Thinkful is a new type of online school offering fast-paced, job-ready programs in web development, data science, and design. Students learn cutting-edge industry standards, have 1-on-1 mentoring with an industry professional, and receive career services and job placement assistance to get a job in tech, guaranteed. While Thinkful is an online platform, the school also has in-person communities in tech hubs around the US, where students can attend in-person events and classes. Thinkful’s flagship programs are the 5-month Engineering Immersion, the Full Stack Flexible program, and the Data Science Flexible program. All courses include personal mentor meetings, a custom-built curriculum, and daily mentor-hosted Q&A sessions with industry professionals. Students are expected to commit 20 to 25 hours per week for Flexible programs, but can keep their jobs, learn at their own pace, and access course material from anywhere in the world. Students join a community of 3000+ students and mentors on Slack to get on-demand code help and build a professional network. All graduates receive lifetime access to the course curriculum.
Prospective students can apply via the Thinkful website, and schedule a call to chat with an advisor. The Data Science Flexible program is the only course with strict admissions requirements.
Thinkful offers all students career guidance to navigate the job market, build a professional portfolio, and prepare for interviews. The Full Immersion and Full Stack Flexible programs guarantee job placement in a role where the primary responsibility is software development. If students are not placed within 6 months of graduation, they get a 100% tuition refund. In addition to the immersion programs, Thinkful also offers shorter skills courses which feature 1-on-1 mentorship, lifetime curriculum access, and a project-driven approach that require 7 to 15 hours of work per week. Students can learn front-end web development, Python, iOS development, and User Experience Design.
Recent Thinkful Reviews: Rating 4.63
Recent Thinkful News
- Thinkful’s New Nights & Weekends Course: Everything You Need to Know
- New Year, New Career? Learning to Code in 2019!
- 2018 End of Year Coding Bootcamp Podcast
- MySQL, Python, SQL, Excel, Data Visualization, Data Analytics , Business Intelligence
OnlinePart Time20 Hours/week24 Weeks
The Data Analytics program combines an in-depth, project-based approach with two 1-on-1 sessions every week with a professional Data Analyst. This program is built to help those with no prior experience in data or technology land their first full time job as a data analyst - at a flexible pace and without having to quit your current job! You'll work side-by-side with a professional data analyst to learn statistics, analysis and experiment design, how to work with visualizations in Tableau, a thorough understanding of Excel, SQL and Python. You’ll also have the option to meet in person with fellow students and mentors to share ideas and work through problems.
- Start Date
- None scheduled
- Class size
- Online, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington, Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Raleigh, Tampa, Miami, Austin, Orlando, San Francisco
- Self-identifying women and US military members (active or discharged) are eligible for reduced tuition.
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
The Data Science program combines an in-depth, project-based approach with two 1-on-1 sessions every week with top data scientists. This program is built to land beginners their first full time job as a data scientist - at a flexible pace and without having to quit your current job! You'll work side-by-side with a professional data scientist to learn analysis and experiment design, predictive modeling, classification techniques, or customer types via unsupervised learning.
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Online, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington, Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Raleigh, Tampa, Miami, Austin, Orlando, San Francisco
- Self-identifying women and US military members (active or discharged) are eligible for reduced tuition.
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
- Start Date
- None scheduled
- Class size
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
- Start Date
- None scheduled
- Class size
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
OnlinePart Time20 Hours/week24 Weeks
Thinkful's Product Design Flex program is an online, flexible training program for busy, career-focused adults to become job-ready designers. Product Design Flex a holistic learning experience that includes mentorship from skilled designers, an industry-vetted curriculum, graded assignments, and a community of fellow designers to support you. Over 90% of senior designers say designers need to know how to code in today's market. You'll study the design process in depth, including UX research, visual design, AND frontend development. You'll also build a portfolio of real-life projects. These skills, combined with dedicated support from career services, will help you land your first job as a designer, or your money back.
- Start Date
- None scheduled
- Class size
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
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I was highly interested in the program and ended up sending 3 emails with a question and request for response. These were all submitted through their website. Each was spaced a few days apart in an attempt to not be annoying/demanding. Still no response to this day.
If they are unresponsive at this point, there's no way I would entertain the idea of sending them money and trusting them. No longer interested - I've found something else.
Note: I was required to rate the Instructors and Curriculum to submit this review. I defaulted to a single star due to my experience with simply trying to get some information. I have no experience with their instructors or curriculum.
- Easy to use platform
- Mentorship - 45mins once a week
- Offers Q/A and workshop sessions
- Price - $500 per month
- Nice and friendly staff
- Exercises sometimes doesn't reflect on what was being taught. It's more difficult than what was explained or even asking for completely different solutions at times. I know that they want you to learn and do research yourself, but it just doesn't smoothly transition into the exercises/projects. I don't feel like it's for "beginners" as how they mentioned the course was for.
- No videos at all. Expect to learn from reading and mini projects only. And if you ask your mentor, they want you to research yourself as well.
- Although having a mentor is helpful, you need to be the one to ask specific questions and tell them what you want to review during your sessions. Basically, it's YOUR choice. However, if it's more structured, it will be a better guidance for the students. For instance, once you submit your projects, you will hear no feedback from your mentor unless you are THE ONE to bring it up. I feel that as a student, if I submit something, I should receive some comments or etc? Just like when you are in school, you receive a grade/comment. At least that's how I feel.
- Sometimes typos/errors in given problems to solve. For instance, you are given an algorithm to solve in jsbin, but if you're not able to solve it within a specific time, then look at the solution they gave you. Then after you understood it, write that code on your jsbin to solve it. However, it doesn't work (I did not change any codes at all, parts of the codes were already given when you open the file, so that it will show 'it's working' or 'it's not working'), so I had to copy and paste the same code from the solutions to the jsbin to make it work. Meaning there were already some kind of typos in the given problem to solve.
- You don't have lifetime access to the course materials unless you stayed at least 3 months in the course. What if people finish in less than 3 months, then they're forced to stay extra long and pay that extra month/s in order to receive lifetime access?
By no means, I'm trying to make you change your mind if you do decide to join Thinkful. This is all from my personal experience and personal thoughts on the course. I don't recommend it to those who are just starting out as a beginner, but if you do have experience with coding, then Thinkful is for you.
I would highly recommend this course. I took it while working a typical 9-5 job and didn't feel completely overwhelmed. I didn't know what to expect considering my college major is in philosophy, but the video tutorials and the challenges they give you really help you understand the material without feeling like you were at a disadvantage from the start. I never really liked online classes but the way they organized the material made it much more enjoyable. I was a little worried with having it be self-paced but I actually preferred it that way in the end, and my mentor definitely helped out with that. I unfortunately had to put it on pause because I'm back in school finishing undergrad, but I will, without a doubt, finish the course later on.
