Bloc is an online coding bootcamp that incorporates 1-on-1 mentorship to prepare each student for a career as a professional software engineer. 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.
Career readiness is important to Bloc- their flagship Track programs include job preparation material and access to a Placement Network when students are ready. 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 News
- Mentor Spotlight: Ryan Balfanz of Bloc
- Student Spotlight: Tim Martinak of Bloc
- Guide to Coding Bootcamps with Job Guarantees
Recent Bloc Reviews: Rating 4.69
Part Time Web Developer Track
With Bloc’s new Web Developer Track, you’ll start off by learning the fundamentals of backend web development before transitioning to frontend web development. Both courses will teach you how to build several live applications with your Mentor by your side. You’ll also join forces with other students from our three Tracks where you’ll work on a shared codebase to to create one collaborative project. After completing both courses, you’ll move onto Job Prep where you’ll spend three sessions with your Mentor practicing phone screens and technical interviews before being introduced to our Employer Network.
- $500 partial diversity scholarships available, 1 $1000 Girl Develop It scholarship available each month, all veterans receive a $1000 Operation Code Scholarship.
- Minimum Skill Level
- Basic computer knowledge
Our Design Track will teach you how to research, design, and build the frontend and UI for modern web applications. Bloc programs are intensive and outcome-oriented. This Track is for anyone looking to launch a career as a product or UX/UI designer.
- Payment Plan
- $9800, with payment plans available.
UX / UI
Our UX & UI Design Course teaches the fundamentals and industry standard tools of design. You’ll conduct user research, develop wireframes, design visual mockups, and create prototypes for usability testing. This Course is for anyone looking to learn about UX & UI Design.
- Payment Plan
- For details around the payment plans we offer, please contact our Student Advisors at email@example.com!
- Payment Plan
- For details around the payment plans we offer, please contact our Student Advisors at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Our iOS Developer Course teaches students to build full featured iOS apps. You’ll learn how iOS works, and how to create views, animations, network requests, and much more.
- Payment Plan
- For details around the payment plans we offer, please contact our Student Advisors at email@example.com!
Our Rails Web Development Course teaches you how to build robust, full stack web applications using the Rails framework. In the process of learning web development with Rails, you’ll learn the fundamentals of object-oriented programming with Ruby.
- Payment Plan
- For details around the payment plans we offer, please contact our Student Advisors at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Our Android Developer Course teaches students to build full featured mobile applications. You will learn about the Android operating system, views, resources, databases, network requests, and much more.
- Payment Plan
- For details around the payment plans we offer, please contact our Student Advisors at email@example.com!
Software Developer Track
Bloc’s one-year Software Engineering Track extends the bootcamp model to far greater technical depth than a typical bootcamp and guarantees a job offer in software development after graduation. You'll start with the fundamentals of web development and master intermediate and advanced concepts in building complex web applications. Next, you'll explore computer science principles, including data structures, algorithms, relational databases, architectural and design patterns, and best practices. Your experience will culminate with a three month apprenticeship in which you'll contribute to or create your own open source projects or complete a paid internship. While working with your mentor, you’ll apply the skills you learned in the frontend, backend and computer science phases to real projects, and create your own web applications from scratch. The Apprenticeship phase will help you explore existing code bases, add valuable experience to your résumé and prepare you to land a software engineering role at a top technology company.
- Payment Plan
- For details around the payment plans we offer, please contact our Student Advisors at firstname.lastname@example.org!
- Prep Work
- Prep work is required.
$100 Bloc Scholarship
Bloc is the world’s largest remote coding bootcamp with programs in Web Development, Frontend, Mobile, and UX Design. Course Report is happy to offer an exclusive Bloc scholarship for $100 off your next program!
- Offer is only valid for new applicants to Bloc. Applicants who have already submitted an application cannot claim this scholarship.
- All courses and campuses in Bloc
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I am 3 months into the Web-Development Track with Bloc.
I considered many different 'bootcamp' courses and i'm so relieved i ended up with Bloc.
1. The flexibility - i live in London, i teach part-time, i have a family. Bloc allows me to manage all this as a human-being, yes i have to commit hours each day but i can work these within my schedule and get it done from anywhere in the world!
2.The mentors - not only is my mentor highly skilled in coding, this would amount to nothing without the ability to break things down to me on my level and also help me to keep my energy and motivation levels up.
3.The curriculum - i am learning and absoribing great stuff each day.
