Skill Distillery is an intensive, 16-week Java bootcamp in Denver, Colorado. The course is arranged into three units – Java Programming, Server-side Java, and Front-end Development. The curriculum focuses on the fundamentals of programming, Java (and its libraries), unit testing, Spring, Spring MVC, and using a source code repository. Students will also gain experience deploying web content to a web server and navigating the server file system from the command line. Skill Distillery graduates will be prepared to take the Oracle Certified Associate – Java Programmer exam and will be on track for a career as a web interface designer or a full stack application developer.
No prior coding experience is required; instead, Skill Distillery looks for driven, determined and passionate people wanting to make a change in their life. Prospective applicants must complete an online assessment, meet with an admissions advisor, and finish a logic test.
Skill Distillery’s parent company, Batky-Howell, has more than 25 years of experience training more than 40,000 IT professionals from companies such as HP, Lockheed Martin, Level3, Time Warner and Disney.
Recent Skill Distillery Reviews: Rating 4.45
Recent Skill Distillery News
Upcoming 2018 Cohort Dates: 8/27 - 12/19, 10/29-02/28
- $1,000 *Goes towards total tuition cost of $16,850
- Available through Climb Credit.
- Minimum Skill Level
- Basic Computer Knowledge
- Placement Test
- Prep Work
- Yes; 40-60 hours
Skill Distillery Reviews
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I attended the SD program prior to the authors of these other reviews, and I feel compelled to add my thoughts to the discussion.
Following the same format…
Pros: I like the location and the building SD is housed in. There is a common area, kitchen, and additional space for students to study. Garage parking is free for students, and there are restaurants surrounding the school. The program started out very promising, with the first quad’s Java instruction being top notch. Spirits were high during and immediately after the Java certification exam, but this enthusiasm didn’t carry through to the remainder of the program.
Cons: I agree with the thoughts of other students that Java EE is not suited for bootcamp instruction. While the material presented was fascinating and well taught, there are fewer job opportunities for entry level Java engineers than for entry level coders of different languages. Modern technologies were not covered, and students leaving the school are at a disadvantage competing against other boot camp graduates when interviewing for local jobs. Job placement assistance was non-existent, and the program's voluntary attrition rate looks to be extreme.
I find suspicious the five star reviews from students that have yet to complete the course. The shortcomings of SD appear after the first quarter and I suspect some damage control is taking place. I wish everyone the best and hope that things improve for current and future students.
I cannot recommend the school at this time.
Do not be deceived by the five star reviews.
Overall Experience: The first part of the program was superb. If I were to have written a review during the Java portion of the course, I would have given it five stars out of five. After five weeks of studying and practicing pure Java, about half the students were able to pass the Oracle Certified Associate - Java Programmer exam, which is impressive in my opinion.
The program self-destructed in the second quad of instruction. In stark contrast to the first quad, there was very little hands-on time. The few exercises that were featured in the second quad consisted of copying and pasting code written in a book. The materials were absolute garbage. If you truly believe you can learn databases, MVC, and Java EE from someone reading out of a dry, uninspiring book, then perhaps this course is for you.
The same continued in quad three, which was the front-end portion of instruction. At this point, most of the students would show up to the classroom only to tune the lecture out and try to learn on their own. Before the quad concluded, eight of the eleven students decided to withdraw.
Instructors: This was the one part of the program that made it bearable. The instructors are extremely knowledgable and able to effectively communicate with students in spite of the tremendous gap in knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, they can only do so much when given awful material to teach from.
Curriculum: The program prides itself on offering instruction on “non-trendy” languages. There’s a reason other bootcamps focus on Ruby, MEAN, etc: People are able to obtain employment in them with little experience. Do yourself a favor and research entry-level Java jobs before making a decision, as most of them require one to three years of previous development experience to be considered.
Job Assistance: I have no way of sugarcoating this. They do not care what happens to you after you complete the program. Concerns arose when previous graduates were not finding employment, and we were told they were of questionable character and talent. The word “zeroes” was used to describe previous graduates. This lack of professionalism did not sit well with anyone. In addition to this, we were constantly told companies were inquiring about hiring graduates and that we would receive emails as proof, but that never happened. If you are considering this bootcamp, you are likely a mid-career professional looking for a change, so keep this in mind before you make any life-changing decisions.