I have enjoyed the UX Design Thinkful course very much over the past month. I think the course work is very informative and relevant and gives a good overview of what goes in to UX Design. I have really enjoyed my mentor. I think that is the most valuable part of the program is having someone who knows what they are doing give advice and guidance. Of course, with programs like this you get out what you put into them. As long as you are willing to put the work in Thinkful will help you progress in a positive way.
Thinkful's customer service and professional mentorship are the program's best assets. I was always impressed by how accessible Thinkful staff are. Here's one example: I was worried that my final project wouldn't quite be up to snuff before another billing cycle. If Thinkful just wanted my money, they could have made me pay for another round, but instead, they were on my side and worked with me to make sure my final project was solid.
The front-end unit was pretty easy thanks to resources like codecademy, but suddenly the back-end unit made me feel clueless at first. I definitely felt frustrated at first, but I think that Thinkful was doing me a favor by making me seek out answers to suppliment the provided material. Also, they made that seeking-out-of-answers pretty easy by responding to all questions on Slack channels and pointing me in the direction of articles and tutorials that made the pieces click. I realize now that I will have to know how to go out and find the answers to most of the problems I encounter as a web developer, so I am really glad that the curriculum didn't hand me all the answers off the bat.
My wife and I both joined thinkful, both of us have quit after two months. And let me say firstly, laziness was not an issue. We spent hours every day trying to do this course, we did not seek "handholding" nor did I enter this with an illusion of becoming an engineer overnight, this program is expensive and I wish I had sought better information before handing the cash over.
If you are looking for an immersive educational experience leading to a career change, this is not the program for you. If your company is paying for it and you are looking to kill time and put on a good front for the boss this is perfect, or perhaps for some reason you want to buy an ebook that cost thousands of dollars; this is the program for you.
Expect the course material to be 100% reading and assignments based on the reading, expect the solutions to be wrong(wasting days and days and weeks and weeks), expect your personal mentor to have no knowledge of the course material itself or your prgress throughout it, expect no help, expect arrogance and condesention when you seek help.
Not many graduate, they claim 60%(read the fine print of their report) graduate the program and if that is true I would be surprised that the graduate rate is even that high. I never wanted to write a review like this and stayed loyal as long as I could but the truth is they don't care about your success, and I would hate to see someone lose hope in learning to code and make the life changes simply because they were fooled and signed up for the wrong program. I switch to the free version of CodeSchool.com and in 10 minutes learned more then 2 months of heartache from thinkful.
Are you totally intimidated by the phrase "Full Stack Web Developer"? I was too. Thinkful's entire Slack community dispelled my fears. Anytime I had a question, Thinkful was there to point me in the right direction. Anytime I was worried about career options or needed further support, Thinkful was there. My mentors were all engaged and helpful, and when (due to scheduling conflicts) I needed to switch to a new mentor in my first few weeks of the course, the mentorship manager was immediately on it to get me the connection I needed. The career services team is up-front, kind and thorough, and I have every confidence that they will be able to place me in the right network as I move past graduation.
I've never programmed before so I didn't know what to expect, but Thinkful has made it a smooth easy to understand. The curriculum covers a lot of core topics, and the projects they assign test your knowledge thoroughly. My mentor is great – quick to respond and good feedback. The sessions generally go over the projects – any key points that you miss will be pointed out, and solutions different from yours will be shown to give you an idea of how experienced programmers think.
The only negative thing that I could say is that the reading material isn't always as in-depth as it should be in my opinion. Sometimes in order to do parts of some of the projects that they assign or answer some of the questions they ask, I find myself having to look at free online sources. But that isn't too big of a deal because the information is readily available (for free), and you are guided towards learning this information by the projects and questions so you won't miss out.
Great course overall.
I have been enrolled in Thinkful for about 1 month now, so very new and very new to coding itself. I am a true beginner coder, changing careers. I was between Viking and Thinkful and did a lot of research to see what would be best for me. The cost, length of course, mentorship and career help was what led me to Thinkful ultimately. I knew that I would need help along the way with the intensity of the program and so mentorship was key for me. My mentor Marius is a superb mentor that has been doing web dev for a considerable amount of time, so I knew I was getting a professional.
I will say, the course is hard (is for me) but very much worth it. As much as I struggle is as much as I thrive and motivated to go the next challenge and see my coding create sites. You will struggle, you will doubt yourself and you will wonder if you will get better and YOU WILL if you stick with it and do the work involved.
I know I'm only a month in, but I have already learned so much! Only 5 months more to go!
I am currently taking the $300 a month Frontend Web Development course.
- Quite a bit of course material.
- Course material can sometimes be in depth.
- Good mentorship
- Breaks down learning into easy steps.
- Good amount of projects to work on.
- Course material 95% of the time is extremely vague.
- No video's.
- For the most part you have to look other places to actually learn about what they cover.
- You get the feeling that a lot of the course work was just mashed together from other free websites out there.
- The price they charge for the course. Not worth $300. $100 a month or less seems a fair price.
Overall I am very unimpressed with this course. The course material is altogether very vague. Going through it almost feels like you have to decipher everything line by line. I believe they do this so that it takes you longer to go through it so that they can charge you more.
If you are willing to drop money on an online course I would honestly look any where else but here. In all fairness I am going to complete the course and then look else where to continue my education. I would not recommend thinkful.com to anyone.
Curated curriculum means most of the content is from FREE web resources. So I guess you're paying for the Mentor, except my mentor never answered any questions but rather threw me some weblinks and told me to go on Slack or Stackoverflow.
Yeah, I know I can find the answers online but I'm asking YOU right NOW for the answer. She also told me to go to Codeacademy - again another FREE resource.
I had high hopes for Mentor led learning but at Thinkful I got the impression that my Mentor was just trying to fulfill a quota of meetings and killing time just to reach the required 45 minute minimum.
I'll give Thinkful credit in that it got me to start using Github and Terminal but most of the technical learning I did on other resources like Codeacademy and even Lynda.com (my current employer has a company account).
Just finished up Thinkful's FrontEnd Development Course with a dedicated mentor. In full disclosure, I conducted a signfiicant amount of diligence into how best begin exploring a career in coding -- and after reading many reviews, making calls, talking with references, I decided to choose Thinkful. Importantly, my own personal experience over the past five months has been entirely consistent with the feedback I had received from a myriad of others before embarking on the course.
My experience with Thinkful: This was truly my first coding experience and while I was bit nervous, my assigned mentor literally assuaged each and every one of my concerns. IN so many ways, Thinkful bridges an important, critical gap between asychronous, self-paced, online free learning and on the other end of the spectrum, jumping into a coding bootcamp, full-time (whether online or in residence.)
With Thinkful, I got access to:
(1) a very strong online curriculum that allowed me to work on my own pace
(2) a strong, active and supportive community of both instructors and fellow students with ample opportunities to participate in workshops (think extra, live classes)
(3) And most importantly, a dedicated "mentor" who was litearlly with me every step of the way.
