Recent MakerSquare News
- Hack Reactor + MakerSquare Rebrand: Everything You Need to Know
- Student Spotlight: Ricardo D'Alessandro of MakerSquare
- August 2016 Coding Bootcamp News Roundup + Podcast
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Our latest on MakerSquare
Have you heard the news? MakerSquare and Telegraph Academy’s network of schools are rebranded as Hack Reactor Austin, Hack Reactor Los Angeles, Hack Reactor San Francisco and Hack Reactor New York City. But what exactly does this mean for MakerSquare and Telegraph Academy alumni, current students, staff, and future students? We asked the Hack Reactor team to answer our questions about how this merger will affect tuition, admissions, curriculum, culture, and reviews.Continue Reading →
As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who grew up loving computers, Ricardo originally studied civil engineering in case he had to return home to get a job. But after the recession reduced the number of exciting civil engineering jobs available in the US, Ricardo decided to revisit his passion for coding and enroll at MakerSquare in Austin, Texas. Ricardo tells us about why he chose MakerSquare, his exciting final project Melody Map, and his plans to work remotely and travel around the world.
What is your educational or career background before you decided to do MakerSquare?
I'm originally from the Dominican Republic. I first came to America for high school, then I continued on a student visa, and went to college at Tulane University for civil engineering because I had always loved problem solving.
The engineering options at college were really exciting. I’d loved computers since I was a small kid, so I was interested in computer engineering. But I chose a career in civil engineering, because that would also be popular in the Dominican Republic. When I graduated, we were in an economic bubble, and it was super easy to get a job. I worked in a big engineering design firm, focusing on buildings, bridges, and other large structures.
I then went to University of Wisconsin-Madison for my Master's in Civil Engineering. But when I graduated in the recession (and as a foreigner), it was extra difficult to find a job. I applied for a PhD at a US school and got a student visa again. I worked really hard and found a job as an engineer with a construction company willing to sponsor me for my greencard.
What made you decide to switch from civil engineering to coding?
So as soon as I got my green card in January 2016, I applied to the Hack Reactor Network. I got accepted to MakerSquare, Austin, and I was super excited. I immediately put in a 30-day notice at work. I came to Austin and never looked back. I've been loving it so far.
You mentioned that you'd taught yourself how to code a bit. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Growing up in the 90s, my father had a computer in his home office which his IT guy would come to fix. I would just pester the IT guy all the time, asking about MS-DOS, terminal commands, video games etc. I got him to teach me MS-DOS.
What made you choose to apply to the Hack Reactor Network and MakerSquare Austin specifically? What factors were important to you?
Did you at all consider going back to college to study computer science?
No. I had already been in higher education for seven years and didn't want to put more time or money towards that. I really liked the 13-week model, and MakerSquare costs $16,000. It does sound expensive, but the cost and time versus going to university, there's just no comparison.
What was the application and interview process like when you were applying for MakerSquare?
I went through the Hack Reactor application process. First, they have a challenge problem on their website that you complete to get access to the actual application. If you succeed, they deploy a problem on the website. The fix actually enables the website to continue working, which is pretty cool, and it brings up a form where you can apply. That was fun and I found that I could solve it with the knowledge I had. There were a couple of things I had to Google, but it took less than an hour to solve. Then I had to schedule an interview.
When I did the application, I checked the boxes for the Remote Beta option and the Austin option. They are different programs so I had separate interviews for each. The first one was with the Remote Beta. I was a little nervous and I didn’t do so well, so they recommended their Fulcrum prep program. I thought, " I can't have this happen. I need to be moving forward." I had my Austin campus interview scheduled a week later, so I studied the things that I had missed in the Remote interview. The second time, the questions were similar and I was more prepared, so I felt like I rocked that one. Then, I got admitted.
What was your cohort like at MakerSquare?
There are about 26 people in my cohort, including three females, and a lot of interesting backgrounds. For example, one of my classmates grew up in Korea, another one spent time in Japan.
My cohort was full of people with diverse career backgrounds. There were several engineers, folks who were entrepreneurs and decided to learn to code. There are a lot of musicians, and there are folks from the service industry, like bartenders and wait staff. We also have some mathematicians. Most of my classmates have a degree, but we also have some folks that are straight from high school.
What's the learning experience like at MakerSquare? Tell us about a typical day there.
The official start time is 9am. Some of us will arrive an hour early. The first hour is usually a toy problem where they give you interview-style coding problems. It's the type of problem you would face in a job interview and it's really good practice.
For the rest of the day, if you're a junior, you're learning. Junior phase is the first half of the course where you're learning concepts nonstop. There's a mix of live lectures, self-learning in the common space, and watching pre-recorded videos. Then you have lunch time. Every other day, you also have personal time where you can go the gym and workout. Then in the afternoon, as a junior you would have more learning time. You're also given a weekly self- assessment test. It's not graded and you have an hour to work through it. It gives you a really good idea of where you stand.
If you’re a senior, you’re working on projects in the morning and the afternoons. And then once a day, regardless if you're junior or senior, you also get a checkpoint quiz. Those are 15-minute quizzes made to test a very specific fundamental piece of knowledge.
How many instructors or mentors do you usually have for your cohort?
You have one lead instructor for your cohort, and one assistant instructor. They're your two most knowledgeable resources and they teach the majority of the big lectures. They work with Hack Reactor to make big decisions like updates to the MakerSquare curriculum, tweaking it to make it more current and beneficial, and they take feedback.
Then you have six or eight fellows who are recent graduates of the program who stay on at MakerSquare for another three months. They come and help you with the little things when coding, they are more like teaching assistants.
How far along in the course are you right now?
We're in week 11 of 13. I have just under three weeks left.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you so far at MakerSquare?
MakerSquare has me working in a lot of different groups. We work with different partners, and in five-person groups. The folks on your team come from different backgrounds, have different levels of technical aptitude, and interpersonal skills. Managing the interpersonal stuff is really good practice, but it can also be hard at times.
I've seen a lot of improvement in myself. I'm on my last five-person team, my thesis group, and I feel like we're kicking ass. We've gone through the program, we know which practices to put in place, how much time to spend in meetings, and how often. When we have healthy conflicts, we know how to get the best outcome, and we try to get the best features implemented.
Does MakerSquare give any kind of training or support with regards to interpersonal relationships and teamwork?
Yes, there's a lecture about teamwork which is important when you’re about to work in bigger groups. Instructors remind you about useful soft skills, tell you what to avoid, and point out unhelpful personality traits. They also cover Agile development, scrums, and sprints.
MakerSquare has a really good support team. If you want to ask for help, we have a Cohort Shepherd who is a recent fellow. We also have permanent staff who can mitigate conflict if you're having a personal issue, or problems between you and another student.
What would you say is your favorite project that you've worked on so far at MakerSquare?
My thesis project, because it's the one we devote the most time to. You work on it for three weeks – longer than our other projects. You get to push the thesis project as far as you want to take it. Plus, it comes at the end of the bootcamp so we're able to implement the coolest features, using all the technologies that we've learned so far. It's so much more fun that way.
What is your thesis project?
It's called melody-map.com. It finds your location, then shows you all the live music shows happening in your area, wherever you are in the world. If you're interested in music in Tokyo, you can actually sample the bands there through Spotify. You can also get directions to the gig venues if you click on the markers on the map, you can see artist bios, and you can buy tickets to shows.
It’s all built with React and Redux. It's current technology, and building that app was a great way to learn it. I really hope I get a React job when I graduate because I really like it.
When you decided to go to MakerSquare, what was your overall goal for when you graduated? What do you want to be doing when you finish?
I want a developer job with as much remote time as I can get, working on the latest technologies for web and mobile development.
Awesome! Are there any particular industries that you'd like to be working in?
I'm not focused on one industry. I just want to work on lots of different projects for clients, websites, and mobile development. Hopefully, if I have my citizenship in four and a half years, I plan to travel and work from wherever. That’s my dream so I'm working towards that.
How has MakerSquare been preparing you for the job search so far?
About five weeks before graduation, MakerSquare starts helping with your resume, setting up your LinkedIn account etc. Then, the last week is completely dedicated to careers. The career support team goes through their methodology, to show us what the best approach is. I haven't been privy to that secret sauce yet, but that's coming. You will also be assigned a person who will hold you accountable and talk to you on a weekly basis. They ask questions like, "How many applications have you done? How many have you heard from?” There are also mock interviews, and they help you negotiate offers.
Have you at all started looking for jobs or interviewing for jobs?
No. We have so much going on just getting through the bootcamp – it's 11 hours a day, and you have a lot of projects – so they tell you, "On your off time outside of MakerSquare, just relax. You don't need to be trying to study anymore." They tell us that "the job search is just going to take a lot of attention and energy from you. Don't focus on that while you're in the program. We’ll give you the tools to be successful as soon as you finish the program."
I have been meeting a lot of people. MakerSquare Austin is in an incubator environment with a bunch of startups in the same building. So without trying, you'll meet people in the tech space. Sometimes I check out the job fairs in the building. I’ve taken down some names of interesting companies which I can contact once I'm done. But I haven't sent a single resume.
What sort of advice do you have for other people who are considering a career change and going to a bootcamp?
If you happen to like whatever little bit of coding you’ve picked up on your own, then I highly recommend a coding bootcamp. If you're not happy with what you're doing today, just go for it because it's going to give you the most bang for your buck and for your time. When you graduate, you and your skills are going to be in high demand. You're going to have a huge range of industries in which you’re able to find something you like to do.
For me, the biggest thing is the demand for programmers. Unlike my other career, where there are cyclical layoffs, I only foresee computer engineering and software growing. And if you're not happy where you are as a software engineer, you can easily change to something new because the demand is so high. If you're not happy where you’re at, and you think you like coding a little bit, give it a shot because you can't lose.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about MakerSquare?
MakerSquare met and exceeded my expectations. I have never learned so much so quickly, and been so invigorated with something. I'm really happy. It's 650 hours of coding in this program which is as much as or more than going to college for four years for programming. I wish there were other things you could learn in a bootcamp, like a three-month bootcamp to learn a language or to learn Kung-Fu. It's a really awesome format. I am thoroughly impressed, and I want to do it again next time I get a chance to learn something different.