Currently 8 weeks into the Software Developer Track (@ 15hrs/wk pace), and so far so good. I am coming into this program with very little to no coding experience, from the perspective of career change after already obtaining a BA. I took a few codeacademy courses (HTML/CSS) prior to starting the program to help make the transition more smooth.
Going into the program, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but everyone at Bloc was extremely helpful and supportive in the beginning phases of orientation. Once I started the first Module and began working through everything, I started to see how well laid-out everything for the program is. In the 8 weeks since I've started, there have already also been 2 updates to 2 of the modules, which is one of the best parts in my opinion. Things are constantly changing in the tech world around us, so to be able to have access to a curriculum that is so adaptive is reassurring. Addtionally, the mentorship is a very valuable aspect to going through this program. As my only con is that the program can be quite difficult and challenging at times, which everyone at Bloc and all the testimonials attest to.
The farther that I am getting into the program the more excited I am becoming about what I'm learning and being able to put practical use to the skills I am learning throughout the process.
I am a current student in the Software Developer track. I think coming in with some knowledge of coding, even if it's very basic, like one Codecademy course, will make things easier. My mentor is extremely knowledgeable and he's quick to answer any questions I have. I went into the program thinking the mentor meetings were going to be annoying or awkward, but they're neither. They're incredibly informative and it's the best part about Bloc. I can't recommend this program enough to anyone that's very serious about making Software Development a career.
Everyone will have a different experience, what you get out of the program strongly depends on what you put in and what your background is. For me, It had worked out as good as I was hoping for. I am over 40, a non-native speaker with a graphic design degree and 10+ years of print design experience. Adding desktop/mobile app design and coding knowledge to my skill set helped me to immediately nail a corporate contract-to-hire ux/ui position and doubled my salary from my last position as a senior graphic designer.
The design track curriculum is pretty good and constantly being updated based on student’s reviews and industry demands. Students get a lot of hands on experience and all the basics are well presented but diligent research in addition to all the provided materials helps understanding, since the curriculum can only cover so much. Significant time of the program is dedicated to working on projects and designing a portfolio. My mentor Chris Gillis was very knowledgable and supportive, I could not wish for a better mentor. Outside of the mentor sessions, there is a Slack group for all students to interact and experts in the field are fully dedicated to answer questions and help students “get unstuck”.
I have finished five weeks of the 54-week part-time web developer track at Bloc, and so far it's been great. I'm learning a lot and enjoying what I'm doing. Here are some thoughts about the program so far. Things that I like about Bloc:
- The flexibility: I like that I have the choice of a faster (27wk) and slower pace (54wk). I chose the slower pace because it best fits my schedule. I also learn a lot better if the same material is spread over a longer amount of time.
- The fact that it's online: At first, I wasn't sure if this would be a good thing or bad thing, but so far, I haven't thought there's any downside. I like not having to commute to some classroom somewhere.
- The curriculum: so far, I trust that everything I'm learning is current and in demand in the industry. The assignments are challenging but doable. The oral assessments are a little stressful but are valuable because it helps you develop the skills necessary to do well in job interviews.
- The support, both from my mentor and the bloc community: Despite being on-line, you have a lot of resourses to help you get unstuck if necessary. Talking to my mentor every week is a great way to get inspired and motivated.
Thus far, I can't really think of anything that I don't like. I would definitely recommend Bloc to a friend. I'm really glad that I'm doing it.
I started the Bloc program a little less than two months ago and it's rigorous and a little overwhelming and fantastic. I was worried because I'm not a great student, I usually get really excited within the first two weeks or so and then completely burn out by the end, usually doing the bare minimum until the last big assignment and then self-sabotaging at the very end. I told my mentor this in the first email and she's been really great at keeping me on track. Aside from that, even before I officially started the program, the welcome packet offered a lot of important information that helped me switch from a way too accelerated (for me) course to a more manageable one before it was too late.
One of the best things about Bloc is their transparency. They tell you from the start that this is going to be difficult, that you'll probably experience anger and hopelessness, and all kinds of not great emotions, but what makes the difference is that they don't leave you hanging. There's a full community of students, mentors, and directors ready to remind you that you can do this and give you little steps that make the impossible, possible. Bloc breaks down the gargantuan goal of becoming a web developer into manageable tasks and even on days where I'm beyond frustrated and want to give up (as I have many times in other post-secondary institutions), Bloc is the only program that I haven't given up on and actually cannot see myself leaving before I finish. It's an extraordinary program, especially if it's not reasonable to up and change your life for the possibility of something so different and new.