Do your research before you make a decision. Look at job advertisements to see which technologies and languages have the lowest barrier to entry in terms of experience. Don’t take a bar chart on a website as gospel. Perhaps the program can change for the better over time, but at this point you are probably better off spending your time and money elsewhere. They advertise 25+ years experience in teaching programming, which is true, but it is stated in a deceptive manner. Their experience is in shorter corporate classes, which has virtually no relevance in a bootcamp environment.
Response From: Bruce of Skill Distillery
I am sorry to hear that you were not happy with your experience here at Skill Distillery. We know that this program isn't for everyone and we know that learning Java is difficult. Passing the Java Oracle exam is a big accomplishment and is very valuable, but that is just the beginning of the journey to becoming a skilled programmer. The latter portion of our program is where things get really difficult, and we know that some students will not make it through.
Based on our last 5 years providing boot camps to corporations and our previous two decades of teaching people to code, we chose the most in demand technologies for our curriculum. We are teaching the most sought after skills based on our experience with companies and data from sources like the US Department of Labor and Glassdoor.
We spend a significant amount of time working with companies to place our students into internships and jobs. Just this morning, two of our graduates were placed with a major tech firm in south Denver as entry-level Java Programmers after only two weeks of submitting applications. We also spend time and energy helping students prepare resumes and performing mock interviews. But, for students to take full advantage of our network and hiring resources, they need to stay the full 19 weeks and graduate the course.
If you would ever like to come in and chat about your experience, try again to complete the program, or learn more about our hiring resources, please send me an email: bruce(at)skilldistillery.com
The Java instructor was excellent. He is a true teacher whose gift has helped many and will continue to do so. The first portion of Java was successful.
This bootcamp did not produce as promised. After the first portion of Java programming, everything fell apart. The course content was advertised as unique and created in-house, however, instructors ended up reading out of external courseware manuals. The learning process consisted of unengaging lecture with very little hands-on programming. Important concepts like Agile methodology, paired-programming, and GitHub were not adequately understood or practiced. Instruction in later portions was substandard for a variety of reasons: some instructors had little or outdated industry experience, while others were simply not skilled at teaching the material. Additonally, there was no career planning component and very few graduates currently are employed in the industry. Lastly, prior and current student personal information was not kept in confidence, which created an unprofessional atmosphere.
If looking for a bootcamp that offers GI Bill support, please wait for other area bootcamps to receive approval from the Veteran's Administration.
First off, Jamie Placensia, Why are reviewing a school you never went to? Second, move on! Welcome to the real world, no one owes you anything.
I am a current student at skill distillery and so far, so good! Jamie is an excellent instructor, TA's are helpful, and there's a good group of people in my cohort who come from all kinds of backgrounds. We all kind of help each other out. The program kicks your butt, but what do you expect? I feel myself being constantly pushed, but I know at the end it will be a rewarding experience.
I will update this review when I graduate :)
I am back updating my review from 1/12/16 like I promised I would!! I'm a woman of my word.
All jokes aside- I'm not going to lie, the negative reviews that I read on this site bothered me. Paying $16,000 for a school that had a lot of negative reviews while I was still in the program, made me worry about what was to come. They made a lot of changes from the cohort before mine, and so my experience was much better than theirs.
I am honestly so glad I stayed. I had ZERO coding experience before the program, and at times, I truly did struggle and worried about whether the program was for me. But the instructors, the TA's, my fellow students, and our school director, helped me stick through it, and man is that the most rewarding experience to say that I graduated! I am so thankful for the program and people I've met.
I now will be working as a junior java developer at American Healthcare Technologies, where I was doing marketing before.
I came to Skill Distillery with no prior coding experience whatsoever. I was worried, but the excellent instructors and support staff at Skill Distillery have made me feel at home, and I'm learning so much every day. I looked at coding boot camps all over the country, and frankly,I could not be happier with my decision to attend Skill Distillery.
Response From: Cole Frock of Skill Distillery
Thank you for your positive review and thank you for being our student. I couldn't be happier to see your progress and success!