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 →
Many competitive coding bootcamps require a certain level of coding knowledge or background in order to be accepted into their programs- whether they’re looking for past experience on your resume or require that you pass a coding challenge. For a beginner, it can be tough to get the experience that a selective bootcamp looks for in the application process. There are many ways to learn basic coding (including teaching yourself) but if you want to make sure you’re covering the right material and quickly, then a bootcamp prep program may be for you.Continue Reading →
Jamie was a software engineer working at companies like eBay and PayPal for 10 years before he followed his passion for teaching and joined MakerSquare Austin in August 2015. He is now Head of Instruction and leads the senior phase of the bootcamp, as well as iterating on the curriculum. Jamie tells us why he fully believes in the bootcamp model, why soft skills and team skills are so important, and how MakerSquare is now offering free weekly workshops.
Tell us about your background and experience before joining MakerSquare Austin.
I’ve been a Software engineer for a decade. I worked at a variety of companies large and small, including Dell, eBay, PayPal, XO Group, and I even had my own startup called Acktie, which was little lego blocks to help make building mobile apps a bit easier.
I’ve always loved teaching even as a kid; I enjoyed teaching my sisters about their math homework. Then the MakerSquare opportunity came around.
How did you first learn to code? Did you teach yourself the fundamentals of software development?
It started back in early high school. I used to and still do play a lot of computer games. Back then my favorite game was called Quake, and my buddy and I created a Quake clan webpage. So we started learning HTML, and one thing led to another, just getting deeper into utilizing the computer, to build stuff. That carried on into college where I majored in computer science, and out of college as I went into the industry.
How did you become aware of the bootcamp model?
I heard whispers from other developers who were getting into mentoring, or helping out at bootcamps. I did some research with my wife at one point to see if it was a career opportunity that she might want to pursue. We decided that if we were to choose one for her to attend, it was only MakerSquare. We had made that choice prior to me working at MakerSquare.
Did you need to be convinced of the effectiveness of the bootcamp model?
Not at all. Having been a little shy of a decade into my career, and knowing what you need to learn to be successful in the job, I realized that I didn’t learn all of those things in my college degree. I had to learn a lot of stuff on the job, so in the back of my head it felt like there could be a better way. I was always working with people who were self-taught, and didn’t attend college, but I never saw them any differently. They were equally as skilled if not more so in many cases, and just so motivated to do this on their own.
Once I was approached to join MakerSquare Austin, and saw how it ran, I realized it took me a decade to learn a lot of the lessons that we teach in these 12 weeks of curriculum. It really can be condensed down, a major portion of it, to set students up for success. We set students up on a growth path to always be learning, and ramp up faster than their peers.
What’s your role and what classes do you teach?
My title is Head of Instruction at the Austin campus. I was promoted to that title. I started at MakerSquare in August last year as a technical mentor. I mostly work with students in the senior phase, that’s the second six-week block of the program. We definitely focus on technical stuff, we expect students to have that foundation, but I teach a lot of non-technical skills for engineers too. We really want to round them out with other skills - working on a team, optimizing for the team, working in an agile environment, and communicating over a variety of channels. I work with each student on an individual basis to help them figure out their goals and how we can get them there. We take pride in not just building a really strong tech foundation, but building a lot of soft skills, and interpersonal skills.
What do the students work on in the senior phase?
During the senior phase, students work on three team-based projects. For one of them, they come up with an idea as a team, prioritize features, figure out how to work well together, and figure out how to work remotely. That’s one of the lessons that’s a little bit unique to our program – we make sure our workers come out understanding remote work. At the end, we have the greenfield project. They come up with their own individual idea and create it over the course of a week.
We also have another team project called the Legacy project, which is about a week long and that’s where our students are working on a legacy code base, an existing code base. They have to figure out how to understand the code base, and how to add value to the code base. They take away lessons on how to prioritize values from a user’s perspective and how to balance that with optimizing code. They also learn how to understand code written by other people, and the different experience you have if you have working with very strongly human readable, well-documented code, versus not. We make sure students take these lessons to create human readable code, and really optimize for the team.
What have you found is your personal teaching style?
I really enjoy working with students on an individual basis. I love understanding their past, their goals, where they are today, and really working with them in a very specific way. Each student is from a different background, is headed somewhere different in their career, yet we’re forming a new relationship. We like to say to our students when you join MakerSquare that you enter into a relationship with us for the rest of your engineering career. In order to serve you and your needs, I really need to get to know you. So I love to get to know the students, I love to figure out how we can best help them on an individual basis as they go through senior phase. They may want to focus their skills, or help them work through their thoughts, dreams, and fears, of what lies ahead and how to make the best choices for themselves and the things they want in their career.
I spend the most time working with students on an individual basis, rather than lecturing. I find it’s one of the most effective uses of my time, so I make sure to meet with every student at least twice for an hour each time during senior phase to work together.
How do you contribute to the bootcamp curriculum? How often are you involved in iterating on or updating it?
It is my goal as head of instruction to serve our students’ needs, to oversee outcomes. We measure ourselves by our outcomes – graduation rates, landing a full-time engineering job, and average starting salary per city. We’re at a 96% graduate rate so there’s not a whole lot more room to grow, but we want to maintain that excellence. Sometimes that is a curriculum change to maintain or achieve excellence. Depending on the severity if it’s a smaller change we will do those at the local level. If we want to replace one whole subject matter with another, it’s a bigger change and needs school-wide oversight. Across our MakerSquare schools and partner schools we like to have a similar curriculum which is adapted locally.
How do these updates differ from campus to campus?
It could be demand based on the market. For instance, we teach React now. It got to the point where React, although it has always had a lot of great things technically about, the market wasn’t yet hiring a lot of jobs from it. So we have to balance the demand for the new big thing, with the necessity to get a job in the industry. Now there are a lot more jobs using React since I first joined a year ago, so we put it into the program. Some of those changes happen first at one campus, because we like to experiment. We improve our curriculum and iterate on it daily, but at the very least, every new cohort is seeing something new, the goal is to have it better than previous ones. Cohort 43 just started, so that means the program has improved 43 times.
How often can you or other instructors tweak the curriculum on the fly?
Our curriculum is GitHub based, we have these GitHub repos. We like for our instructors to administer each piece of curriculum according to the repo, but to give their own flavor. They need to stay continuous on our learning objectives but if you have your own way to impart those objectives, you can do that. Our instructors are awesome, they are reading the class, and understanding needs, they are catering the messaging to best meet the needs of the current cohort.
How many instructors, TAs and/or mentors do you have in Austin?
Our overall instruction team is 11 strong. We have two full-time instructors from industry – myself and another instructor. We work together. While I focus on the senior phase, I step in as needed for the junior phase, and the junior phase instructor steps in sometimes during the senior phase. Then we have a non-tech person who is really focusing on making sure the student experience is phenomenal, working with students on behavioral stuff, and the soft skills side. Then we have a team of 8 fellows who graduated from the program and want to give back. They loved their experience and want to be a part of it so they join for 3 months at a time, and work to help the next cohort of students.
How many students do you usually teach at one time?
Our cohorts are usually around 25 students and we run two cohorts of students at any point in time.
How many hours a week do you expect your students to commit to MakerSquare?
Students can expect to spend a minimum of 64 hours every week in our environment. That’s Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, and Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Then we have after-hours events such as meeting people around you, guest speakers, or a deeper dive into a specific subject matter. We encourage students to maintain mental and physical health, so we want them to stay focused on the program in the day and go get good rest at night. It’s also important for students to bond with the cohort; that’s a critical part of their success and future success. We find that as students are supporting each other, cheering each other on, learning together, and really going through this intense environment together, they form this bond that lasts through their career and continue to help each other as a network of alumni.
How much experience do candidates need to join MakerSquare?
How do you assess student progress and make sure they are keeping up with the learning pace?
During the program, we have a variety of mechanisms. On one end of the spectrum, you observe or self report your or others’ struggles. On the other end, we have weekly assessments every Monday morning to assess understanding of knowledge from last week. We also have daily checkpoints, checking understanding of knowledge each day. We have a cumulative assessment which assesses all of the foundation knowledge together from day one through the first six weeks of the program.
We also have very regular one-on-ones, and sometimes these are more on that subjective side of just asking how things are going. If you ask the right question, you may start to see there is a struggle. We use all of this information. We’re always looking at it and identifying signals of if a student is struggling. Then we look at what we are going to do to resolve it within a week of it first being identified.
How do you help students catch up again if they are behind?
It’s a tough one. So our strategy is to be as preventative as we can, and identify struggles early, then attack it as fast as we can. That helps minimize the severity. If a struggle is a behavioral struggle, sometimes they are really tough to deal with, we have to have serious talks. If your behavior is affecting others in the program, we make sure you have awareness. It’s not a one strike and you're out system. There is a spectrum of tech struggles, we try to pinpoint exactly what it is, with all data we have, dissect it, and identify it more deeply. Then we work with students to figure it out.
A lot of it is expectation setting at the beginning of the program. There is an agreement between staff and students that we are entering into this relationship, and we have expectations of each other. When students start falling behind on their expectations, or if we fall behind as instructors, we will make up for that without losing everything else that is part of the experience. We need to make sure when students take on additional work, they take it on as an additional burden, it’s not a replacement of other duties. We prefer a student doesn’t repeat junior phase. It’s been known to happen, if other avenues aren’t working out.
What’s the goal for a student who completes the bootcamp?
I think the common student goal is to go through this transition out of being a professional who is perhaps disillusioned with the opportunities in their current career, and find something more. They are ready to put in the effort and ready to invest in themselves. They really want to come to a program like MakerSquare, that’s going to do everything they need us to do to help them transition into full-time software engineers.
What sort of jobs have you seen your students take after the program?
Students have gone to work for every big name company. We have students who have come from having never touched coding, and we have students who have been engineers for decades. On the job you aren’t given time to learn the foundations of something, so you end up with gaps in your knowledge. We teach those foundations, so whether a student has been in the industry or not, we fill in all these gaps or they build a rock solid foundation.
I’m interested in the free workshops you offer at MakerSquare - can you tell me about those?