You get a lot for what you pay here and I love that everything is up to date. In high school, we learned that by the time you get to the second year of your computer science degree, most of the information you've learned is obsolete or outdated. I know with Bloc, I'm constantly learning about the best, from the best, and that I will be able to step out of this program confident and accomplished. Not only are the educational tools accessible and useful, the community through Slack offers up-to-date information on a daily basis. It's all the best parts of learning and I highly recommend this program.
I decided to join the Designer Track at Bloc and that's probably one of the best decisions I've made in my life.
EVERYONE is busy these days. Peronally, I have a full time job and a part-time job. Not to mention everyday responsibilities and activites.
Learning with Bloc has been at my pace, on my time, in the comfort of my home and/or office.
Could not be happier and I'm really looking forward to continuing my education with Bloc as not only a UX/UI Designer but other areas of the field as well.
Can't speak highly enought about Bloc; ENROLL NOW!!!
I am in the second month of the PT web development program at Bloc and so far really loving it. They've curated quality content so that your learning is optimized, the checkpoints along the way are useful and challenging, and you have support every step of the way ehen you get stuck. I have never so far felt like I was lost - you always have a helping hand from your mentor or from other teachers via the slack chats. I feel super productive, and am excited to continue on this journey at a pace that I am comfortable with. Some weeks are easy, others are incredibly challenging - but the challenge is worth it.
I'm on the Software Developer Track and almost done with the first module and this genuinely how I felt about the program so far.Right off the bat I'll let you know that this program is tough if you join this program without any prior programming experience you will struggle, a good analogy of this would be learning Spanish or any other language for that matter you could learn it in a classroom and forget about it later on or you could visit the country and be forced to learn the language. this is what the Software Developer Track will make you go through.For example, in the first module, you are assigned to learn HTML CSS and JS.prior to taking this program I have spent two months learning HTML but in the program, they will expect you learn HTML and use it within the second week, which really enforces you to get into the habit of programming as oppose to doing it on and off.Secondly, the first thing you will learn in the SDT is terminal I had no prior experiences with terminal, and normally if I don't know something I would watch a video on it, but when I started learning terminal on this program I ended up reading text and applying what they asked me to do (basically like reading a textbook) and that enforced me to google a lot of things I didn't know and that alone is what 80% of programmers do so it's a good habit to develop while you are in the program.The bottom line is this because it is an expensive program they will try to force you to learn as much information as possible in a short amount of time and by doing so if you survive the program you will be a much more suitable candidate than any other programmers who graduated from different boot camps.In other words, becoming a great programmer isn't easy so if you get into this program don't half ass it otherwise you won't even complete the first module.
I have been enrolled in Bloc's Full-Time Designer Track for about a month and I am really loving my experience. Everything is online, which makes the course really flexible and has allowed me to continue working part-time as a result. What makes Bloc stand out to me, is the fact that I get one-on-one mentor meetings three times a week. My first mentor was awesome and I just got introduced to my second mentor. Additionally, I have met and chatted with mentors who aren't even assigned to me. The mentors really seem to care a lot about the success of the students and are so encouraging while still pushing you to become the best designer you can be.
Bloc also is continuously making improvements to their curriculum which I think illustrates that you can trust they are always up-to-date with industry standards.
Before enrolling, I did a lot of research and I am so happy I chose Bloc. It is more affordable and more flexible than most other Bootcamps, and their curriculum is more comprehensive.
I highly recommend Bloc to anyone thinking about enrolling in a Bootcamp!
Hey reader, here's some quick review of the course.
I started the Designer Track program on 10th July, 2017 with the 25-30 hrs & 2 mentor meetings a week (Moderate pace) schedule.
About to complete the first module ie. Design Foundations ( a bit behind on the pace since I was working full-time)
- Highly structured & curated content (more external resources can be added but then it can seem overwhelming to some, hence it's sufficient enough in the first module)
- My mentor does his job (mentoring, of course) so well that it makes the learning experience more fun and challenging (You get to choose your mentor prior to starting your course).
- The Bloc team is extremely helpful and cooperative in terms of payment procedure and adjusting your pace/ mentor sessions / any other difficulty you may face during the course.