I enjoyed my time with Skill Distillery. The staff were courteous and professional, and they cared about the students. It's a genuine challenge to fall through the cracks at their school.
I went to SD for the enterprise Java development aspect of the program. It's a very difficult school to complete successfully. I think a large part of that is due to the nature of Java as a full-fledged programming language and not a scripting language. After working my face off in the program, I’m now working with startups in Denver, Houston, and Santa Barbara. I can’t describe the sense of pride I have from completing something as difficult as SD’s program and being a success afterwards. Their curriculum is great; it hits all the major topics that you need to get going as a developer, and it provides a springboard to something even greater if you put in the work. My advice is to work your ass off and make great projects.
I can attest that the staff take feedback very seriously and act on it quickly. The only "downside" that I saw was that the location isn’t "cool," but that’s not really what you’re there for.
I was hired before I graduated the program, so they must be doing something right! If you want to be a developer, go to this bootcamp. They teach the most prolific technologies with an expertise rarely found in other training programs.
I was never a student and got turned down for the November 2015 cohort.
I AM NOT HERE TO PROTEST MY REJECTION.
I would like to simply provide feedback on the lack of professionalism shown by the admissions staff. During the process, I was really more curious as to what my shortcomings were so I could develop them and re-apply, if able. Throughout the process, multiple emails and phone calls went unanswered by Admissions Rep, even though she told me in-person that ALL applicants are given feedback, regardless or their acceptance or rejection.
After 3X emails to her, I had to physically visit the office to confront her for a simple explanation as to my status. She immediately claimed she gave my application to the School DIrector for review and notification. If this is true, he simply never followed up with me. Why? You'll have to ask him.
As of 1/4/16, I followed up to see if I could re-apply for the FEB 2016 cohort. The School Director choose to email the next day claiming that the application process would not be revised until July and that I was unable to apply until then. I see no fault in this, as the school is free to do what they choose.
However, i'm not OK with the fact that the School Director offered to answer any questions I had in his email, but has yet to reply to anything I asked about...i'm still waiting.
Overall, it appears that Skills Distillery is CHOOSING to treat people this way...and that's their prerogative...as long as they are willing to deal with the consequences:)
FYI...I did take both Learn by the Byte courses offered by the school on Udemy.com. The online Instructor was excellent...and i'm sure he's probably even better in person.
Response From: Cole Frock of Skill Distillery
This program is not for everyone, and we sent you a letter describing why we did not see you as a fit for our school. We have a record of our correspondence with you, and if you have questions about why you were rejected please feel free to email me: Cole(at)Skilldistillery,com
The employee you mentioned is no longer with the program, and she was no longer here when your emails went unanswered. However, if you have questions please reach out to me.
All thumbs down... do not attend... don't ask me why, Mr. Boyle has already told you why.
It pangs me to write this as I truly do appreciate and value the staff at Skill Distillery but unfortunatley when 9 months of my ("would-have-been-had-I stayed-til-the-end-and-not-left-half-way-through") GI Bill benefits are at stake, the exchange is idiotic. Mr. Boyle gives you the "why", I am here to confirm his sentiments.
Perhaps as they evolve, assuming they figure out a way to do so given the fact that, last I checked, all but one student has left the third cohort, they will become a more appealing bootcamp. Until that day comes, I'm skeptical that it will. That said, stay away from Skill Distillery like its a rat with the plague.
I want to reiterate, this pangs me immensely to write this as I did grow fond of the folks there but again at the end of the day when 16k is on the line, or 9 months of GI Bill benefits like it ultimately would have been for me, my god, do not toss the dice here. You'd have better luck taking a late night stroll through a back alley in Compton.
///Quick injection to note. The two lead instructors were more than professional. In no way does this review serve to paint an ill picture as to either their quality as individuals or developers/instructors. They were plagued with antiquated methodologies and dogma that kept them from actualizing as they could have had they, i guess "see the light" of optimal learning methodologies.///
Response From: Bruce of Skill Distillery
I am sorry that your experience with us wasn't satisfactory. We are really proud to be able to offer training to students using the GI Bill and we take our duty to the veterans in our class very seriously.