Those workshops are run by a MakerSquare alumni, who was a fellow and is now doing these on the weekend. He loves to give back and he’s really good at teaching. The workshops themselves are set up to prepare students for MakerSquare. They teach a variety of subject matter. If you’re a beginner, and want to know if this is a career path you want to pursue, we have those workshops which are an intro to coding. We also have workshops to prepare you to get into the MakerSquare immersive. Maybe you’ve started to dabble in coding, but you want to know what a variable or function is, and how to build something with it. That’s slightly more advanced, but still pre-MakerSquare level material.
On a scale of 0 being no knowledge, a MakerSquare student starts with level of 20 knowledge, and we exit you at 100 or 120. So the workshops play in that 0 to 20 space. Our MakerPrep program is tangential to the workshops but is paid, and also plays in that 0-20 space. We try to have some kind of workshop every week. Typically a single session is 4 hours on a Saturday, maybe a lighter workshop is an hour or two on one day. They are published on our Eventbrite page or social media channels.
Is there anything else that you want to make sure our readers know about MakerSquare?
I joined MakerSquare after being in the industry for a decade. I joined because I saw how it worked, and I truly believe you can make somebody extremely ready for an engineering job in 3 months or less. So I’m really proud of what it is and that we are always improving it. I think it’s something that truly works and I’m always happy to see students go through the program and achieve success.
MakerSquare has just opened in New York; its fourth campus after Austin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We spoke to campus managing director, Tyler Lambe, about his background starting another bootcamp, why MakerSquare chose to expand to New York, how the curriculum differs compared with other campuses, and what sort of companies are hiring junior developers in NYC.
How is MakerSquare NYC going so far?
I came out to here in late February 2016 to launch the campus, we started our very first cohort in New York on May 31st. Our first cohort in NYC is MakerSquare’s 42nd ever cohort. Right now we are almost at the midway point, and everything is going really well. We have an incredible group of passionate, intriguing people. It’s awesome to see. Our first cohort will graduate at the end of August.
What’s your role at MakerSquare NYC?
After playing a major role on the Launch Team I’m now the Managing Director of our New York City campus. My role is ensuring the success of not only the students, which are our primary focus, but also supporting our staff. We are firm believers in the culture of making staff happy and making this a great place to work. And that effort translates into making sure our students are having an amazing experience.
What’s your background and how did you get involved with the bootcamp?
Prior to launching this campus I ran my own coding school which got absorbed by MakerSquare. It was called Batch Academy, and it was started in Austin alongside the Reactor Core network which MakerSquare is also part of. We were considering launching in NYC, and coincidentally so was MakerSquare, so it made sense for us to join forces and launch under a larger, more well-established brand.
I’m an entrepreneur by trade, I’ve been coding for quite some time. I started coding in high school, always hacking on passion projects. I was naturally interested in starting companies, so I taught myself to code and worked as a developer for a few years. I was building my own software and products and trying to get them out there. One company I started was PC optimization software.
Then a few years ago when I was looking to further expand my web development skills, I stumbled across MakerSquare. So I moved to Austin and took the MakerSquare program, which was a life-changing experience, and helped me find a passion for teaching and education in general. I got swept in by the gravity of MakerSquare’s mission.
Why did MakerSquare decide to open a campus in NYC?
There are actually a lot of coding bootcamps in NYC. What will make MakerSquare stand out amongst the competition?
What MakerSquare brings to the table here in NYC is a driven culture, robust community and distinct peers. There are plenty of coding bootcamps in NY, but one thing we do really well is selecting the right people for the program. We make sure that people all walk in here with similar goals, and all are up to the technical proficiency where they are going to be successful in the program. I think in New York we capped our first class at 20, and we had a selectivity rate of about 25%, so we were very specific with the folks that we let into the program. This selectivity doesn’t just create an awesome goal-oriented culture, it ensures that the people in our program are making a smart investment in their future.
MakerSquare is also in three other cities, and many of the people in New York are eclectic and transient, they are here temporarily. A lot of our students are actually from the northeast in general and they move to New York just to take this program. One of the great things about the Reactor Core network is when these folks graduate from our program in New York they can look for jobs anywhere they want.
What is the campus like? Where is it?
We are in the heart of midtown at 30th and Broadway, in a coworking space called Grind, which is an up and coming co-working space. The campus is breathtaking. We were in talks with Grind in the early stages when they were building out this space, so we were lucky enough to draw out some floor plans of our ideal set up and we got exactly what we wanted. It’s conducive for our students as well as for our staff. Grind comes fully stocked with a full kitchen, access to coffee, tea, they do happy hour sometimes, various community activities, and weekly yoga sessions. All students are considered members of the space so they can take part in all of those events.
How is the campus similar or different compared with the other MakerSquare campuses?
It’s strikingly similar with respect to the program itself. We run the same curriculum, we have very similar instruction and teaching styles, partly because our entire team came from other MakerSquare campuses. I’m from Austin, our growth and community manager is from Austin, our two instructors are from LA, and our entire teaching assistant team is from San Francisco.
It’s also very similar in look and feel. We have a designer who we consult with for interior design for all our campuses. We use similar chairs, desks, pairing station monitors, the lecture halls are similar, and the overall the feel is fun and modern, with a lot of glass, open space, and natural light.
Will you be teaching the exact same curriculum as the other MakerSquare? Or will there be any tweaks or adjustments made for the NYC market?
Yes, one thing we do differently from other campuses is we focus more on teaching SQL as opposed to Mongo. What we found when we polled all of our alumni who are already here is that SQL is a lot more common than Mongo at their current jobs, and what their companies were hiring for. Otherwise, we teach a very similar curriculum to other campuses.
A few other campuses have similar situations where they teach slight deviations in the curriculum. Because we are part of a network we didn’t have to develop a SQL curriculum, it was already built for one of our other campuses which was in a similar situation. Iterating and building on the curriculum is something we are all about. If that means it’s something specific to New York, then we make that happen. I’m sure as we get graduates out in the field here and get more insight into what they learned in the class and it’s relevancy to the market, we will continue to iterate and find other things to improve upon.
How many instructors and/or mentors do you have?
Each class has a dedicated technical mentor who can be considered the head of instruction for that particular cohort, and then we have a big team of TAs: two instructors, and five teaching assistants. You could consider me the third instructor, but my role is to train the instructors, and jump in to teach only here and there. I run many of our workshops and public classes.
What kind of hours do students put in?
Our program runs officially from 9am to 8pm, but students work well into the night. That’s the culture here. Students are excited to be putting their new skills into practice, hacking away at their various projects and improving upon their skill set. We do have class officially on Saturday, but Sunday is reserved for rest and rejuvenation.
What types of companies are hiring developers in NYC?
The Financial District here in NY is immense and growing their technical teams rapidly; probably the largest industry that the majority of our alumni work in is something tangential to finance. We also speak with a lot of hardware companies, some general software companies, dev shops, agencies, and even insurance companies.
What sort of jobs do you think graduates will get?
Almost all of our graduates end up landing software engineering jobs. Their title is software engineer and generally, we place them in mid-senior level roles. They generally tend to deviate from the curriculum that we teach, which is ironic to me – you learn something then go do something different. But one of the things we focus on in our program, and this goes for every campus, is teaching students the ability to learn and tackle problems they’ve never seen before. That to me is what defines a good MakerSquare graduate; somebody who is not only able to learn what they learned in the course and perform proficiently in it, but also be able to take a job with some other technology pick up on it quickly enough, adapting to the team and the codebase.
Do you think there are enough jobs in NYC? Is there a shortage of developers?
From a cursory perspective, absolutely! There are tons of open jobs here and reports indicate that there will only continue to be more need for software engineers. Being from New York I can say pretty confidently there is a ton of available work here. The tech scene in NYC is very much on the way up.
What meetups would you recommend for a complete beginner who wants to learn about coding bootcamps?
Since the first bootcamp acquisition in June 2014, we’ve seen several coding bootcamps get acquired by a range of companies from for-profit education companies (Capella Education), to co-working companies (WeWork), and other coding bootcamps (Thinkful + Bloc)! With rapid market growth in the bootcamp industry, for-profit education companies are taking note. These acquisitions and consolidations should come as no surprise, and some have been very successful, with schools going on to increase their number of campuses and course offerings. As coding bootcamps become more mature, we are seeing them get snapped up by more well-known companies, for increasingly large sums (e.g. General Assembly for $413 million!) We’ll keep this chronologically-ordered list updated as bootcamps announce future acquisitions.
Continue Reading →
What were you up to before MakerSquare? Have you always been into tech?
I had finished my Journalism degree, and I was traveling while modeling and acting. I knew it wasn’t my forever game, and I had always been good with computers, though I did more design and digital art than code.
I did take a java class in high school, but I totally loathed it, so I had kind of ruled out programming until I heard about Makersquare. It made me realize there was way more to coding than I knew, and I thought it would be cool to be one of the first liberal arts folks in the industry.
What was your goal in doing MakerSquare? Did you have a career goal at the time?
If I can be honest with you, I think I was halfway through MakerSquare before I understood what a web developer really does. I just didn't deeply understand the difference between someone who makes websites and someone who builds apps or even the depth or complexity of an app.
I had started a company in college- an app that let users buy style leaders’ clothes- and I was managing developers, but it was like a black box. They were very techie, they couldn't explain things to us and we couldn't understand what was happening. I’m a communicator and a journalist, so I did know that if I could learn technical skills, I would be valuable.
I know I’ll start another business eventually, and that’s my goal, but for now, I’m really enjoying working at startups. The people are amazing, the work is exciting and you’re not boxed into one area.
Why did you move from Austin to New York to be a developer?
My final goal as a model was to walk New York Fashion Week, and I did that shortly after Makersquare. While I was here, I just remember being introduced to people and constantly thinking, “your company does what? That’s a job?” The startups in New York had bigger missions; they were pioneering technology, not just building apps. That was incredibly appealing to me.
Tell us about your first job as a developer after graduating from MakerSquare.
I actually got my first job while I was still a few weeks into MakerSquare. It was a three-month contract position at a Rails shop and I realized quickly that it really wasn’t the best environment for me to grow in, because I was the only front-end developer. One piece of advice I would give bootcampers is to make sure you are not the only person doing your job at your first company.
Don’t get me wrong, a coding bootcamp prepares you to be able to work on your own, but the amount that I grew at companies where I had senior developers and mentors is just insane.
Why do you think that mentorship in your career is so important?
Software is constantly changing, so you need to be constantly growing. You live and work on the bleeding edge of uncharted territory; it’s not a great place to be alone.