I cannot emphasize enough how important this mentor-relationship is. While Thinkful calls its instructors mentors - I really thought of my mentor (TJ) as a super coach. He is a professional developer with a ton of experience -- experiences that he shared with me that went well above and beyond the actual curriculum itself. For example, there were multiple times in which TJ suggested fantastic additional, free learning resources that were outside the scope of the Thinkful online curriculum that I would likely not have found myself. There were instances were TJ told me that it would pay off in dividends to invest the extra time and effort to learn a ton of Git shortcuts. He was right.
Most of all, my Thinkful mentor served as an inspiring and encouraging coach. Not only were all of my 1-on-1 sessions with him instructive and incredibly helpful, but knowing that I had a meeting scheduled with TJ was super motivational to put the extra time in - even after a long & tiring day at school - so that I could be best prepared to a) try to impress him and b) make sure that I used the time most effectively to address questions or concepts that I had been struggling with on my own.
For my "capstone" project - TJ continued to be super encouraging and incredibly helpful. I wanted to go a little further for my FrontEnd project - so I literally developed and launched a commercial website that's now generating approximately $1K per month in revenue just a few weeks after launch. My Thinkful mentor was not only open to helping me with my project as part of our mentor sessions together, but was incredibly helpful in teaching me how to do things like STRIPE API integration, leveraging AWS et al. Again, I realize that these things may seem both obvious and simple -- but remember, prior to starting Thinkful, I had absolute zero experience.
To balance out this review, I really wish there were some things I could point to for areas of improvement in regards to the overall Thinkful experience. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there really aren't. Ultimately, the litmus test for me is will I be returning for the next course sequence at Thinkful? The answer is yes. I could not recommend Thinkful and it's mentor program more highly. Truly.
Thinkful has provided me with great resources to be successful in this program. I was able to complete the 6 month program in 4 months by working on it full time. A few things that I wish I had been prepared for were to do some additional learning and research on my own to discover new things, and to reach out for help much earlier and more often. I found myself scrambling to work on things on my own, and once I owned up to the fact that I needed help and asked for it, I was able to learn and do so much more. Some of the curriculum is slightly dated (for example deploying to heroku, rather than another deployment site), based on the jobs I'm applying to, but there are plenty of external resources and other thinkful mentors and students to get help from. If you're coming from a completely different background, like I did, be prepared for a steep learning curve.
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Our latest on Thinkful
Bhaumik Patel is the Program Director for Thinkful’s new Nights & Weekends web development course, a live classroom experience delivered online. The course mirrors the instructor-led classroom schedule of the full-time Engineering Immersion course but provides flexibility for students who work during the day or prefer evening sessions. Bhaumik spoke with us about this new course, currently in a pilot program, and his hopes for opening up opportunities for more students looking to shift their career into the coding world.
What is your role related to Thinkful’s new Nights & Weekends course?
My title is Program Director of Web Development at Thinkful. I oversee our web development programs across Thinkful and Bloc, including the new hybrid Nights & Weekends program. After a lot of research and talking to our existing students and alumni, we found a lot of people wanted a part-time program that offered a combination of classroom learning and self-study. I did that research, built the program with our curricula and instructor team, and recruited the first students in our current pilot program, and will keep iterating and learning how we can make it better for the next group of students.
What’s the difference between this program and Engineering Immersion or Full Stack Flex?
Before we launched the Nights & Weekends course, we offered Engineering Immersion (EI) program which is full-time, 50 hours/week with a full classroom experience involving lectures, paired programming, and group projects. You’re working with a cohort of students that you start with, pair program (learn and struggle) with, and graduate together. We also offer Full Stack Flex, which is completely flexible in that students can decide when specifically to commit their 25 hours per week depending on their work schedule. The only fixed time are your regular 1-on-1 mentor sessions.
The new Nights & Weekends course is the best of both worlds. It’s for people who want that classroom experience but couldn’t commit to full-time hours or are unable to quit their jobs and go back to school.
What’s the format of the new Nights & Weekends program?
The program is 25 hours a week (10 hours in class, 15 hours flexible time) and is seven months long. Classroom time is Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6pm to 9:30pm and Saturdays from 11am to 3pm. Starting with our March 4 cohort, class will be available in both Eastern Time and Pacific Time. You can decide which cohort to join. Outside of classroom time, you’ll be required to commit 15 hours per week on tasks like graded homework assignments, reading the next day’s lesson in the curriculum,, attending office hours and meeting with your 1-on-1 mentor, or joining peer study groups. You have the liberty of choosing those hours as they fit into your schedule as long as you complete the requirements before the next classroom day. You can see a sample calendar under “A Week in the Life”.
What lessons have you learned from running the Engineering Immersion program that you’re integrating into the Nights & Weekend course?
Because the Nights & Weekends course is closely tied to the Engineering Immersion course, we’re not reinventing the wheel – the assets and curriculum are the same in both programs, so the Nights & Weekends students the same curriculum and content as a full-time EI student. They’ll have live instructor-led lectures, pair programming with on-demand TA support, group projects, and demo days. Similarly, the mentors are shared our web development programs.
If the pace of a full-time program where students move on to a different topic every day is a bit too much, the Nights & Weekends program could be a good fit. Students have that extra time between the classroom days to dig into the concepts a bit more. Though, keep in mind that students are expected to pass the same technical interview to gain admission into either program.
One new thing that we’re excited to adopt from Bloc is Technical Coaching. It’s similar to asking questions in Slack, but it’s much more systematic in that any question creates a ticket where any one of our online technical coaches can answer that question within 30 minutes from 9am to 11pm. You will also have study groups with your classmates where you can informally work on homework and study together. In building this program, it was important to leave some flexibility for those with full-time jobs or kids to take care, while still keeping them accountable to a consistent schedule.
How is the admissions process for the Nights & Weekends Course?
As for deciding between programs, I mentioned earlier that we learned early on that there was a meaningful group of people who wanted to do a live, synchronous program but couldn’t quit their job. If that sounds a lot like you, you’re the perfect student.
Now, we’ve intentionally built-in some flexibility to accommodate a broader audience so it’ll important manage your time well then. In our pilot, we’ve had perfect attendance with students meeting assignment deadlines. Because it’s a synchronous program, there are regular assignment deadlines and comprehension quizzes to help students stay on track and manage their time - you still have to finish an assignment by evening to be prepared for the lecture the next day.
How does Thinkful track students’ progress in the Nights & Weekends course? Are there tests?
When you work through a topic, we assess your knowledge by asking you to apply that new lesson or concept to projects and drills. Then, when you get to bigger projects that require putting together lots of different pieces from the last few weeks, each of those projects goes through a three-tiered assessment for functionality, code quality, and design. Finally, when you get through a major phase like React or Node, you’ll have a mock interview with a combination of qualitative and quantitative questions that is intended to simulate a real interview that you have to pass that to move on to the next phase.