We know that our program isn't for everyone. Learning Java is very tough, and we are working hard to make sure that when students leave here they are capable of working in today's very competitive job market. The first-half of our program lays a foundation, and our students are put through a full Oracle Java certification course and exam. While that is a tough and demanding section, it pales in comparison to the challenges in our second half. We know that some students won't make it over that hump and we know some will need to leave the program. We do everything we can to help students through the pain, but that won't be enough for everyone.
I am sorry that you are no longer in the program. If you ever want to try again, or ever need help figuring out your next steps, please reach out to me: bruce(at)skilldistillery.com
Skill Distillery is a poorly planned and executed bootcamp that will take enormous amounts of both your time and money. A dangerous mix of incompetence and questionable integrity creates a learning environment that robs students of motivation and their money/VA benefits. Students have been exiting in droves after getting a glimpse into the inner workings of the school - my cohort started with 12 students, went down to 3, and is potentially losing more students before they finish.
Despite advertising decades of experience, we were only their third cohort. The previous cohorts consisted of 5 and 8 students. Skill Distillery hired a couple students out of the previous cohorts, but beyond that they provide no examples or success stories regarding students getting employment. From what I gather, some students have gone back to their previous employment. They refuse to showcase previous cohorts projects, probably due to the fact that one TA described them as 'sucking.'
Simple concepts such as paired programming and integrating into the workforce were barely covered. They were shoehorned in at the last minute in a last ditch attempt at saving our class, but this futile attempt at reinvigorating the class failed spectacularly
Hours of lecture, consisting of material being read from books in a monotone, took up the vast majority of the days. Keyboard time was minimal, and consisted of editing, cutting and pasting code provided by the publishers of the texts.
I and several other students spent hours and hours in meetings giving requested feedback to no avail. Previous cohorts were described as being unmotivated and/or of questionable talent. The lack of professionalism was a red flag, the refusal to showcase prevoius students final projects was a red flag, the disparaging remarks regarding previous students was a red flag, the terrible texts provided to us after the first few weeks were red flags, but perhaps the biggest red flag of all was the look of utter defeat on the faces of the students in the cohort ahead of us. Unfortunately, I managed to ignore all the warning signs for a while, due to my desire to make this program work.
There was one shining part of that program, and that is the instructor who teaches the first quad covering Java. He is an amazing teacher. After that, the program falls apart.
It is my opinion that anyother bootcamp in Colorado is superior. If you need to use your VA benefits, wait until other bootcamps get certified. Many are in the process of doing so right now.
I have always wanted to be a developer, and I will not let the shenanigans at Skill Distillery deter me from that goal. I am attending another bootcamp in Colorado, and I will post a review once I complete it.
It is my opinion that you should choose Skill Distillery only if you are long on time and money, short on wits, and wish to remain unemployed for as long as possible.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at my first and last name at gmail. Everything I have stated is factual and accurate - I have saved all emails, text messages, and slack messages in the event that I am questioned or attacked for providing honest reviews.
Response From: Bruce Batky of Skill Distillery
series of lengthy comments, I want to take a few minutes to try and address
some of your concerns. Since you left halfway through the program, I think it's
fair to say that you missed quite a bit of what we offer.
side. We are not a stranger to boot camps. We got into this business to
share our knowledge of programming and development. We opened
Skill Distillery because we had been asked for years to create Java boot camps
for big companies, and we wanted to create an option for the general public to
have access to accelerated learning programs and to our capabilities to
share that expertise.
We certainly do a deep dive on paired programming, but we engage this topic
later in the program, after you decided to leave.
works hard to make sure their resumes are ready and that they are prepared to
go to interviews. We work with our network to try to get students to events and
to meet potential recruiters and hiring partners. Last week, three more of our students from the class before yours got hired into a major tech firm in Denver. These are Java developer positions and were obtained within 2 weeks of applying … reviews are on the way.
that’s all from their vault of knowledge locked in their heads.
demanding curriculum, and it requires hours upon hours of tedious and arduous work to succeed. In our experience, that is the only way to succeed as a programmer!
reach out to me. Our door is always open.