Luckily, development culture is about helping each other. We all build off of each other. We all remember when we had no idea what we were doing, and the people who helped us past that. My salary is much higher because my mentors taught me to negotiate; I code much faster because my peers showed me the tools they use; I’m still in this industry because my mentors taught me not to be so hard on myself and my code.
What should bootcamp grads be looking for during the job search, an interview, or the application process?
I feel like I could write a book on that. One cheesy piece of advice that made all the difference for me is to work for your heroes. Building software is a very creative process and is very demanding, so you have to have a lot of passion for it. During the interview process, ask yourself if you really bond with these people, because you're going to spend a lot of time with them. Especially at an early startup, you have to respect the people and care about the product.
Also, use the Joel Test, which is 12 different points to measure how strong a software team is. For instance, does the team use unit testing? Do they do daily builds? You can easily score a company as you’re interviewing and understand where their tech team is. Ask these questions during an interview and be ready to discuss them -- it’s sure to impress as much as it informs.
So after your first contract position, tell us how you navigated your career as a developer.
I’ve worked at three different startups since MakerSquare. I started at Qubit first, where I got to build interesting technology and gain really intimate knowledge of the browser, which is still very valuable to me today. I stopped feeling technically challenged after a while, and felt like I was ready to build something from scratch.
So I joined another startup- a funded subscription airline called Beacon- where I had complete ownership of the build. The startup shut down in less than a year, but it was an amazing journey. We built two apps in three weeks, watched our first plane take off, and were some of the earliest people using ReactJS in production. I worked day and night, seven days a week, but I learned a lot about developing a product end to end and it really helped me grow.
Finally, I joined my current startup, which is called Fohr Card, and we’re on a mission to end display ads by connecting content creators and influencers with big brands. Since I knew I had development skills, I was looking for purpose, the ability to innovate, work-life balance, and an inspiring team this time around, and I’ve never been happier at any company.
Did you get all of those jobs through networking or through MakerSquare?
Actually, I got all of these jobs in pretty different ways. I didn't know anyone in New York, so I went to a recruiter to get my first job. I had four job offers in like a week- it was crazy. If you find a good recruiter, they can definitely work for you.
I was referred to my second job, and I sent a cold email to get my third job. On the Fohr Card website, they talk about how much they love whiskey, so I went with a bold subject line when I applied: You Had Me at Whiskey. I focused on explaining why I was a great cultural fit because I knew when I was hiring that was important for developers.
I tried Switch app for a while too, which is like Tinder for companies. I found a lot of good opportunities through that, but was being pretty picky about culture at that point. I would say that’s good for people with a little work experience.
As a developer, did you ever hire other coding bootcamp graduates?
I got to do that at my first job at Qubit. I was the second engineer there and that team grew really quickly and we hired bootcampers from Fullstack Academy and General Assembly. We also had a MakerSquare grad and he's done really well there.
After hiring a bunch of bootcampers, I would say that everyone pretty much knows the same things and has the same skill level when you're graduating. Personality and culture fit matters a lot because if you're smart we can teach you anything. We're not looking for you to come with every skill we need you to have at day one.
After interviewing and hiring other coding bootcamp graduates, what’s your advice to employers in New York who are trying to hire from bootcamps?
Put your candidate in a technical situation that is out of their range and figure out how quickly they can discard their assumptions. That's directly correlated to how fast they can fix problems. If I can find someone who does that very quickly, it's an instant hire.
Don’t just ask the candidate to whiteboard- that’s not a realistic situation in the coding world. Instead, give them a problem that’s too hard for them, pair program, and help them work through it to see how they think. It's not about whether they get it or what they know.
I googled, read books, followed tutorials, and watched videos, all with the goal of building small projects. And I mean… really small at first. I didn’t always fully understand what I was doing, and I had to stop myself from trying to do that, because continually building was more important.
Once you’ve worked with two languages or frameworks, it becomes easier to draw parallels and things magically start clicking. Jargon like object-oriented and functional programming suddenly make sense. It all gets easier. Last week, I had to work on a python app. I’ve never seen a line of python in my life, but in two hours I had made the changes I needed at production level with little to no stress.
Are you and other MakerSquare alumni excited for MakerSquare to open in New York?
Yes! I've been collecting all of the MakerSquare alumni who have wandered up to New York over the years – we hang out. I'm really excited to have MakerSquare officially in New York. What MakerSquare is teaching right now is really valuable in the New York market, so I’m excited to grow the alumni base.
Other than being part of the startup world in New York, how else do you stay involved in the New York tech scene?
Honestly, mostly through events or gatherings that people I’ve met invite me to. I’m so curious about the 3D printers, the designers, the hardware geeks... and they’re all hosting talks and lessons and parties and hackathons all the time.
Do you have recommendations for a total beginner in New York who is looking for meetups or workshops?
MakerSquare offers free intro workshops, which seem pretty interesting. To learn more about the overall tech scene, New York Tech Startup is really great. I also love the AWS Pop-up Loft, which is an open co-working space with a lot of interesting, nice people who will answer questions for you or just chat. Look up meetups specific to whatever language you’re interested in. The BrooklynJS meetup is my kind of crowd.
I also think Python is great for back-end because data science is on the rise in New York.
It’s been really cool hearing what you’ve accomplished years after graduating from MakerSquare. What's your advice to somebody who's going to a bootcamp now- what made you so successful?
I’m not your typical developer. Great communication is really important, but bootcampers are also at an advantage because we all come from other fields and have other skills we can combine with tech. I also love learning. A lot of people want to be developers because it pays well, but this is a very frustrating daily job. Every day you will be frustrated and have to solve problems, and I love that. Your learning will not end after bootcamp.
Are you going to mentor at MakerSquare when they open on May 31?
Yeah, definitely. In my MakerSquare cohort, 50% of us were women. We didn’t necessarily believe that it was harder for women to work as engineers, but unfortunately, it is. It would have been nice to know another female developer earlier in my career, so I’m happy to do that for any brave chick that wants to take on the industry.
A coding bootcamp can propel your career in tech to new heights, but that often means quitting a job, uprooting your life, or moving to a new city. Maybe you’re moving to a new city to become a developer and need a short-term housing option. Or perhaps you’re an international student without credit history. Regardless of your background, funds can become tight when committing to a full-time, intensive bootcamp, and suddenly expenses like rent and food can be stressful. Luckily, there are coding bootcamps that make housing easy.Continue Reading →
Have you ever thought about building a technology company using code school graduates as your founding employees or even as a co-founder? It’s tempting since a junior developer from a bootcamp can cost two thirds less than a senior engineer, but can a code school graduate really build what you need at such an early stage?Continue Reading →
How much do coding bootcamps cost? From students looking for free coding bootcamps to those wondering if an $18,000 bootcamp is worth it, we understand that cost is important to future bootcampers! While the average full-time programming bootcamp in the US costs $11,400, bootcamp tuition can range from $9,000 to $21,000, and some coding bootcamps have deferred tuition. So how do you decide what to budget for? Here, we break down the costs of coding bootcamps from around the USA.
Are you planning on attending a coding bootcamp? Deciding between two bootcamps? We’ve scoured the net for alumni blogs from top coding bootcamps including Fullstack Academy, Dev Bootcamp, The Iron Yard, Coding Dojo, MakerSquare and Hack Reactor. From a CS major to an event planner, these bootcamp graduates give you a snapshot of what makes each coding school and experience unique.Continue Reading →
Move over tinsel town and make some space in the greater Los Angeles area for some of the finest coding programs in the country. While LA once paled in comparison to San Francisco when it came to the sheer quantity of bootcamps, we've seen a surge in LA coding bootcamps this year. There is a wide choice of code schools with campuses in LA's "Silicon Beach" that all bring a unique take on web development training.Continue Reading →
What did you study in college?
I graduated from UC Davis in 2013 as a Physics and Econ double major. I originally wanted to become a data analyst but as I was doing a job search, I decided that it wasn’t for me.
During college, I took a couple of programming courses for fun, like Intro to Programming and Intro to Object Oriented Programming using C and C++. I also took an animation class which used a Java-based language.
I really wanted to learn more, so I did some research online. I stumbled upon some coding schools and started digging a bit deeper into it. The 3 month investment seemed worth it, so I figured I’d give it a try.
Had you built your own website/app before you started applying to bootcamps?
No, not my own apps. Outside of those undergrad classes I hadn’t built anything. It was one of the skills I was hoping to obtain from Makersquare.
Which online resources did you use to prepare for your bootcamp application?
Why and how did you choose MakerSquare? What factors did you consider?
My mom showed me an article about three or four bootcamps. I looked into all of them and decided to apply to Hack Reactor; during my application process they highly recommended MakerSquare. I actually only applied to Hack Reactor and MakerSquare in June 2014.
What was the MakerSquare application like for you?
There were two rounds of interviews. The first was non-technical and was about your background and why you want to come to MakerSquare. After that I scheduled a technical interview where they had me build this program on my own and we talked about it.
Did you have to build that project in a specific language?
How many people were in your cohort?
There were 9 total.
How was the curriculum structured?
I thought it was really well-structured. The team at MakerSquare introduced a lot of small topics then built that up to the big picture; how to put it all together to make it work.
Who were the instructors in your class?
What was the MakerSquare teaching style like?
They used a mix of lecture and projects. We had lecture in the morning and then a small exercise afterwards or we’d start on a project. Then we would break for lunch and maybe have another small lecture. Then we would have the rest of the day to work on our assignment or project. Most of the work was done individually, but there were a couple of projects where we worked together. For our final project we all worked together as a cohort on the same project.
What was that final project?
We built a real-time collaborative code editor. We used a Rails back end, a postgres database and Angular for the front end.
Was it challenging to work on it with 8 other people?
It was at first. It was a good experience because we got to see how a whole team would work together on one app.
Was there a good feedback loop with the staff and did you give them any constructive criticism?
They were always open to feedback, but I didn’t really have any for them. I came into the program not expecting anything. They did what they’re there to do; they taught me development and they helped me get a job at my dream company.
Did MakerSquare guarantee you a job?
It’s not guaranteed but they’ll provide you leads, and give you a lot of support with preparing for the job hunt.
When did you start doing job prep- interview practice and resume building?
