when you're remote that you might feel alone and have no one to ask for help. It was never like that at Bloc.
You mentioned you had a teaching job and you've also got a young child. How did you balance the bootcamp with those commitments and stay motivated to graduate from Bloc?
Bloc helped me stay motivated with the way they present the material, meetings with mentors and working with other students online on Slack. There’s a channel called “Wins” in Slack. A Win is when you've completed a checkpoint, an assessment, or a project. There’s a healthy peer pressure to finish checkpoints.
I also had a really great mentor who was always helping me to stay motivated. I was also just personally motivated to learn a new skill.
Did you see any parallels between learning coding languages and learning spoken languages?
When you use a spoken language, you are trying to communicate with somebody else. And that's all the programming language is doing – communicating with the computer and telling the computer what to do.
How did Bloc prepare you for job hunting?
It was amazing. I can't speak highly enough of the way they helped me for my career. Bloc has a whole Careers Team. Every so often in between a section in the curriculum, there were career checkpoints where you work a little bit towards your career.
We made a spreadsheet to help us figure out the different sectors of tech which we’re interested in working in, and the careers team used it to build up a picture of what each student is interested in. They also help you build your own personal website, and explained how to turn that into a portfolio. They talked me through setting up a LinkedIn page, made sure I looked at certain websites to help me find jobs, made sure I was networking, and really helped me all the way.
I had practice job interviews and technical projects, which a hiring manager might ask me to do within a limited timeframe. When I got to my first job interview, I'd already done coding interviews with Bloc and a test project. So when the hiring manager said, "You've got a week to complete this project," I was far less flustered and overwhelmed because I had done that with Bloc.
When it came to searching for jobs, there was so much information. There were times when it was very overwhelming, and I was getting no responses. But the careers team and my mentor would check in and could see my progress in a spreadsheet, so I wasn't alone in the job search. There's just that unbelievable level of support. The career support was almost as good, if not better, than the programming curriculum.
How long did it take you to finish the course? And then how long did it take you to find your job?
By the end of the course, I was such a decent junior developer that I had a job the day after I finished the course. I finished the course on a Thursday, and by Friday, I had a job at Green Gorilla Software. And not only did I have a job, my boss told me that I was able to command the highest salary that they had ever given to a junior developer.
Congratulations! How did you find the job at Green Gorilla?
I was doing everything to find jobs. I was doing networking and looking all over forums. In the end, this one came just from a Google search.
I work for Green Gorilla Software based in Worcester, UK. I'm a remote Ruby on Rails developer. The company builds in-house software and websites. We take on all different types of projects and try to deliver an MVP within three months. The team is small – about four or five developers, plus marketers and salespeople. They are a remote company. I know in America that's very common, but in England, that is so forward-thinking and dynamic.
Working here has been so cool. They literally threw me into the deep-end, which was unbelievable. The day I joined they said, "We want you to lead a project for us.” I was developing in Ruby on Rails from day one doing work for a client. They put so much trust and faith in me, and it's just helped my skills to grow and really become part of their team. They're an unbelievable company in that way.
Were you specifically looking for a remote job?
Yeah, my ideal goal was to work remotely. By learning to code remotely with Bloc, I already a handle on how to work remotely. The hiring managers at Green Gorilla were very happy to see that I had done a remote course because they understood I could work remotely.
Did you have to learn on the job at Green Gorilla, or did you know everything you needed to know from Bloc?
The bulk of things I knew. One new thing was a very small CSS framework we use called Bulma which took a few hours to learn. I also learned a database called Postgres, which I hadn’t learned at Bloc. But it wasn't a steep learning curve – I had already done or seen most of the technology at Bloc.
What's amazing with Bloc is that when they add to the curriculum, I still have access to it. So even though I finished Bloc and I paid my tuition, I can keep learning new technologies as the curriculum is continuously updated.
How have you found your background in teaching and languages useful on the job as a developer?
The ability to sit and be patient is constantly helping me as a developer, because I'm always learning new things every day. But in an interpersonal sense, coming from a teaching background has given me the ability to communicate with people. Green Gorilla not only hired a developer, but also someone who is able to converse with others, get on with people, and have a laugh. I'm also able to speak to clients. 80% of my day is coding, but 20% of it is pair programming, speaking to my team, and speaking to clients.
I also have some experience writing documentation, which helps when we need to write about how our system works, or the changes a client wants and what we're going to do.
What has been the biggest challenge in your journey to becoming a fully-fledged software developer?
Initially, when you sit down to learn a new skill, you think, “I want to understand everything and take it all in." And with coding, that's just not possible. I’ve had to get comfortable with not knowing things and being able to live with unanswered questions. That's a really hard thing to get my head around. But once I got into my job, I realized that everyone experiences that. Other developers are never afraid to say, “I don't know this, or this doesn't make sense to me."
When you look back over the last year and a half, what kind of role has Bloc played in your success?
Technically, I think I could have gotten here without doing Bloc. I think anyone could do it without a bootcamp. But I think without Bloc, it would have taken me five or six years, whereas with Bloc’s guidance it only took a year. So Bloc has played a huge role in helping me to learn programming and then get a job with it.
What advice do you have for other people thinking about making a career change through an online coding bootcamp?
I would highly recommend it. I think you need to know that you’ll be disciplined. But once you know that you're happy to sit and to be disciplined, it opens up a whole new world. My advice would be, just go for it. If you can sit, then you can be disciplined. And you're happy to do a little bit day by day, taking it step by step, eventually, you'll get to where you need to get to.
When you're struggling, then you can lean on the students at Bloc, technical coaches, and your mentor, and they will genuinely really help you and guide you.
Coding bootcamps are often called a “fast track” to well-paying tech jobs. And with lower tuition costs, shorter class times, and a practical learning curriculum, these alternative education schools are praised for increasing access to a tech education. But are coding bootcamps really worth it? We’ve asked hundreds of alumni about their investment and whether it paid off – here’s what we’ve found.Continue Reading →
Thinkful recently acquired Bloc, which means that two of the largest and most established online coding bootcamps are now joining forces. But what does this mean for students? We sat down with Darrell Silver, the CEO of Thinkful, to get the scoop on job guarantees, career support, mentorship approaches, and how students can choose the right program for their needs.
Our Takeaways on the Thinkful + Bloc Acquisition:
- The five programs – Bloc’s Web Developer Track and Designer Track, and Thinkful’s Engineering Immersion, Full Stack Flex, and Data Science – will continue to operate independently.
- The job guarantees at each school will remain distinct, but the Careers team will combine to help all students get jobs.
- The admissions processes for each school will continue to operate independently. Thinkful is best for students who want the highest level of 1-on-1 support and more structured courses, to finish faster and start a new career, this is especially true in its communities in Atlanta, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, and San Diego. Bloc is best for students who want more flexibility, with incredible amounts of group support, leaving more time for your other responsibilities as you transition into your new career.
First, tell us the news about Thinkful and Bloc. Can you share details of the deal?
The news: We’re thrilled to announce, Thinkful has acquired Bloc. Bloc was looking to quickly build its community and add new programs. We've been talking to Bloc since December about this deal, and to the team for years. Spoiler alert: we did not disclose the financial details.
Bloc and Thinkful have been competitors for some time – what did you admire about them?
Building online education is hard – I admire anyone who’s done it and has the data to prove it works. When Thinkful started connecting people offline back in 2016 Bloc was figuring out how to do the same kind of thing online for those that can’t commute. Bloc created the best way to get a career breakthrough fully online, while Thinkful created the best way in every city in which we operate.
Bloc today has two great existing programs – the Web Developer Track and Designer Track. Bloc also has an amazing team. Our teams have been working in parallel over the past six years on how to drive great outcomes in self-paced, career acceleration, so the Thinkful team got really excited about finally being able to learn from the shared experiences. The smartest people in technical career acceleration now work at Thinkful.
From a student's point of view, Bloc has the best online flexibility and support while Thinkful brings world-class education and one-on-one support. The combination of those is powerful.
Bloc also has a powerful technology platform. They've approached their mentor community and tracking differently, so that has really interesting consequences for how we want to learn from each other.
Will Bloc continue to operate independently?
The programs will continue to operate as they’ve done, and we will keep investing across all five programs. There won’t be changes made to those programs as a direct result of the acquisition, though both Thinkful and Bloc continue to get better: we’ll never maintain the status quo.
Does this acquisition expand Thinkful's reach at all?
Thinkful has done a lot of work to expand in the US, so far in Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, LA, and DC, Portland. Those six cities drive a lot of our innovation. We don't really consider ourselves fully online even though a lot of students come to us to learn purely online. On the other hand, Bloc is 100% online, and great at it.
What are the differences you’re seeing between the Bloc student and the Thinkful student?
Fundamentally, we're seeing meaningfully different groups of people going to Thinkful vs Bloc. For example, in the Bloc Designer Track, more than 70% of students identify as female, which is just incredible. And the Web Developer Track still stands out as above average in the industry with about 45% women in the Web Developer Track, up from about 25% a year ago. We need to figure out what’s driving that trend and how we be more public about that going forward.
We also see different learning styles in Thinkful students vs Bloc students. The different demands for more flexibility versus more support mean students have different expectations around career services and the flexibility of self-paced learning.
Fundamentally, when we think ahead to 10 years from now, there will be students who want more support, more one-on-one help, more classrooms. Others will want to be more independent, more self-paced. Some may want to commute to a classroom, others will not; and some will have full-time jobs. The variety of learners looking for high-growth careers in tech will continue to grow. And of course, we can't support that with a single program. We have to offer different ways of reaching each student’s goals.
So what type of learner should go to Thinkful vs Bloc?
Thinkful is best for students who want the highest level of 1-on-1 support and more structured courses, to finish faster and start a new career, this is especially true in its communities in Atlanta, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, and San Diego. Bloc is best for students who want more flexibility, with incredible amounts of group support, leaving more time for your other responsibilities as you transition into your new career.
Bloc did a lot of great work in December to drive more group support both through the technology, the pedagogy, and the tracking, and now we're seeing the rewards of that. They really cracked something that a lot of people missed that we’re pretty excited about supporting.
What did other schools miss? What did Bloc crack?
The success of all education is all about how you persevere through the program. Basically, Bloc started to integrate support beyond 1-on-1 into the core student experience. When Thinkful started connecting people offline Bloc was figuring out how to do the same kind of thing online for those that can’t commute. We now have a lot of metrics around both sets of experiences how to measure the effect of grading an assessment halfway through the program or every lesson.
Each interaction point that a student has with the program is now much more measured than I've seen anyone else do. As a result, we can overcome some of the limits of online ed. Students are getting faster responses to their questions, they are getting to know more of the network, and they’re relying more on the expertise of the network for each program. That's really intriguing.
Do you see a future where Thinkful and Bloc merge into one school?
Probably not in the way you think. However, what's really going to be interesting to watch is when we launch a new program. We’ll pull different features from each school (from tech, pedagogy, etc) to drive the next programs.
We’ll learn from both legacies – we're going to look at how to increase support and accessibility in one program, and how to adapt to some offline components in the other. The question that I think is most interesting is: “Where’s the future of tech hiring going to be 1, 2, 10 years from now? How can we reach students other cannot?” We'll find out together.
Will the admissions process change? If an applicant is accepted to Bloc, are they also accepted to Thinkful?
The short answer is no. They should use the admissions process to discover what's right for them. They should go through the admissions process to learn what they're going to get, how that's going to work for them in terms of their schedule, price, and locations for their current and next job.
Will you onboard mentors differently?
Mentors go through separate screening and onboarding processes, and they’re introduced to the program that they’re working in – whether that’s data science or design. Bloc and Thinkful have both done really great work around the mentor community, so now we’re figuring out what to share with each team of mentors. When you get into the specifics the jobs, and certainly the expectations, are completely different.
In the past, Bloc has also allowed students to choose their mentors. Will that stay in place or be extended to Thinkful?
They’re both working as is, but the question is how do we learn from each other? There’s 12 years of history; we’re now closer than anyone to knowing which approach is best in what scenarios.
Will job placement services now be handled by the same team across both Thinkful and Bloc?
Bloc has a powerful Student Success team, and Thinkful a powerful Careers team. We will have one Careers team that supports all five programs (across Thinkful and Bloc). It will take time to get the teamwork right, but the vision and mission for both sides is that the teams collaborate. One of the first topics is CIRR: Thinkful is a founding member and welcoming Bloc to CIRR will be a great achievement.
All the teams are already working together as a single company (or nearly so).
Thinkful is a founding member of CIRR. Do you expect that Bloc will start reporting CIRR outcomes now?
Yes, Bloc will join CIRR. Bloc reports student outcomes already, and CIRR has just done a great job of standardizing that reporting.
It's a lot of work so I'm not sure what the exact timeline is, but everyone wants to join it. The bar is getting higher; you need to have audited results and release them every six months.
Will the job guarantees remain separate?
We spent a lot of time talking about this because the job promise, guarantee, and tuition refund policy are sacrosanct. Both Thinkful and Bloc offer a tuition refund: if you put in the work but don't succeed you get your money back.. That's very consistent and critically it’s very simple. The biggest difference is that Bloc calls this a Tuition Refund Guarantee (TRG) and Thinkful calls it the Job Guarantee.
One of the biggest differences internally (and this is also going to remain different) is that Thinkful says a student is “placed,” while Bloc says they have a “successful student outcome.” The difference is actually really meaningful.
What’s the difference between a “placement” and a “successful student outcome”?
Thinkful maintains an employer network in each of our cities and also nationally. That network provides a direct pipeline to employers. Bloc has built a robust program for the 90% of the US population that doesn’t live within such a short distance. Both work really well, as our outcomes reports show. The difference is in the different needs: Bloc helps you learn how to find employers in your area that are perfect for you, and so we call that a successful outcome because it’s the student that did all the work. Thinkful calls it a placement because we helped the student with a particular connection and intro. Again: It’s about the style you’re after and the opportunities where you are. Both Thinkful and Bloc reach students where others cannot – and it’s because of our flexibility.
Before Bloc, Thinkful had also acquired Viking Code School and The Odin Project. Any lessons that you learned from that acquisition that you’re bringing to the Bloc merger?
We learned two big things – both about people. You have to plan for the team and make sure that we can offer what people want in their careers. At the very beginning, I told the Bloc folks that I expect everyone is working at Bloc because they want to be. They’re based in San Francisco, so if they wanted to walk down the street and take another job, then that would be open to them. That’s also always been the case at Thinkful. I know we create a great work environment for the folks that have just joined our team, but it takes time and trust. The Bloc office will remain in San Francisco and the Thinkful office will remain in Brooklyn. We have great teams in both locations - and across the country, as even those two offices together only represent about 30% of the total team – most Thinks are remote.
The second lesson was about our students and mentors. We want to make sure everyone is influential, informed, and knows about things before the public does. We're not going to have a perfect track record, but it’s critical that our communities aren’t surprised by changes.
Welcome to the first News Roundup of 2018! We’re already having a busy 2018 – we published our latest outcomes and demographics report, and we’re seeing a promising focus on diversity in tech! In January we saw a significant fundraising announcement from an online bootcamp, we saw journalists exploring why employers should hire bootcamp and apprenticeship graduates, we read about community colleges versus bootcamps and how bootcamps are helping to grow tech ecosystems. Plus, we’ll talk about the newest campuses and schools on the scene, and our favorite blog posts. Read below or listen to the podcast!Continue Reading →
As the CEO of Bloc, what’s your main focus right now?
I joined Bloc as the COO in 2014 and took over as CEO in 2016. My main focus is charting our course for the years to come. We’re still in the early days of career-focused, vocational, online education. So when we imagine what education will look like five to 10 years from now, we see very big potential for remote options like Bloc.
A lot of coding bootcamps are putting their curriculum online, but Bloc was always an online coding bootcamp. What have you learned or gained from that experience?
Teaching people to code online is not easy to do well. There are a lot of unique characteristics to the online student experience that in-person schools don't need to consider when their students are physically there in the classroom. To consistently teach programming to students online requires a lot of infrastructure and unique solutions.
Bloc’s advantage is that we've been working on those problems continuously for five years and we've learned a lot about how to do it well. The disadvantage to online teaching is that we can't force a student who's working at home, or on their couch, or in their grandmother's basement, to sit down and do the work. Ultimately, it's on the student to commit the time. Even if we do everything to hold up our end of the bargain – a high-quality curriculum, quality of the instruction, and career services support – if the student doesn't want to invest the time, then there's not a lot we can do. Student success really depends on an individual’s own discipline.
In the past, Bloc has offered a web developer track and a software engineer track as two separate courses. Tell us about the new Web Developer Track?
We spoke with a large panel of hiring managers across the country, and we learned that a lot of our Software Engineering Track curriculum was beyond the requirements for most Junior Web Developers. We've used that guidance to reformat and restructure our Web Developer Track and we’ve made two important changes. First, we brought some basic computer science fundamentals into the curriculum. We want students to have a basic familiarity with concepts such as algorithms and databases when they graduate.
What will you do with the curriculum that you had to cut?
There are other components of our Software Developer Track that we still believe are important for certain students’ goals, so we’ll offer that material through separate online programs that students can enroll in after they've completed the Web Developer Track, or after they've completed a coding bootcamp elsewhere. Those are topics that might not be required for a junior web developer: software engineering principles, database architecture, design patterns, etc.
Do applicants to the new Web Developer Track need programming experience or can they be complete beginners?
There is no admissions process at Bloc. You can enroll as long as you have a high-speed internet connection and a decent computer. We do require at least minimum fluency in English, because the curriculum is in English and the mentors are English speakers.
We don't presuppose who can be a programmer and who can't. If you lose your enthusiasm for some reason, that's fine – you get a prorated refund. But if you want to take a shot, then we’ll give you that shot. Hundreds of Bloc graduates have had no experience and have gone on to get developer and design jobs.
What’s the time commitment for the Web Developer Track?
A big improvement in our programs is that we made them more flexible. In the past, we pre-determined the length of the program based on the amount of time a student could commit each week. Now, we've made the duration of the program much more malleable so it can conform to students’ changing schedules.
For example, a school teacher who usually works on the Bloc program for 15 hours per week, but wants to commit more hours to the program during summer vacation when they don't have class every day. Our programs are now better suited for that type of flexibility. You can basically take as much time as you need, but the total tuition will not exceed $15,000. If you want to go faster and commit 40-50 hours a week to the program, then you can finish in just a few months and pay as little as $4,500 for the whole program.
What is the teaching format for the Web Development Track? Is this instructor-led or mentor-driven?
A number of online teaching formats exist in bootcamps. The first is the synchronous, virtual-classroom model where you're part of a cohort and you need to be in front of your computer during a predefined number of hours. That is not the Bloc model.
A second model is mentorship-as-a-service, in which you have mentor meetings where you get instruction and help. That's Bloc’s legacy, but it’s not our model in the new Web Developer Track.
Over the years, we've learned that mentorship is important because it provides students with a subject matter expert who they can go to for a deeper explanation of a specific topic, or to hold them accountable as they progress through the course. Bloc students have regular meetings with a mentor.
We've also found that students often need a lot more support outside of their few mentor meetings per week. When we revamped the Web Developer Track, we added a myriad of different ways in which we can support students. There are an additional 80 hours of time per week where you've got a mentor standing by to answer questions in real time.
We also offer sessions where we go deep into specific subject matter areas where we know students need more guidance. We've enriched our career services so that we start shaping the students’ thinking earlier on in the program to prepare them for their first technical recruiting process at the end.
Can you show us the Bloc online learning platform and how students communicate with mentors?
We aim to provide broad, 360-degree support, so there are a lot of different ways in which students can get the help they need. If you have a question right now about your code not working or about a particular concept, you can go to Slack where mentors are standing by and available 80 hours a week to answer questions in real time.