Students can also have open conversations with their mentors about different topics or concepts they’re struggling with, and if enough mentors are receiving that feedback we may consider repeating a concept or lecture to ensure students feel comfortable with the topic. They also submit a reflection every week where they answer questions about when they did the work outside of the classroom, give feedback on each their peers each other, and anything they’d like to share about the program.
Are the expected outcomes or salaries different between the web development courses?
I’d say one primary difference is that the Engineering Immersion program has a much higher graduation rate than the Full Stack Flex course given the synchronous schedule. You have to commit to a daily schedule over 5 months and it has a rigorous admission process to make sure the peers you work with are fantastic. We obviously don’t have outcomes data for the nights & weekends program yet, but given that it has the same admissions process as the full-time program with a consistent schedule, we expect graduation rates and outcomes to be closely aligned.
In fact we’re confident enough to offer a financing plan where you don’t pay until you get a job. For both the Engineering Immersion and Engineering Nights & Weekends program, you will pay zero tuition upfront.
How does this new format make Thinkful more accessible to different types of students?
The ideal student may have been leaning towards the full-time Engineering Immersion program who want the classroom experience but aren’t able to commit full-time or can’t quit their jobs to go back to school.
There was a student who was in our Prep course for Engineering Immersion. She has a health condition which makes early mornings difficult for her but she recovers by the evening. When we announced the Nights & Weekends course, she immediately emailed me because she’ll be able to do the program once she passes her technical interview. We’re so happy that there are people interested in this new program who can’t commit to the strict schedule of EI - whether it’s someone with a health restriction or a parent who needs to pick up their kids at a certain time. The accessibility of the program is really exciting.
When does the next cohort start?
The next Nights & Weekends cohort starts on March 4th (you can apply here), running on both Eastern and Pacific time zones. We’re excited about opening Thinkful up to a new group of students and accommodating for their time zones.
Find out more and read Thinkful reviews on Course Report.
Is learning to code on your 2019 New Year’s Resolutions List? It should be! The average coding bootcamp graduate gets a job in tech and sees a 49% salary lift. A coding bootcamp could be just what you need to make a fresh start in 2019 as a developer, so we’ve compiled a list of 18 full-time, part-time, in-person and online coding bootcamps which have upcoming cohorts starting in January and February 2019. Most of these coding courses have approaching application deadlines, so submit yours quickly if you want to get a head start in 2019!Continue Reading →
As we near the end of 2018, we're rewinding and reflecting on the most interesting and impactful coding bootcamp news of the year. Come with us as we look at trends, digest thought pieces, break down the ~$175 million in new funding, and more. We’ll also look at our predictions for 2019 and our hopes for the future of coding bootcamps!Continue Reading →
After teaching data science for two years, Thinkful is adding a flexible, online Data Analytics Program. We asked Thinkful’s Data Science Program Director, Matt Shull, about the differences between data analytics and data science, what the curriculum covers, the demand for data analytics roles around the country, and what sort of companies are hiring!
What you need to know:
- Applicants still need to prep for the course, but it’s less selective than the Data Science Flex program
- Part-time, flexible program. Thinkful suggests 20 to 25 hours a week of work to complete the course within six months.
- Tuition Reimbursement Program applies to this new course – eligibility requirements here.
- Launched in November and currently enrolling!
What’s your job and what inspired you to work at Thinkful?
Today, I’m the Program Director for Thinkful’s Data Science and Data Analytics Career Tracks. Thinkful set the course for my own career way back in the day, so now I’ve come back to help do the same for other people. It's really fun.
For the last 13 years, I've been a Web Development Engineer and Product Manager, but I’ve always loved working with data, machine learning, and getting a sense of the story that data tells. Five years ago, I started mentoring part-time for Thinkful’s Web Development Track. Living in Arkansas, there were not a lot of opportunities like that. So I told myself that I would drop everything I was doing and work for Thinkful full-time if I ever got the opportunity. That opportunity came about in 2017, when I took a job as Thinkful’s Data Science Program Manager.
Thinkful has been teaching data science in the Data Science Flex program for a while now – why have you decided to launch a track dedicated to Data Analysis and Business Intelligence?
In the two years that we’ve run the Data Science Career Track, we noticed that there are even more Data Analyst, Business Intelligence, and Data Journalism roles out there. Unlike data science, those roles don’t require a background in programming or a background in statistics to be successful. We also noticed a number of data analysts coming into our data science program to further their own careers.
So we wanted to design a program to get students job ready for a Data Analyst role in six months. The Data Analytics Track is more accessible to a broader audience – not only because you don't need a programming or statistics background, but also because junior or mid-level data analytics jobs don’t always require professional experience.
So what types of students should take the Data Analytics Flex course?
In the Data Science Career track, we find that people with Python or programming experience and statistics experience who had a masters or a Ph.D. were typically very successful. But for the Data Analytics course, we realized that people who had a Bachelor's degree (like myself, I have a psychology degree), not necessarily a STEM-focused degree, who are looking to get into technology or get into the world or industry of data, have the right educational requirements to get into data analytics.
This program is for people who want to learn how to use tools like Tableau for visualization, or use Excel to do some modeling, organize data to present to stakeholders, and learn how to present that data so that they can tell the story of data.
It’s also for people who are starting from Square One and want to learn what Python is all about, how to work with databases using SQL, and how to scrape data so that they can collect data to analyze.
Is there anything in the Data Analytics Career Track curriculum that isn’t included in the Data Science Career Track curriculum?
Yeah, there are definitely subjects that we've not covered before. The course starts out with Excel, which is fairly new for us at Thinkful. We teach the foundations of Excel, how to do V-Lookups, modeling and charting within Excel, and analyze data.
Then we move on to SQL foundations. We teach SQL in our Data Science Career Track as well, but we’ll be more thorough in the Data Analysis Career Track. We’ll expect students to become intermediate or advanced at SQL. Then we learn Tableau, a visualization tool used by a lot of companies. And from there, we’ll learn Python and statistics.
Students will then use the skills that they have learned to build projects based on scenarios that we've built with different types of data. Mentors will grade those and make sure each student can present and articulate how they got to the results and tell the overarching story of the data.
Lastly, there a number of assessments and case study interviews, behavioral mock interviews, all with the goal of preparing students to confidently move into careers as a data analyst or business analysts.
How will the Data Analytics Capstone Projects compare to the Data Science Capstone Projects? Could you give us an example?
They're completely different. In data science, projects require machine learning, along with supervised and unsupervised learning – those concepts aren't in the data analytics program at all.
For the data analytics program, students will use Excel and SQL for their Capstone Projects. By the time they do their Capstone Project, students are able to find datasets on their own.