We started job prep in the last couple weeks. MakerSquare helped us build a resume as a software engineer, create a cover letter, and build our LinkedIn profiles. They conducted practice technical interviews. They had people come in from companies like Twitter, Dropbox and a couple of other places to help conduct practice interviews.
What goes on a software engineer’s resume?
In tech, it’s all about your portfolio and the work you’ve done. You want to highlight projects you worked on and technologies you’re familiar with, whereas a regular resume is mostly your education or your past experience.
Does MakerSquare have an Outcomes team that helps set you up with interviews and employers?
MakerSquare had several connections in the Bay area, and they have a team member who is in charge of getting new leads, talking to companies and trying to get graduates interviews.
Tell us about being a MakerSquare Fellow.
Two students from my cohort were Fellows and we essentially got to experience what it was like to be an instructor. We helped give lectures, helped students debug their projects, and prepared for upcoming lectures. The experience deepened our foundation in programming.
What did you think about teaching?
I thought it was helpful. It helped me think about what I’d just learned at MakerSquare in a totally different way.
What was the MakerSquare Fellows application like?
I think four of us applied and only two were selected. Since the MakerSquare team already knew us, the co-founder had a brief conversation with each of us. They knew our technical skill level and they wanted to see what we would do as a fellow and what we would contribute by teaching at MakerSquare.
How were you connected with your future employer, the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA?
JPL actually contacted MakerSquare looking for web developers a month and a half after I became a Fellow. MakerSquare suggested me because I majored in Physics and have an interest in working there. That’s how the interview was set up.
Were you interested in space or in NASA before you applied?
In my undergrad, I did a specialization in Astrophysics. In college, I wanted to become an astronomer and do some sort of research, but as the years went on it seemed less and less likely. But I’ve always been interested in astronomy and outer space.
What was the NASA interview like- was it super intense?
Oh no, it actually wasn’t that bad. The initial talk was about a half hour long then I had to do a technical interview, which was maybe two hours. There were some whiteboarding questions but nothing too technical.
What is your new job at JPL?
I am an Enterprise Applications Software Engineer. JPL has an IT division made up of software engineers who build internal applications for the other departments at JPL.
What has your first month been like as a Software Engineer?
There are a lot of senior developers on my team who are open to explaining things if I don’t understand. The first two weeks I was working mostly on Amazon Web Services and then this week I started working on C#, .NET. One of the most important things that we learned at MakerSquare is learning how to learn. Right now at my job I haven’t used a ton of the actual technologies we were taught at MakerSquare, but MakerSquare helped me to learn new technologies on my own.
Can you tell me on a scale of 1 -10 how realistic Interstellar was?
I would say an 8 or a 9. Except for the part where Matthew McConaughey went into that box. That part is probably impossible.
Have you stayed involved as a mentor with MakerSquare since you graduated?
When I was still in the Bay area I visited a couple of times to chat with the new Fellows who were students when I was a Fellow. Two of the co-founders, Harsh and Shehzan came down two weeks ago to visit me at JPL also.
I feel like applying for a job at NASA is intimidating- do you have advice to future students?
I would tell bootcamp students to go for the job they want to get. You never know if the company is looking for a developer to grow with them.
Was MakerSquare worth the money? Could you have learned to be a developer on your own?
It was definitely worth the money. Even with enough time, I’m not sure if I could’ve learned everything we learned. When you’re self-studying, it’s hard to point yourself in the right direction. It would take a lot longer because you wouldn’t have anyone there to help you. I would recommend it to people who want to switch their careers. MakerSquare is a 3-month commitment, but they get you ready for a job right out of the program.
Has the MakerSquare curriculum evolved?
Yup. We're using the same curriculum and program structure as Hack Reactor, and making modifications as we see fit for each market (SF, LA, Austin).
How have Hack Reactor and MakerSquare influenced each other since the acquisition?
We've influenced each other quite a bit. We share the same admissions process, curriculum and program structure, and hiring network. Hack Reactor can take advantage of MakerSquare’s hiring network we developed over the past 1.5 years with companies like NASA, IBM, HP; likewise, our grads can take advantage of the Hack Reactor hiring network with companies like Google, Boeing, etc. Together, we've got quite the lineup of representation from employers who have already hired graduates.
Since the acquisition, have admissions standards remained the same for both MakerSquare & Hack Reactor?
Admissions standards are the same for MakerSquare and Hack Reactor post acquisition. We use the same programming challenge and technical interview. MakerSquare and Hack Reactor were both very focused on having excellent applicants, and we continue to stay focused on that. If applicants are not ready for admissions, we don't lower the bar, we create structure for them to learn more before being accepted.
Why did MakerSquare choose to expand to LA over NYC, Chicago, Boston, etc? Any plans to expand further?
We have graduates and employers in LA already. Between the two schools, we have graduates in LA at NASA, Google, Boeing, the Getty, etc. We already had students coming to SF and Austin from LA as well. LA also has lots of sun. We hear from students from LA coming to MKS in Austin and SF that they feel as though there is a lack of outcomes-focused, high-quality programming schools in LA, which is exactly the need we fill as MKS.
In the past, coding bootcamps in California have faced some regulation or criticism, but it looks like this expansion is being welcomed by LA's city council! What has that relationship been like?
Yup! Keep in mind the LA's city council is separate from the BPPE. High-quality programming schools that train people for jobs are very welcomed by the city (who wouldn't?). They're excited that we're a proven program that has confirmed cases of getting students the skills they need to be employed as engineers in Los Angeles. The relationship has been fantastic.
On a broader level, have you noticed that it's been easier working with regulatory agencies/gov't in TX and CA since the TechHire announcement?
I wouldn't say it's been easier working with regulatory agencies since TechHire. I've noticed no difference, and we're proceeding with working with government agencies in the same way we were before. However, Dean Florez, who's a proponent of high-quality programming schools, has been doing great work to bridge the communication gap between the BPPE and high-quality programming schools in California. He wants to see a well trained workforce, and he's been in CA's government long enough to know how to get things done.
What's the job market like in LA? Are you partnering with startups or huge companies or both?
For great developers, the job market is great. We're partnering with startups (NewMatter), midsize companies (NationBuilder), and huge companies (NASA, Google).
P.S. All of those companies have graduates from MKS/HR already, with happy managers. I'm excited to provide a high quality option for students in LA, because I'm seeing the employer demand for high quality developers is certainly existent.
Welcome to the March News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the 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 →
(updated April 2018)
Slide across the roof of the General Lee, we’re heading south of the Mason-Dixon to check out the best coding bootcamps in the southern United States. There are some fantastic code schools from the Carolinas to Georgia and all the way to Texas, and we’re covering them all. Talk about Southern Hospitality!Continue Reading →
Welcome to the January News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the 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 →
MakerSquare founder Harsh Patel tells us why he's excited for the curriculum change!
What do you mean that the curriculum was "half and half?"
Do you spend some time on each of those frameworks?
There were a lot of factors that went into the decision. Instructors and founders all started seeing that Node was being used more and more by larger enterprise companies and that’s usually when you know that a language/framework is here to stay. We also started seeing that the concept of a virtual DOM is here to stay.
Additionally, a non-trivial portion of our students in the most recent MakerSquare classes were focusing on building their final projects using the MEAN stack (Mongo, Express, Angular, Node). We were helping them with their projects and supporting them, but it was inefficient because we were also teaching them Ruby, which isn’t something they used for the projects, or something that they showcased to employers.
Why did MakerSquare and the majority of bootcamps start in Ruby on Rails?
First, it’s because that’s what we knew. Second, it’s an established language. I don’t think you can go wrong by being a Rails focused school or a Ruby-focused school or a Ruby on Rails developer in general.
You mentioned in the announcement that this change would mean less “context switching” – what is context switching?
Yeah, that’s a huge factor in our decision making process. It’s been an ongoing debate internally ever since we started.
Will MakerSquare’s hiring partners and hiring companies change? Will you have to rebuild that whole community or have you already started?
I anticipate the number of hiring partners to drastically increase. Everyone is looking for JS developers, because whether you’re a Python, PHP, or Ruby shop, you’re still using JS on the front end. Now companies with any type of back end language will be interested in hiring MakerSquare graduates.
How has job placement been going?
How did the part-time courses go in Houston? Why has MakerSquare chosen not to focus on those in 2015?
This was a hard decision to make. It was a profitable class, students loved it, the instructors were good, and yet, we chose to no longer offer the front end part time course in both Austin and Houston. You might ask, why are we closing down revenue-generating, profit-generating, high-satisfaction class?
In 2015, we want to focus on providing value for people that want to be professional programmers. The part-time class was not created for people that want to be programmers. It was created for people that want to learn a little bit of programming to enhance their current skillset. Therefore, we chose not to offer it anymore. We may bring it back in the future.
Is anything else new at MakerSquare? Has MakerSquare been working on fundraising as we’ve seen with other bootcamps?
There’s always something new! Nope, no announcement just yet. Look out for something shortly though.
Brian was a touring Texas singer-songwriter when he had an idea for an internet radio station app. He found MakerSquare in Austin and decided he would learn to build the app himself. We talk to Brian about his motivations for changing his career, what he would do differently, and how his class worked together throughout the course.
Tell us what you were doing before you started at MakerSquare.
I was a professional touring musician for about 12 years before joining MakerSquare. I toured as keyboard player for the Randy Rogers Band in Austin, and I did a bunch of recording for major label artists. I was also a songwriter- that paid my living and all my needs.
Are you still in the music business?
I am but I’m transitioning into building a web app.
Did you do your undergrad in a technical area?
No, I studied political science and I dropped out after about 2 ½ years.
So after being in music for so long, how did you hear about bootcamps and how did you make the decision to change your career?
I didn’t mean to change my career. I had an idea for this web app from touring and visiting radio stations and seeing how they run their stations and comparing it with the way internet radio stations are run.
I wanted to build this app and I went to MakerSquare sort of expecting to learn enough to know who I should hire – but never expecting to be able to build it myself.
Did you research a bunch of boot camps or did only look at MakerSquare?
I did; I researched a lot of them and luckily, MakerSquare was my favorite and also happened to be right near where I live. I looked at a couple in San Francisco and one in Colorado. What sold me on MakerSquare was that they gave you access to all of their previous graduates - they didn’t just pick people that were happy. When I read or talked to someone about their experience, everyone raved about it. I don’t think I found anybody that had anything bad to say about the program.