We have a flipped classroom approach, which means students read through “checkpoints,” watch videos, and consume curriculum content mostly on their own, in their own time. At the end of each checkpoint, students submit a piece of code that demonstrates understanding and proficiency of the material. That submission is reviewed by a mentor, and either approved, or sent back to the student. There's an asynchronous exchange with a mentor on your code submissions.
And then the synchronous time with mentors can be used for more esoteric discussions about specific concepts and to dig into why something works the way it does, how concepts work together, when to use concepts like loops and arrays etc.
How else do you assess students to make sure they are not falling behind?
At the end of each module (or collection of checkpoints), we require a student to complete an assessment with a mentor (other than their usual mentor) who is a subject matter expert. It’s a really helpful mechanism to make sure that our students can consistently demonstrate the proficiency we require. We won't allow a student to move forward to the next module unless they've passed this assessment. That gives students the confidence to know that they have the skills required to be job ready, and helps us build a positive perception of Bloc programs and Bloc graduates.
With the large number of students (including over 1000 currently enrolled) who have gone through Bloc courses, we now have a pretty robust data set. When we see students really struggling with a specific checkpoint, we can address that, and deploy changes to our curriculum in real time if needed. Similarly, if a student is falling behind or hasn't been active, we can see that and check in with that student to find out what’s going on. Our Student Success Team is really hands-on when students need a little bit of extra help, encouragement, motivation, or special consideration.
What types of projects do students work on?
As the curriculum guides students through various web development concepts, they use those concepts to build projects. By the time you're done with a given module, you will have built a project and demonstrated your proficiency in a number of different concepts along the way. An example of a project is Bloc Jams, a music app similar to Spotify that students build for their portfolio using React.
How often do Bloc students collaborate? Do they ever meet up in person?
Collaboration is not a requirement at Bloc, because many of our students need the flexibility of being able to work autonomously. They need to know that Bloc is there to support them at all hours. It gets more complicated if they are dependent on another student.
We have a really robust, supportive, proactive, and attentive community of Bloc students who are all helping each other. Students are standing by on Slack and in various support channels, who want to help others and pay it forward. Out of that comes a lot of great relationships, unplanned in-person meetups in various cities, and in some cases, collaboration on separate projects. We've had Bloc students get together and launch startups after they graduate. We've also seen our design students collaborate with our web development students to create projects together – those collaborations are very organic.
What kinds of jobs do you expect students to get after they graduate from the Web Developer Track?
We’re explicitly aiming for that first entry-level job as a web developer. In some cases that job is called web developer; in other cases, it's junior web developer, or junior software engineer.
If students want to get a job as a software engineer at a top technology company like Zendesk, Twitter, Airbnb, or Dropbox, those companies expect more out of their software engineering roles than we might arm them with in our new Web Developer Track. That's when additional subject matter expertise from a shorter Bloc program becomes useful - and those will be available to accept new enrollments very soon.
When is the next Bloc cohort starting?
Bloc does not have cohorts, and new students can start on any Monday they choose. Our next start date is January 8th, 2017 and we're taking enrollments now. The amount of time it takes to complete can be anywhere from a couple months if they're studying full-time, to over a year if they're spending less time per week on it. 12 hours per week is the bare minimum commitment. If you can't commit that, then you probably shouldn't take the course.
What advice do you have for students who are about to embark on an online school? Any tips for getting the most out of it?
My tips are all about mitigating risk. The first way this can go wrong for a Bloc student is if they overestimate the amount of time that they are able to commit. People have busy lives, jobs, and obligations, and that's often a big part of the reason they're looking for an online program. But to be successful at Bloc, they need to have the discipline to dedicate the required time. This is a significant commitment and you have to adapt your life to that.
The second tip is to be ready for the emotional rollercoaster. This is not specific to Bloc – learning to code is hard and there will be plateaus along the learning curve that can be really frustrating. You'll also have explosions of understanding where you race up the learning curve, and those feel really good. Any experienced software engineer out there will tell you that even today, they still sometimes want to bang their head on a wall when they're working on a hard problem. We do what we can to smooth out the lows, but they're going to be there. You just have to keep grinding and keep trying.
October 2017 was a busy month for the coding bootcamp industry with news about growing pains in bootcamp outcomes, mergers, acquisitions, investments, a trend towards bootcamp B2B training, and diversity initiatives. To help you out, we’ve collected all the most important news in this blog post and podcast. Plus, we added 12 new schools from around the world to the Course Report school directory! Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast.Continue Reading →
Need a rundown of everything that happened in the coding bootcamp industry this September? You’re in luck! We’ve collected all the most important news in this blog post and podcast. This month, we kept up with the status of the bootcamp industry, learned about how bootcamps are thriving in smaller markets, and explored different ways to pay for bootcamp. Plus, we added 7 new schools from around the world to the Course Report school directory! Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast.Continue Reading →
Just as they’ve developed disruptive education tools, technology bootcamps are also adopting payment plans which allow students to pay nothing or very little until they graduate and find a job. Deferred tuition and income sharing agreements (ISAs) are becoming more widely available, and give students who don’t have $20,000 in the bank, access to life-changing learning opportunities. This guide will help you sort through the details and differentiate between the terms; plus, we’ve even helped you start your research by compiling a list of coding and data science bootcamps that offer ISAs or Deferred Tuition.Continue Reading →
After working at Mint, Netflix, and founding two tech companies, Ryan Balfanz wanted to pay it forward and mentor career changers. Now, as a mentor for Bloc’s online coding bootcamp, Ryan balances his day job as a software engineer at Square with ensuring that his students meet their career goals. Ryan tells us about his background in teaching, how he opens up his network to help students with the job search, and why the Bloc platform “makes the world seem a little bit smaller.”
How did you get started in software development?
I have been working with computers and programming since third grade. My best friend’s dad, who was a software engineer, introduced me to coding. But my background is a bit atypical from some software engineers. I was a physics and math major, then I studied computational physics in grad school. When my school cut its physics graduate program, I decided to go into the software industry.
I started as a data analyst at financial services website, Mint.com, then moved into a front-end engineering role. I went on to work at Netflix on the product engineering team, working with data scientists on algorithms, and experimenting to get users to sign up for Netflix. Before I became a software engineer at Square, I started a healthcare staffing company called Shift Medical, which did pretty well.
How did you first get involved with bootcamps and what stood out about Bloc?
I knew Dave, one of the founders of Bloc, when I lived in San Francisco. He was running another company called Djangy, which specialized in Django deployment. I missed teaching and was looking for something more engaging, so when Dave told me he was launching Bloc, it was a natural fit for me to get involved.
I wanted to be a part of Bloc as soon as possible because it gave me a chance to pay it forward, after my friend’s dad taught me to program. Bloc’s platform makes the world seem a bit smaller. You don't need to have a best friend whose dad happens to be a software engineer. You can just go to the website, sign up, find a mentor, and start changing your life. I think that's pretty amazing.
Do you think teaching at Bloc makes you better at your day job at Square?
Absolutely. I think that my day job helps me at Bloc and I think Bloc helps me at my day job. Right now I’m spending a lot of time with an intern on my team who is learning about things that she hadn't seen in the real world. The patience that I've developed through my time with Bloc really helps me communicate with other engineers and non-engineers. In the other direction, my industry experience really helps me as a mentor at Bloc when I’m beginning to show a student how something is important or why it will be important at their first job.
What’s your background in teaching and how does your previous teaching experience compare with the teaching you do at Bloc?
I was always teaching in some capacity at college. In undergrad I was a TA for a general education course in physics. Then in grad school, I worked as a graduate assistant. I was also a motorcycle safety instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in Illinois for about six years, which meant a lot of standing up in front of a class, going over curriculum, grading examinations, and critiquing people on their physical ability to drive a motorcycle safely.
Teaching at Bloc is definitely most similar to teaching physics and math, but there are actually some similarities with teaching people how to ride a motorcycle. I saw a lot of people who had never ridden a motorcycle before, and now I have a lot of students at Bloc who come in without any programming experience, or any computer experience outside of word processing, sending email, and watching Netflix. I'm very empathetic to those particular situations and I understand that students have a huge spectrum of exposure to programming.
Which Bloc courses do you mentor? Do you have a favorite?
I like teaching front-end a little bit more. In my experience a lot of students find that to be a bit more challenging, so they get more of a reward out of it when they accomplish certain things. I think I internalize that myself – when a student is happy, you can hear it in their voice or see it in their face that they got something done. It can be really frustrating working on something you've never done before when you don't know how to solve a problem. But when students have this “aha” epiphany moment, that’s also exciting for me. But I like both courses.
What is the role of a mentor at Bloc? How do you work with the students?
My main role is to make sure students are successful when they do their assessments so they can continue making progress. Students go through portions of the curriculum and are gated from going onto the next piece until they pass an assessment to show they have mastered the curricula. Because programming is cumulative, we need to make sure that mastery has been achieved to a certain extent before students can go onto the next piece.
If they don't pass the assessment, that's a great opportunity for students to learn where they might need to focus more of their time. Sometimes that can just be understanding what the problem is that they are tackling, or figuring out how to describe the solution.
We want to make sure that every student can see achieve the goal they had when they came in. For a lot of students, that is to change careers or to find a new job.
How do you actually get paired with a student?
Students choose their mentors. When you go to Bloc.io/mentors, you can see the list of all the mentors and work out which mentor’s experience suits your learning style or aspirations. If somebody is really into online advertising, they might want to work with me because of the work I did at Netflix. If they're into healthcare, they might see that I started a healthcare staffing company and choose to work with me. In fact, I have a student now who is working on his own healthcare startup, so that’s one of the main reasons he chose to work with me.
It’s up to the student to figure out who is going to be the best mentor for them. That said, all the mentors at Bloc are great. Students wouldn't be dissatisfied with anyone, but they do have a lot of information at their disposal to make the choice that's right for them.
How many students do you normally mentor at any one time?
It varies, but probably up to 20 at a time. It depends on enrollments, as well as my own availability and capacity.
How often do you meet with each of the students that you're mentoring?
I meet with students one to three times a week for 30 minutes each session. The courses are self-paced, so that pacing is mostly decided by the students depending on their personal and work lives, and how much time they can commit to Bloc. It's not uncommon for a student or myself to think that they need to accelerate because they are doing really well, or maybe slow down a little bit because they're working on a big project at their day job, or they have a vacation coming up.
If a student chooses to slow down from three meetings a week down to one, it will push their graduation date out by quite a bit. Think about it as a fixed number of total meetings, but how they're spaced out depends and can change as the student goes through the course.
Do you work alongside other instructors and mentors as well?
I do work alongside other mentors. I am very active on Slack talking to other mentors about issues I'm having or suggesting an improvement for a certain part of the curriculum. It's a pretty open forum for us to discuss anything and everything. We meet virtually every other week for 30 minutes to talk about what's been going on and to get ideas from each other. It's a very collaborative work environment.
What's your secret for keeping your students engaged when you can't interact with them in person?
I don't really see that as much of a problem, to be honest. Students are there because they want to be there and if they're struggling or having some difficulty in the course, then they can have an open discussion with me. I'm not a robot.
But I like to learn about each of my students; their interests, what they do at their day job or in their personal life, and how they like to have fun. I try to relate problems that we're working on to things that will already interest them, or make analogies to something that I've done so that I can show them concrete examples. I try to find the aha moments and to really keep them engaged. Knowing students on a personal level is something that Bloc offers that no one else really offers because of these regular one-on-one sessions.
How would students describe your teaching style?
I actually asked my students, "How would you guys describe my teaching style?" And I have some really good feedback from them:
- One student was extremely appreciative that I could tailor the course to her interests. She didn't necessarily want to become a software engineer but wanted to learn about that process. I took examples from my life where I had different jobs, like a data analyst, to show her learning how to program can make you a better data scientist. Those analogies really helped her to see things more clearly.
- Another student said I was particularly good at getting him to think about things more critically. I ask a lot of leading questions to try to help students arrive at an answer on their own rather than just telling them the answer.
- Another student found my questioning to be a little bit frustrating at first because she didn't understand why I wasn't just giving her the answer. But in the end, she told me that, "You really helped me to become self-sufficient."
So I’m teaching my students how to teach themselves, just like that old adage – teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. You can't rely on other people's code to be bug-free – you need to be able to go in and get into the weeds, so to speak, and figure out what's going on.
What tools do you use to communicate with your students?
I use a tool called Screenhero, which is owned by Slack. I really like it because it gives me a separate mouse and keyboard to use on my student’s screen. I'm a pretty visual person and I know a lot of my students are visual learners, so I can highlight certain pieces of the code.
Some students really prefer to have face-to-face video discussion and I'm open to that whenever they want to. But typically, I don't do that. I find that screen sharing is just so invaluable that I almost feel like I couldn't be as successful of a mentor without it.
If a student has a question outside of your scheduled 30-minute chat, can they contact you via Slack or via email?
Yes, they can contact me directly through the Bloc platform, which will go to my email and to my dashboard when I log onto Bloc. Or they can send me messages on Slack.
When Screenhero has been a bit buggy or not worked, I sometimes give students my personal phone number and we'll talk on the phone. Some students really latched onto that as a way to reach out to me. They're respectful of my time, and don’t abuse it or anything. Any way the student needs to get in touch with me, I'm open to that.
Some people might have a more pressing problem or they're getting really frustrated, so I try to answer questions as soon as I can. It's not unusual for me to hop on a call with a student for five minutes between our regular sessions just to clarify something. It can save both of us a lot of time to just have a talk rather than bouncing emails back and forth.
Are most of your students in the same timezone as you? How do you balance and manage your time?
We talk in the evenings after work. I set my schedule based on my time zone and my own availability. So I've had students who have been as far as Australia, who get up at 2am to talk to me in my local time zone, which isn’t unusual. I have students who are often traveling a lot, so they'll be bouncing around between time zones. I wouldn't say that time zones have really been a problem at all, to be honest.
What sort of qualities make the ideal Bloc student? Do you think there's a certain type of student who does well?
The students are mostly a self-selecting group, and when they choose to make an investment in themselves and spend their own money and time on something like Bloc, they have probably already thought about whether or not programming is their passion. For that reason, I assume that most Bloc students will probably be successful.
But Bloc is not something where you can just “wing it,” so to speak. It's going to be more difficult for some students and easier for others. If you really want to maximize Bloc, you have to put your maximum into it. Like anything in life, you'll get out of it what you put into it. As long as a student is self-motivated and able to handle some of the frustrations that come with programming, then I would say they're going to be successful.
Students choose how long they want to spend learning at Bloc – do you find that people have better results if they choose the 6-month plan vs the 24-month plan?
No, I don't think there is a difference. I do think there's a benefit to meeting more frequently with your mentor. It provides some extra accountability to get assignments done on time.
Even when I'm only meeting with a student once a week, I always touch base with them at the beginning and the end of the week over email or Slack to say, "How is it going? Are you having any trouble?"
I have a Slack channel that's private to me and my students. It's a place for them to discuss problems that they're having in a smaller group. If I'm not available, they can collaborate with each other or ask questions, like, “Has anybody else seen this? Can you help?"
What kind of jobs are you seeing your students get?
I've been able to make connections between my mentees and folks in my network. I often encourage students after graduating from Bloc to add me on LinkedIn and look through my network and see if there's anybody or any particular industries that they're interested in, and I'm more than happy to make introductions. I do that nonstop.
The other thing that's worth noting about Bloc is that they offer a tuition reimbursement guarantee. It can be difficult to find a job if you're not in a large metropolitan area and you sometimes have to be willing to relocate to a different area. But every student that I've worked with who really was self-motivated and willing to put in the time and effort to change their career or get that promotion, has been able to achieve that. I've had students who were professional poker players, or professional musicians who have ended up changing careers.
Do you have any suggestions for how people can test out the waters and see if coding is something they like, even if they're not quite ready to pay for tuition?
It's never too early to open a discussion with a Student Advisor on the Bloc team – they are a great resource to answer those kinds of questions. Before coming to Bloc, we suggest students go through some online free courses to get a taste of what the rest of Bloc will be like.
Although he had a solid career in technical support, Tim Martinak wanted to take his love for technology to the next level. He started learning Rails in Bloc’s Software Developer Track while balancing his full-time job at Braintree in Chicago, and when a Software Engineering Apprenticeship opened up at Braintree, Tim went for it! Tim tells us why a Skills Fund loan made his learning possible, how a Bloc project helped him land his apprenticeship at Braintree before graduating, and why his people skills are so useful as a developer.
What were you up to before Bloc?
I started out in entry level IT support at a number of different companies including Best Buy. Eventually I made my way to Apple, working at the Genius Bar, which was fun for a few years, but I got the bug to do something more. I ended up in tech support at a mobile payment system company called Braintree, where I was exposed to some basic coding. It was an opportunity to dabble, play, and learn, and do something I had a knack for.
But I wanted to take it to the next level, get away from hardware, and start writing code and making websites. I was always amazed by the products coming out of technology companies and I thought it would be really fun to be on that side of things. I like making and creating and wanted to add coding to my portfolio. So I started looking at coding bootcamps and Bloc immediately came up.
It sounds like you started learning to code by yourself. Why did you feel like you needed to pay for a bootcamp like Bloc rather than continue to teach yourself how to code?
People are inherently different. Right now, there’s something wonderful happening in technology – this massive open source movement of knowledge. People are willing to share software engineering resources for free. It’s phenomenal. However, to fully take advantage of that you need to understand how those open source communities are built, and have the drive, and self-motivation to excel. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people! I wanted a pre-structured learning environment; a class that had a start and an end, with the steps laid out to get there. I was also looking for a mentor – I knew I would run into problems, or gaps in understanding. I wanted to start writing code professionally sooner rather than later, so I didn’t want to get stuck without anyone to turn to. I knew my personality and I knew I would benefit from the structure of a coding bootcamp.
What made you choose an online coding bootcamp instead of an in-person bootcamp?
One of the reasons I was very focused on an online program like Bloc was because I needed to keep working full time. The way that Bloc structures their Software Engineering Track was important, and I planned to do Bloc and keep working at Braintree. I live about an hour southwest of Chicago in the suburbs. It’s fairly easy for me to get into the city for work, but my family is in the suburbs. Balancing my time between work and family is important, so that was a big deciding factor when I was choosing an online bootcamp rather an in-person bootcamp. Because Bloc is online and part time, I could do it from anywhere and be very flexible. I can speed up and slow down my pace, I can freeze the program and take a break, so the cohort isn’t reliant on me if something comes up. Having that flexibility was really important for me.
What stood out about Bloc in your research compared to other online coding bootcamps?
I thought about attending a bootcamp for three or four years before I actually enrolled. I had seen bootcamps come and go, and watched Bloc evolve. They didn’t offer a Software Engineering Track when I first started my research, which is why I didn’t take the plunge. It turned out waiting was beneficial.
I specifically wanted to do the Software Engineering Track. A lot of other bootcamps do not go into as much depth in their curriculum. Most bootcamps I found would be equivalent to Bloc’s Web Designer Track, which is not a bad thing, but if you want to get further into underlying technology or methodologies, various design patterns, and a lot of nuts and bolts, then you need to learn software engineering. I didn’t find anything comparable to the Bloc program, which was another selling point. I figured it would be worth the investment to do that track.
I did know that Braintree was a Rails shop, but that didn’t affect my choice to learn Rails. When I first started Bloc, I didn’t realize that I would be finishing in an apprenticeship at Braintree! I didn’t know where I would end up, it was just a happy coincidence.
How did you pay for Bloc? Any tips for our readers?
By the time I applied for Bloc, they wanted to offer their program to as wide an audience as possible. One way to do that was partnering with Skills Fund and other microloan companies like Upstart and LendingTree to help people finance their education, because coding bootcamps are not cheap. It can be tough to apply for a private loan, but because Skills Fund was working directly with Bloc, they understand coding bootcamps.