Skill Distillery was, simply, the best decision I could have made while making a radical career change in my mid-30s. The staff was enthusiastic and knowledgable, the curriculum was relevant and rigorous, and the quality of my fellow students was inspiring. A year after graduating from this school I can say, without a doubt, that the training I received there is directly responsible for much of the success I've had in the time since. I would highly recommend this course to all students, at all levels of ability, who are looking to work hard and make a positive change in their lives.
Prior to attending Skill Distillery I spent time as a musician, bus driver, and 6 years in the Navy. When it was time to transition from active duty toward a new career, I was looking for training in computer programming that would be comprehensive enough to get a job but wouldn't take so long that it would take me out of the job market for an extended period. I chose to go to SD because it seemed to offer both of these: the curriculum boasts an impressive list of technologies with an emphasis on Java and the training is only 19 weeks long. Because they also took the GI bill, it made the program an obvious choice.
After leaving the school I had four job interviews within one month of graduation and got four job offers. Two of the job offers were for Java developer postions and two were for python ( a language we didn't even cover at the school). Two of those jobs offered 6 figure starting salaries. The job I chose put me in a very interesting and fullfilling role as a cyber security web application developer for a large bank usign python/django. Within a few months I was a lead developer. Many of my fellow developers have no idea that I have little on-the-job experience. Because of the comprehensive training I received at the school and the experienced I gained rapidly developing projects, I fit in rather easily.
I would absolutely recommed this school to anyone who is serious about making a change into software development. You will be challenged, for sure. But, if you stick with the curriculum, you will be amazed at how much you can learn. Because this school doesn't cut corners or offer only easily-learned technologies, you will be in a great position to show potential employers that you have what it takes to make a meaningful contribution to their team!
Steve, the main core Java programming instructor, is let's just say, emotional. I can't even tell you how many times he has yelled at our class or threatened to kick someone out in front of the class, and in some cases succeeded much to the financial detriment of the student. Do not take this course, if you get even a little behind they will force you to quit or fall back to a previous cohort. This used to be a very good environment, it's very disappointing now, it has become a culture of fear and is very hard to learn in.
Skill Distillery first caught my eye when I saw they accepted the GI Bill, and they happened to be close to home. I'd heard vaguely about coding bootcamps, and dismissed them without much thought, figuring they were all a scam somehow. But all of a sudden I had a relatively low risk option, and decided to check them out.
I started looking for a job a little later than most, but started interviewing in the last week of school. In every interview I had I would describe what I had learned and the response was always "you worked with [fill in the blank] technologies? Well that's exactly what we do here." In some cases the employer could see areas where I could show them something new. All my interviews were favorable, and 10 days after I graduated I had an offer I couldn't refuse working with a great group of people. For the first time in my life I'm turning down job offers, and making more money than I ever would have imagined.
Our latest on Skill Distillery
Since the White House Department of Veterans Affairs hosted the first coding bootcamp roundtable in September 2014, it's been clear that the use of the GI Bill for bootcamp tuition is on the minds of both educators and government. Recently, Skill Distillery, a 19-week Java Coding Bootcamp in Denver, Colorado, was VA-Approved and began accepting the GI Bill- huge news! Skill Distillery CEO Cole Frock talks to Course Report about the process to become approved, why veterans make excellent transitions into tech, and how the Java bootcamp is training civilians and veterans in valuable tech skills.
What does the GI Bill have to do with coding bootcamps?
We look at the GI Bill as many different bills. The most common is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is for current military all the way back to the end of the Gulf War. When a veteran was in the intelligence division or had a technical background in the military, they get out of the military they have to go through a program called TAP (Transition Assistance Program) for transitioning back into civilian life.
When a veteran wants to go into IT, the VA tries to place them into the correct education program, but there’s nothing really built around IT programming. Doing admissions, we had a lot of people asking if we accept the GI Bill, so we started to see it as a priority. Bootcamps are the most current and modern way of training programmers. The most up-to-date skills are not taught in college. When you get a computer science degree, you learn philosopy and the process, but it’s not necessarily going to land you a job. A veteran doesn’t reall have time to go through a 4 or 8 year program.
What does the GI Bill cover at Skill Distillery? Tuition? Room/board?