What is the learning style? Is this a synchronous or asynchronous course? Are students matched with mentors?
It’s the same kind of mentor model we use for all of our Thinkful programs. Students learn via our online learning platform, then have two, 45-minute mentoring sessions each week. Students can go to office hours where they meet with different mentors and get their questions answered for support.
We also have workshop lectures to break down topics, and mentors go through a presentation and dive a little bit deeper into certain things. Our mentors – many of whom are working data analysts – often share something in the field that they are passionate about. I think that's important because it’s validating for students to see a professional data analyst talk about how they work through problems.
And what kind of schedule should students expect?
This is a part-time, flexible program. We suggest 20 to 25 hours a week of work to complete the course within six months. Program Managers and Mentors for each student help keep them on track and keep them accountable to their graduation plan that's set at the beginning of their time together.
Will students have the opportunity to communicate with each other and work together?
Yes, definitely. Now that we have a physical presence in a number of cities across the US, we do monthly meetups. Students can meet each other there, go to office hours and workshops, talk to each other, and talk about their projects.
We also use Slack for our student community. We have channels for different locations and cities across the US. We've found that students organically coordinate with each other, get together at coffee shops, to talk about projects or pitch their presentations to each other for feedback. That's been really exciting to see students do that organically on their own.
What's the admissions process for the Data Analytics Flex program? Is it selective?
The admissions process is less strict than the Data Science admissions process, but still selective. It involves an application, and then each applicant works with an education advisor.
Thinkful’s admissions counselors and education advisors help each student prepare for and set expectations so that they clearly understand the commitments. We make sure students are willing to commit to working 20 to 25 hours a week for the next six months, and help them figure out their payment plan options. And if they're not ready at that exact moment, we work with them and follow up, so that when they are ready, they can start confidently.
Once a student enrolls, they meet with Thinkful’s Student Success team which can handle financial questions or something like taking a pause if you've got a vacation coming up. Then each student has a Program Manager who helps create a graduation plan and sets a pacing expectation. Then, of course, you meet with your mentor for your first session.
We found it’s important to set expectations and goals even before students enroll so that they feel they are using their time and money wisely, and to make sure they're ready to switch careers after graduating.
If a student is struggling to get through assessments or falling behind, how do you help them through? Can they repeat sections?
Definitely – students can absolutely go through the assessments again. If a mentor decides that a student is not quite ready to move on, they'll provide feedback, the student will talk about that feedback with their mentor, implement that feedback, and then take the assessment again.
So there are three layers of support to keep a student accountable. The Program Manager would follow up with a struggling student to rework their graduation plan. And the Student Success team can help pause their program if they fall too far behind.
Is there a Job Guarantee for this Data Analytics Career Track?
We do offer a tuition reimbursement guarantee. To qualify, students need to have a bachelor's degree and live in one of the cities in our eligibility requirements. If you don't find a job within six months, and you meet the criteria, we will reimburse your tuition.
Whether you qualify for our tuition reimbursement guarantee or not, you still get assigned a career coach after you graduate, and career services for six months after you graduate. The Career Services team actually starts meeting with students during the program so that when they graduate, they can hit the ground running and start aggressively applying for jobs in the area.
The career coach isn't just there to help students apply for jobs. They do mock behavioral interviews with students; teaching them how to perform well in these behavioral interviews. They help students until they sign that offer letter when they get their full-time job.
What are some examples of the jobs that students might be able to get after graduating?
Data Analysts, Business Analysts, Business Intelligence Analysts. Data Journalist is another role that is very popular. You may be called a Financial Analyst if you're working for a bank, or maybe even a Product Analyst if you're working at a startup. But data analysts and business analysts are the two major general roles.
Throughout the curriculum, we’ll cover industries like finance, marketing, and product, and allow students to do certain projects through the lens of those industries.
You mentioned banks and startups – what other kinds of companies would want to hire Data Analysts?
That's the exciting part – pretty much any company is interested in hiring data analysts. That means healthcare, finance, startups, and e-commerce. News and media organizations, government organizations, even HR departments are looking for data analysts to help understand data about their employees. It's a very broad field that touches a lot of different industries.
Businesses have been told for decades to “collect all the data that you can." And companies are now asking what they should do with all that data. That's where data analysts and data scientists come in – to help companies sift through and understand all the data, and to help tell the story of that data to stakeholders so that they can optimize their business processes.
What is your advice for students embarking on the Data Analytics Flex program? Do you have any tips for getting the most out of it, especially if they're trying to change careers?
If you’re on the fence about whether or not this is the right program for you, then talk to alumni who have already gone through the program. Once you’re in the program, here’s my advice:
- Talk to as many mentors as you can about what they do. Understand the landscape, and get a good bird's eye view of the different types of data analysts jobs that are out there. All of our mentors are doing incredible things at startups all across the world and for big companies like IBM and Google and Intel. Find what you’re most passionate about and then lean into that.
- As a student, start answering questions for other students who are behind you in the Slack community. That will help you keep topics fresh as you're digging into more complex material.
This November has been super busy in the immersive coding education world, and at Course Report! We read about how Amazon’s new headquarters will impact the coding bootcamps in New York City, we celebrated successful coding bootcamp grads, we were sad to hear that a school is closing, we heard advice for being successful at bootcamp, and found out about new initiatives to improve diversity in tech! Plus we look at new schools and campuses around the world and discuss our favorite pieces on the Course Report blog.Continue Reading →
If you’re paired with Lauren Washington as your Thinkful mentor, consider yourself lucky. Lauren’s experience in the data science industry spans from a master’s degree in quantitative methods, to research for the CDC, to digital research at Nielsen, to working at Google! Now she balances her career as the Lead Data Scientist at SmartQED with her passion for mentoring future data scientists at Thinkful’s Online Data Science Bootcamp! Read on to learn about Lauren’s teaching style and her expectations for her students.
What were you up to before Thinkful? How did you get started in data science?
I have a bachelor's degree in Economics from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. I actually wasn't sure what I was going to do with that degree until I went through an econometrics course and I realized that I really loved statistical research. My father is a Software Engineer, and he told me to get more serious about math, so I took Calc 1 - 3, Statistics, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Math. Then I went to graduate school in New York at Columbia University to get my master's degree in Quantitative Methods in Social Sciences. Recent graduates now call that “Applied Data Science.” I started my career in Chicago at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, then went on to Neilson where I worked on digital research – using frequent shopper data from grocery stores and pharmacies to figure out who to serve ads to online (aka predictive modeling).
I moved to the Bay Area to work for Google Wallet, which is Google Pay now. I left Google two and a half years in as I found that a major pay discrepancy between what I was making at the company and my true market value. I quit and started my own company – a subscription box service that delivers 1-2 books a month on R, Python, data science, and personalized workbooks in each shipment.