Had you learned to code a little bit on your own before you applied? Did you do Codecademy or another online program?
I did. I was mostly a self-taught programmer before I applied. In the end, I did MakerSquare to save time because I was still working fulltime as a musician and I wanted to build the app and speed up the process. But it ended up being way better than learning on my own and continuing to be self-taught.
What level would you say you were at when you applied?
I’d worked through about 3 books on Java, and done all the prework that MakerSquare sent my way.
What was the application process like for you?
There was a culture interview and a technical interview where they pushed you until you were stumped. Looking back on it, I think they wanted to see how you react to getting stumped.
Did you tell MakerSquare about your idea for your app, and that it was your motivation for doing the bootcamp?
I did, I told them about it after I started the class. They were very, very supportive. When I told them about the idea, that I wanted to keep working on it after graduation, and that I would want to hire people to work on it too, I got an email from Harsh saying that I should feel free to build it and that legally, I was protected. MakerSquare wouldn’t take a portion of it or anything. I actually hadn’t thought about that and I felt like them addressing it immediately and decisively was really above and beyond. They were very helpful and supportive.
Also, the app that I’m building has a lot of features that were not officially taught during the course. They were really good about helping me find that stuff, even though none of it was techincally supposed to be covered.
Did you put music on hold while you did MakerSquare?
No, I was still touring on the weekends. It was pretty rough and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone else. I would work all week, day and night, and then on Fridays and Saturdays I would travel and get back late Sunday to start studying again.
What was your cohort like? How big was it?
It was around 20 people. Everybody was shy at first but there’s a culture at Makersquare that encourages you to help each other out. So everybody gets to know each other really quickly through the work. It’s just a very positive place to be.
Did you find that there was a lot of diversity in people’s backgrounds, gender, race, age?
Yeah, it was pretty diverse. I never really thought about it, but there were a few women; I know MakerSquare’s got a lot of women-in-code oriented programs on the side, so after seeing that I was a little less surprised to see a few women in the class.
Did you feel like everyone was on the same level technically and were able to learn together?
Not everyone was on the same level technically, but we all ended up learning together. There were all kinds of people and all kinds of levels. I was kind of worried about that at first but it seems like they were able to move everyone up several levels no matter your starting point. I was not expecting them to be able to pull that off well, but somehow they did.
Did everyone graduate from your cohort?
All but one - I think there was one person that left but I don’t remember the reason.
Who were your instructors while you were there? How many of them were there and what was the teaching style like?
The main instructor was Gilbert who was really a gifted teacher. He had a way of making you understand something in very few words. The teaching style was also very self-driven. They would give a short lecture, show us how to do something and we would do it over and over, and they would walk around and make sure we didn’t get hung up. So it was a short lecture followed by a lot of coding.
Towards the end when you do your final projects, everybody separates into a different focus area so there are less lectures and more one on one; just making sure you don’t get hung up.
For me, it was kind of like learning at home with very clear instruction and without ever having the frustration of wasting an entire day searching for a comma or a wrongly capitalized variable. They could just push you through all of that real quickly.
Did you feel like there was a lot of collaboration with other students in the class and was that helpful to you?
Yes. It’s designed that way for sure. They break you up in different groups and switch the groups around. It was really helpful.
Tell us a little bit about the curriculum. Were you happy with the actual material that you all were learning?
I was. A lot of the material seemed like they had put it together recently, which was actually a good thing. There were two cohorts at once when I was there. We could see that we were significantly ahead of where the previous cohort was at the same time. And I know that the cohort behind us was significantly ahead of where we were, so my impression is that they’re always improving it.
Between keeping a job and doing MakerSquare, did you ever experience burnout?
No. I was close, though. I wouldn’t recommend doing MakerSquare and working. I wish that I had just been able to quit for that period of time. At the end, I was starting to get a little stressed -- and I really would love to have had the weekends… both to chill out a little and also to review anything that wasn’t quite solidified in my mind yet.
How did you keep yourself from getting completely burnt out?
I think having so many different things going on at once was helpful. It was weird to be coding all week and then go play at a bar every Saturday. It made both of them fun even though the whole thing on the whole was stressful.
Were you able to work on your app as your final project?
I worked on it as the final project and they helped me get pretty close to a working product. As soon as I graduated, I rewrote it to make it more solid with what I learned. I’ve continued to work on it since I left and I’m about to launch.
Can you tell us about the app?
It’s called Playola Radio and it makes making an internet radio station really easy. It allows you to record yourself talking like a DJ between the songs, move the songs around and add other songs; just do everything that you would do in a real radio station but with a much easier interface than anybody else has right now.
Do you ever think you would work as a developer for a company?
I was different than all of my classmates in that I wasn’t looking for a full time developer job. I was looking to build out my app. It’s been so long since I had a job working for someone else! I would consider it. But I’m really excited about this app and I was never looking for a job.
Did you notice most of your fellow students getting jobs afterwards?
Yeah; I think it was over 90%. MakerSquare is very open about their placement rates. I think they even told me the median salary at the end of the previous cohort. They’re pretty much an open book on all that stuff.
Would you recommend MakerSquare to others?
Oh, yeah. I feel so positively about MakerSquare that I have to stop myself sometimes. It’s such a positive atmosphere that I haven’t found an ex-student with anything bad to say about it -- and most of us tend to gush.
Welcome to the September News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the 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 →
MakerSquare has recently launched their Part Time program- ten week evening classes located in Austin, Houston, or San Francisco. We caught up with Part-Time Program Director Alex Levine to get the scoop on these courses!
Tell us about yourself- how did you get involved with MakerSquare and what's your background?
I was trying to learn to code through books alongside my girlfriend who was doing graduate coursework at UT. I found the experience frustrating and wanted a mentor to ask questions. One day I was coding in a cafe and the founders of MakerSquare were talking about their course, which hadn’t yet launched, in a business meeting next to me.
I got their attention and showed them what I was coding which was exactly what they were teaching. I would later enroll in the first Immersive cohort at the school.
Upon graduation, I was offered a TA position for Cohort 2 which later evolved into project managing the creation our first part-time course. People were clamoring for a way to learn web development without quitting their job. Since then, we’ve graduated over sixty students and have received glowing reviews on Google and Yelp for the experience.
MakerSquare is best known for their full-time, immersive course. Why did y'all decide to start the part-time option? What's the demand like?
The full-time, Immersive course has been great for those who are looking to make a career change and become professional web developers.
However, that is not everyone's goal, and we found that there is a need for a course that allows people to grow professionally by adding a new skillset. Also, some people want a taste of web development before deciding to make the time and financial commitment of the Immersive program.
Our September cohort in Austin sold out and the response in Houston has been awesome. We are looking forward to continuing the growth in both cities with the November cohorts.
What types of students are you looking for in the part-time Front End course? What should applicants do to stand out or prove that they're ready to start the program?
Our part-time program is our most accessible course. We have students from all walks of life and varying skill levels. We’re looking for students who want to enhance their skills for their job, hobby, or for a creative outlet. We love students who apply and are so eager to learn that they begin the prework ASAP. That prework can be found here: http://mks.io/mksparttime
From the Chief Creative Officer or Art Director at an advertising agency, to a graphic designer looking to bring designs to the web, to an entrepreneur who wants to code and project manage her site. If you work in a position where your work needs to be scaled out to the web, this is the course for you.
How deep does the part-time Front End course go? Tell us about the curriculum.
We believe you learn coding the best by coding as much as possible. Half of the class is lecture and exercises and the other half is projects and that’s where the magic “aha” moments happen.
Who are the instructors in these courses? How much personal attention will students get? Do students learn on their own throughout the week, then come together as a cohort to cover what they couldn't learn alone?
The class is taught by a professional web developer with several years of professional experience. Classes are never much larger than 20 students, and we add TAs to fit class size, usually 1 or 2.
In addition to class time, students have homework they will complete outside of class which usually takes at least around six hours per week.
The students that spend more time coding/learning outside of class get more out of the experience. Some students have study groups and meet on the weekends. Having in-person classes hold them accountable and with classmates to bounce off of, students are able to learn much quicker than if they were to learn on their own.
What are the expected student outcomes for the part-time program (as opposed to the full-time immersive)?
You will be able to create and deploy websites to the internet, collaborate on web projects, and have a good foundational understanding of web development. You will also have a final project to show off which can be a portfolio website, blog, wedding website, or business webpage. We help you spec out your site and guide you through development best-practices.
The Front End course is not designed to be a career-switcher course like Immersive. It’s ideal for people who work around web development and want a way to catapult into coding without quitting their job. Our students are often designers, project managers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and marketers. We accept students who have zero or some coding experience.
The Immersive course is for people who are committed to changing their careers and have gone through the initial foundational coding prep which is available on our website www.makersquare.com. There is a screening process to ensure applicants are a good fit personality-wise and technically. That program has a 95% job placement rate.
Do you find that companies will support their employees to participate in this course?
Yes! It’s very common employers pay part or full tuition for their employees. In fact, we recently had a company offer their employee a 'soft bonus' by enrolling them in the course. There is such a need for people who can code within organizations. The classic example is outdated content on company webpages and a webmaster who is a struggle to work with. When employees can code, they can contribute to a web presence which makes companies more nimble.
Some companies like Rosetta Stone and IBM have already reached out to us in order to run a custom course just for their designers and non-developer staff. If this makes sense at your company, please let us know and we’d be happy to discuss options.
Welcome to the August News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the 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 →
Since launching their programming school in Austin, MakerSquare has trained hundreds of qualified professionals to be full-time web and software developers through an in-person immersive training program. They now set their sights on San Francisco.Continue Reading →
Harsh Patel began the first MakerSquare cohort in June of 2013 with three friends who wanted to create a programming school with an emphasis on great teachers and a project-based curriculum in Austin. With his Teach For America experience and background in startups, Harsh has an intentional approach to coding education, and it shows when he describes MakerSquare. We talked with him about the challenges of finding great instructors, their expansion to San Francisco, and how they're making an impact on the local community around them.
Tell us about your story and how you got into this space.
I got into this space as a potential student. I graduated with an engineering degree, but wanted to learn web development after working on a startup I co-founded where I was not the engineer, but was leading a team of engineers from the product side. I got the itch to want to make changes and learn how to build things myself, so I started teaching myself web development. I’d written code on the research side, which was super math heavy, but never in the context of the web.