The GI Bill pays for tuition to Skill Distillery, which is $16,000. Plus, in Denver there’s the Basic Allowance Housing (BAH), which is $1650 per month for housing and a couple of other perks. Anybody who has the GI Bill and who qualifies for Skill Distillery can use those funds.
Using the GI Bill for Skill Distillery does take time off total GI benefits, but when you compare the average junior developer job (which pays around $65,000 a year) and compare that to other programs that the VA offers, that’s an exceptional opportunity.
How many unemployed veterans are there in the US?
The statistics are surprising. The unemployment rate amongst vets is actually better than the unemployment rate against the whole country. Getting a job is not necessarily the issue, but a job with a great salary is the issue. The White House is recognizing that there’s a massive shortage of developers and has launched the federal Tech Hire program, which we’re also a part of.
Why are veterans a particularly good fit for technology jobs?
A lot of vets are coming to us with top secret clearance. For defense contractors, that’s a huge deal. If you can find a vet who has top secret clearance and can program, it bypasses a lot of the standard process that they would have to have a regular citizen go through.
There are also a lot of tax breaks for companies that hire veterans; upwards of $20,000 per vet. We couldn’t care less about the benefits to the corporation, but if veterans have a wonderful job to transition into, then it’s beneficial. There are 50,000 Java jobs right now in the US, on top of the 90,000 Front-End Developer jobs. Our intention is to give students the most options for job placement. If you don’t want to do front-end, then you still graduate with your Oracle certification from the Oracle Corporation, which holds a lot of weight with these companies, especially when it comes to a junior level person.
How did you get approved to accept the GI Bill?
The VA cannot promote any particular VA-approved school. Long story short, Skill Distillery’s parent company, Batky-Howell, has a 25-year history in Denver. We’ve educated more than 40,000 people. That played a very large role in getting the approval.
So if a bootcamp opened tomorrow they couldn’t get on the GI Bill?
The VA required that we’re state licensed and bonded. While Colorado requires this as well on a state-level, not every state requires that, so some bootcamps could go under the radar for years and then when it’s time to get VA approval, they’ll hit a roadblock.
Bonding is the most important part- if you pay $16,000 in tuition and we close in week two, the student will have no recourse against the school to get their money back. Being bonded gives students the assurance that they’ll be refunded.
The VA really wants to see that a bootcamp is not a fly-by-night scheme; you’re actually an established company that has results and provides quality to their veterans.
Was there a personal motivation to get VA-approved? It sounds like a long process- why go through all the trouble?
It’s not a purely business-driven decision; we have a maximum class size of 15 people, which is on the smaller side. The motivation comes back to why we started the Skill Distillery. We already have a successful corporate training company, publication company, and online learning company called Batky Howell. We could’ve just continued to pursue that- Skill Distillery was a departure from our standard way of doing business to accommodate students and lower our prices. The ability to completely change a non-technical students’ life is what we really enjoy. The instructors at Skill Distillery are world-class and have been teaching for 15 years and been developers at corporations all around the country.
When we heard applicants tell us that there was no way they could do Skill Distillery unless we accept the GI Bill more, we knew we had to figure out whatever we needed to figure out to accept that bill. These applicants were super sharp and talented. They have experience and we talk about motivation and working on a team and dealing with stress- these guys have all those qualities.
Applicants using the GI Bill are still going through the Skill Distillery admissions process?
Correct. Having to go through the 4 part interview process throws some of the applicants off, but Java is not like Ruby. It’s extremely difficult and the way we teach the program is extremely difficult. I’d like to accept everybody who applies, but in the long run I’m doing people a disservice if I let them into the program and they don’t have the ability to get through a 19 week bootcamp.
Why choose Java as the teaching language?
There are more Java jobs right now in the nation than any other programming language. The statistics speak for themselves. People think Java is going to go away, but the important note here is just that breaking into the Java job market gives people the most for their money.
Are there special requirements or any details we should know?
Legally, we can’t run an 100% VA class. We have to have a certain percentage of civilian students in each class.
Another rule with the VA is no scholarships or discounts.