The Skills Fund application process was very straightforward. It’s different for everyone, but it took about two days for Skills Fund to approve my loan after I submitted my application. After that, they handled everything with Bloc – finalizing the loan and actually sending the tuition. I really didn’t have to do anything besides apply for the loan. I didn’t have to move anything from my bank account, everything was automatically linked up and sent to Bloc. It was a very easy process from start to finish. All in all, Skills Fund just kept surprising and delighting me throughout the process. They have a very clear partnership with Bloc.
What’s the learning platform like at Bloc? Is it easy to stay on track and engaged?
It’s set up based on which track and what pace you’re on. Bloc’s control panel is like a road map, which shows you where they expect you to be based on your track, your course duration, and your current progress. Each section is cut up into modules, and each module has around 7 checkpoints. Based on your track and your expected finish date, they give you a minimum number of checkpoints to finish each week to stay on pace. They are very good at communicating what you need to accomplish each week.
How often do you interact with your instructors and mentors?
Originally, I was working at a faster pace – I had 2 one-on-one meetings per week with my mentor. I would make every meeting unless something came up, then we’d reschedule. Since my daughter was born, I no longer have a lot of time, so I’ve dropped to a slower pace, and meet one-on-one with a mentor once per week.
On top of the scheduled meetings, there is a Slack community and a lot of the mentors, alumni, and students hang out in there, so I can ask anyone questions, not necessarily only my mentor. It’s easy to interact with mentors and support at Bloc.
Did you have one main mentor throughout the Software Engineering Track? How do you choose your mentor?
The mentors themselves have specialties, so you have the option to pick from a list of available mentors who specialize in your track. It is possible to have more than one mentor throughout your time at Bloc. The Software Engineering Track is cut into two areas – the web development section and the software engineering principles – and some mentors only specialize in one of those areas, so you might switch to another mentor for the second half. That was the case for me. My software engineering mentor Richard Newman actually ended up getting promoted within Bloc, then I switched over and have a new software engineering mentor, Kinsey Ann Durham and she’s wonderful.
How many hours per week do you spend on Bloc and how do you balance it with your full-time job?
Originally I was putting in about 25 to 30 hours per week minimum, when I was at the two-meeting pace. At my slower pace, I’ll spend an average of 10 to 15 hours a week on Bloc, which is as much as I have time for. That has pushed my expected graduation date from October 2017 to April 2018. So I changed from a 54-week to a 108-week program.
For the faster pace, it was a mad dash. If I wasn’t working, sleeping, or walking my dog, I was parked in front of my laptop, hammering away, or Googling furiously. My wife is wonderful and put up with me paying a lot more attention to the computer. It did mean that my entire weekend was Bloc, just writing code, being frustrated, and Googling, but that’s part of learning. I would compare it to having a second job.
How often do you interact with other students? Do you feel like you’re part of a group or is it more of a one-on-one learning experience?
Bloc encourages a community experience. I’m sure there are people who don’t feel comfortable doing that, or aren’t as active in the Slack groups, but there are definitely familiar faces whom I’ve come to know in Slack. I, myself, have responded to other students who are stuck on something, so it’s a community; everyone will jump in and throw out their thoughts.
What is your favorite project that you’ve built at Bloc?
To date I think I’ve learned the most from the Rails projects. We built a basic Reddit clone, with a lot of basic functionality. That project probably taught me the most, and it helped me get the apprenticeship position I have now at Braintree, so I think that was my favorite for a lot of reasons.
That project was my first real Rails application, and it taught me a lot about how Rails works, about the design paradigms, and the “gotchas.” It allowed me to learn Rails well enough that when Braintree opened up the Apprenticeship application, I had the skills to build the coding challenge project. The challenge was to build a product in any way you want, as long as it fulfills Braintree’s user stories. I was able to build it out using Rails, and have fun with it. I submitted it, and that project is what got me into the apprenticeship – I wouldn’t have landed it without building that Reddit clone first.
Congratulations on the apprenticeship! Was the apprenticeship competitive to get? Was Braintree impressed that you were doing Bloc?
There were a lot of people going for the apprenticeship. It was competitive but I think everybody was happy and excited to be doing the program. The application process was fairly rigorous: it was a code submission, multiple interviews, and ultimately a decision by a group of engineers. I had to live code with engineers, and explain my code choices in my project, so it was really close to an actual technical interview.
The engineering team at Braintree was very interested that I was going through a coding bootcamp. A fair amount of Braintree’s engineers, and even some people leading the apprenticeship program, are coding bootcamp grads, so I think they are aware of the struggles. They were very interested and excited that I was doing a bootcamp, but I don’t believe that had an impact on whether they did or didn’t want to hire me.
What is the software developer apprenticeship like, and how is it different from the technical support job?
My previous role involved support for customers of Braintree; it wasn’t internal tech support. It involved very basic code troubleshooting, questions and answers, and issue resolution. The software apprenticeship is drastically different, in that we started out building a project internally to learn the internal processes and get us acquainted with the style guide and our build systems. There is a lot of hands-on learning and in-the-moment learning, which is really cool. We are building actual products which will be used by the teams here. We’re writing real code, and we have to make sure that it deploys and actually works, and is useful – it’s definitely a change from my jobs in technical support.
Did Bloc teach you everything you need to know for your Braintree apprenticeship? Or are you learning on the job?
The apprenticeship at Braintree is mentor-driven, so I’m apprenticing under Software Engineers. There are weekly talks from guest engineers about various principles, design paradigms, dependency injection, object oriented design, etc. They want to make sure we have a good skill set, so they are not pulling any punches, and they are making sure we know these things really well. As a company, we use Java and Ruby. I learned Ruby at Bloc, so that was a very easy transition. There is a lot of material that I’m continuing to learn beyond my Bloc course, like VIM, tmux, Docker, Amazon Web Services, continuous integration, and other technologies that are unique to my development team.
Do you think that your previous background in technical support roles has been useful in your new job?
The biggest thing that my previous role taught me is people skills. A lot of people don’t want to acknowledge that software development is very people-driven. We’re people who are solving problems for other people using technology. You’re not going to get hired and then just write code for 8 hours a day in a corner. It doesn’t work like that. I spend about as much time talking to people, understanding their problem, or getting clarification around something, as I do writing code. We often talk about the best way to approach a problem, so knowing how to ask questions, clarify, be very explicit, and not be afraid to talk to people – those are important skills that I’m so glad to have.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
First and foremost, find out if the particular bootcamps you are interested in are hosting webinars or meetups. Get to know the bootcamp beyond their marketing website. Marketing websites tell you everything you want to hear. Webinars give you a chance to ask questions about things that are important to you.
Financing options can also be very tough, so I would highly recommend that anyone worried about paying for a bootcamp take a look at companies like Skills Fund. It’s not going to be super cheap, but it can really offset the costs if you don’t have the upfront money to put towards a bootcamp. Being able to cut the payments up into something manageable per month gives a lot of people opportunity where they might not otherwise have it.
Find out about Bloc’s new Interest Only loans from Skills Fund.
So you want to land a job after coding bootcamp? The statistics are on your side – 73% of bootcampers report being employed as developers after graduation. But did you know that many coding bootcamps go one step further and offer a job guarantee? We’ve put together a list of in-person and online coding bootcamps in the USA and around the world which offer guaranteed job placement. And don’t get caught off guard by the details – we’ve also included specifics about job guarantee tuition refunds, conditions, and tips to help you work out if a job guarantee coding bootcamp is right for you.Continue Reading →
There’s something about a good mobile app that just helps you throughout the day– be it your Linkedin, Google maps, CNN, Nike+ Training, or ESPN app– we depend on our smartphones for a lot. Due to the global rise of smartphones and tablets, mobile apps can be the go-to source for information, entertainment, productivity, e-commerce, and more. By 2020, global mobile app store downloads will reach 288.4 billion! With the rise of mobile applications on the market, the demand for mobile software developers continues to grow. We thought it was only right to give you a breakdown of what it really takes to be a mobile applications developer. From educational requirements to general stats on the profession to the top mobile coding bootcamps around the world– read below for our Ultimate Guide to Mobile Development Bootcamps.Continue Reading →
There are many reasons to attend a bootcamp- maybe you’re ready to take the plunge into a coding career or you want to update your current programming skills. Or maybe you’re part of a rising generation of aspiring technical founders and you’re ready to launch your own startup…you just need tech skills. Should you go to a coding bootcamp to start a company? Many bootcamp alumni are enjoying the fruits of their intensive bootcamp labor by choosing the path of entrepreneurship and launching their own app or website. In fact, Course Report’s latest outcomes and demographics study found that 4.3% of bootcampers attend to learn the skills necessary to start their own company. Our team loves an inspiring success story, so we’re highlighting those bootcampers who took the road less traveled, and managed to strike it big.Continue Reading →
Welcome to the August 2016 Course Report monthly coding bootcamp news roundup! Each month, we look at all the happenings from the coding bootcamp world from new bootcamps to big fundraising announcements, to interesting trends. This month the biggest news is the Department of Education's EQUIP pilot program to provide federal financial aid to some bootcamp students. Other trends include job placement outcomes, the gender imbalance in tech, acquisitions and investments, and paying for bootcamp. Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast!Continue Reading →
Since the first bootcamp acquisition in June 2014, we’ve seen several coding bootcamps get acquired by a range of companies from for-profit education companies (Capella Education), to co-working companies (WeWork), and other coding bootcamps (Thinkful + Bloc)! With rapid market growth in the bootcamp industry, for-profit education companies are taking note. These acquisitions and consolidations should come as no surprise, and some have been very successful, with schools going on to increase their number of campuses and course offerings. As coding bootcamps become more mature, we are seeing them get snapped up by more well-known companies, for increasingly large sums (e.g. General Assembly for $413 million!) We’ll keep this chronologically-ordered list updated as bootcamps announce future acquisitions.
Continue Reading →
Are Coding Bootcamps the new "replacement" for college degrees? Or are bootcamp grads missing out on valuable Computer Science theory by opting out of a traditional CS degree? As coding bootcamps rise in popularity, they face both praise and criticism- but what is the real difference between these two education paths? Join Course Report and our expert panel (seriously, these folks are running the best bootcamps in the world) to dive into this topic: CS Degrees vs Coding Bootcamps.
This webinar is perfect for future bootcampers or anyone interested in the coding bootcamp industry.Continue Reading →
The January News Roundup is your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles in the coding bootcamp space. If you're part of the bootcamp world or just want to stay current on coding bootcamps, then check out everything you may have missed in January!
Olivia Vanni from BostInno argues that Computer Science degrees in 2016 don't really make sense (coding bootcamps are one reason).Continue Reading →
One of the most common questions that we hear from students and employers is “Do I need a CS degree to get a job as a software engineer?” Our guest today is Roshan Choxi, Co-founder of Bloc, an online coding bootcamp – he says absolutely not! He also says that Bloc’s new Software Engineering Track can teach you everything that you learn in a CS degree and guarantee you a job. We ask him all about this new Bloc program in our Q&A below.
Roshan, we did our first Course Report webinar with Bloc two years ago, but a lot has changed since then! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Bloc.
My cofounder and I both studied Computer Science at the University of Illinois, so we went the traditional university route.
After we graduated we thought about all of the opportunities to improve technology education and started Bloc. It’s been about four years since we started and we’re right there with all of the offline bootcamps that emerged around the same time.
Bloc started with the unique goal of always being online and using technology to make education accessible. Our pitch has always been something with the outcomes of a developer bootcamp, but at the scale of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).
We’ve seen a lot of the in-person bootcamps start to scale online, but Bloc was definitely one of the first to think about online education exclusively. What was the first course that you offered four years ago?
Rails was the first course that we launched four years ago and we still have it today. It’s obviously iterated since then, the curriculum’s fresh and we’ve learned a lot about how to do a program like this exclusively online.
The Rails course is our proudest accomplishment. One of our graduates used the capstone project he built for it to get into YCombinator. When we heard about it, we were all very excited.
That was Willing, right? I remember reading about it. So you started with the Rails course and today you have three tracks—Rails development, the Full Stack Web Development track and now the Software Engineering track.
Exactly. There’s Rails Web Development, the Full Stack track and the Software Engineering track. They’re each meant to satisfy a different outcome.
The Rails course is recommended for students that would like to learn new skills that are in high demand. A lot of entrepreneurs or hobbyists tend to enroll in this course.
The Full Stack Program was launched at the beginning of this year. This is a viable alternative for any of the offline bootcamps. It covers a very similar curriculum. Students learn back end web development with Ruby on Rails and front end web development using HTML, CSS and a framework called Angular.
Just a couple of weeks ago we launched the Software Engineering Track. All of these tracks are built on the previous one and what we’ve learned so far. It focuses on the skills engineers need to be effective in the workforce. We started with the employers and asked them what new hires from bootcamps are lacking. We ask if they have hired CS students, what skills they’re lacking and how to prepare them.
What do you hear most often in the comparison between a Computer Science student and a bootcamp graduate?
Much to bootcamps’ credit, the knowledge and training students get in a bootcamp is much more practical. A lot of employers say that they’re surprised when they hire someone out of a Computer Science program and they’ve never used Git or Github and they don’t know how to deploy an app to the platform. They have a lot of CS theory under their belt, but they don’t necessarily have the practical knowledge to hit the ground running from day one.
On the other hand, with bootcamp students —we use the analogy of a car, they’ve hired someone who knows how to drive a car but who can’t pop open the hood and fix something in the engine. Bootcamp students have a good understanding of frameworks, but if they have to solve an engineering problem, that’s out of their territory. They don’t always have the CS and software engineering fundamentals to crack open the hood and solve those types of problems.
Can you clarify the difference, if you see one, between software developer and software engineer?
I don’t know if there’s a difference between software developer and software engineer. There’s a clearer distinction between web developer and software engineer. We actually just published a blog post about this, if your readers are interested!
A web developer is how I would describe a bootcamp grad. Their job title is probably something along the lines of junior web developer or junior full stack web developer. They have competency in building web applications and they understand web technologies, so web developer is an appropriate name for that role.
For software engineers, the word “software” goes beyond web applications and includes the full gamut of what software and programming can do —much more than just web development.
The intersection between IT and software engineering is interesting when you talk about companies like Heroku or Stripe that are building software, restructuring how websites are hosted and using computer virtualization. The definition of software engineer can be pretty broad.
Web development is just one category of programming. I’d say that software engineering is a bit deeper and more principled to include programming beyond the scope of web development.
I think I have a good understanding of the difference between the three tracks that Bloc is offering now. Can you tell us the differences in the application process for those three courses—specifically the Full Stack Web Developer track and the Software Engineering track?
For both the Full Stack track and the Software Engineering track there is mandatory pre-work. The way we see it, we want to have something objective that provides a service to our students. The pre-work is a vetting process for them to understand whether or not the program is a good fit for them and whether or not they’ll enjoy the type of work they’ll be doing. It’s a collection of free resources that you could find online. We have students try any of those resources before they dive into the program.
That’s before they’re accepted into the actual program?
Not necessarily, but before we’ll take their money we do require them to do the pre-work. It’s an expensive program and we don’t want people to take it lightly. We want them to have experience writing code. If after that they still feel, “Yes, this is the thing for me, I’m really excited to learn more about it,” then great, we think they’re going to be a really successful student. That’s for both programs.
What’s new in the Software Engineering track is that we are offering full tuition reimbursement if a student doesn’t find a job as a software engineer at the end of the program. In order for us to make sure that we can actually stand up to that guarantee, we have to add some qualifications. There are some aspects of finding a job that aren’t influenced by education and training. For example, if a student is willing to relocate to a major metro area that makes it a lot easier for us to find them a job as a software engineer. There’s definitely a concentration of tech jobs in the top 15 cities and not as many opportunities in some smaller cities and states yet.
So there are some location restrictions; is there a coding challenge or a technical threshold to get in?
There isn’t a coding challenge or technical interview. We use our pre-work as a screen for that. A student could cheat in the pre-work and have someone else do it for them, but as I said earlier, the pre-work is meant to help a student assess whether they’ll be successful.
For any bootcamp, you get out of it what you’re going to put in. We advise students to ask themselves, “Are you able to put a sufficient amount of effort into learning the curriculum?”
A lot of students have graduated from Bloc programs. Online learning can be difficult. It’s a challenge to stay committed and make it through a program. What types of people have you seen really crush it?
The people who really crush it come in with a good understanding of what engineering and design are. If they understand it and are sure they want to do it, they’re starting with the right kind of motivation. The other thing that they have are good study habits. Either that or they find ways to structure their time from the start of their program.
When we say, “We suggest that you put in at least 25 hours a week to stay on pace for the program”, the really good students literally look at their calendar and allocate 25 hours a week for the remainder of the program. They make sure that they can actually commit to that. Small things like that help successful students stay on track.
You said 25 hours; is that the time commitment for the Software Engineering Track? I read that the course can last from 48 to 72 weeks. How many hours should students dedicate per week?
There are two paces offered for this track— full-time and part-time. At the full-time pace, students dedicate 40 hours a week. For most people that means they don’t have time for anything else. At 40 hours a week, a student could finish the program in about 48 weeks.
The other pace is closer to 20 – 25 hours a week and on that pace we expect that a student will finish the program in about 72 weeks. It’s a really long time, but every hour is an investment in yourself. Students are going to come out of this program with a jumpstart on their career as an engineer.
Anyone that’s done research on Bloc knows that mentors are a huge part of the program. Are the mentors in the Software Engineering track involved in the same way as the other tracks? Do they have CS degrees?
It’ll be a subset of our mentors. Not all of our mentors will be eligible to teach in this program. Our mentors are experienced developers. The majority of them were working in the industry for 5 – 10 years before mentoring at Bloc, so many of them do fit the qualifications to be a software engineer.
Interestingly, some of them don’t have a CS degree. Some of them have learned the same principles of software engineering that one would get in a CS degree either by teaching themselves or on the job. A lot of them wish that they could’ve enrolled in a program like this.
I can see two challenges in trying to build a competitor program to a CS degree. One being that you actually have to build this curriculum and the other being that you have to convince the employers of its efficacy. Let’s start with building a curriculum. What have you added to the curriculum that takes students to the next level? I liked your car analogy about being able to solve engineering problems; what does that take?
We also use that analogy when we’re thinking about program design. What employers are telling us is that they want bootcamp students to have a deeper understanding of what they’re learning; not just the ability to use the frameworks, but an understanding of how the framework operates.
We’ve taken that literally in some respects. Part of the course involves digging into how frameworks operate, learning the fundamentals and design patterns of creating a framework like Ruby on Rails. We examine questions like, How do you create an adapter that plugs into a database? How do databases work even if you’re not using a web framework? What are the actual components of a SQL relational database?
The other part of the program is the same sort of thing but involves digging even deeper into the practice of programming itself. How do programming languages work? How do they implement things like hashes and how do you implement arrays? For example, in Ruby you can call something “.sort“ on a method and it takes care of sorting – but how does the sorting algorithm actually work? How do people build something like that when they can’t rely on built-in methods?
Students learn algorithms, data structures, relational databases and the last part we’re calling framework design patterns. How do you put all of this together into a coherent framework like Ruby on Rails?
You and your cofounder went through a traditional CS degree program. What are some things that you took from your program and made sure you had in this program? What are some things that you didn’t think were necessary?
I studied Computer Engineering (a hybrid of CS and electrical engineering)and my cofounder, Dave, studied CS. When we put together the syllabus we thought, “We’re going to add CS 225 and CS 410. Should we put in CS 173?” The things that we ended up including were data structures and algorithms. A lot of people, even computer engineers, took this class and we incorporated what we learned from that class into the program.
There’s a class called Programming Studio that includes some of the more pragmatic things about test-driven development, code spells and design patterns. It’s something that you see a lot when building software in the field. We tried to incorporate a lot of those lessons into the program.
What did you take from the companies that you worked with to develop the curriculum? Were they asking for more theory?
This was all shaped by the feedback that we heard from employers about bootcamps in general. Again, I’ll say that employers love bootcamp grads because CS students do learn a little too much theory that’s not necessarily relevant to most employers.