At that time, I coded in R, but I didn’t know Python. So I took a break and went to General Assembly’ Part-Time Data Science Immersive. I also started working as an on-site liaison for datascience.com and started specializing in Natural Language Processing (NLP)
I then transitioned to SmartQED where now I'm the Lead Data Scientist and Machine Learning Developer. I started working as a Thinkful Mentor when I started at SmartQED.
Since you’ve had experience at an in-person bootcamp and an online bootcamp – what differences did you find between the two?
I actually went with General Assembly because I was aware of the name. At GA in 2016, I was part of a 30-person cohort and I felt like I never truly got my questions answered. I was actually upset that I didn't attend Thinkful, but they were not offering data science at the time. In a one-on-one mentorship at Thinkful – you're going to get your answers.
You have such a rich career in data science – what inspired you to become a mentor?
Before I left Google, I started teaching classes on Introduction to Data Science in R and Intro to Data Visualization in R to my colleagues – I had always wanted to be a professor. So when I saw an ad for Thinkful, I thought, ‘I could definitely do this’. As a mentor, I started by hosting workshops in my first week and everyone really appreciated them. I'm personally working with five students right now, but I think the cap is supposed to be three. I actually have a waitlist now, because whenever people come into my Q&A's or my workshops, they tell their program managers that I explain things in a way they understand.
What are your responsibilities as a mentor? How can a student expect to be paired with you?
Students have a Program Manager and a Mentor. As a Thinkful mentor, I get access to the curriculum and it's my responsibility to go through it before I start meeting with my students. Once I start working with a mentee, we do one-on-ones (I also allow people to shadow me before we get matched so they know what to expect).
Thinkful matches mentors and students – we pair people based on their background and what they want out of the bootcamp. I tend to get matched with students who are interested in the natural language processing specialization. I've also had quite a few students who have switched over to me just because they want their mentor to be a woman mentor. One thing to note: if you don't like your mentor, you go to your program manager and say that it isn't working, and they switch you to a new one. There's a lot of flexibility at Thinkful.
How do you work with your mentees? Are you teaching them the entire curriculum or are they learning on their own?
Students read the curriculum on their own and then I ask questions to see if they really understood what they read. I'll ask them to share their code with me on their screen, to see if they're coding in a proper way. If they have any errors, I can help them figure out how to get through them. I don't think it's really worth their time to come in and have me teach or lecture them. Students need to figure out how to use Google because that's what they're going to need to know when they're on their job, and I'm not there.
I'll always help students live with their coding, but I don't expect anyone to feel they should completely understand everything. As a Lead Data Scientist, I have a ton of bookmarks and resources that I use, and I immediately know which resources will help my students for each particular learning style. And I think students are really grateful for that. I'm always pointing them to different blogs or YouTube videos that explain things further.
What goes into the Thinkful Online Data Science curriculum?
There’s a two-week prep course, which covers Python, Pandas and NumPy, basic visualization and probability. To be admitted into the full-time bootcamp, you have to do a basic data analysis report and pass a technical evaluation.
During the full-time bootcamp, you’ll learn:
- A/B testing and experimentation.
- How to clean messy data (something that I never got exposed to before going into the real world – so it’s great that people are getting that exposure during the bootcamp).
- Feature engineering
- Data Modeling
- Supervised learning
- Linear regression to support vector machines, random forests, and other models. You’ll be able to explain the pros and cons of different models in order to pass the mock interviews.
- Advanced topics in data science like link lists, trees sorting and scraping the web for additional data.
- Natural language processing and deep learning
- Career prep – resume review and applying for jobs
Then you go through your first mock interview where you're presented with a case study and you say how you would perform that experiment if you had that case in the real world. It’s pass or fail, and we don't easily pass people. Plenty of students have to retake the test or redo mock interviews.
How often are you meeting with your students throughout the course? Is there a set time you meet each week?
We meet with students twice a week, but they have full access to us whenever they have a question. Students know that they can find me on Slack. I don't know how every mentor is, but I do you give my all when it comes to helping my students. I have students who work part-time at a CVS or an Amazon fulfillment center and I'll meet them at 6:30am or on Saturday/Sunday to get their questions answered. It's a very flexible bootcamp, but you definitely get to set two hours with your mentor no matter what, during the week.
How do you communicate with your mentees throughout the course?
We have an internal system and twice a week we do video chats with our students. You can join and just observe or speak. There's a chat window on the side and you can share your screens as well. They can share their screens and I’ll help them troubleshoot their code and fix the error. In our workshops, there’s live learning on how to plot data and basic data science info. It's basically a video call and people can choose to join the stage, chat with me via microphone or by typing in the chat. Students can ask me any and all questions. And afterward, I sometimes share my personal workbook that I've created.
How are you able to balance being a mentor and your full-time role as a data scientist?
In the beginning, I thought it was a little bit out of hand, but I've managed to find a good balance. My boss is pretty flexible and actually loves that I work for Thinkful because I'm learning new things. I'm wise enough not to over-promise and under-deliver.
What do you do if a mentee is falling behind? How do Thinkful mentors assess student progress?
Thinkful has a dashboard on student goals, so if students are falling behind, it tells me what's going on. Every student’s goals are different and there are different milestones they need to hit. An example of a goal would be – go interview a data scientist that you found on LinkedIn. As mentors, we make notes after each of our sessions as well. At the end of each Chapter, students have drills. Students need to know how to build models five different ways, which is amazing because that teaches people what to do with models that go awry in production (something I also didn't know when I first started as a data scientist). At the end of each chapter, students have to submit a Github link with the assignment. Their Program Manager and I can assess all of their code before I meet with them. It’s expected that students spend a good 25 to 30 hours a week on learning at Thinkful.
As a mentor, are you able to contribute to the Thinkful curriculum?
Mentors have a whole Slack channel dedicated to updating the curriculum and Thinkful has a pretty quick turnaround. And for students, at the end of each lesson, there's a link for them to provide feedback on the lesson and whether or not it was easy for them to learn. Students grade the mentors every week through surveys. Thinkful is constantly using data to improve upon the program and curriculum.
Is there a certain type of student that does really well in Thinkful’s online data science program?
You have to be determined to switch careers and have your own goals – those are the students that do well in the bootcamp. The fastest learners already have some pivotal applied math background, are naturally creative, or really driven to make it through. There's no set cookie-cutter type. My most successful students tend to be a little bit older and a little more serious about their career in the data science course versus the web development course where people tend to be younger.
I've only had one student who I actually had to remove from my roster. They would meet me on video chat in their bed – it was obvious they were not very dedicated to the bootcamp.
On the other hand, I have a student who works as a full-time pharmacist and she'll randomly video call me from the pharmacy. I always think, ‘What are you doing? You're going to get fired!’ But she’s dedicated! If you're not passionate about a subject and you don't care about the data insights that you're getting, then data science is not for you. Data science is for you if you truly want to help to change the world.