There are no geographic limits; because the class is here in Colorado, students just have to come to Colorado. If we ever open up another location in another state then we’ll have to get VA approved in that state, but students can be from anywhere in the US.
How much interest are you getting from veterans? Will people be taking advantage of the benefit?
We thought that after we got the VA approval, we’d have to get more people to answer the phones, but that’s not been the situation. One of the biggest hurdles from any bootcamp that’s going to get VA approved, is educating the educators. The whole movement of alternative education and bootcamps is new to a lot of educators. This is a brand new concept for the country, and extremely new to a military base! However, as we get the word out, this is a very attractive option to a lot of people.
Welcome to the June News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the bootcamp space. Do you want something considered for the next News Roundup? Submit announcements of new courses, scholarships, or open jobs at your school!Continue Reading →
With over 40,000 alumni from their Batky-Howell training courses, Bruce Batky and Cole Frock have recently launched their 19-week Java bootcamp, Skill Distillery, in Denver, Colorado. We catch up with Cole and Bruce to discuss their hands-on instruction, how they constructed the Java curriculum, and the types of companies Skill Distillery is partnering with to place graduates in jobs!
Tell us about your background and how you got involved with Skill distillery.
I started working in the training industry in 2006 with Batky-Howell. Batky-Howell offers private and public schedule classes for those who want to fill in some knowledge gaps by attending 2-day to 5-day classes. I also worked for ITCourseware which writes and distributes training courseware to training companies all over the world.
Seeing the need for those who want a career in IT we have developed a curriculum specifically for that. What is unique about us starting Skill Distillery is we have been in the training industry for over 25 years and have over 40,000 graduates.
Through Skill Distillery’s sister companies (Batky-Howell and ITCourseware), anybody who goes through our program has access to over 200 courses that we offer to advance their career. This is a true advantage as not everyone wants to just do web development. There are many potential paths such as Mobile Application Development, Java EE, and Microsoft .NET.
Are you still running those shorter form training programs for corporations in addition to Skill Distillery?
Yes, Batky-Howell Training focuses on corporate new hire training programs as well as shorter 2-day to 5-day training classes.
Will this upcoming Skill Distillery cohort be the first cohort that’s structured around this 19-week program?
Yes. One of the things I’m always trying to point out is that a lot of bootcamps are brand new. They’re basically one or two-year startups. This is the first time we have run the Skill Distillery, but we’ve been in this space a long time and have over 40,000 alumni.
How are you fitting the Java curriculum into 19 weeks?
The program is not just about Java since the jobs that graduates get will probably be front-end web developers (HTML, CSS, JS). Java is just the server side component. Most schools teach Ruby on Rails or Python but there is a huge demand for Java.
From our corporate experience, we know that a lot of the companies we provide training for Java to support their websites as well as for a multitude of other uses. It also opens you up to a variety of different back-end server side jobs as well. Once you get your foot in the door with companies, knowing Java is one of the most critical skills that you can have for an actual career in IT, as opposed to just a web developer.
I think we’ve written 10 or 12 courses on Java that we sell on our publishing company. ITCourseware website. Basically kind of wrote the book on Java as far as training materials. What we’re doing now is just a natural extension of that. As far as giving people options, you have the option of being a lot more than just a web developer moving forward.
If your true goal is to change your career, this is something that really gives you the best opportunity and the most options for long term career success.
Would you expect that somebody who learns Java with you would then be able to learn another object-oriented language like Ruby or Python?
Yes, once you learn any programming language other languages will be much easier to grasp. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to choose a language that gives you the most longevity for your career goals.
Why did you decide on 19 weeks and what was the reasoning behind that?
If you look at Hack Reactor and similar schools, you’re going in there and you’re being fed from a “fire hose.” Our experience is that you can’t can cram that much information into the average person’s head in such a short period of time. This is especially true of a harder language like Java.
While this is a bootcamp style program, it’s not necessarily like a full-fledged boot camp where we’re going to be doing a hundred hours a week, and if you don’t get it then you just starve to death. We want you to understand the concepts and put them to actual practical use and show that you have mastery of it and the confidence of knowing that you are fully capable before you enter into your new job.
How many students will you have in a cohort?