What they want bootcamp students to learn more about is not necessarily theory, but just more depth, learning how everything works at a deeper level. They still want it to be practical and they find that it is practical on the job, it’s just that if you don’t understand how a web framework operates, you can’t use Ruby on Rails to solve that problem.
So it covers the same topics but you’re going deeper, not necessarily wider. That makes sense. The second part of that challenge is convincing employers, right? You can have a beautiful platform and a beautiful curriculum but if the employers don’t know about it, it’s all for naught. What are you doing to convince employers?
One of the great things about this industry is that it’s feeding off of this meritocratic culture where no one really cares where you learned how to code. You could’ve taught yourself or you could’ve been a baker then went to a coding bootcamp. As long as you have the skills, that’s good enough.
We count on the fact that we can train very good software engineers using a curriculum that was informed by the standards of the best engineering teams. We trust that if we get students on that track that was defined, in part, by these employers— as long as they get all the way to the end, those employers are waiting there to hire them.
Do you have companies who have agreed to hire out of the career track yet?
We’ve had employers who’ve given us feedback as we’ve been developing the program, but there are no guarantees that they’re going to hire a certain number of students from it. A lot of them have hired bootcamp grads who’ve done half the curriculum, so we’re pretty confident that a student who’s in the program twice as long is going to do really well.
Have you had students in the Full Stack Web Developer track get real jobs yet?
Actually, the first few grads are just rolling out now. They’re all doing really great. I think we’re going to see results commensurate with what you would expect from an offline bootcamp. They’re going to find jobs as junior web developers at great technology companies.
The Software Engineering track is less about boosting a placement rate number or getting more people jobs as web developers. It’s more about a completely different tier of opportunities—companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Heroku and Stripe, companies that command the highest engineering talent, still don’t hire bootcamp grads because they don’t have the software engineering foundation.
The diversity of the tracks ultimately comes down to that difference in outcomes.
Are there assessments in this track? For an employer who’s not ready to hire a bootcamp graduate yet the appeal of a CS major is that they can assume a level of competency because CS grads have completed a certain number of learning hours and passed a certain number of tests. Are there assessments in the Bloc curriculum?
Yes, the way we do the assessments currently reflects what an employer would do if they were assessing a candidate. We do regular technical interviews with our students. Whatever feedback we have for the student we pass on to their mentor so they can work one-on-one with their student.
Basically, it will accomplish the same thing that CS programs do with a GPA. We have mentors and career service coaches who work with students and they’re incentivized to make sure that whoever we pass on to employers is the right candidate for them.
Sometimes that means they they’ve achieved a certain level of ability, and sometimes that means they have a certain geographic or culture fit.
Despite the fact that Bloc is very much a technology company, there’s a much more human way of doing it. We’re counting on natural relationships that form between mentors and employers.
How long is the apprenticeship in this new course? I feel like that’s a huge part of what Bloc does. Will that look the same as past Bloc programs?
The apprenticeship phase in the software engineering track is 12 weeks if full-time and 18 weeks part-time. One of our first Full Stack track students who was doing particularly well wrapped up the front end program faster than we expected. It sort of happened organically that he started doing freelance work with another one of our Rails mentors who had a contract. Essentially, he’s taken the role of a junior engineer working with a senior engineer on real paid contract work, so he made some money working with his mentor while taking the Bloc program.
We thought it was amazing. That’s going back to the traditional apprentice model in which you do paid work under a master. We were inspired by that and decided to try that for our Software Engineering track.
The way we’ve designed it right now is that students to do real-world work—this also came from employer feedback, they want bootcamp grads to have a little more real-world experience. In this phase, students work on open source projects with their mentor, dig into real code bases, collaborate with other people on production code that engineers are using.
Going back to our conversations with engineers at the best engineering companies, they’ll tell you that the one thing they really like seeing in engineering candidates is that they contributed to open source code. There are a lot of good reasons for that, but there’s a correlation between the best engineering teams and the engineering teams that contribute to open source projects.
Can a student still come up with their own idea and build it in this apprenticeship?
They definitely can. We’re trying to make sure that students who enroll in this program are serious about becoming software engineers. What we want to avoid is someone changing their mind halfway through, feeling that they spent too much money for a goal that wasn’t in line with the program.
Students can work on their own projects, but we set expectations that they shouldn’t count on that. That shouldn’t be the reason that they’re enrolling in this program.
You mentioned this before, but the price for this class is a lot more expensive than any full-time immersive program that I know of. How does Bloc justify the cost?
There’s the tuition reimbursement. To demonstrate our confidence that this is a very effective program, we’re offering a full tuition reimbursement if a student doesn’t find a career as a software engineer.
From there, it’s just an ROI calculation. Is this worth it for you? Do you really want to be a software engineer at the end of this program?
Is it $24,000 upfront?
It’s $24,000 upfront, but there are financing options available. Right now students can pay $3,000 upfront and pay monthly installments of less than $1,000 a month until it’s paid off.
The other element to consider is that Bloc is more cost-efficient than many offline bootcamps because we don’t have the overhead costs. We feel that this program is actually more comparable to a CS degree where tuition is $40,000 to $80,000 a year. If you’re comparing prices of this program to other bootcamps, we think our Full Stack track is a better comparison in terms of curriculum. Galvanize has a $21K, 24-week immersive program and if you compare their syllabus to ours, it’s actually closer to our $9,500 Full Stack track. So with our Software Engineering track at $24K it’s still within the price range of in-person bootcamps, which are also very expensive, but we think it’s in a different category based on the amount of material covered.
Have you had students start this track yet?
We’ve enrolled a few people.
Do they have programming experience?
Almost all of them do. Most people will try something like Codecademy, Code School or Treehouse, before they think of investing $24,000 into a coding bootcamp. If they haven’t, we ask them to try it before they give us their money. We want students to make sure they understand what they are signing up for. So, these students have tried coding before, but most of them are not engineers or CS students; they’re people coming from a completely different background.
I will wait patiently for 48 to 72 weeks to hear the types of jobs that they get at the end of it! The final and most important part of the Software Engineering track is employment; let’s talk about that. Does Bloc have a placement team? At the beginning, job placement wasn’t necessarily the number one focus. But now a lot of bootcamps have job guarantees; how has your team evolved with that goal?
We have an outcomes team that’s starting to form. We leverage two things around outcomes. We teach our students how to fish; we teach them how to get jobs without necessarily relying on Bloc’s connections. We have hiring partners, but we think it’s important for students to know how to conduct that process.
We’ve written curriculum around job preparation and career coaching; our mentors work with our students on job placement from day one of the program. On the first day students are already moving towards the goal of getting their portfolio projects together and understanding where they need to be to find an opportunity at a really prestigious engineering company.
We’re starting to involve more of our mentors in career coaching. Not just the technical training but the actual career coaching. They’re all developers, so they’ll often leverage their personal networks to help students find careers.
Are you expecting that students who graduate from this track will get jobs as software engineers or would junior web developer or web developer also be a goal?
It will definitely come down to what the student wants to do. Coming out of this program, students will have all the same opportunities as a student in the Full Stack track and then some. They’ll definitely work in software engineering. I’m not sure what their exact title will be because the industry itself is confused about what titles actually mean. What is a web developer vs. software developer vs. software engineer vs. code ninja?
You mentioned the refund/job-guarantee. To qualify for that refund does the student have to complete the program within a certain amount of time? Do they have to pass a test at the end of the course? What disqualifies a student from receiving this refund, if anything?
There are a few upfront qualifications that are mostly logistical. Students either have to be in a major metropolitan area or willing to relocate to one. Students have to be eligible to work in the United States because we’re not yet prepared to help students who aren’t.
Do students have to complete a certain number of mentor sessions?
Those are the program qualifications that happen once a student is enrolled, and students do have to complete the program. There isn’t a minimum time in which students have to complete the course. Our students already want to complete it as quickly as possible. Students do have to complete the curriculum requirements, which generally include the foundation and two projects for each section.
It’s a reasonable target. It can be difficult for such a long period of time, but it’s doable.
Is there anything we skipped over that you want to make sure Course Report readers know about this new track?
The short version is if you’re interested in becoming a software engineer, we think we are the best program out there for it.
Course Report has some exciting things rolling out in 2016, but for now, here's what you may have missed in November! Remember to email me with noteworthy news to include in next month's roundup.Continue Reading →
Course Report recently caught up with Bloc alumni Ashton Levier to discuss her transition from Front-End to Full-Stack Developer and her new job at Schawel+Coles. Ashton also shares how her Utah Girl Develop It chapter helped her break into the tech community (Ashton eventually received the Bloc/GDI scholarship). As a Bloc bootcamp grad who landed multiple job offers, Ashton has great advice for anyone who feels they don’t fit the tech demographic.
What brought you to Utah from Louisiana?
I graduated from McNeese State University in my hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana in December 2010. I started teaching fall 2011 and then I moved to Utah in 2012- there’s no snow in Louisiana and I love to snowboard! I had a couple friends move to Utah so I visited more and more and over time I just loved it.
How did you first get involved in tech?
I moved to Utah in 2012 and the first Girl Develop It (GDI) event that I went to was in 2013. I had a friend who was a QA analyst learning to code on the job at Instructure, which hosted the GDI events.
I’ve been doing web development since high school, building websites for my friends on and off for money on the side. It was always just front end stuff. I knew that I liked it and that there was potential for me to have a really great career by going full stack.
What was that first Girl Develop It workshop like?
It was a GDI jQuery hack night hosted at Instructure. One of the senior developers at Instructure did a mini two-hour crash course to jQuery. It was tons of fun and everybody was really helpful. Even afterwards, they followed up the presentation and all the materials from the night, and everyone was great about responding to questions.
Outside of HTML/CSS, the first programming languages I learned were all through GDI hacknights.
Once you decided to start researching coding bootcamps, did you ever look at in-person bootcamps?
I did and honestly, it was not possible. I work 9 to 5 and even part-time classes require you to be there twice a week. I knew there would be times when I missed class because of work meetings.
I wasn’t willing to spend money on tuition for a part-time program when I knew it would either drain me and kill me, or I would miss a large majority of it. Six hours a week learning from my couch is a totally different experience than 6 hours a week driving across town, going to class, and then coming home at 10pm.
I honestly don’t think I would have invested this much time learning Ruby on Rails on my own. Without the structure of the Bloc course and the support from my mentor, there’s just no way I would’ve done it. I probably would’ve stayed stuck in my old job.
Before you moved to Utah, you were reaching middle school- what did you think of the teaching style at Bloc; how did that compare to your experience as a teacher?
When I was teaching in a public school, kids were in a classroom of 30; if they didn’t understand a concept, they weren’t going to put themselves out there to ask questions. They don’t want to look stupid. With Bloc, I think it’s great to have a smaller learning environment with one-on-one attention and an open door policy where you can ask questions. I don’t have to worry about looking dumb. I think anytime you can do that one-on-one approach, that’s awesome.
Tell us a little bit about your mentor at Bloc. How was that experience?
My mentor is Adam Louis. He is always open and available outside of our scheduled meeting times. If I get stuck on something small, I don’t have to be stuck. I can call him about it and he’ll explain it to me really fast, but we do have our longer meetings.
One of the things I really like about him is that he doesn’t just talk about the technical stuff, about coding and Ruby, but he really spends a lot of time on the little philosophical points, like best practices.
When I asked, “I understand what this does but why am I doing it this way instead of one of the other millions of ways I can do it?” He’s really good about pointing out “don’t just do X, this is why you’re doing it.” I have the best mentor!
Right now you’re working as a full-stack web developer?
I sure am. I work at SCHAWEL+COLES, it’s a small agency. We’re working a lot with Magento and converting sites and building sites for people; but mostly, almost exclusively e-commerce.
How did Bloc help prepare you for this role and what skills did Bloc help you get comfortable in a web development role?
In my previous position, I had been doing some front-end development, but I was the only person in the company who knew how to plug in a printer. So I was never able to really work on a development team.
Bloc introduced me to Git, which my current employer uses. The whole office has a repository which is why I am so glad that I had that background experience with the command line and Github at Bloc.
Other than that, talking with my advisor and sharing files with him and joining the Bloc channel and talking to people and sharing information, I think that makes a perfect introduction to actually working with a team of developers for real, on an everyday basis.
When I applied to my job, they loved my resume because I had a lot of front-end experience. One of the things that my boss told me is that they were really excited because they were hoping to hire a full-stack person. Even though I was clearly not a proficient Ruby on Rails developer, they were open to me learning.
What is it like to ramp up to working as a developer after graduating from Bloc?
I’ve been here a month and a half. One of the things I’ve been doing is sitting in on client meetings. Some clients want to change certain aspects of the Magento accounts, so I’ve been sitting in with the back end team while they interface with these clients. They’ve been giving me smaller projects to do within Magento to get my feet wet and ask questions.
I had no experience with Magento beforehand, so it’s really great that they’re being serious about giving me opportunities to learn new things. It’s purely learning right now and I love that.
Do you have advice for other students who are trying to make a career change after Bloc?
Be upfront and honest about that during your application process, whether you’re halfway through the course or just starting it. Just say, “I’m excited about learning, this is what I’m learning, this is what I can offer you now and in the future.” When I was applying to jobs, I showed that I was proficient in front-end on my portfolio site. But, I also showed that I’m on my way to being a full stack developer, and I even linked to the Bloc course I was taking.
Have you been keeping up with the #Ilooklikeanengineer? Being an African American female and working as a developer, do you have any thoughts on diversity in tech?
It’s kind of weird because Utah is like 98% white, so there are no minorities here, period. Salt Lake City has earned the nickname “the Silicon Slope" because all these tech companies are moving here and bringing the diversity with them. I think that’s actually encouraging a lot more people here to get involved, especially the women who I’ve met through GDI. There’s a huge mix in that group because most of them came here looking for work in tech or they’re from here and have been exposed to the earning and growth opportunities in tech.
I think in Utah in particular, it’s still definitely a field that you don’t see a lot of women or a lot of minorities in; but it’s changing so much because such good companies are coming here. And that’s really encouraging to see.
What advice would you give to other women or minorities who were in your shoes when you started?
It’s just really important to be confident in yourself and your own abilities. Just because you might not fit the demographic, you can still believe that you can do the job and put in the time to do it.
You should not give yourself any excuse to not be your best or to not break into the industry, even if you have to put yourself out there on a limb and go to 10 interviews that are just horrible and scary and daunting and nerve-wracking. I sweated and stuttered through so many interviews until I finally hit my stride, and when I took this position I had three job offers.
I chose this company because it was small and they really seemed appreciative of the fact that I was learning. It was a job where they were going to provide me with the environment to learn that I wanted so that I wouldn’t necessarily have to sink or swim and they wanted to take advantage of that.
Amazing advice. Have you stayed involved in the Girl Develop It community?
I still go to GDI hacknights. While I was taking the Bloc course, when I got stuck and hadn’t yet reached out to my mentor, Hacknights were a great resource because there are people there with experience in all languages. It’s a great place to go and get help.
I encourage everybody to get involved with a group like that, whether it’s GDI or a hack club, because it’s super motivating. It’s one thing to be at my house and not be able to solve a problem and get frustrated and quit. It was really motivating to go to the GDI hack nights and say, “I’m having trouble with this; someone help me” and five people respond, “I know Ruby; what’s up?”
It sounds like you’re on the path to becoming a mentor to others as well.
That’s one thing I’m excited about. Actually across the street from me there’s an organization called Spyhawk that I’ve gotten involved with. They are all about teaching digital arts. They have a movie-making program, a game designer program and a generic photography/graphic design digital arts program where they have volunteers.
It’s really cool to be able to give back. I think it’s important too, especially with education programs like Bloc. I’m not entirely sure that I would encourage my future kids to go to college outside of them wanting to be a doctor or a lawyer or a chemical engineer. If you want to be a developer, you don’t have to spend 40K on a degree like I did – a degree that I don’t even use.
I think there are a lot of great ways to be motivated and to learn without necessarily spending the time or the money that it takes to get a CS degree.
Welcome to the August News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the bootcamp space. Do you want something considered for the next News Roundup? Submit announcements of new courses, scholarships, or open jobs at your school!Continue Reading →
Not all coding bootcampers are job-seekers; some have already landed a job as a developer and want to expand their skillset. This was the case for Devan Beitel, who was working as a front-end developer for Viva Health, and wanted to grow his back-end knowledge. He enrolled in online coding bootcamp Bloc, matched with a mentor, and during the course, was actually promoted to a Senior developer position! Devan sat down with Course Report to talk about his experience, the projects he worked on with his mentor Michal, and how his Bloc course directly (and indirectly) applies to his day-to-day job.
What were you up to before you decided to do Bloc?
I graduated college in 2012 with a degree in Graphic Design; I was teaching myself web development at the time and freelancing on the side. I had experience designing something that made sense and looked good. I could also build simple things, but I didn’t have the depth and breadth of knowledge that I wanted.
What did you use to teach yourself web development?
I used Treehouse, Code School, Codeacademy, anything I could get my hands on. By freelancing, I had a bit of extra revenue to invest into learning.
I took Bloc in order to learn more on the server side and database since I already had those front-end skills.
Did you ever research in-person bootcamps? How did you decide on Bloc?
I looked at Dev Bootcamp, Starter League in Chicago, Flatiron School in New York and another online school, Thinkful. I decided I needed to do an online bootcamp because I already had a job and was actually engaged at the time.
When I was researching Bloc, they were offering a MacBook Air promo, which is probably the reason I actually went with Bloc! Also, I had spoken with Michal, a mentor at Bloc, and we’d already talked about tailoring the program to cover less front-end development and more back-end and database curriculum.
When did you talk to Michal, your Bloc mentor?
He hosted an online webinar on Intro to Rails, which was very basic stuff that I already knew but I went to it to see how everything at Bloc worked, who the instructors and mentors would be, and to get a feel for it all.
About a week or two before I applied to Bloc, I emailed Michal and asked him what his schedule looked like. I knew specifically that he had back-end experience and that he was a CS major and a Rails Developer.
Take us through the technologies you learned at Bloc.
The first project we did used Ruby on Rails and it’s a very full-stack project; you rebuild Reddit, in essence. The two other projects I did were a “To-Do List” app using an API and “Bloc Metrics” which was an analytics platform. I spent most of my time learning Mongo and Sinatra to build Bloc Metrics. Michal let me struggle through Sinatra as I learned those new concepts- which I very explicitly told him to do!
When you were struggling with a new concept, how did Michal help you through it?
I limited what I would let Michal help me with. Today, I’m a full-stack developer and my wife can’t understand why I sit and scratch my head all day; it’s the puzzle and the satisfaction you get after solving the puzzle that makes programming worthwhile. Michal would help lead me to answers and give me the tools I needed, but I wanted to struggle and learn on my own as well.
We used sketches a lot; there were some topics that he could draw easily and I explicitly remember learning a map function, which is a high level concept that I learned at Bloc, by having Michal draw it out. When we talked about Mongo a few times, and he would draw just because it’s nontraditional structure of a database.
Some Bloc mentors will control your screen- we never really did that. Anytime I’d hit a problem, it usually took us on another tangent to learn something else that was relevant - and most of it wasn’t beginner knowledge. It was harder stuff to learn.
Did you ever interact with other Bloc students during your apprenticeship?
In the middle of my apprenticeship, Bloc went from a chat room to Stack Overflow. I didn’t use that a lot, but they had a special tag and a special interface where you could post a question and it would go through Stack Overflow.
You’ve used Codecademy and Treehouse before- a lot of free resources. Why pay for Bloc?
I’m sure Bloc will love me for saying this, but it all came down to that mentor. When you’re stuck, that person can help you with your exact problem. You know that your mentor is a real human and end up interacting with them outside of Bloc.
A lot of times we’d talk about how the weather was and how his family was.