I looked into schools or courses I could take, and at the time, only Code Academy (now Starter League) and General Assembly in NYC existed. I was living in NYC, so I signed up for the only class GA offered back then, which was a part-time web development class.
I was extra critical of the course because of my experience with Teach For America. I knew what it looked like to have a great teacher, what a great curriculum structure should be, and what a great classroom environment should be. After about 4 weeks of class, I quit. The structure wasn’t for me. I already had some programming experience (MATLAB from my biomedical engineering days), was learning on my own prior to taking the class, and was learning night and day – unlike many of my peers in the class. There was also a lot of room for improvement in the teaching, curriculum, and classroom environment side of things. I gave them a ton of feedback, but they were focused on expansion at that point, so much of the feedback wasn’t acted upon, so I decided to quit and keep learning on my own.
But this left me with a huge itch to want to create something better. I can’t help myself. If I see something that needs to be improved, and I know I can improve it, I can’t help but do something about it. At the same time, a close friend of mine, Ravi, called me to ask about my experience, as he also wanted to learn web development. I told him if he’s ready to go all-in, GA wasn’t the place, and the only other school I knew of at the time was Starter League, which was also a part-time commitment. So he said “Why the heck isn’t there something like this in Austin?”. I told him… “Well, if you want to make something like this there, I know exactly how to train good teachers, structure project based curricula, and create good classroom environments.” And that’s where the snowball of – “Let’s start a school in Austin.” Took off. We couldn’t come up with reasons why not to, and the reasons for doing so kept growing by the day.
For me, I wanted to create the school I wish I went to. One with like-minded peers – people who had already had some programming experience, were ready to learn all day and all night, and were genuinely good people.
From there, Ravi convinced Shehzan to decline an offer from Facebook and instead help start this school, and a mutual friend of ours, Shaan, who had recently made a career change to software development, to move from Chicago to Austin. Once we all made it to Austin, we hit the ground running during SXSW, and went from there.
When was your first cohort?
June of 2013.
How many cohorts have you done since then?
We’re on our sixth one right now. Just recently in our last cohort, we capped our cohort at 18, and lengthed the course to about 3 months, 12 weeks vs. the original 10. We doubled down on making sure that every single person that walks out of MakerSquare is amazing.
Students love MakerSquare so far, even in the first three cohorts that we were running it. If you talk to the graduates, they’re extremely happy with their experience. But we thought the only way to ensure long-term sustainability was to always have graduates that exceed expectations for employers. So we decided to limit the number of students and lengthen the course so we could spend more individualized attention on teaching software and web development vs. only general web development.
Austin is a pretty small market relative to other cities out there. I was running the numbers the other day to answer a question on Quora, and it was asking if it matters what city you’re in when you’re doing a boot camp. They’re asking about San Francisco, Denver and Seattle. I was running through the numbers and Austin has the least number of available jobs if you look at those 4 cities, yet we have way more applications than we can sustain. And I think it’s a large part to do with how popular Austin is, and that people have just been doing really well out of MakerSquare.
Do y’all have any funding? From reading the website, it looks like your team is really built out.
No we didn’t take any funding. We started MakerSquare with basically our savings, and a whole lot of desire to create a great school. Our team is really built out because it takes a lot to run a proper school. That’s one thing I’m wary of when I talk to founders of newer schools – a lot of people don’t realize what it takes to run a proper school. We have 20 full-timers now for about 36 full-time students (juniors & seniors) at a time.
Who are your instructors?
We have a gradient of experience for our instructors. It’s something that’s important in a learning environment. You want to make sure you have senior people, mid-level people, and junior people, so people feel comfortable approaching someone from the instructional staff with questions – whether they feel like they’re “ahead”, “on-pace”, or “behind”.
We hire really talented engineers, and also make sure that they’re really good teachers. I also like to make sure we have people on staff with significant teaching experience. For example, we recently brought on another Teach for America alum who’s been a developer for about 5 years now, and he’s helping me take charge on teaching instructors and creating a good learning atmosphere.
We also have TA’s on staff who have graduated from MakerSquare. Some people like to give schools flack for this, but in my opinion, it’s pretty crucial to have “junior” level instructors that just went through what students are going through helping out. Often times, these instructors are the ones that can most closely relate to students – as they’ve just recently felt those same pains. They also come up with some of the best ideas for improving the school.
In addition to Austin, are there plans for classes in other cities?
Yup, San Francisco. We’re currently taking applications. Our first class there starts in June 2014 and we’re capping it at 10 students that have had prior programming experience. Imagine a class of ~10 students, and 4-5 full-time staff. We’re taking all the “Man, I wish we would have done X when we first started in Austin.”, and doing exactly that in San Francisco. One of which is absolutely killing it with our graduates in the first class. It’s really important to us that the first class is nothing short of amazing out there.
Since it’s in San Francisco, have you had to go through the accreditation process or work with the BPPE?
Yes; in Austin we did that from the beginning, so we already put in our application for San Francisco. The process is not that bad at all. The things they have you do are pretty reasonable for the most part, and if you talk to them about any differences you have, from our experience, they’ve been very receptive to this new kind of education in the tech space.
It was pretty reassuring; when all of that news broke a couple of months ago about accreditation, we were like, “Sweet! We’re ahead of the curve!”
MakerSquare has a part-time and a full-time course. What are the different outcomes that people can expect with each of those courses?
Once we started the full-time course, everybody in Austin was like, “I really don’t want to quit my job. I want to learn this stuff but I don’t necessarily want to be a developer, I just want to be better at what I’m currently doing.”
What are students learning in the full-time course?
Learn by (re) building
*Build your own CSS framework
*Build your own Ruby gem
*Build your own Sorting Algorithms
*Build your own Autocomplete implementation (like Google search)
*Build your own jQuery
Computer Science & Software Engineering Fundamentals
*SOLID design principles
*Describing Algorithm Performance with Big O
*How Programming Languages Work (interpreters, execution order, memory, implementing hashes)
*Natural Language Processing
*Building Graph Databases, Clustering Databases
You can see the week by week breakdown of the curriculum on our website if you’re curious.
What’s your teaching style?
Clay is the other instructor who came from Teach for America and the two of us are super obsessive about the teaching style. If students are learning fundamental stuff then there’ll probably be a 15 – 20 minute “intro to new material” then 2 ½ hours of exercises, followed by code reviews from instructors, if appropriate for that particular lesson or project.
A core principle of our teaching style is to build an experience for students, not just tell them or show them something. We build a way for students to learn a topic.
That happens with almost every lesson, and no “lecture” goes over 40 minutes, ever. Every single time any concept is introduced, the main focus is on building something with it. Usually it follows the process of writing code to make tests pass, then moving to writing tests yourself, then writing the code to make those tests pass, followed by code reviews from other classmates, and instructors.
What are you looking for in applicants or potential students? What can applicants do to set themselves apart?
First and foremost, we look for people that can work well with other people. This is a must-have. We’re not just looking to train solid developers, we want to make sure we bring collaborative and communicative developers to the developer community.
Second, we look for people who have some level of programming experience. It could be something research based, say you used Python to do super math-ey stuff in your research lab during undergrad. Or you’ve been writing PHP for some time just because that’s what you taught yourself when you got into web development. Or you’ve been writing Arduino code to get it to do cool stuff with LED’s. You basically have to know that you really want to become a better programmer. If you don’t have programming experience, it’s pretty tough to be accepted, but not impossible.
But students don’t necessarily have to have had a dev job.
It’s not a requirement but recently, a lot of people do. We don’t take people who are just getting started anymore, unless they’re brilliant.
Do you have an acceptance rate?
This is a vanity metric in my opinion. Our acceptance rate is hovering around 20%. On the surface, some people might say that’s too high, but if you think about it it’s actually more efficient than having an ultra low rate. Having an ultra low acceptance rate implies that the right people are not applying, because you aren’t accepting them. We aim to have as many qualified people apply, and if that makes our acceptance rate go up, that’s completely fine, because we’re being more efficient with our application process.
How many of your students have been typically male versus female? Have you seen a good amount of women in the course?
Our first class was 50-50 which we are super proud of. We used to offer a $2000 scholarship, except we found that wasn’t the reason that women were choosing to come here. We did a survey with our students and they were like, “Yeah, the scholarship was a good cherry on top but that’s not why I was drawn to you guys in the first place.”
We also teach a group of Girl Scouts over the weekend and we also run a middle school coding class once a month. Those are the kinds of things that have attracted women, the idea that we are actually trying to do something about the gender gap at a young age. I think that’s the only way that we can actually affect change. We’re always looking to do more to bring more women into the developer world.
How many instructors do you have in each class?
There are 8 instructors on staff. They spread their time between writing curriculum, teaching Juniors, teaching Seniors, and taking time off. Generally, there are 2 instructors in each class of ~18 students.
Are you one of the instructors?
No, not anymore.
You talked about making sure that the instructors you hire are technically proficient but also good educators. How do you do that? How do you find instructors for those courses?
I asked Gilbert, one of the instructors who has been with us from the beginning, how to recruit more people like himself. He said, “Just continue being awesome.” There isn’t any particular outreach that we did, we didn’t run an ad or use a recruiting service. His feedback was, “I saw that you guys were real, genuine, awesome people so I really wanted to work here.” and then he reached out to us. Every single one of our instructors that are with us today had reached out to us in some capacity or another.
That’s very cool and it’s a testament to your program.
Yeah, it was awesome hearing that from him, but at the same time I was like, “Well damn, do we just have to sit around and wait for more awesome instructors?”
To describe the process a bit more, what we do after people reach out to us is we have them do a sample lesson, both writing curriculum as well as teaching. I talk to specific students in the class and ask them to keep an eye out. The instructor usually stays for half of a day or a whole day so they have a chance to write curriculum, teach, as well as help students one-on-one. Then we get feedback from students, other instructors, and other staff members to make sure they’ll fit well with the entire team of 20 staff now.
How do you help students if they come to you looking for a job? How do you help them find jobs once they’ve graduated?
That’s the most important part of what we do. Very few people come to MakerSquare who are not looking for a job. We invest a lot of time and research into the career portion of the course.