What are some online resources or meetups that you would suggest for aspiring data science bootcampers?
- If you have no experience with programming at all, then get practice with Python on learnpython.org.
- Read the book Head First Python
- Go to datacamp.com. I've had a subscription with them for three years and I don't think I'll ever give it up.
- Brown University’s website called Seeing Theory, teaches you all the basic statistical concepts.
- And as far as blogs, I like The Mintab Blog and datascience.com.
Is there any other advice that you want to share with our readers about Thinkful?
In this day and age, you need to have an online presence showing what you're able to do. When you leave Thinkful, you have at least 30 to 40 different analytics repos in your GitHub. If you really want a bootcamp that's truly going to prepare you and give you an impressive visual resume of everything that you can do with machine learning, Thinkful is the way to go. If you want a bootcamp that is truly invested in your experience, Thinkful gives you a mentor and a bunch of workshops in local cities. You get to go to family dinners once a month with all the students and mentors that live in that city. If you're looking for a community experience with a lot of support, choose Thinkful.
The coding bootcamp industry is always evolving, so at Course Report we closely follow news and announcements in the coding education space. In September we saw a lot of interesting new data around women in tech and how coding bootcamps are increasing accessibility for underrepresented groups. We also read about new apprenticeship initiatives, heard from students about their experiences, and founders told us about taking bootcamps in new directions. There were also articles about the impact of bootcamps on the education industry as a whole, and advice about finding a job after bootcamp.Continue Reading →
Marnie Boyer has a successful, 20-year career in marketing analytics, but didn’t want to lose her edge. Even though she wasn’t interested in changing jobs, Marnie chose Thinkful’s Data Science Bootcamp to update her data toolset. By the end of Thinkful, Marnie had built an inspired final project that detects face shape and recommends hairstyles. Check out a video demo of her app to see what Marnie was able to build with Python and machine learning skills, and the help of her Thinkful mentor!
What were you up to before Thinkful’s Data Science bootcamp?
I’ve worked in marketing analytics for 20 years and started my career as an Excel guru, which was what put you ahead back then. I'm actually still doing the same job, but always working to tap into more modern and innovative data skills that will make me, my company, and all eighteen of my employees better and more challenged. I want to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk with my team as they graduate with master's degrees in computer science, statistics, or data science.
What was your goal in doing a data science bootcamp? Were you expecting to change your career?
No. I'm a different demographic for a bootcamp than the typical student, because I'm not changing careers – I'm enhancing my own skills.
I have a good job that I like with a good salary because of my seniority and leadership. In fact, I don't think my boss cares if I learned these data science skills as much as I do. Since the course, recruiters are hitting my LinkedIn profile regularly. I probably get two messages on LinkedIn a week, often referencing how they’re impressed that I've kept my skills really current, and how employers are looking for people who have done that, especially on their own.
Did you research other coding bootcamps before you decided on Thinkful?
I looked at them all! I made a Google Sheet of free bootcamps, paid bootcamps, universities, everything. My criteria came down to two things. First, the bootcamp had to be online, because even though my husband was supportive with our kids, I needed a flexible option that fit around my very busy schedule. An online bootcamp was the right solution.
Secondly, I really wanted a bootcamp that let me build my own projects. I didn’t want to build a Netflix recommender or tap into Kaggle datasets like everyone else. I wanted to do something unique. I also wanted the project to be relevant to my job, or at least a personal interest. My first project for Thinkful was actually about baseball – I wanted to have something to talk to my husband about. I don't care about baseball, but I became a super expert. It was just fun because it was relevant to what I do 162 times a year – watch baseball games.
Did you try free resources before you invested in Thinkful?
I should mention that it's really hard to be motivated when the course is free. If you’re a beginner and you don’t know statistics, Python, machine learning, AI, PySpark TensorFlow, then how do you know how to build your own path and curriculum?
As people try to navigate the free learning space, I think the big thing they're missing is someone guiding them and telling them which languages to learn. You're paying for some of that guidance. Frankly, I think doing a free course is a good supplement. Like if you're stuck on what eigenvector is, go find a free resource. But in order to get a full course and know that you've covered all the bases, you have to go with a real bootcamp.
You chose the part-time data science bootcamp at Thinkful – what was the learning experience like for you?
Thinkful is really interesting and it's a great blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning. Before I started, I went to a meetup here in DC, and learned a lot about the course and met some people from it.
The course is asynchronous in that you can do it any time of day. You learn the curriculum on your own completely and you meet with your mentor for two hours a week. Meeting with your mentor really helps you set the pace. I wanted to get through it quickly, so my mentor kept me on my toes. I had a couple of different mentors for various logistical reasons – they all worked great in different ways and they all helped me. My advice to people is, make sure you have some schedule in mind so that you don't lose track – having a mentor does help you stay on track.
Did you set up a “classroom” to work on Thinkful? I’m curious how you carved out time/space to commit to the bootcamp.
It was a little of everything. I had an office so I could shut the door and do my Thinkful work, but I worked in different places – even from bed or the pool! I liked Thinkful so much so I preferred to do my Thinkful work over a lot of things. Especially when I was doing a project, I thought, "I don't want to stop until I get a better value or until this code runs without errors.”
How many months did it take you to actually get through the whole curriculum and graduate?
It took me six months, working steadily for about 10 hours a week (20 hours/week when I had a project). There were three or four major projects that I needed to squeeze in a few extra hours of work to complete.
What did you learn in the Data Science curriculum that you didn't know before?
I was a math major, so I should have known statistics, but it's been a long time since someone asked me about eigenvectors, normalization, derivatives and linear algebra. Thinkful gives you a crash course but also teaches it in a very applicable way – it's not like going to my kid's stats class.
At Thinkful, I learned Python – I'm no expert, but I definitely know Python now. I learned machine learning and GPU processing, big data, and Docker.
Did you ever interact with other students? Was that even possible?
It was totally possible in Washington, DC because people here are so active. I can’t be downtown at 6:30pm for meetups because I have kids and soccer games. But I have an active Slack where we meetup for dinner and stuff twice a month.
I wasn’t learning the curriculum with other students, but I did present my final project in front of my peers.
Okay, Marnie – show us your final project! What did you build?
I'm so excited to show you this. My mentor told me, "find something that's applicable that you could go out and sell. Don't do Pokémon Go – create something you're passionate about, something you could sell.” Hairstyle and taking care of yourself is so important, but there's a lot of uncertainty around what looks best on you. I was inspired by something that women could use, or even stylists and salons like Hair Cuttery or Dry Bar, could use to help their customers.
This industry is very large, $20 billion, and it's really about women. There are so many high-earning women in the workplace, but they don't have time to figure all this stuff out. So I thought it would be great to automate it in a way that helps high tech women and on the move. Right now, women are spending $55,000 for their hair in their lifetime, and every week, spending two hours styling or caring for it.