Mentorship was expensive but I think it paid off. I liked Treehouse and I still actively use it, but for the rapid learning that I wanted to do, Bloc was perfect; it’s all compressed and quick and there’s a person there with you.
How long did it take you to get through the Bloc course?
I took the 18-week Full-Stack Development track. I spent about 15-20 hours per week, 2-3 hours a day but some days fluctuated.
You were working at Viva full-time while you were taking the Bloc bootcamp; did you find that it was difficult to balance?
I was definitely in a unique situation. My department at Viva doesn’t have strict set hours because we’re always checking email, managing servers, an on call for users using the application. During the first month of Bloc, and I told my boss, “Every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 AM I have something going on for an hour and then I’ll be in after that.”
It was easy for me to manage the mentor meeting time and then it got harder to manage the actual time commitment to developing stuff even though I was sitting in front of a computer most of the days. But it was because I was also developing other things at work and by the end of the day my brain was fried.
How did Bloc influence your work at Viva? Is it directly applicable?
At work we used a programming language called Grails which is very similar to Rails (except Grails is Groovy and compiles down to Java since the other two developers at Viva were Java developers).
I learned a lot of the higher level computer science oriented concepts during Bloc, which help me to this day.
What’s your job title now?
During the middle of my Bloc course, I got a promotion from Web Application Developer to Web Application Developer, Senior.
Was there an emphasis on job prep during the Bloc course?
Towards the very end of my apprenticeship at Bloc, they launched “Career Prep” tracks. Since I already had a job, I just breezed through it quickly. I only did 2 or 3 of the checkpoints and I regret that now.
What do you work on at Viva?
Everything that I work on is internal tools for our staff. I wish I could use any of it in my portfolio, but it’s all locked down by Viva. I walk upstairs and sit with the nurses a lot, watch how they work, and try to translate that into building the UI for those tools. I’ve started to take a more managerial role now.
Is the managerial role the next step for you- what’s appealing to you about that role?
It’s not necessarily the next step. One of the reasons that I’m doing so well at Viva is that along with being a front-end developer I’m working as the UI/UX designer and understand how everything works. We’re rebuilding a whole application right now!
It’s cool that your users are working in the same building and that you get live feedback from them.
Every day I try to walk up there and just see them for five minutes and ask them how everything’s going, hear any new ideas or problems they’re having. It’s nice to know who your users are.
It’s satisfying to really be able to solve their problems and roll out solutions and then walk up there after it’s deployed and ask the nurses if everything is working as expected.
Were there ever work-problems that Michal helped you with?
There were a few! When we were working with Angular and Mongo at Bloc, we were actually doing some Angular stuff at work so there were some times that I asked about things that weren’t working at work. He did help with that.
Was Bloc worth the money? Would you recommend it to friends?
I think Bloc was worth the money, yes. In fact, I have recommended it a few times.
Are there people that you wouldn’t recommend it to?
Yeah, for a completely new, straight up computer beginner, they might really struggle. It’s extremely hard to jump on the bandwagon - and I understand that.
Most of my friends already have some web development knowledge; very basic HTML or CSS knowledge. So there have been a few people I’ve suggested it to. I have a friend who was in a healthcare accelerator here in Birmingham, and he is trying to launch his product now. I told him “If you’re stuck (and he’s building it in Rails, too) and you if you want to learn more, Bloc is a pretty penny but it does give you a lot more knowledge and you’ll feel more confident when you graduate.”
While the majority of coding bootcamp students are motivated by the prospect of a job as a developer at graduation, about 8% of bootcampers reported taking the class in order to start their own business or become a technical cofounder. Starting with a killer idea and learning the coding skills needed to launch an minimum viable product (MVP) can result in a winning combination, and can save a ton of upfront cash.Continue Reading →
Whether Nikki Woelk was working in Drupal and PHP or in non-profit fundraising, her goals have always aligned with meaningful companies working to make the world a happier place. When she decided to transition back into a technical role, Nikki was sold on online bootcamp Bloc because of the chance to work 1-on-1 with a mentor and update her skills at her own pace. While she learned Rails with her mentor, Chris Beck, Nikki applied for a Software Engineer job at Kiva, an online lending platform. We talk to Nikki about flexibility at Bloc, the technical interview process at Kiva and how she’s seen the women-in-tech community change for the better.
What were you up to before you started at Bloc?
Immediately before starting at Bloc, I was the development database manager for a large environmental non-profit. “Development” here meant fundraising, not technical development. I was more of the end-user application manager of the database that managed donors and donations.
Did that job require a technical background at all?
I did have a previous tech background, so I used what I could there.
10-15 years ago, I was working at a small web development company in San Francisco building e-commerce sites. When that disbanded, I started freelancing for a lot of those clients, on and off for about 7 years. Freelancing was becoming increasingly isolating and I wasn’t learning everything that I thought I could be learning.
Freelancing is what a lot of people aspire to, but it’s also hard to manage work-life balance because you’re spending all of your time working on your clients and then you wind up spending all your free time learning to keep up with the technology that’s changing so fast. I didn’t feel like I was growing.
I like technology, but it’s very important to me that I’m working on something very meaningful to me, and hopefully contributing to make this world a happier place.
You were writing in Drupal and PHP in your job 10-15 years ago?
I wound up doing mostly Drupal. When I started out, my first professional language was ColdFusion and then I picked up a little bit of PHP. I continued with freelance clients in ColdFusion and gradually picked up more PHP on my own.
Did you keep your job at the environmental non-profit while you did Bloc?
I did; I was not prepared to not have any income for weeks, so I looked at online programs where I did not have to quit my job.
Did you ever look at an in-person coding bootcamp? Did you look at other online coding bootcamps?
So many people told me that with my experience, I could probably get a job with my current skills, but since I was out of technology for so long, I didn’t really feel like a developer anymore.
I knew that I couldn’t afford to quit my job and do a 15 week bootcamp full time. Financially, that was beyond what I was looking for.
I heard about Bloc and everything about it resonated. It was online, but you got to work with a dedicated mentor and that was really the big deciding factor for me. One of the things that I was missing while freelancing was working with other people and feedback. I can figure out solutions to problems I run into, but did I do it the best way? Is there a more elegant way?
I learn well in one-on-one interactions and the fact that you could choose a mentor with Bloc and then work with him or her in a dedicated fashion throughout the whole program, it just resonated with me.
Was there an application process at Bloc?
I just enrolled. However, I heard about Bloc through a talk at a Women Who Code Meetup and heard about a scholarship with Women Who Code. I did apply for the Women Who Code Scholarship and I got it. To be part of this community around women in tech and to be able to take advantage of a resource like that was pretty incredible, because that kind of community certainly didn’t exist 15 years ago when I got into tech.
Was it a long process to get that Bloc scholarship?
No, it wasn’t. I filled out an application with a little bit about my background and why I wanted to attend Bloc and somebody from Bloc called and we had a nice chat.
Congrats! So you enroll in Bloc, then how did you choose your mentor?
I live in the Bay area and went to a Bloc happy hour a couple of weeks before I was supposed to choose my mentor. Because I had a chunk of experience, a few people counseled me to choose some of the more experienced mentors. Somebody suggested Chris Beck, who is now the head mentor.
Chris also just launched an online Slack community for his former, current and future students.
How personalized did you feel the Bloc curriculum was to your needs at the time?
I pretty closely stuck to the curriculum. Having said that and having worked with Chris, I know he and any of the other mentors would’ve been completely flexible with folding in and working on other things you wanted to learn.
For me, because I wasn’t new to programming, I always tried to do the extra projects since I was getting through the basics fairly quickly. I think the mentors are totally amenable to being flexible and adding in other technologies.
When you wanted to go deeper into the curriculum, was that material available?
I know where my interests lie in programming. I’m basically a back-end programmer, but for my own edification I’ve always been interested in learning more front-end stuff and I certainly could have pushed to add more of that onto my projects.
Was your motivation to get a job as a software developer once you finished Bloc?
Yes- what I predicted was to go through the 3-month program with Bloc and then start interviewing and just try to get my foot in the door somewhere and continue learning Rails skills, since that’s the program that I was enrolled in. That’s not exactly what happened, because within weeks of starting the Bloc program I saw this job posting for a developer at Kiva and I just knew had to throw my hat in the ring.
The entire time that I was at Bloc I was also in this interview process with Kiva.
What does Kiva do?
Kiva is an online lending platform that works to alleviate poverty globally.
So you were applying for the Kiva job in September while you were doing Bloc; was your mentor Chris helpful in that? Did you talk about that application?
That was one of the best things about having access to a well-learned mentor. I’ve had online sessions with him right after I had an interview, so I could talk with him and decompress and it was great. His moral support through the whole interview process was great and he also ended up being a reference for me.
I saw the job posting for Software Engineer at Kiva in September and the phone interview started in October; the whole process took about 3 months. I had to go in for a couple of interviews and do an at-home programming assignment as well.
That’s pretty intense!
I had to slow down the whole Bloc process as well, it was a lot to juggle.
I was initially doing the 36-week program. The 72 week program seemed much too slow for my purposes.
But then I wound up going through it a little bit more slowly even though I was going through the course material quickly. It was a lot to manage with the full-time job and the interview process at Kiva, so I needed more mental space. The other great thing about Bloc is they’re totally flexible. We were meeting twice a week online, but we switched to once a week. It was flexible.
In your job at Kiva, you’re a PHP developer. What is interesting to Kiva that you were learning Rails at Bloc?
I think it was important to see that I could learn new technologies. The hiring manager was fantastic. It was the first technical interview that I’ve ever had, and his perspective was that it’s more important that you can learn because technology is always going to change.
The fact that I was putting myself out there and picking up another skill demonstrated that I could learn.
Are there things you learned at Bloc that are applicable to your new job as a PHP Developer?
Even though I had worked in PHP before, that was all procedural. Working in an object-oriented framework like Rails helped me think in a more object-oriented manner.
I had never written a unit test before so learning unit and testing concepts was useful. I had never used Git before and I didn’t know anything about database migrations, which I learned at Bloc. The “gems bundler” concept in Rails is analogous to PHP Composer, which I had never used before. These are all very real day-to-day things that I’d never had experience with before.
It was really great coming to work with that experience and not feeling like I was completely fumbling with what I thought should be really basic stuff.
How large is the Dev team that you work on at Kiva?
It’s around 30 people.
Whoa, that’s huge!
Yeah, Kiva has a lot going on. It’s so complex which is one of the things that I love about it. It’s a financial engine because we’re managing loans. We have a lot of internal tools that the public never sees that help partners and borrowers do their work. Then we have the public website which is obviously what people see and use.
What are you working on at Kiva today?
The biggest project that I’m working on right now is rebuilding our data warehouse. We’re building our analytics platform from the ground up so that means I’m using a lot of those SQL skills.
You said that your hiring manager going through the interview wanted someone who could learn; do you feel like you’re in a supportive learning environment at Kiva?
The people here are incredibly supportive. I had this fear going in that I’d been out of the game in some respects for so long, but the people that I work with are so great and so helpful and supportive. If I don’t know something, I just ask.
It’s also very team-oriented so I work with people on a regular basis and we collaborate and we bounce back ideas on the best way to handle things.
Are their women on your team at Kiva?
There are! We’re a minority but we’re definitely here.
What is your experience as a woman in tech fifteen years ago versus now?
I’ve always been really lucky. Today I hear horror stories and have some friends and colleagues that have a really difficult time navigating the gender gap.
When I worked at the small development company there were only 7 of us; it was really a supportive environment and the guys that I worked with were great and they actually had a couple of other female developers then as well. What I feel has really changed, which is part of the reason why I still keep a foot in the Rails community, is all the support for women.
A couple months ago I volunteered as a teaching assistant at a Railsbridge workshop. I can go to a Women Who Code meetup just to hang out with other female developers and feel like I’m not in a bubble.
That community didn’t exist before. I remember going to workshops after work 15 years ago and there were maybe 5 women for every 100 men and nobody talked to you. It wasn’t unfriendly but I didn’t feel connected to the community. The fact that there are so many events around women in tech is just amazing.
Would you recommend Bloc to a friend? Is there anyone that you wouldn’t recommend it to?
The only time I wouldn’t recommend it would be based on the person. Don’t go to any coding bootcamp because you think it’s the “hot thing.” You have to actually like to code!
Coding Bootcamps are expensive. The average full-time programming bootcamp in the US costs $9,900, with some bootcamps charging up to $20,000 in tuition. We'll talk about how to calculate your ROI, available scholarships, when to use financing or payment plans, and unique payment models. We'll also explore the nitty gritty details about bootcamp loans with Zander Rafael of Climb Credit. And Hackbright Academy graduate Shannon Burns will talk about getting creative when paying for bootcamp tuition.Continue Reading →
The July News Roundup is your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the coding bootcamp space. Want your bootcamp's news to be included in the next News Roundup? Submit announcements of new courses, scholarships, or open jobs at your school!Continue Reading →
With an influx of career conscious students attracted to the convenience and flexibility offered by online learning, online coding bootcamps are on our radar. One of the final obstacles for students eager to enroll in career-building coding bootcamps is the cost of tuition. For many, this barrier has now been removed. Bloc, one of the leading online coding bootcamps, has partnered with Affirm, to provide students with manageable financing plans. Students who enroll in Bloc’s Full Stack Web Developer Track or Designer Track can apply for a loan through Affirm to ease the financial burden and open the doors to a new career. We caught up with Riley End, business development and operations lead at Bloc, to get the details.Continue Reading →
So you've decided to switch careers and jump into tech. Congrats! Now, you're probably wondering which programming language you should learn first! Join Course Report and Bloc as we tackle all of your questions about two of the most popular languages taught at coding bootcamps: Ruby vs. Python.
With Bloc mentor Ben Neely, we learn which language is best for beginners, which will help you land your first developer job, and what makes Ruby and Python unique. In this video, we cover:Continue Reading →
To pursue a career in web development (without quitting his full-time job), Harry Levine enrolled in the Fullstack Web Development Bootcamp at Bloc, the online, mentored bootcamp. We talk with Harry about his mentor experience, how he continues to learn after graduating, and his new career as a contract Rails developer.
What were you up to before you started at Bloc?
I went to college at the University of Colorado, and studied Kinesiology and Molecular Biology. After graduating I taught English in Italy and quickly realized I wanted to focus on education. I went back to school and got a Master’s degree in Education and started teaching at a local high school, and then transitioned into adult education. Prior to Bloc, I was the director of training for a software company.
Did you quit your job or were you employed while you did Bloc?
I decided on Bloc because I was able to keep my job. I wanted to accomplish my goals while still being able to put food on the table. Towards the end of program my wife and I decided that I would “go back to school” full time, so I quit my job and focussed 100% of my time on Bloc and learning, and made the transition from education into coding.
Did you have a technical background before you applied? Did you need a technical background or programming experience to get in?
I taught myself the basics through Codecadamy and Lynda.com, but they only got me to a certain point. It was at that point where I realized I wanted to pursue web development as a career.
What were your motivations for doing an online bootcamp?
As the the director of training at my previous company I made friends with a lot of the developers and they felt I would enjoy programming. I decided to take their advice and started teaching myself using different resources I found online.
Why did you decide to do an online program instead of an in-person bootcamp or other forms of education?
Once I realized I wanted to pursue web dev as a career I looked to formal education. I started a masters program, and soon found out that it wasn’t in step. I was aware that traditional education could be out of date for this discipline but I didn’t realize how out of date. My first class was using a textbook and a syllabus that had not been revised in five years. I realized that I needed hands on experience and real skills so I dropped out and looked into alternative.
Bloc appealed to me because it allowed me to keep my day job and gain the applicable skills I needed to make a career change.
How many hours/week did you spend on Bloc and how did you balance that with your job?
I put in between 25-30 hours a week while still working full time.
What advice do you have for someone who is planning to balance a job with learning to code?
Do as much learning as you can, upfront, prior to enrolling. This will give you a good foundation and allow you to get the most out of your bootcamp experience.
Can you tell us about the projects you worked on while you were at Bloc?
During Bloc you get to make a capstone project. Basically you create the concept, the user stories, and your mentor acts as a guide so you stay on track.
The idea came from my personal experience. When you are learning to code you need to realize that you aren’t going to remember everything, you just can’t. As a result I created Mind on Rails so that you could quickly access information you need when building a rails app.
I found that when I was learning new concepts about programming I would write down notes here or there, but I never had one place to store my notes. Mind on Rails alleviates the need for sticky notes or Evernote because it is one central hub to capture all these integral pieces of all the information. I wanted to have all my information accessible for me moving forward. It also has an added a mechanism that allows you to share your notes with others that are in this specific niche.
Did you work with a mentor? Who was your mentor and how did you communicate?
Yes, I worked with a fantastic mentor named Eliot Sykes. He was so intuned with what I needed to do. Mentorship was the most integral part of me being successful in transitioning careers.
I chose my mentor based on his skills and experience.
You meet on a regular basis, and in between sessions I emailed him. Elliot really let me drive our meetings. Meetings were focused around how he could help me. I could ask questions and pair program if I wanted to. Elliot also helped me after Bloc practice for interviews and work on side projects. I can’t say enough good things about him or the mentorship experience.
What surprised you the most while learning to code? How did you handle it?
I learned a lot, but programming is a lot harder than you think it is. It takes more time than you think it might. You have to train yourself to think differently. The key to being successful is to seek out other ways to learn and resources. I sought out videos and tutorials and user groups. I didn’t limit myself to only Bloc. Make sure you write down things you don’t know so you can find out the answers later.
What are you doing now?
I am now a contract Rails developer, and just wrapped up a contract with Brandfolder. It’s awesome and I am so satisfied in my job. You get to see all your hard work and it’s really rewarding.
Do you feel like your education is over, now that you're a professional developer?
No. I will never know everything. You have to constantly be learning, which is why I love development. I am a lifelong learner which is what I found so attractive about this field. It is very fulfilling.
Was Bloc worth the money? Would you recommend it to a friend?
I think it was totally worth it and I have recommended to many people. I like to poke around the curriculum every so often to check out the changes.
Now that I have gone through this course I feel like I would take another. I think now I would be able to learn a new topic much faster and more efficiently because I have such a solid base of coding knowledge and experience from which to build upon.
Abdullah Alger, a Professor of English in Egypt who recently completed the Frontend Web Development Course at Bloc. He explained why he picked Bloc over other online options, walked us through two of the projects he made during Bloc, and described his goals for the future.
What is your professional background?
I’m an English professor, and have worked in Egypt, England, and Saudi Arabia.
Why did you decide to become a programmer?
I actually started dabbling in programming when I was an undergrad at Washington State University in 1997. I used to go into the computer lab at night and mess around with HTML. I was really interested in it but never pursued a degree — it was just a hobby of mine.
It wasn’t until recently that I really had a desire to get into web development professionally. Having the option of an online, flexible bootcamp, that allowed me to learn from anywhere was very important. I didn’t have to take three months out of my working schedule to do a bootcamp. I had the internet and a computer, so there was nothing to stop me from pursuing web development.
In your self-teaching and self-learning before Bloc, what types of resources did you use?
I used any tutorial I could find online in the 90’s. That was in the early stages of web development, or what it’s come to be. As I grew familiar with HTML and even CSS, I started actually looking at the code in websites.
Did you have to quit your job to do Bloc?
No, I’m still working as a professor while I look for a job.
What was the application process like for you? Were there requirements to be accepted?
I contacted Bloc and Thinkful. Since I’m in the teaching community, the fundamental question I asked was, “What do you teach?” As well as, “Do you send people to other resources like Code School, or do you have your own curriculum?” Bloc stood out because it was the only one that had original curriculum.
Another big distinguishing factor about Bloc is that you get to work with a Mentor. Who was your Mentor and did you get to choose him or her?
After you pay, you get access to your Bloc account, and can start looking for a Mentor to select. Bloc actually lets you select a Mentor based on the time that’s convenient for you, and any other preferences you may have.