- Bloc Slack channel is where the real fun and cross learning happens (you can get feedback of your assignments, projects, clear your doubts, discuss topics etc with your fellow classmates & other mentors) (although it can get overwhelming and slow your pace if you spend too much time on it, use it wisely).
- The curriculum is regularly updated (even in between your time through your course).
- It's AWESOME and better than other coding bootcamps (I read a lot of reviews of all online course providers and thoroughly evaluated and compared them; BLOC seemed legit).
Will post more reviews as and when it seems like posting one. Have a great day!
I enrolled Full Stack dev course initially. I liked the curriculum and kept me going further so I transferred to Software Dev course. I learned rails, js, jquery, ajax, heroku, so many gems and so many more at Bloc.
Things I like about Bloc
- The curriculum is really great and thorough. And I love the projects that I can actually practice skills that I learn from Bloc. Later I got a job, I found these experiences are really, really helpful. I have CS degree but didn't learn the actual stuff that many companies are using in reality.
- My mentors are really really amazing. It was a really great experience to pair with senior developers. I learned so much from them. They were dedicated to help me improve skills. And very supportive specially when I was discouraged by challenges along the way.
- I can choose the learning pace. And I can pause for vacations. Sometimes I needed to have a break from coding. It was no problem to pause my program and then come back after fully charged.
- Great support team. They are so kind and supportive. Any questions or concerns about the program, they helped me promptly and continuously kept me updated until it's solved.
With the skills and knowledges that I gained from Bloc, I was able to work on a Rails project for some company on the side while taking the program even before I got a job.
As a junior developer now, I still need to learn. But Bloc helped me build the solid foundation and taught how to learn more.
This is a great introduction to iOS and Objective-C, having no prior real world programming skills, i got enough skills to get an actual iOS dev job (entry level), very very quickly, strong foundations, and great mentorship.
I'd recommend this course to anyone interested in iOS!
At first I was really skeptical when joining an online coding Boot Camp. I think the one on one mentor ship is what gravitated me towards Bloc. My mentor helped me gain the confidence and skills needed to become a web developer.
while the curriculum can be kind of difficult, I found that using slack and my mentor as a resource went a long way.
this program is not for people who like handholding, you really have to put in the work and remain dedicated.
that being said, I was able to find a developer job 2 weeks after I finished the program, so I do credit bloc for my success.
I recently started the Web dev program at Bloc and I have not had any bad experiences. I have to stay that this is not like any other web dev bootcamp out there and it is more challenging, which is great! and you also meet with a mentor twice a week and they will show you real world experience code. I am really happy with Bloc and I look forward to the challenges in the coming weeks :)
I was at a party a few weeks ago and something really amazing happened. I got everyone’s least favorite opening question, “What do you do for a living?” and without thinking I said “I am a web developer.” I’d didn’t caveat it with “want to be” or tell them I was in school or give some long winded answer about changing careers. I simply told them what I was, I’m a web developer. And it was in that moment that I believed it for the first time.
I started my first week at Bloc with equal measure of hope and fear. It’s a big crazy unknown and I had the same three questions as everyone else does. Am I smart enough? Will it be too hard? Will Bloc accept my carefully cultivated selection of cat gifs in lieu of payment? (FYI: No, they won’t.) I quickly came to realize the best part of learning to be a developer in this day and age is that no matter what your problem is someone else has had it already. Google, Stackoverflow and Chrome Dev Tools became my new best friends. And like human best friends I cry on them and tell them all my problems and they give me advice (unlike human best friends they don’t take my side and tell me that I’m too good for Ruby anyway and it's her loss and feed me cookies). Of all the things I’ve learned from Bloc the most important is to be a better problem solver. How can I break down the problem? What can I do to isolate it? Test it? It is an absolute necessity to be able to critically evaluate the problem, though like most problems eating cookies really does help.
Take a penny, leave a penny. That’s how I feel about Slack. Since everyone starts at different times there is always someone ahead of you in the program and someone behind you. There is a beautiful symmetry in that. Both someone to ask for help when a checkpoint is tricky (I’m looking at you Bloc Chat!) and someone to offer a hand to. That is our responsibility as a community. It’s also a win win, it has also given me leagues of practice in parsing and debugging code that isn’t mine, an invaluable skill to have.
I was so excited to start my first projects and to make them my own, it made me realize really early on how passionate I am about crafting beautiful front ends. I’ve always been the teacher’s pet and am certainly no different as an adult. So I began digging into more front end principles like accessible design, responsiveness and playing with CSS preprocessors like Sass and LESS that aren’t covered in the curriculum. One of the many things I love about Bloc and my mentor, Caila Blanton, is the freedom and encouragement to explore interests that will only further my professional development and make me a more well rounded developer.