One of the things I’ve seen out there in many situations is classes of 40 to 60 people – it’s just insane. Even on our corporate side for our training, we’ll have corporations who will want to put 30 people into a 5-day class; it’s overwhelming. It’s hard on the instructor and the students never take as much from it.
We have a maximum of 20 students per class. We plan to have multiple instructors so everyone attending has as much access to support as they need.
Tell us about those instructors.
The instructors that we use are the same ones that we would use for corporate training and the same ones who also write materials for our publishing company.
Most of our instructors have at least 10 years of experience as actual programmers in the field, as well as at least 5 years of experience as an actual instructors. This way they can provide real world advice and give actual examples of what students will face once they go to work.
Are they employed full time with your company or are they just on board for the 19 weeks?
We actually use a combination and bring in experts for select subjects. Over the years, we have built a large pool of instructors and special resources that we utilize. We’re also leveraging our many years of curriculum design. In addition to teaching classes, we also hold many instructor workshops to teach instructors how to teach, so they are not just technical experts.
What we’re trying to do is blend teaching and doing to keep the frustration down and the experience better. We’re not trying to have our students just totally burn out; and that comes from our years of doing this. The biggest risk of any bootcamp is not the tuition cost; it’s about taking the time off of work and paying for a place to live and everything else. We want to be very careful on our selection process.
Tell us about the curriculum. Will there be projects or is the class based on more lecture?
It is heavily project based. In our experience, that’s how newer people learn best. The projects will also be used as samples of their work that they can show to prospective employers.
How much experience should an applicant have in order to get into Skill Distillery?
Some of the most brilliant programmers never went to college. We’ve put together an interview and testing process that helps us decide who to accept. What we want to see is that your brain works in the way of a programmer and that you’d be happy being a programmer. If you can show the commitment and those skills, then we are hoping to take the rest of the way.
Will you have pre-work to get everyone on the same page before they show up for day one?
Will you have assessments throughout the course?
Yes, we’ve broken everything up into four-week modules we’re calling “quads.” Each quad has an assessment and then there are smaller assessments within those quads. If there’s somebody struggling who’s not asking for help, we can actually focus on that person and get them the help they need.
And if it is way too easy for them then we can give them some additional material, to challenge them more; so that everybody is actually getting what they want out of the program.
For example, at the end of the first quad for example, you go through a mock Java Associate Certification exam to prepare you to take the official exam and get certified as a Java programmer.
If someone “fails” an assessment, are they kicked out of the course?
We are not a hard-edged company where someone fails once and they are out. We have the resources to focus on those students more to make sure that they’re understanding everything and moving forward.
Are you working with employers or hiring partners to match students with hiring companies?
It’s a good question and it’s one that we’ve discussed frequently. There are some companies that guarantee jobs or compensate a student if they take a job through a “hiring partner.” What it boils down to, and if you read the fine print with a lot of those schools, is that they have placement fees established with those companies, which is almost a limiting factor.
The people who have those established placement fees are favoring those companies who agree to pay them that fee. We’re not guaranteeing you a job but we are working with our existing clients as well as local and national companies to get you placed. We don’t get paid to place any student and therefore we will submit students to any and all interested employers giving them a much better set of potential employment options depending on their goals. In the end, if we don’t place all of our students then we wouldn’t be in business so we obviously have solutions in place.
Are most of the companies enterprise or do you work with any startups at all?
It’s a whole range. We have a lot of big companies as well as smaller companies. We work with some incubator type companies in Denver as well. So it’s the whole range; it depends on what people are looking for. Plus, we have a lot of recruiter relationships that we’ve established over the years as well.
When does the next cohort start?
We are accepting applications now for the cohort that starts in a couple of months.
Are there plans to expand outside of Denver or to different languages like a Python bootcamp at any point?
We’ve chosen Java for our first class because of the reasons we mentioned. It sets us apart from a lot of other places as there are no other actual Java bootcamps to my knowledge and there are nationally more Java jobs out there than any other programming jobs.
It is too early to say, but we could probably launch 10 different programs that are all 19 weeks long utilizing content from our publishing side to support it. We have everything from Agile to Oracle as well as end-user programs.