You might have a list of four or five Mentors that are available, so you can go through their profile and see if they fit with what you have in mind. I chose John O’Connor as my Mentor, and we still chat even though I’ve graduated.
How were you communicating with your Mentor most often?
We used Google Hangouts, Google Chat, and Bloc’s email interface as well.
Since you were learning in Egypt, were there time zone issues when you had to work with your mentor?
My Mentor is based in Los Angeles. Right now I’m 9 hours ahead, but back then I was 10 hours ahead, which was good. It worked well because I would talk to him at 10:00 PM my time. We’d speak for half an hour, so from 10:00 to 10:30 PM. It was really convenient for me because I’m up at that time anyway.
How many Mentor sessions did you have per week?
I was on the 18 week track, so I had two sessions a week.
You’re a professor- what did you think of the teaching style?
Bloc’s curriculum is constantly evolving, so by the time I graduated I noticed some changes in how they explained things. The Curriculum Developer for the Frontend course, Joe, was really open to changes that needed to be made, and things that needed to be made clearer. Being able to influence the curriculum was excellent — I could just shoot him an email and give suggestions. We had a conversation once about a couple of typos and he fixed those right away. I’d point out places in the curriculum that could be clearer, and he made those changes — it was really great.
Did you ever interact with other students in Bloc?
Actually, I didn’t have my Facebook account open at that time because I wanted to avoid distraction. But I know they have a Bloc student alumni group, which I became a part of later on.
Towards the end of my apprenticeship they started curating Hacker Teams on Basecamp — these teams are made up of groups of students in the same course.
Can you give us a rundown of the technologies that you learned in the frontend apprenticeship?
Tell us about the projects you did in Bloc.
The first project I worked on is called Bloc Jams, which is a clone of Spotify. The project gives you hands-on experience combining all of the fundamentals you learn in the Foundations Phase of the course.
How personalized and customized did you feel the program was to your needs?
Once you master those fundamentals, you move on to the three projects. I was encouraged by my Mentor to try other technologies while I worked on the projects. I had actually used Firebase for my task list, and that wasn’t in the curriculum. I had voiced an interest in it, so my Mentor helped me integrate it into my project.
My Mentor didn’t know anything about Firebase either, so we just experimented. I was also able to add mobile animations for my Bloc Jams project.
For my Capstone Project, my Mentor told me to branch out, so I focused on learning Node.js and worked with APIs. I used the Evernote API and learned how to hook that to Express JS, which is basically using Node, and sending things to different addresses to retrieve information.
How many hours a week were you spending on Bloc?
I think some weeks I spent a lot more time than other weeks. On average I spent at least 20 hours a week.
What advice do you have for somebody who’s thinking about enrolling in Bloc or another online program and keeping their job at the same time?
You must love coding and be really interested in it. It’s important that you have the patience to spend time in learning things that might puzzle you.
There were several occasions when I got stuck, but I kept going, and asking my Mentor for help. My Mentor gave me hints; I didn’t want him to give me the answer. I just did the best I could and it worked — that was great for me.
You have a background in humanities as an English professor. Is there a misconception that having a humanities background clashes with being a great coder?
It’s definitely a misconception on some parts. I think the perception that humanities instructors don’t know anything about IT is definitely a huge miscalculation.
For example, the Text Encoding Initiative is in the field of digital humanities, which is basically websites and coding projects for humanities-based projects. In addition to my background as a humanities professor, I really like to look at different things in abstract ways, just like a computer scientist or a mathematician might look at a problem.
Tell us about your Capstone Project at Bloc.
My project is called Evervoice. I use Evernote a lot, and I wanted to find a way to send audio files as a text to my Evernote account.
Tell us what technology you used to create it.
I used Angular and Express. My Mentor also helped me learn Gulp, Express, and Node which are not in the Bloc curriculum. But before learning Node, I was actually using Zapier, yet unhappy with it. That’s when my Mentor suggested to use these other technologies instead.
Have you made other projects?
Sure, I created a nutrition tracker— it actually tracks how many calories you’re eating per day based on the amounts of carbohydrates and fats you’re eating in grams. It also calculates all of your calories for you, and the percentages in which you have those macronutrients as well. Then you submit it and can view a daily list with all of the calories you’ve been eating for those days.
This one is live as well. It’s just a prototype, but I’m still working on it here and there to learn and incorporate new technologies.
I’m also continuously adding new things on my GitHub. Some of these projects are finished, and some aren’t — I consider everything a work in progress.
What did Bloc’s Job Prep Program do to prepare you for a role as a junior dev?
The Job Prep Program really prepared me for the life of a developer.
I had a different Mentor for the Job Prep Program. I actually had a Lead Developer for the Rails Web Development course, Jose Sanchez, who was really good. He came with a completely different approach than my other Mentor did.
We did a couple of mock interviews — they would send you a fake company and you would have to “apply” for a job at the company. You’d learn about the company, go through an interview, then do a mock coding exercise online.
I believe we had 12 checkpoints and each of those checkpoints emphasized having a great LinkedIn account, having a great GitHub account, and making sure that you always record everything in detail about your project.
Did you make a portfolio site to showcase all of your work?
Yeah, I have my own website with a portfolio of my projects.
What are your future goals?
My ultimate goal is to become a full-time developer at a company — I am for hire! I would really like to move back to the West Coast, especially Seattle, where my family lives.
Was Bloc worth the money? Would you recommend it to a friend?
The good thing about Bloc is having a Mentor. I think a Mentor is essential in order to help you become the person you want to be, like anything in life. Compared to other coding schools around the world, that is the number one thing that is special. The second thing is that they have a good curriculum and it’s evolving.
I don’t feel bad about spending money on improving myself for a new career. To tell you the truth, I was hesitant at first. This is a commitment, and you’ll get out of it what you put in. I think it was definitely worth the money and I would gladly pay for it again. I think you actually get a lot more than what you’re paying for from the program.
Thank you so much Abdullah for taking the time to talk about your Bloc Experience! Do you have any questions about Bloc? Feel free to get in touch at email@example.com.
Course Report gets a lot of questions about online, mentored bootcamps and how far you can really take your education online. In this live Q&A, we are joined by Kervins Valcourt, who will answer questions about his experience at Bloc, learning with a mentor. Kervins is now an iOS developer at Hearst, so we’re really excited to hear about his story. He’s also going to take us through a project that he made while he was at Bloc and a personal project, Subskribr, that he created after graduating and that he’s working on now.
Remember, we have a sweet deal with Bloc right now. The Course Report community is eligible for $100 off their next Bloc apprenticeship!
The full transcript is below:
Introduce yourself and tell us what you were up to before you started at Bloc.
I’m Kervins and before Bloc, I was working with big data visualization at Yoox, a high-end retail company. That was my first job after college.
What did you study in your undergrad?
I had a minor in computer science and applied mathematics was my major.
How did you get that first job in big data? Were you recruited out of college?
I was reached out to on LinkedIn. I did a lot of code related to big data art and visualization.
So you had a pretty technical background before you stared at Bloc.
I’ve always been good at math. That was my passion and computer science comes with it.
What made you want to switch and start designing for iOS?
When I noticed I spent more than 70% of my time on my phone. Looking at numbers every day was really boring. I’d rather do something that I enjoy doing naturally.
Did you quit your job when you started Bloc or did you do both at the same time?
I’m a risk taker so I believe in going full on for your dreams. The company was cool. They flew us out to Italy but I knew halfway through the year I was going to quit as soon as I came back.
You must’ve really wanted to make a job change.
It’s not like I wanted to make a job change but if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, it’s not worth it. Money-wise, it doesn’t matter to me.
What was your motivation for doing Bloc?
When I first got into Bloc, the main thing was I wanted to learn iOS. I just wanted to make apps. I wanted to show everybody that I can make apps because I think developers are the modern day artists and they can just show off their stuff. I think that’s pretty cool.
Why did you decide to do an online program instead of an in-person boot camp? What factors were you considering that you went with Bloc over a different program?
The first reason I chose the online one was because I had a pretty strong technical background before. I didn’t need that much hand-holding.
But I did like the fact that it was one on one; that was really cool. I believe that mentorship is better than being part of the class because I felt in college that I didn’t learn much. One on with somebody I could talk to, I was all for it.
Did you look at other online programs like Thinkful, Career Foundry, or others?
When I was looking for a bootcamp, Bloc was the only one that said they were immersive. I was planning on quitting my job so I thought that was the perfect fit. Everybody else’s was like, you could meet a couple times a week or they expect you to do 20 hours.
Personally, I don’t believe you can learn much only given 20 hours a week. I think you have to give like a full 80 hours to really understand what you’re doing.
Who did you end up working with? Did you get to choose a mentor?
How did you all communicate? Did you do Google Hangouts or Skype?
I think our first time we did Google Hangouts. We were mostly using this app called Screen Hero. It’s not video chatting at all, he takes control of my screen or I can see his screen.
What was the first week like at Bloc? Was it installing your environments, doing basic stuff or did you all jump into starting to build things?
The first week was a mixture. I jumped in pretty fast because I had a dev environment but the environment was really for R and Python so I switched that out into iOS and XCode.
I’d learned Objective-C on my own before, so when we were getting into the basics like arrays and dictionaries, I kind of rushed through that. I was trying to get to the point where the frameworks were and then stuff got real.
When did it get real? What do you mean it got real?
It got real when I started building stuff. That’s when stuff got real and I wasn’t used to it. Before, I was always in the data structure realm taking data out then manipulating and visualizing it but in iOS you actually build stuff. You’re using data structures in a different way and you’re not really thinking in a quantitative way, you’re thinking best practice in doing this and receiving this data and making sure it doesn’t crash.
Were you doing everything from your apartment? Is that where you worked most?
I was in my apartment until I started to go AWOL. In New York, there’s a bunch of coworking spaces so I went to coworking spaces and that was cool too. I thought that was really important. I thought it would be a cool idea to go to spaces where developers live.
Did you ever interact with students in the program? Were you part of a group online?
Now I’m part of an alumni group but then I was always curious. I was always looking around on LinkedIn, seeing who’s doing what and then follow them on GitHub or on Twitter and see what they post. Every time something works, I post so everybody has to know about it.
Once you started building things, how personalized did you feel Bloc was able to get? Were there things you wanted to learn outside of the curriculum? How did that work?
First, it’s very rigid because like everything, you have to learn the basics first. After that it was basically whatever you wanted to do. But at that point I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I had Stan give me some direction.
I really wanted to focus on what makes you a super developer. What makes you better than a guy that was in a bootcamp and wasn’t as good. Stan gave me concepts that I had no idea were important, like multi-threading.
Imagine multiple things going on on your computer at the same time. Let’s say I’m pulling an image from Facebook and you see that spinning signal; you’re doing everything on one thread; you’re going to pause it. Sometimes you feel like your app is crashing, but it’s actually doing something. But if you put it on a background thread, you can just show that spinner. When it’s finished, you pull it back to the main thread and you can see it and interact with it.
You were talking about the first part of the course was the rigid, learning what you had to learn; what did that entail? What technologies did you learn in the iOS course?
I learned Git, all my command line stuff. I learned about the iOS frameworks, table views, and web views. I learned about best practices that are done in iOS and building models, building data structures, using data structures as well, design patterns. That was the rigid stuff.
I didn’t learn about cool tools until I got into work but I learned about Cocoapods which gives us done pieces of code that we could use on our code to help build our apps faster.
Is it all unique content that they’re giving you to lean or are they giving you other resources around the web that you’re supposed to get through?
There’s a lot of unique content. I had to do a lot of reading. But they made it a point – and I made it a point too – to branch out see what else is going on because that’s the thing that you’re going to do in the development world anyway. They showed you how to search through stack overflow for answers to some of the problems. If you left the Bloc ecosystem I think you would become richer because you would see what people are doing currently.
R and Python and your work with big data was different than working in iOS- but did you ever feel like you were able to use your past experience when you were learning?
My strongest ability was algorithms and that was all math for me. It was like figuring out a faster way of doing something. Those concepts came quickly to me.
When I learned about quick sort, merge sort, all the stuff that we don’t ever use day to day, I was able to pick it up quickly. So when they’d day this is slow; figure out something that’s faster, I would just be okay, no problem. I got this.
How many hours a week would you say you were spending on it?
I guess levery waking moment! I think I worked on it every day and I did at least 10-12 hours a day, except I would go to the bar on Saturday nights then Sundays I would be wrecked.
That’s really intense. 10-12 hours a day!
You lose track of time. It’s not like I made it a point like okay, I’m going to do 4 hours as if I’m at work. Sometimes you get stuck in a problem and you just want to fix it. Then you look and it’s like oh crap, it’s 10 o’clock.
Can you tell us about a project that you worked on while you were at Bloc?
Sure. One of the biggest projects I made and that’s how I realized I could definitely do this was we built Instagram. It wasn’t that bad. You can comment, that’s one thing. The Instagram API won’t let you comment under stuff but we simulated us typing. That’s basically it.
How did you build this? What technologies did you use to create it?
This is XCode, Cocoapod; basically everything I do at work right now using my terminal to put all my repos out and that’s basically it – and a lot of time coding.
How long did it take you to make it?
This one took me about 3 weeks, 4 weeks.
Were these all things that you learned in class at Bloc or did you ever run into things that you hadn’t learned and how did you deal with that? Did Stan help?
Stan helped a lot. He just showed me how he would solve it. He was honest about not knowing and he would look things up online. He was opposed to the super geniuses that know everything off the top of their heads. I felt like the experience was more human.
Can you tell us an example of a problem you ran into and how you got over that?
The part of the keyboard to snap to the end of it. When you hit the keyboard and it snaps the end of it. We couldn’t find a pod online and we did the math. That took us a session so it was like an hour to figure that out.
What have you built since you graduated Bloc?
My personal app that I’m working on is called Subskribr. It’s a hub that holds all your subscriptions in one place and you’re able to discover, manage, pause and resume all your subscriptions in one area. We’re about finished.
How did you find the people that you’re working with on Subskribr?
We went to school together. We’re all engineers. One of my best friends, Carlos, he’s a back-end guy. My friend Jesse, who studied psychology but I convinced to move into tech. He did a bootcamp too and he’s a developer as well now. I met Joey on Twitter while I was in Bloc tweeting about all the stuff that we built.
Since you graduated do you participate in hackathons or meetups?
I do them all. I feel like I don’t sleep. I’ve met a lot of mentors while I’ve been doing this because you go to a lot of meetups and tell people where you’re at and it’s very friendly. They’ll have a project that they’ll want you to hop on.
We actually just talked to the guy from Pigeonbox and he’s excited about Subskribr and said he’s definitely on board so that’s always fun to hear.
How are you integrating subscription services into Subskribr?
We had to figure out that solution. That’s a problem that we’re figuring out right now because I guess that’s why it hasn’t been done before. It’s almost like an API but it’s pretty. Have you ever tried to buy tickets and somebody brought a million tickets already before you? Basically they created a bot and that’s what they’re doing. So we could do that and he’s going to create a master account and we just add them on. We’re trying to figure out a way to scale, maybe create a web platform they could use or they give us APIs
Are you planning on putting it live in the app store at some point?
We’re going to be beta testing it next week so I’ll send you a beta test. We’ll probably launch after we have 10, 15 guys on board then we’ll see what happens from there.
How did Bloc prepare you for a career after a boot camp? What are you doing fulltime, where are you working? Tell us all that good stuff.
It was kind of crazy. When I started looking for work, every day you get phone calls. I guess it’s because we’re in New York. I imagine California is the same and Austin as well.
Bloc had this one month extra to prepare you for interviews and I got to work closely with the Aaron, the Director of iOS development. We were just talking and he asked me coding questions.
The questions you would be asked in an interview?
Yeah, all the questions I would be asked on an interview; it helped a lot.
When you’re in a junior role they’re not really trying to trick you, these are questions that you should ask yourself already. He prepared me for that; he actually introduced me to one of his friends that he met through a meetup for an interview, and they extended an offer but it was in Chicago. At that time I had three other offers at the same time in New York so I picked one of the most senior guys in there so I could learn a lot – and I’m at Hearst.
It’s been pretty cool, the culture’s really cool there and it’s been fun.
What’s your official job title at Hearst?
iOS Engineer – super grownup title!
Are you working on a specific product there? Hearst is huge, right?
Yeah, Hearst is massive. Right now I’m working on newspapers. They’re completely redoing their newspaper app to compete with their bigger competitors. That’s our main thing right now.
What do you do when you run into a roadblock or need mentorship?
I always have a lot of questions so I just ask my boss if I ever get stuck. He knows every way to do it and he won’t tell you just one, he’ll tell you five of them and you go back and think about it then you can figure it out.
I’d met a lot of mentors before I got the job. I have my friend, he works at Mezzanine. He was very into multi-threading and making sure code is clean. You meet characters that are into everything. I have another mentor Franz, and he’s really about making sure you understand the importance of things to scale up. It makes sense because everybody’s focused on their own issue. I have Luke, who is all about Swift right now. He works at Spotify.
What do you think is special about the New York tech scene?
I was born and raised in New York so I’m naturally into the meanness of New York. I never really thought about leaving. I got a call from Google for an interview but they were saying I would have to go to Mountain View and the interview was going to be in a month.
I was in California and L.A is cool and San Fran is really chill but I guess I just like the hustle and bustle of New York. I can see myself going to California sometime, but not now.
Last question: Was Bloc worth the money? Would you do it again?
Thank you so much, Kervins!
So you want to develop apps for iOS, but you're not sure whether to start learning Objective-C or Swift. We've been there, but luckily we had Bloc iOS mentor Steve Schauer to guide our decision.
In this webinar, you'll learn:Continue Reading →
Google’s Android OS is the most used mobile operating system in the world, and the little green robot has been winning hearts and minds for years now thanks to its high customizability and flexible open source developing options. Android programmers work in the Android Studio and develop Android apps using SDK manager, earing up to $155,000 per year. It’s no surprise that you would want to learn how to develop for Android – do your research with Course Report’s list of top Android bootcamp and developer classes.Continue Reading →
Phil Spitler got his start in web development through an apprenticeship with a system administrator at his company, who guided Phil as he learned Perl. When he saw the Lead Mentor position open at Bloc, Phil was impressed by the software craftsmanship approach at the online coding bootcamp. We talk with Phil about his role as a Lead Mentor, the feedback loop between mentors and students, and why Bloc is his most rewarding career experience to date.
Tell us a bit about your background- in education, programming, or both!
In the mid 90s, an afternoon on a warehouse/club rooftop with a friend would forever change my life. My friend asked, "you're good with computers right?" I was a DJ at the time and working on tracks of my own using a PC and various pieces of equipment, so I said "yes.” He asked if I'd like to interview for a position as a customer service representative at the ISP he worked for. I was currently working at a pizza shop so I replied, "absolutely."
I interviewed, got the job, and began happily helping people sign up for dial-up internet access and resolving connection issues with our service. A few months in, I noticed there was a workflow that was inefficient which affected me directly. I asked one of the system administrators what language I would need to learn to back a web form to help streamline the workflow. That’s when he told me about Perl. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I was entering into an unspoken agreement as his apprentice. Over the next couple of months, I obsessively worked my way through Perl books requesting his assistance as I'd get stuck. He was happy to help, and we were both having fun. When it was finished, I demoed it for the company and we started using it in place of the paper based system for that process. The company was acquired by a larger telco which eventually had an opening (3 years later) in their web department. I applied, and with a little assistance from the former president of our ISP, they gave me my first full-time job as a web developer.
I've been challenging myself to learn new things and grow as a software developer ever since.
How were you introduced to Bloc?
A former co-employee I am Facebook friends with posted about mentoring at Bloc. What stood out the most about Bloc is how they embrace the software craftsmanship paradigm. Bloc supports mentors expressing themselves as individual thought leaders. Their framework fully empowers mentors to deliver unmatched course material, and support the growth of each of their apprentices.