My capstone has been an amazing learning experience. It’s the first time the training wheels really come off and it’s all you, steering into a parked car (true story, I definitely did that as a kid). With all the freedom in the world I settled on the challenge of taking on a real client for the first time. A local boutique owner here in Chicago I’ve known for ages was in desperate need of a new site. The old one was outdated, bland and not nearly graphic enough to show off the 100+ artists that she carries. We worked together to design a site that served her needs, not just in a final product but in terms of maintainability. A real client comes with the added pressure of needing to get it right. This isn’t hypothetical anymore, a real person, a real business is now relying on you. I wanted to push myself so I decided on building a custom CMS with Ruby on Rails, postgres and AWS S3. Starting out I had more questions than answers, which was a great sign as far as I was concerned, that I would learn a lot. This was, after all, a chance to try as many new things as I could. The finished project is beyond my expectations, clean, modern and easy to use and navigate. And most importantly my client couldn’t be happier!
“Mommy, look! I am coding just like you!” my son sits on the floor next to me with a laptop he made out of cardboard, merrily tapping on the drawn on keys. I’m teaching him by example that intellectual curiosity never ends. And that no, I will not buy you a real laptop, you are five years old. There is a certainty we instill in children from such an early age that they can be anything they want to be. If you ask my son he is a coder, an engineer and a paleontologist (and sometimes a tiger). At some point that certainty in who and what we are goes away and the nagging feeling of imposter syndrome becomes real. But when I look back at all progress I’ve made since starting Bloc, the skills I’ve developed and the fully fleshed out projects I’ve created I know in that moment who and what I am. I’m a web developer and I’m ready for the next challenge.
I am two months into the Designer Track course at Bloc. I started Bloc on the 15 hours a week pace, but a month in I switched to 25-30 hours a week. I am currently working a full-time job while completing the Bloc course work.
I graduated with a BFA in illustration in 2015 and two of the reasons I chose Bloc to study UX Design was because the curriculum seemed robust, structured, and intense. To become good at anything requires a significant amount of time and dedication. Committing to a thousand hours at Bloc is a great start. The fact that it is remote is a huge plus for me because I need to work full-time. One of the downsides of an online course is it can lack a sense of community, however, the designer slack channel has been great to resolve that. A huge part of any creative discipline is getting feedback and iterating. The slack channel is always active and the feedback you receive from fellow students and other mentors is great. In addition, the mentor sessions (1-3 depending on pace) are extremely useful. My mentor, Chris Gillis, has over fifteen years of experience in the field and has provided me with great advice and feedback each session along with directing me towards great UX content to help me grow.
With all that said, I think a common perception of any bootcamp is it's seen as a quick way to get hired. My college instructors used to tell us that you can learn a discipline/field on your own if you truly put in the work. They saw a lot of students go into debt to get their masters degree simply because they needed structure. With Bloc, I think the curriculum and price is a fantastic middle ground between learning on your own and having a formal education.
As far as the job guarantee, I see it this way. If you dedicated yourself, supplemented your learning, networked, gave 100% the entire course, and still can't find a job after six months you get the $9,800 tuition back and you keep the knowledge and connections.
As I go through the course I'll update my review and give some real feedback on the job process.
I've been in the design program about two months now and so far, I'm really enjoying my experience with Bloc. The program does a really good job of covering design basics and from the beginning it has you work step by step through the design process. There's plenty of work to do, so make sure to pick a speed that's appropriate for your schedule!
I'm so glad I chose Bloc. It's challenged my way of looking at problems, pushed me to learn solutions on my own and taught me the foundations and thinking to be a successful developer. Being setup like an apprenticeship program more than an bootcamp has allowed me to absorb more information and grow my confidence in figuring out solutions. Having a mentor with you throughout the course is what really sets this program apart from learning on your own. I've had a professional developer to learn from and turn to when things are challenging. It's one of the best ways to learn how an experienced developer approaches problems and thinks through solutions.
I'm a couple months into the software engineer program now, and it has been great. Even with as much information and technical jargon that there is. The Bloc curriculum has broken everything down very well, so it's easy to pick up all the basics, even while studying on your own. And my bloc Mentor is legit.