We work with students as soon as they’re in their admissions interview, we’ll start collecting information about what they’re looking to do, where they want to end up, what motivates them, things like that. Then once they’re accepted, Jessica, who’s in charge of our talent team, will interview you one-on-one for a while and figure out exactly what you’re looking to do. That happens early on in the process and she’ll start talking to companies on your behalf while you’re going through the course. Then towards the end of the course, you’ll do another one-on-one with Jessica and she’ll do a resume prep; make sure that all your public-facing stuff is good to go. She’ll help you figure out how you can leverage your past experience and get a higher salary or get a job that you want to end up in for the long run. We’ll make introductions, as well as push you to submit a lot of applications to a bunch of different jobs.
Does MakerSquare have hiring partners?
It depends; what would you define a hiring partner is?
A company that pays an upfront amount to be a part of your network and gets first dibs on your students.
We don’t have hiring partners in that sense. Up until now, we haven’t charged any recruiting fees to employers at all, while we get our name out there in Austin. But now if you come to our career day, there’s over a 120 different companies that are there. Now it’s a problem to actually figure out which companies are good for students, so we’re doing a lot more work. We’re working with companies and acting like a traditional recruiting firm. In San Francisco, we’ll use the traditional finders’ fee model and in Austin we’ll be starting that soon as well, likely for alumni though. I have to emphasize though, we do not push a student to join any particular firm. We make sure that our students can find roles that are the best for them.
When you start the Finder’s Fee model, will students get a tuition refund if they get placed in one of your hiring partner companies?
We’re still figuring that out. What we’ve found in talking to other schools and to students is that most students don’t care about getting a couple thousand back - the thing that really stresses them out is actually having a job. As long as they’re placed, they don’t care whether they’re getting money back (for the most part). One thing that I’m really big on is that anything that we do has to be run by students first so nothing is a surprise for them.
I just read a blog post that MakerSquare posted about hiring coding school grads. Have you found in the last year that it’s been a challenge to work with companies and convince them that they should be hiring coding school grads on principle?
There’s this one story that I like to tell. When we first came to Austin, one of the top employers in town, Mass Relevance, was turned off to hiring any of our students because they had experience with someone from another boot camp that interned with them, and they were completely not ready.
We had a lot of uphill sliding to do to convince them otherwise. But what really convinced them was when we had one of their engineers come do a guest lecture on Tries, which is a data structures/algorithms topic. The challenge was to create an algorithm that replicates the autocomplete you see on Google a lot. He noticed that one of our students created a more efficient, and more accurate algorithm than he did. He went back and talked to one of the founders and he was like, “These guys are not messin’ around.” And now they’re our biggest advocates.
The way we’ve changed that mentality is to involve people in the community and invite them to come to the space, come talk to students and do a guest lecture. They’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Since I personally want to convince everybody to move to Austin, can you tell us about the Austin tech scene and what makes it special and unique?
The only reason we exist in Austin is because two of our founders were here. They had a positive experience with the Austin tech scene already. The reason why the community’s awesome is that there’s not this aura of competition between companies here – it’s really collaborative.
When we went to San Francisco, our first thought was to go talk to Shareef from Dev Boot Camp and Doug from Hack Reactor and people at Hackbright and Kush from App Academy. The feeling that we got after talking with them was that no one else really talked to each other and it was kind of cutthroat between the schools out there. That’s completely different from the Austin mentality. I guess we breathe that collaborative atmosphere, and I think that comes from the way Austin has raised us over the last year and a half.
Nik Daftary is a MakerSquare student who officially joined the team after graduating, helping MakerSquare expand to San Francisco. We asked him to share his experience at MakerSquare and talk about the future, and Nik delivered! Check out his insightful perspective on all things coding: how he started learning on his own, why he chose Makersquare, and his honest advice to anyone considering applying to a coding bootcamp.
There’s this idea, “fake it till you make it”, where if you convince yourself enough that you can do something, eventually the rest of you will catch up. Oh and there’s another thing: impostor syndrome - where no matter how far you’ve come, you still don’t believe that you were in charge of your success. For me, I wasn’t convinced that I had the right skillset to work at the level I wanted to be at. So I did what most rational people would do, and jumped ship to follow a dream. I joined MakerSquare because if I wanted to stay relevant in the tech industry, I had to know how to understand technology.
My first realization of the importance of knowing how to code came In 2008 when I co-founded my first startup, Moodfish. For four years, I led business development, product marketing, design and management and the one skill I wish I had from the beginning was a sense of software development. Not having that understanding severely limited my ability to understand what it took for our developers to build the ideas we had. More importantly, it was inefficient. When our developers were working into the late hours of the night, there was generally little I could to help in building the codebase. I picked up books and rails tutorials along the way, but they only helped me grow more familiar with the codebase. At the end of the day, I still couldn’t write good code. And I couldn’t understand what it really took to build complicated software.
After Moodfish, I wanted to build more, and experience the world of mobile payments and on-demand logistics. With the next two startups, surprisingly, the same theme applied. My focus was on business development and product management, but I wanted to get closer to the actual product we built. I constantly had the feeling that I had to know what it took to build the product in order to effectively manage the growth of the product. In July of 2013, I took my first real step in filling that gap.
At first, I went back to the online sites like CodeAcademy and Learn Web Development by Hartl. I was learning how to build things, but I wasn’t understanding the “why” behind the code. So I took on a mentor to help put explanations to the code. That helped, but I still wanted/needed something more engaging. I began looking into 2 year associate programs, and through Quora’s programming bootcamps topic, I began learning about the myriad of immersive programs out there. For any number of reasons, an immersive program made far more sense to me than the alternatives. Location made a difference, but finding the right fit was even more important. Having tried out CS in undergrad and not feeling inspired, I had to find a program that was equal parts demanding and equal parts inspiring. When MakerSquare kept popping up on my radar, I had to check things out.
I attended one of the program’s demo days where students showcased their final projects. By the end of the demos, I could not believe how within 12 weeks, people with limited programming experience were now capable of building the projects they showcased that day. What really interested me though was how the students were able to talk about their projects - the strengths, limitations of the current code, and even how to fix the limitations. That they cared that much about what they had built, made me feel that this program was different - that it inspired its students. I dug around a little more that night trying to figure out how a program could singlehandedly inspire so many students. The leadership was great, the instructors were fantastic and it turns out, the students themselves were pushing and coaching each other to keep going and to keep building. After that night, I knew where I wanted to learn software development.
Looking back, MakerSquare was different than I expected. I thought the program would have focused on learning how to write code to make one thing do another thing. Inputs + Code = Outputs, right? Instead, there were days where we spent hours talking about why certain things operated the way they did. Though we spent a fair amount of time writing code on our own, we spent even more time collaborating on code in groups. I wasn’t just learning how to write code, I was learning how to collaborate on code. One of the best things I got out of MakerSquare was an understanding of why good software development matters. While it’s nice to see code just work, when you’re working with teams of developers, it’s important that everyone involved knows how to write good code. Ample commenting was part of the equation, but so was structuring your code the right way so others could clearly understand what you were doing. Ahem…git blame.
When we weren’t working, the team behind MakerSquare made sure we had ample opportunity for rest. Learning something as complex and nuanced as software development isn’t something you can rush. They held ample picnics and frisbee in the park, happy hours, optional workshops to use new frameworks, and even hosted speakers like Alexis Ohanian and Bob Metcalfe to give us a bigger picture look where the tech industry was going. We worked our tails off, but everything still felt so well balanced. I am so thankful they kept the pace at 5 days a week. Anything more just would have killed the concept of work/life balance.
By the time I finished MakerSquare, I knew how to translate ideas in my head into actual product prototypes. I had no illusions that I was on par with a seasoned software engineer, but I knew if I wanted to learn from that engineer, I now had the skillets to do so. While most of my peers joined startups and established tech companies as junior developers, I wanted to continue down the product development and product marketing path. I interviewed with a number of companies in and out of Austin and came close to convincing myself to move a couple thousand miles away. Instead, I chose to help MakerSquare bring what it did for me to many more aspiring developers. I loved the intellectual diversity of my peers, and I loved the approach MakerSquare took to teaching software development. MakerSquare had a great product, run by a great team with a lot of heart. And having always wanted to better the education industry, joining this team just seemed like a natural fit.
Today, I’m helping the team expand to San Francisco. Our first class is on June 2nd. In the short-time I’ve been in SF, I’ve come to a few conclusions. One, MakerSquare is one of the top programs in the industry. Two, there are some fantastic immersive programs out here, each with their own merits. And three, our program has already grown stronger in the short time we’ve been out here.
As a former student now looking outside in, one the greatest strengths MakerSquare has is the perspective brought to learning software development. Our admissions bar begins with prior technical knowledge but really focuses on finding students with the drive and personality to excel in and out of our program. From database engineers, to economists, lawyers, teachers and photographers, a student’s drive to learn, build and contribute to teams is far more important than where they’ve come from. Finally, we believe in our instructors, a lot. But we also know that the more students you put into a class, the more difficult it is to offer personalized attention. During my time in cohort 2, we had about 30 other students in my class. It felt big, but never to the point where I felt my access to our instructors was really limited. Since then, MakerSquare has capped its enrollment to 18 students per class. 18! With that high of an instructor to student ratio, we can teach software development in a really focused manner. And, there’s a lot more room for instructors to work with students at an individual level.
Looking forward, there will continue to be a huge demand for software developers. For every student enrolled in MakerSquare, we know we’re doing our part to help build the next generation of developers who want to learn and excel in the wild world that is the tech industry. For anyone interested in building a software development skillset, there are two pieces of of advice I can give. One, make sure this is something that you really want to do and two, interview programs that interest you. Take some time to go through the free resources out there and build a few things on your own. If you’re still loving the idea of building something from nothing, then consider taking the jump into some kind of structured program. The guidance and focus on understanding the why behind the code will get you the foundation you need to build good software. When you do choose to apply, make sure you’ve taken the time to interview the programs that interest you. It’s incredibly important that you find a program that inspires you to learn.
If I could do this all over again, the only thing I would change is having learned how to do this six years ago.
How do you choose a coding boot camp in New York that's right for you? New York City is home to 13 full-time coding bootcamps, teaching everything from Web Development to Mobile App Development to FinTech. With so many options to choose from, you should consider factors like your learning style, professional goals, and language preferences.
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