Did you have to be convinced of the bootcamp "model" at all? What makes you excited about online education, in particular?
I didn’t need to be convinced of the "bootcamp model.” The way Bloc approaches online education is what makes me excited about online education. As a mentor in Bloc's system, you will witness moments of growth in people who questioned their abilities merely days before. They’ll suddenly have a breakthrough, and understand that you, as their mentor, will be their support system, helping them achieve their goals. To be a witness to that is amazing, and to be a part of that experience is humbling; it’s the most rewarding feeling I’ve felt working anywhere.
What is your position now at Bloc?
My position currently with Bloc is Lead Mentor. As a Lead Mentor, I assist our contract mentor base in any way I can. I also contribute useful content and tools to support and promote software craftsmanship. Additionally, I have the opportunity to continue working directly with apprentices to continue my growth as a mentor and their growth as programmers.
Do you help provide support and training to the Bloc mentor community?
I play a key role in disseminating information supporting software craftsmanship to mentors, apprentices, and hiring managers.
Do you ever get to influence the curriculum for the course you teach? How?
Our Curriculum Developers are not only open to feedback on the curriculum, but actively pursue it in order to provide the best possible course material. I have forked the repository and submitted pull requests via GitHub. It's the quickest way to assist the Curriculum Developers on getting something into the curriculum.
What is the feedback loop like between students, Bloc admin, and mentors?
The feedback loop is extremely tight. It's almost easier to describe it as a process or a service that's constantly running and nearly immediate depending on the circumstance.
Do you have an example of a student who created an exceptionally cool project?
Although not completed by one of my apprentices, excitement is buzzing at Bloc over an exceptional project completed by a recent Android graduate, called moneyLens. moneyLENS is an app that scans money and identifies the name and value of the currency. It also automatically converts this money to your "home currency." It can be found in the Google Play store.
As a mentor at Bloc, you've seen and worked with a lot of students. Do you have an idea of the “ideal student” at Bloc?
Students that excel in the Bloc program are individuals that have minimal exposure to web related concepts (HTML/CSS). Successful students embrace continually not having solutions to problems they’re working on, and finding some level of joy in grinding through possible solutions until they find the one that works.
How do you approach retention/attrition and ensure that students complete their course?
Mentoring is a very personal thing for me. Building a rapport with an apprentice and gaining an understanding for their unique situation allows me to provide them with the assistance they need during their course with Bloc and beyond. The relationships built through Bloc, for me, aren't limited to an apprentice's course length. I'm always open to past apprentices reaching out to me for guidance or to bounce ideas off of. Many actions driven by these values have had a direct impact on apprentice completion.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Bloc or bootcamps in general?
Crossing the Rocky Mountains as I flew into San Francisco to visit Bloc Headquarters as their newest Lead Mentor, I found myself getting a little choked up. I'm incredibly grateful Bloc has chosen me as someone to help solidify software craftsmanship as the best approach to start filling the United States’ technology skills gap.
We recently sat down with Chris Beck, the head of mentorship at Bloc. With over 20 years of experience in software development under his belt, Chris was previously VP of Engineering at Privia Health, a DC health-tech company before joining Bloc. Chris has been a Bloc mentor for years, and joined full-time following Bloc's Series A funding announcement, to strengthen and grow Bloc's mentor community. Today, Chris manages a lead mentor team of 6, oversees the broader community of over 100 Bloc mentors, and has himself mentored 32 students.
Tell us a bit about your background- in education, programming, or both!
I started programming back in the early 80’s by going over to a friend’s house who had a little Timex-Sinclair computer that really just allowed you to do some BASIC programming and nothing else. Then for Christmas that year, I got a Commodore 64, and my love and passion for programming really took off as I built multi-user dungeons and simple sprite-based football games.
Many years later, I found myself starting a little web consultancy, building websites for the restaurants I worked for in college. That translated to a webmaster job for a startup in Silicon Valley after graduating. That was a lot of fun - I loved the culture and energy around tech in the late 90’s.
After that, I got a job doing web consulting, then later as a Java Architect for a Top-5 bank. After a few years (mid 2000’s), I found Ruby, and left the Java scene to pursue full-time opportunities in Ruby on Rails. I have worked for quite a few startups since then, either developing Rails code, leading dev teams, or both.
Other than taking junior devs under my wing and helping them increase their skills, I had never really worked in education until I began mentoring at Bloc about a year and a half ago. I believe I have found my calling, though! I absolutely love working in this space.
How did you get into programming as a career?
I was pretty much self-taught. I would consume books on programming and any other sources I could get my hands on. When I first started, we didn’t have any online bootcamps or classes - we didn’t even have the internet :-), so it was a lot of reading books and experimentation.
I majored in Visual Communications technically, at the school of Journalism and Mass Communications at UNC Chapel Hill. When I was there, even as a returning student in the late 90’s, there still wasn’t any kind of web development track in the CS school, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
How were you introduced to Bloc? Had you considered teaching with other bootcamps? What stood out to you about Bloc?
I was looking for some freelance income in the Fall of 2013 and saw a posting online by our Head of Curriculum, Mike Jewitt. I responded to the ad and we had a conversation - I thought the idea was amazing, so we decided to give it a shot. I took one student at first, really enjoyed it, then ramped up from there. I had never even heard of the concept of an online bootcamp before Mike and I spoke. I guess it just wasn’t on my radar.
Did you have to be convinced of the bootcamp "model" at all? What makes you excited about online education, in particular?
Before joining Bloc, I really wasn’t familiar with the model. Now that I am, I love it! I think it’s a fantastic and economical solution to the problem that has been plaguing the technology industry for decades: how to find well-prepared talent. Using this model, we can rapidly give someone the practical skills that they need, without having to wait 4 years before they’re ready for a job.
What is your position now at Bloc? What does it mean to be a "Lead Mentor?"
My position is Head of Mentorship. I run the team of Lead Mentors, who are responsible for helping me continue to improve the Craft of Mentorship by offering support, training, communication, and community to our talented pool of Mentors.
How do you help provide support and training to the Bloc mentor community?
My team is a little new, but over the last several weeks since we created the Lead Mentor team, we have begun pulling together a collection of Best Practices that have helped us over the last couple of years when mentoring students. We are sharing this information with our mentor teams.
Additionally, each of our mentors belongs to a Mentor Team now, so they have a designated Lead Mentor that they can go to with any issues they come across, such as curriculum suggestions, how to handle certain student situations, upcoming vacation schedules, etc.
And finally, we are trying to communicate more with our mentors by constantly sending out curriculum update notes, listening to their wants and needs about new tools that will make mentoring more efficient, and generally being available any time they want to chat about Bloc, mentorship, or anything else.
Did you help develop the curriculum for the course you teach? How did you decide what to include or exclude from the course curriculum?
I did not. Whereas at an in-person bootcamp, the instructor writes the curriculum between leading cohorts, at Bloc we have a dedicated team of talented Curriculum Developers, led by Mike Jewitt, that are iterating on the curricula every week. The mentor community provides feedback, but this way we can devote all our attention to our students.
What is the feedback loop like between students, Bloc admin, and mentors?
It’s pretty tight. Students have a variety of ways they can reach out to Bloc, and I know our Program Coordinators do a great job of proactively reaching out to them as well. Program Coordinators are guidance counselors or sherpas, who proactively reach out to students to do orientations, help them when they fall behind, and ensure they achieve outcomes. In addition, since a student talks to their mentor several times per week, we constantly get feedback regarding student experiences with the course, their mentor, the pace, etc. Mentors also are doing a great job of communicating with their Lead Mentors, so we can take action and reach out to others at corporate if necessary, should any kind of situation arise.
It doesn’t stop at graduation, though. We feature dozens of graduated students on our website, and love it when they tell us of the successes they have enjoyed since finishing the course. We may have a LOT of mentors and students, but we are still a small company, so spreading feedback around is pretty easy for us.
As a mentor at Bloc, you've seen and worked with a lot of students. Do you have an idea of the “ideal student” at Bloc? What type of person have you found really excels in the class? (And likewise, are there types of students that should not do an online course?)
I have mentored dozens of students, and the one thing I can tell you is: there is no one particular type of student that excels over another. I have had total newbies who never programmed a thing in their life really take off and excel. Conversely, I have had students with a good amount of programming experience who didn’t do so well.
To me, the “ideal” student is one who is really motivated to do something with the skills we are offering after graduation. Those students tend to fight through problems a little better, seek additional help when they need it, and put in the time necessary for success in between meetings with their mentors.
If there is one type of person who should avoid this type of program, I would suggest it’s someone who is not able or willing to put in the weekly work required, according to the pace that they have selected, in order to get the most out of the curriculum and the meetings with their mentor. Surprisingly, I have had a student here and there who treated the program like they were just trying to get a “C” in college; doing just enough to get by. That’s not an effective use of anyone’s time, and it would certainly be a waste of money.
How do you approach retention/attrition and ensure that students complete their course?
We try our best to make sure the students are having a great experience throughout the program. Sometimes a student finds themselves struggling, either because they underestimated the commitment required to be successful, or because life circumstances have changed for them. There are a number of tools we have in our toolbelt to ensure that we can manage a student’s needs, while keeping an eye towards helping them achieve their desired outcome.
For instance, if a student registers for the 12-week pace, but then finds the workload at their day job increase, making them unable to keep up with the required work for Bloc, we can help them slow down to a pace that will fit their new schedule. Or perhaps their learning style isn’t quite meshing with the mentor they are working with. We can assist them in finding a new mentor that fits them better.
Our Program Coordinators really act like a student’s guidance counselor, and have a lot of things at their disposal when a student feels like they may want to pause or drop out. We generally will do whatever it takes to make sure our students can be successful.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Bloc or bootcamps in general?
Bloc is an amazing company, and I strongly encourage anyone who is considering getting into the lucrative field of web and mobile development or design to give us fair consideration. The big difference between our program and the online-only bootcamps is the student-mentor dynamic, and you can’t overestimate the value in that. I’ve had many students come from some of the online only programs, who were able to take their skills to a whole new level just by having someone to talk to. A lot of times, a mentor can explain something in 5 minutes that a student may struggle with for hours if they are just reading the curriculum on some website on their own.
Additionally, I think what sets us apart from other similar mentor-led or in-person bootcamps is our people. Bloc is a small company full of people passionate about education, and it comes through in everything we do. Bloc has the best culture of any company I have ever been associated with, and I am proud to be part of the team!
By the way, we’re hiring :-) Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining us.
Midnight Express is an "Uber-for-busses" service that offers late-night bus service from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. And get this: it was developed and launched in less than TEN DAYS by Bloc UX Design student Michael Horton.Continue Reading →
Aaron Brager is a seasoned iOS Developer who gained notoriety by contributing extensively to the Stack Overflow community. Now, he's the iOS Course Director at Bloc, an online, mentored bootcamp with courses in web and mobile development. We talk to Aaron about his role writing and developing the curriculum, how he finds excellent mentors for Bloc students, and his passion for accessibility features in iOS apps.
Tell us about your background and how you got involved with Bloc.
I’ve been programming since I was a kid in several languages, mostly as a hobby. When the iPhone came out, it made me excited about programming in a way that I had never been before. I really liked the idea that you could carry around what you create and show it to people.
I started coding professionally when iOS 6 came out. I spent three years as an iOS Developer at Sprout Social and deck5 software. I really enjoyed the community of people, and tried to contribute to that by writing answers to questions on Stack Overflow. Bloc and I found each other on that site. I enjoy working with, developing, and mentoring people, so it seemed like a great opportunity to take what I’d been doing for fun and turn it into a full-time job.
Are you mentoring with Bloc now, or focusing on the curriculum as a whole?
I get an opportunity to work with the students sometimes and I have one student right now. Most of my role, though, is writing and editing the curriculum, collaborating with the mentors and hiring mentors.
What are you looking for in a mentor as you’re hiring?
They should be a senior level developer, so I ask highly technical questions that students probably won’t actually ever get into. I want to make sure that the mentors we’re picking are people who have gone really deep with the material, and that students won’t ever hit a ceiling where they accidently run into some area that the mentor doesn’t know. I want the mentor’s knowledge to be way beyond what the course covers.
The other thing we look for outside of technical expertise is mentoring experience. I look for people who communicate well and are empathetic. The best mentors remember how vulnerable and frustrating (and thus emotional) learning to code can be. They should also be friendly and approachable but also direct and challenging and are going to follow up with students and help them achieve their goals.
You don’t want a mentor to let you slack through the course; you want a mentor to push you.
How deep does the Bloc iOS curriculum go right now?
We have a big focus on covering patterns. We go through a lot of different technologies and frameworks but throughout the course, we highlight the 5 or 6 different patterns that Apple uses over and over again.
We make sure that students understand these patterns so that it becomes easy to open Apple’s documentation and learn a new framework quickly.
We teach these patterns by having the student build different types of apps. By the end of the course, the student will have built a few simple apps like a calculator and a web browser, an Instagram app, and three others of their choosing.
How much is the curriculum tailored to each student? Could a student work with a mentor on things that aren’t involved with the iOS curriculum?
Yeah, absolutely. The first third of the course is called the foundation. It’s highly directive: we tell students what to do and explain what they’re doing as they’re going through it. Then they ask their mentor questions and work on their assignments with their mentor. That part is less flexible.
The remaining two thirds is extremely flexible. It’s project-based, and much less directive. We have a library of different projects from which a student can choose. It’s meant to emulate what it’s like to work as an iOS developer where you get requirements and specifications, maybe some wireframes. The mentor can help tailor these projects to the student’s specific goals. This customizability is one major advantage Bloc has over many in-person camps.
The final project is totally customized: the student works with their mentor to decide what they want to work on. They write their own requirements,make their own wireframes, and build their own app from scratch.
How many mentors do you have in the network for the iOS course right now?
I’m guessing about 25. I’m really focused on providing quality and availability. I want there to be an excellent mentor available for students at any time. We have people around the world who speak different languages. Although the course material is only in English, we have a few students who speak to their mentor in other languages.
Is there any personalization as far as matching mentors with students or is it a random process?
Right now that’s optional when a student enrolls. Students can go through the mentor profiles and pick a mentor that they like. If students want, we can have a conversation with them, discuss their needs and preferences, and narrow it down to two or three mentors for the student to pick from.
Are most of the students looking for jobs after Bloc? Are they career-changers?
Most of our students are looking for new jobs but there’s also a big chunk of them that are looking to start their own company, and a growing percentage of companies that are sending their current employees through Bloc in order to expand their employee’s skill set.
If somebody’s looking to change their job, does Bloc help facilitate that in any way?
We have a job prep and placement program. At the end of the course, I email the mentor and ask if they would recommend a student for this phase. Students who show up to all their meetings, get their projects done, and put in a lot of work will a lot of additional support and guidance from Bloc.
It usually takes people 1 to 5 weeks to complete, depending on how much time they have. We help to build their LinkedIn and GitHub profiles, give them feedback on their resume, and do a bunch of practice interviews with them.
Our goal is to practice every part of the job interview process, from the initial emails to receiving and accepting an offer letter. They’ll have prior experience to rely upon, so they’ll be more confident during the interview process.
Is the iOS curriculum all unique content that you and your team have created or are you curating content from around the internet?
Our content is all unique. It’s written by our team, mostly by myself, Stan (our Android Director), and Christian (one of our senior engineers). Mentors will contribute to it as well when it needs some kind of improvement.
We also provide a curated list of excellent resources on the Internet. It could be tutorials, manuals, a great section on questions and answers, links to forum posts, stuff like that.
During the Foundation phase, how does it work logistically? Are students assigned exercises to do during the week, and then they meet with their mentor?
Each checkpoint teaches the student a new skill and tells students to complete certain exercises. The assignments build on those skills by telling students what to do but not how to do it. Assignments get more challenging as the course progresses.
We start with a really basic introduction to the tools they’ll be using. So the first is Bloc itself - we talk about checkpoints and assignments. The second is Xcode, Apple’s development environment for iOS. Then we cover GitHub, how to get and edit the source code, and how to sync that back up to GitHub when you’re done.
Then we go to the basics of coding in Objective C, which is the primary language used in iOS app development. We give assignments during these checkpoints - for example, the students are given broken code and they have to fix it. We have two checkpoints on Swift, which is Apple’s new iOS development language. The first one is a quick review of everything they’ve already learned in Objective C and shows the counterpart in Swift and discusses some of the ways in which the codes behave differently. Then the second checkpoint is all about brand new features in Swift; there are things that you can only do in Swift that you can’t do in Objective C.
One thing I’m really passionate about is making iOS apps accessible for people with disabilities. The Bloc curriculum has some content around how to make your app work for the blind or the colorblind or people who have some physical impairment; maybe they only have one finger or maybe they don’t have hands. We go through some of the different disabilities that developers and designers often forget about. We talk about ways to test your app and make sure there’s ways to use it to get to these different features if you have these different disabilities; then you’re not accidentally excluding people.
What is an example of something a developer can do in Swift but not in Objective C?
The most common example is something called an “optional.” Swift optionals are a safer syntax for checking whether an object is created successfully. You can chain optionals together in Swift in one long line of checks and find out whether everything worked the way you expected. In Objective C, this is not built into the language so you can do those checks - and you often should - but the language doesn’t force you to. The chaining reduces the number of lines of code, it makes the code safer, so it’s more succinct and your app has fewer bugs in it.
What do some of the apps look like that students build?
The first two are really simple. The first one is an alcohol calculator and it converts alcohol content between beer, wine and whisky. It teaches students how to show information on the screen, how to make buttons and sliders and basic controls and do basic math.
The second app is a web browser. It teaches the students about how to connect to the Internet, build custom user interface controls (in this case, a toolbar), and a few other iOS design patterns.
The last one is a much more robust complex app which is an Instagram app that connects to Instagram and downloads images. You can take pictures, crop them, zoom, and apply filters. You can also save pictures, read comments, like posts, and more.
What convinced you of the Bloc education model and drew you specifically to Bloc?
Before Bloc I was a mentor at Mobile Makers, a classroom-based iOS bootcamp. They have great content, and I knew how rigorous the material needs to be to get students to learn. I was initially suspicious about Bloc because I thought it might not be rigorous enough. Boy was I wrong.
Bloc courses are about 450 to 500 hours, which is way more content than many bootcamps. We see what students struggle with and what they accomplish. We’ll take anybody who's willing to learn as long as they have a computer and an internet connection and desire to learn; we believe they can learn to code just like anybody can learn a foreign language. We’ll put in the time if you’ll put in the time.
What drew you to online education or remote education in general as opposed to working on an in-person bootcamp?
They all have their pros and cons. There are tons of people all across the world who aren’t in a city that has a bootcamp and I think it’s really important to have options for everybody. Some people can’t afford or don’t want to quit their full time job. It’s almost impossible for an in-person bootcamp that has the overhead of hiring full-time staff or leasing a property to provide the flexibility - both in scheduling and in tailoring lessons for students - of an online bootcamp.
Additionally, there’s saturation in a lot of markets like San Francisco and New York. It’s almost impossible to find a developer who’s looking for a job and a lot of companies are turning to remote work as a solution to this.
Do you do training with the mentors that you hire?
We don’t have a formal training process. If there’s a mentor who has a knowledge gap they can look through our content and I’m happy to talk with them or set them up with another mentor if it’s something they want to learn. For the most part, the mentors are already coming in with expert level knowledge.
Are you hiring for mentors right now?
Yes, we’re always taking applications.
Jared Rader was working on a startup when he decided to enroll in Bloc to deepen his understanding of Ruby on Rails. We talk to Jared about his mentor experience, the projects he's most proud of, and how he's continued his education after graduation.
What were you doing before you started at Bloc?
Before Bloc, I was running a startup in Oklahoma City called LittleFish. It was my second job out of college. My first job was working at the University of Oklahoma as a technology marketing associate for university research.