I highly recommend the Bloc virtual Rails Web Development program if you are interested in jumpstarting a career in web development. It was perfect for me, especially given that I live on a small island wherein access to high quality technical training programs are virtually unavailable. The curriculum was developed in such a way that each lesson builds upon the previous lesson, almost guaranteeing that each lesson's goals are attainable, provided you are willing to put in the effort. Along with the curriculum, one of the greatest strengths of the program is the mentorship. Take full advantage of the mentor that you've picked, and you can accelerate your learning. Just make sure that it's the right fit. Read the mentor reviews, that goes a long way. Hint, Brittany Martin!
It's a lot of work and requires a lot of discipline, things that every developer should have.
I recommend Bloc Academy to anyone who is interested in growing and developing both professionally and personally.
After working in the journalism industry for two years, I decided to shift gears in my career. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I decided to enroll in Bloc Academy and learn how to code.
Nearly two months after I completed the intensive 18-week frontend development course, I landed a job as a web coordinator for a local industrial supply company. I still work there today.
While I plan to focus more on digital and content marketing, Bloc jumpstarted my new career path. Even though I don't plan to become a web developer, learning how to write code helped land my first job and bolster my skillset.
I join Bloc in February 2017 & am at about the 1/3 mark of the longest track (Software Development). I would assume like any other school or bootcamp, there is some risk associated with attending if you don't fully commit yourself, make the time, apply the concepts, and read supplementary material that furthers your learning (software development requires CONSTANT referencing to Google/Stack Overflow/language docs, etc.).
I came in with 3 goals in mind: to make a change in my career (move from sales to something more tech-savvy), to further my knowledge of coding & engineering that made me more attractive to employers no matter what position I landed in, and also to start my own business some day and not have to rely on others to build my website, etc. With that said, my goals may be more ambiguous/flexible than most and I will probably still consider the program a success regardless of if I actually land a job as a developer, per se.
I think Bloc's recommended "time commitments" per week are pretty aggressively stated bordering on unrealistic and if you did my track (software development) and aren't in a huge rush to graduate, I would highly recommend doing the slowest pace or the middle pace at most. The fastest pace is grueling and I would only recommend if you don't work at all and have a huge amount of free time.
Mentor meetings are where Bloc really shines. You meet 1-3 times/wk with mentors who specialize in whatever module you are currently in, and they walk you through processes to get you past your struggles. Most of them also do a great job of pointing you to other materials to read and identifying weaknesses in your code that will help you learn faster. I would definitely talk to other students about which mentors are most helpful for your style of learning, but in my experience Etan Berkowitz, Charlie Gaines, & Tim Barnes have been fantastic for me (Tim hasn't been my mentor, but has graciously taken time to help me many times).
Overall this has been a great program. There have definitely been times where I wanted to bash my head against the computer, but if you are patient, clear about your goals to both yourself and Bloc, document and explain questions that you have, and remain active in the Slack groups, I think the program is well worth the money.
Happy coding :)
I completed bloc wayyyyy back in 2015 before any of the recent (and substantial) curriculum changes. Even though I think the curriculum now is probably a lot more advanced and robust (as it's gone though several iterations - design, amirite?), it still pushed me to be successful in a lot of ways. Design is hard, and I'm by nature a both insecure and highly motivated person which makes for an odd combination. My mentor worked with me through my struggles, ups, downs, design blocks, etc., and ultimately propelled me toward landing a job in New York City about two months after I finished the 3 month full-time track. While I do not yet have my dream UX job, I''ve got my foot in the door in a fascinating and growing industry in a highly competitive city. It's up to me to grow and learn from here, but Bloc certainly put me at a good starting place. I only wish I had my mentor (Chris Courtney) to guide me through life at all times :)
Our latest on Bloc
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. 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 →
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.
We're so excited about the panel joining us for this webinar: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 →
Are coding bootcamps worth it? The data says "yes." According to a 2014 Course Report survey, the majority of graduates of coding bootcamps are finding full-time employment, and 75% of graduates surveyed report being employed in a full-time job requiring the skills learned at bootcamp, with an average salary increase of 44%. That's a $25,000 salary increase!
But while the average bootcamp graduate can justify tuition, you should think critically about your personal financial situation and how it may affect your bootcamp Return on Investment. This means you should be considering factors like opportunity cost, student debt, and financing fees. Here are two tools to use in your research from our friends at Earnest and Bloc: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.
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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.
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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. 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.