It's a social media analytics tool that was built with Ruby on Rails. I had been studying Rails for a couple months on my own, doing as many free online tutorials I could get my hands on. However, the application was a lot more complex than anything I had seen, so I knew I'd have to hire a developer to implement core features and functionality, and I stuck with small features and bug fixes.
I knew we needed more development muscle, but we didn't have enough resources to hire on another developer. I wanted to be able to contribute to the building of the product, so I made the commitment to learn web development with Rails in my spare time with Bloc.
My educational background is nothing technical - I double majored in journalism and Chinese language. Toward the end of my undergrad career, I got more interested in entrepreneurship and web development. I considered switching majors and staying in school to formally study computer science, but the wealth of information online convinced me if I worked hard enough, I could learn this stuff on my own.
Did you have a technical background before you applied?
Why did you choose Bloc over other online programs? Did you consider an in-person immersive bootcamp or did you know you wanted to learn online?
I chose Bloc over other online programs because it was the most reviewed online course I could find, and all the reviews were very positive. Because I was trying to do a startup, an in-person bootcamp was out of the question at the time.
Did you get to choose your mentor? Who was your mentor and how personal was the mentor experience?
I got to choose my mentor, which I thought was very cool. My mentor's name is Charles, and we became good friends. We still stay in touch and have even collaborated on some side projects together. He was always immensely helpful - I can't count the number of times I got stuck on something and then we'd have a mentor session and that collaboration helped me solve my problem.
Did you interact at all with other students in Bloc during your class?
I didn't interact with other students during my apprenticeship. I'm not sure if that has changed - there is now a Facebook page where we can get in touch with one another, which has been good. I've begun collaborating with another alum on studying some frontend technologies.
Did you ever experience burnout? How did you push through it?
I never experienced burnout. I was all in from the beginning and ready to put the time in. I of course got frustrated at certain points, but was always able to solve things with the help of my mentor or the 24/7 online chat and Stackoverflow.
Tell us about a project you're proud of that you made during Bloc.
I'm pretty proud of my Bloc capstone project, Refcodes. It's a simple application, but I kept it that way because I wanted it to be an MVP and test how people responded to it before getting more complicated. Plus, that simplicity allowed me to focus on taking a test-driven approach using RSpec.
Refcodes is an online referrals marketplace for tech products and services. Many tech products and online courses encourage growth by giving customers referral links with which to share with their friends. If a person signs up for the service through your link, often the person signing up gets a reward and you might also get a reward. I had a bunch of referral links from sites like Skillshare and Bloc, but nobody in my network was clicking on the links. However, Bloc and Skillshare and all these other companies were getting customers in droves. So I decided to create a marketplace where people could easily find discounts on any of these tech products and services. You can read more about the idea on my blog.
Doing no SEO or paid marketing, I've made $910 off the site, which I consider a success. And people have been posting their links and claiming others. It's pretty great.
I used Ruby on Rails, Postgres for my database, testing using RSpec, Factory Girl and Capybara. I've got some AJAX on the frontend for infinite loading of referral links on the main page. I originally used Twitter Bootstrap as my frontend design framework, but have since implemented a custom design using SASS. I also recently converted all the .erb templates to HAML, which I vastly prefer. I think it probably took around 3 weeks to complete.
Before Refcodes, I built Blocipedia, one of Bloc's application challenges, which was actually a more complicated application. It used all the technologies I used for Refcodes, minus the testing, and it also used Stripe to handle payments and Redcarpet to parse markdown. Blocipedia was awesome in that it resulted in my first open-source contribution. Bloc recommended a Ruby gem called Markdown Preview for previewing posts created in markdown, and when I tried to use the gem, I noticed it wasn't working. So I took it upon myself to dive into the source code and fix what was broken. I submitted a pull request to its GitHub repository and the creator merged my changes. I felt pretty accomplished about that. You can read about that process on my blog as well.
What are you up to today? Where are you working and what does your job entail?
I just completed a Rails apprenticeship with a software consultancy in New York called DevShop. It was a great experience and I learned a lot, building and deploying 6 applications in 3 months. Ultimately I decided that the consulting work they were doing wasn't the best fit for me, so I've been looking for other work. I just received an offer last Thursday, but there are a couple other companies I'm talking to as well. It's exciting.
Did you feel like Bloc prepared you to get a job in the real world?
No question Bloc was worth the money. It gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to build applications. Before Bloc, I just kept doing tutorials and was having a hard time building any of my web app ideas.
Have you continued your education after you graduated? How?
When Jay Ottenstein decided to learn to program, he knew he needed a flexible training schedule that still facilitated his love of learning. So he signed up for Bloc, chose his mentor, and got to work. We chat with Jay about his experience at Bloc, how the online program has managed to create a sense of community, and how he's continued learning after graduation!
What were you doing before you started at Bloc?
Before Bloc I was a regional sales manager for a natural food product company. I had recently left that position and returned to school in pursuit of a linguistics degree. So when I began Bloc I was a student, and still am.
Did you have a technical background before you applied?
I didn’t have any formal technical training when I applied for Bloc. I majored in biology (but never finished) when I was younger and the highest math I’d ever completed was AP calculus in high school. I did, however, complete a handful of codeacademy and treehouse courses before deciding on Bloc, both of which really developed my interest in coding.
Why did you choose Bloc over other online programs? Did you consider an in-person immersive bootcamp or did you know you wanted to learn online?
I first read about Bloc in a SF Chronicle article about 8 months before I enrolled. I ultimately chose Bloc because I was already working and taking classes, so I needed a flexible program that worked around my schedule. That eliminated all the in-person boot camps right off the bat. As far as other online programs (other than the more hobby-level, yet still wonderfully useful sites like codeacademy, treehouse, etc.), I was unaware of any at the time.
Did you get to choose your mentor? Who was your mentor and how personal was the mentor experience?
Yes, I got to choose my mentor, Jarod, a senior software engineer at a popular gaming company. The mentor experience, a cornerstone of the Bloc format, was extremely personal. Jarod and I had multiple regular skype meetings every week where we would go over my progress, the details of my work, and plan what I would work on for our next meeting. He was also always available for any questions as they came up, although he always stressed the importance of learning how to research and solve my own questions—an invaluable skill for any web developer.
Did you interact at all with other students in Bloc during your class?
No, I didn’t interact with any other Bloc students during the program (aside from another student I coincidentally met while taking a Lyft here in San Francisco). After completing Bloc, however, I’ve met and interacted with a bunch of other Bloc alumni. Being an online program, Bloc has really done a great job at creating a sense of community.
Did you ever experience burnout? How did you push through it?
I never experienced burnout, despite the rigorous demands of the program. There were times here and there where I got really stuck, even frustrated, and felt unsure about my ability to complete the program. Thankfully, my mentor was always there to help me understand the areas where I had the most difficulty. He was encouraging and supportive, but also very honest and quick let me know if I needed to spend more time with a particular problem or concept. Programming was, and still is, very new to me. Some of the concepts are very complex, but Bloc breaks the process down into manageable pieces.
Tell us about a project you're proud of that you made during Bloc.
What are you up to today?
I’m still a part-time student (until next fall) and am about to start a new, full-time, remote position as a Ruby developer for an exciting social media startup. While I haven’t started just yet, the job will entail building a complex social media platform from the ground up, along with a few other developers. I was recommended for the position by personal connections I made while at Bloc. I still had to prepare and interview, of course, but it all worked out.
Did you feel like Bloc prepared you to get a job in the real world?
Yes, Bloc undoubtedly prepared me for a job in the real world. As with any program, it ultimately falls on the individual to possess the peripheral requirements for getting a job, but Bloc definitely gives its students the technical skills to begin a career in web development.
Have you continued your education after you graduated?
I’ve continued my education in the form of reading programming blogs, listening to industry podcasts (like Ruby Rogues), Railscasts, working on side projects, and contributing to open source. I’ve heard over and over, and it makes sense, that a good programmer never stops learning. The nature of this industry requires constant development of one’s skills and Bloc, in a sense, taught me how to learn.
Online, mentored coding bootcamps offer convenience and structure without forcing you to quit your job or move to a new city. But not all online programs were created equally, so which one is right for you? We'll learn from alumni at each online coding bootcamp, ready to answer your questions about their experience during class, how they found mentorship and community online, and how their careers have skyrocketed afterwards.Continue Reading →
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Apple released their new programming language, Swift, for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch this month. The language is meant to be interactive, fun, and works side-by-side with Objective-C so developers can use it with their current apps.
So how can you learn Swift quickly? Check out these programming bootcamps that are already offering classes in the language and get started on your next iOS project!Continue Reading →
Thinkful and Bloc are both online programming schools that employ mentors to propel their students to success. Both schools offer full-time and part-time bootcamps that take students from beginner to job-ready, junior developers. And as of April 2018, Thinkful has actually acquired Bloc. So which online bootcamp should you choose: Thinkful vs Bloc? Here, we've examined how Bloc and Thinkful compare to each other in terms of focus, curriculum, cost, job guarantees, and more.Continue Reading →
Matthew Maxwell is a new mentor in the Front End Web Development Apprenticeship at Bloc. His mentor profile picture jumped off the page, and we knew we had to find out more about this animated mentor! We talked to Matthew about his "hawkward" pic, how he got involved with Bloc and what makes the "apprenticeship" different!
Why did you started mentoring with Bloc?
Actually, a friend who was a student in the UX course at Bloc and told me they were looking for front end mentors. I’d worked with him previously and he had a lot of faith in my skill set.
He sent me the link and said, “You should check this out, I really like the school and they’re looking for mentors, I think you’d be a good fit.” The fact that I could mentor in my free time and have a fulltime job really appealed to me. I’ve always been interested in teaching people- coworkers ask me front end questions and I find myself explaining things in great detail and really enjoying that.
I think what appealed to me most is that you see students who don’t have the skill set but are really passionate to learn more. I’ve always been a fan of learning so seeing that inspires me to be better. Mentoring at Bloc gives me an opportunity to not only teach but also learn, and I love that.
How many students do you mentor?
I have four students right now in the front-end course.
What’s the time commitment like?
Bloc asks the mentors to dedicate at least three meetings per week for the 12-week course. We’re only supposed to guarantee 30-minute meetings but they tend to be flexible. Mine are about 45 minutes to an hour.
Tell us about the marvelous photo on your Bloc mentor profile!
There’s a purpose behind that photo. There’s an event that happens called Startup Weekend, where people pitch ideas, build a team and try to build your product and you try to pitch the judges. It’s a really nice networking thing.
It was really cool; I went back in October 2013 and my team actually won second place. At the time when I went I had just recently been out of a job and I was just looking for something. So I was able to network with a whole bunch of people and because of that I was able to get some jobs to help me stabilize until I could get a salary job. I happened to be in a position for the next startup weekend where I was able to sponsor. Part of the sponsorship package was that you get your photo on the website, and I was like, dude, I gotta get an awesome picture. When I had gone in October, I was really kind of intimidated. I didn’t know anyone; so my first day, I had to force myself out of my shell and meet new people.
I was thinking, maybe if I take a ridiculous photo I will give people something to talk about that’s not intimidating. Even if it’s just at my expense, it will get them talking and networking and building cool things before they know it, right? So I wore that outfit the first day.. It was kind of embarrassing but it actually worked. People actually laughed and they were talking to each other about how ridiculous this guy was. I’ve always wanted an awkward family photo so it was two-in-one for me.
What’s your “day job” now?
I just recently started woking for a company called eLead One- a customer relationship management tool for car dealerships. I do full stack development, front and back end.
How does Bloc manage you as a mentor?
It’s kind of laid back right now, but I touch base with the “guidance counselor” regularly, just talk about how I feel I’m doing and how the students think I’m doing. They actually interview the students every couple of weeks to just make sure we’re doing a good job, and to make sure the students are happy and feel like they’re being set up for success.
How are you logistically communicating with your students? Do you use Google hangouts?
For the communication back and forth, there’s actually a messaging system inside of Bloc. Personally, I don’t know if every mentor does this, but I give my students my Google talk to chat real-time if they need to. But when we actually meet we’ve been using something called Screenhero, which allows students to share their screen with me. And it’s really cool because I can see what’s on their screen ad it actually gives me a cursor on their desktops. So as I move my cursor, it’ll actually move a cursor on their screen and then I can type directly into it, so I can just take control. If they get stuck on something I can take control of their screen and help them through it.
What makes Bloc an “apprenticeship” as opposed to an online class?
The thing that really makes it an apprenticeship is the one-on-one time you get with the mentor. I’ll go through the checkpoint with each student and I’ll actually write code with you or review your code. If someone isn’t working on best practices, I’ll explain industry standards.
In online courses I’ve taken, there’s more than 12 students in a class and you don’t really get that one on one time.
Are your students assigned a certain curriculum that they have to get through during the week, when you’re not mentoring them?
Students do have a curriculum, and they have to get through different “checkpoints.” Generally, I tell my students to work through the checkpoints on their own, then they can ask me questions. Then when we get in the mentor meetings, I can walk them through those questions. I’m even open to working through some of the checkpoints on the call if there’s something they’re stuck on. Aside from the checkpoints, what’s really cool about Bloc is that there are a set of challenges, and students actually get to pick which challenges they want. So whether you want to make an analytics dashboard or a music player, you can pick which one you want to work on.
Bloc is a 12-week online apprenticeship designed to teach students the fundamentals of web development and we're happy to offer an exclusive Bloc scholarship: $100 off your next class!
Did you miss our Webinar with CEO of Bloc, Roshan Choxi? Watch it here!Continue Reading →
In the Course Report webinar series, we give you the opportunity to get valuable information straight from the source. In this episode, we're joined by Roshan Choxi, CEO of Bloc. Bloc is an online school that emphasizes work with mentors to teach you web development. Find out about their apprenticeship programs and see real-life projects presented by a recent Bloc graduate.Continue Reading →
Course Report is hosting an exclusive webinar with CEO of Bloc, Roshan Choxi. Join us on Thursday, March 27th at 5:30pm PST and learn how you can become a developer in 12 weeks. We'll explain Bloc's offerings, their extensive mentor network, and how the apprenticeship is structured. And of course, there will be time for all of your questions! Plus, get $200 off of your next Bloc apprenticeship just for attending.Continue Reading →
Juline is a program coordinator for Bloc, focusing on prospective students, growth, and advising students. We talk with Juline about Bloc's extensive mentor network, how Bloc is preparing graduates for careers in tech, and why the online approach can be a great fit for students.
What’s the story behind Bloc?
Bloc started 3 years ago, when it was just Dave and Roshan. They were mentoring people personally and they put together a curriculum, working in online cohorts. They had some in-browser exercises, and they did some videochat meetings, so it’s always been online. What they realized eventually was that content was important, but what really helped people learn was having a mentor and the apprenticeship model. We think it’s a really cool model that can grow into other industries.
Take us through the curriculum. Which programming languages will students master in 12 weeks at Bloc?
How large is your mentor network?
We just hired several more mentors, so we’re at least 30 at this point. Most are web development, but we’re always looking for design mentors (we just launched our design course). We’re always on the lookout for really talented to take on as mentors. We get a lot of applicants and turn a lot away- we’re pretty picky about who teaches our students.
Does Bloc give mentors training?
Not in web development, because our average mentor has a decade of experience as a professional developer. This is an important distinction- when you learn in traditional university classrooms, you often learn out-of-date tools and techniques. We think it’s important that our instructors are practicing developers. They do go through an onboarding process where they learn about Bloc.
There are a number of in-person bootcamps, and a lot of arguments about having a cohort to help you get through the intense curriculum, why do you think online bootcamp is more effective?
We get a lot of people concerned with how in-touch the class will feel compared to a classroom model. This is something we’re always striving to improve. The difference between us and a classroom model, is that we are more one-on-one than any other bootcamp. It’s a true apprenticeship- you’re getting to learn from an expert in the trade. There’s a lot of facetime, even though it’s online- we do video chats and screen sharing. One of the most valuable parts of our program- and of bootcamps- is pair-programming. At Bloc, you pair-program one-on-one with a professional developer. In an in-person bootcamp, you generally pair-program with another beginner. Personally, I’d rather learn from a professional. We just brought on a program coordinator, Karen, who is working on building and improving our student network. We host “drink-ups” once a month, and invite any of our students and mentors in the Bay Area to meet up with us. We also have some students in the area who just drop by the office.
How many students have gone through Bloc?
We’ve had about 300 students total go through Bloc, and we have 70-75 currently enrolled. We’re constantly growing, and we do start dates every Monday, so that number is always changing. The model is very scalable.
There are a number of free online bootcamps, what are students paying for when they choose Bloc?
The obvious difference here is that there’s no real human contact and no one to help you when you get stuck. We hire world class mentors, and they’re not cheap, so a large chunk of tuition goes to paying our mentors. You’ll actually get more one-on-one facetime with Bloc than you will with any in-person bootcamp, where they primary teach in a classroom 30-on-1.
If a student decides that Bloc is not for them, do you have a refund policy in place?
Anyone who decides within the first week that Bloc is not for them gets a full refund. After that, the tuition is prorated- you’ll be charged for the time that you spend with your mentor. We believe that if you aren’t getting value, we don’t get paid.
Tell us about the partnership with New Relic on the diversity in technology scholarship.
We have a diversity scholarship, and we offer 3 of those per month. They’re partial scholarships of $1500. Anyone who is a female, a veteran of the US military, or of a minority group is eligible.
What are you looking for in potential students? Do students need to have a technical or programming background?
There’s no required background. We have everyone from complete beginners to people who have computer science degrees who want to update their skill set. For complete beginners, we recommend that they get their feet wet with code academy, but it’s not required. We have suggested reading, like the Code Academy Ruby track and Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial to lay some groundwork.
Do you have an interview process?
We’ve stopped interviewing everyone who applies- we look over applications and we reach out if we need clarification on anything. We want to gauge expectations and goals to make sure this is a good fit.
What is your acceptance rate?
Right now, there’s just an application process. Anyone who is willing to learn is accepted. We make sure expectations are in line, and that the student can make the time commitment.
What percentage of your students are in the US vs. abroad?
We definitely have students and mentors outside of the US. About 80% of our students live in the US.
What makes Bloc different from other online bootcamps like Tealeaf and Thinkful?
What differentiates us is definitely the one-on-one attention from the mentor. There are other courses that offer some form of mentorship, but it’s not a complete apprenticeship that Bloc offers. You are required to meet 3 times per week with your mentor, but most students are in touch with their mentor every single day. You’re constantly in touch via email, messaging, screen-sharing, and pair programming. You build a relationship with this person over 12 weeks and they know your strengths, weaknesses and goals.
Does Bloc help graduates find jobs in tech once they've completed the program?
Unlike some other bootcamps, we don’t guarantee job placement, it’s not our realm. You’ll have the skills to get a job if you go through Bloc, but after you graduate, it’s on you to find a job. The point of Bloc is not to get you a job, it’s to get you a skillset. Sure, a lot of Bloc alumni get jobs, but it’s not our focus. A lot of our students don’t want to get a job- they want to start their own companies or freelance. Although, we’re experimenting with some things- we pass along leads and our mentors are all in the industry, so they’re usually offering advice on interviews and giving support. Bloc was built for entrepreneurs. From our last alumni survey, 40% of our students have successfully started their own company. 35% are now professional web developers. The remainder are still working in the field they were in beforehand.
In light of the VentureBeat article about California regulatory agencies cracking down on bootcamps, is Bloc concerned at all about becoming accredited as an online post secondary institution?
Basically, we’re not affected by that at all and we’re not concerned about it.
So you’re not planning to get accredited?
Right. If you take a look at most of the hottest tech companies today, when they interview developers, they look at your code and what you’ve built, rather than what university you went to. Furthermore, if you look at world class entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, none of them went to school for web development, and Bill Gates dropped out entirely. We focus on results, real skills, not a piece of paper.