One of the first things you need to know is your face shape. If you look at fashion magazines, a lot of times, they recommend based on your face shape: heart, long, oval, round, and square. I decided to automate that so that women could know once and for all what face shape they have with my app: What’s Her Face.
What are the main features in What’s Her Face?
What's Her Face allows users to upload a picture, it runs the Face Shape Classifier, and then it recommends hairstyles. She can favorite certain styles (or she can dislike styles and the recommender will adapt).
Did you use an existing data set to build this recommender or did you build that yourself?
The hardest part of any project is having data. I first collected and classified many image samples of women with different hairstyles and different faces, and then created a feature extraction. Then I tested and trained my data, ran a bunch of different models, and then developed a recommendation system as the icing on top.
I built a spreadsheet to keep track of the data set. I went to 22 different websites, and I had 234 celebrities’ faces that I started working with. Writing some scraping code was really useful and allowed me to do this very quickly. I wrote a query that scraped Google Images and put them into folders, and then my model was able to use the folders. I processed each image, which was really fun to learn – I used a facial recognition package and also rotated, aligned, and cropped to the images.
So you built that initial data set – and then used that to train future data sets?
Yeah – most of my time was spent on this. My advice is to make sure that your data set is unique because you can only be unique if your data is unique. The stability of your model will be impacted by confidence in your original data set.
How did your Thinkful mentor help with the project?
My mentor definitely had a lot of influence on the nuances of this project. I was so busy figuring out how to Google scrape, and he would send me suggestions – for example, a resource about how to align images. He was very collaborative.
My mentor really took a lot of interest in What’s Her Face, and really thought it was a pretty neat project, especially as I started to really enhance it. He was a great asset for sure. I don't think you could do this without a mentor, to be honest.
One discussion we had was, "How do we figure out the person's forehead because if they have bangs, then I can't tell where their head ends." What we did was use our own faces to figure out if there's a point where your face is cut in half, and we just used that point and doubled it. So it was really fun to think about. Sometimes you have to generate data that's not even there.
Most of your project was done in Python. Did you learn anything through this project outside of the Thinkful curriculum?
I already knew Excel, but literally every other technical component of this project, I would have never been able to do without Thinkful.
I taught myself image/facial recognition through this project. I actually tried using Docker to run these models, because the data was so big. Docker is something you wouldn’t necessarily learn in the Thinkful curriculum, but that's why I like these projects that you have to come up with yourself, because when you have to come up with your own project, there's no Thinkful answer key! You sometimes have to Google for two days until you find a way to straighten up someone's face, or make a graph of the average of the face shapes.
If you can use 50% of the things you’ve already learned, and learn 50% of new applicable skills, I think you’ll have fun with your final project. You’ll get to research on your own and find new information, which is what you’ll have to do in the real world.
You were personally motivated to go to Thinkful to build your skills – not to get a new job or to change careers. Did you meet your goal?
1000%. I'm getting recognition for some of the work I'm doing now. I work in an agency so we have very different clients and new businesses all the time. Really, creative ideas and challenges are what get you ahead in your career – not just doing the status quo. I've been part of some really big, new business pitches, and I've even applied these new, different strategies to our current clients.
I led an Artificial Intelligence workshop last month for one of our biggest clients, and there was no way I could have done that without Thinkful. The confidence, the knowledge, and the ability to know what I'm talking about, was really instrumental.
Is there anything else about Thinkful that you would want future bootcampers to know?
The toughest part of learning something new is keeping up with it after the class is over. Do whatever you can to apply your new skills so that you keep up and remember how to use the new skills you’ve learned.
We are rounding up all of the most interesting bootcamp industry news that we read and discussed at Course Report in August! This month we heard about a $43 million fundraise and a big acquisition, we saw the decline of CS degrees in the tech job market, we read about a bunch of interesting alumni who were featured in the news, we looked at how coding bootcamps can help us avoid “robogeddon,” and we celebrated an initiative teaching women in prisons to code. Plus, we’ll talk about all of the new bootcamps in August and our favorite blog posts!Continue Reading →
Online coding bootcamp Thinkful is launching physical communities across the US to provide students with more support and networking opportunities. One of those communities is in Portland, Oregon, where Program Manager Emma Holland matches local students with local mentors, organizes “Family Dinners,” and encourages students to go to meetups. Emma tells us how this extra support, on top of Thinkful’s remote mentorship, is key to helping students integrate into their local tech communities and find meaningful jobs.
How did you get involved with Thinkful?
I’ve been working in the Portland technology scene for about four years, I'm very connected to the city of Portland, and I wanted to figure out how I could make a bigger impact on the goals of individuals in the tech and startup communities. I started as Thinkful's Portland Community Manager, creating a blended online and in-person support space. I’m now the Portland Program Manager. The idea that a skills-based learning platform like Thinkful could support people from non tech backgrounds into the tech workforce spoke to my own background, and the kind of openness Portland was already supporting.
As an online bootcamp, why does Thinkful want to have physical classrooms?
The cost of education is quite high, and a huge part of why people seek professional development opportunities is to build and engage their networks. In a city that is densely populated with technical professionals, like Portland, job seeking is more about who you know than applying to jobs posted online. The easiest way for our career coaches and mentors to encourage students to build a network is to help them get to know other people from the tech space. If you go to a meetup and see other Thinkful students, you have an immediate sense of comfort knowing there are other people who are at the same stage as you. You can feel empowered to ask the questions that you need, and won’t feel intimidated by a bunch of devs who have been doing this for 8 to 15 years.
Why did Thinkful want to establish a physical presence in Portland, specifically?
We started growing our city locations based on where our students were naturally gathering and where our mentors were. We realized there was an opportunity to create support that goes above and beyond the online student experience. We decided to go to the cities where those communities already existed and amplify those.
In Portland we saw a swell of gatherings and new students. Local prospective students were continuously asking our admissions counselors, "Do you have any mentors in Portland?"
When I started, my job was to get feedback from students and figure out how to present an experience that would connect them to a greater student body, or additional mentorship, without encroaching on their other commitments.
Why should a student choose to learn to code with Thinkful in Portland rather than going to an in-person bootcamp in Portland?
It all depends on the individual's opportunity costs, because every single learner is different. We believe that the one-on-one approach of having a mentor, while also having a local community, allows students to have an experience tailored to their specific learning style, and their availability. But if you're the kind of person that needs that extra level of accountability, and you have the time to drop everything to go to a campus for 40 to 50 hours a week, then an in-person bootcamp might be what you need.
When we chat with students, we’re figuring out how to meet their overall goals and optimize their success. If a student wants to create a FinTech startup, then we will do our best to match them with a local mentor who is an entrepreneur working in financial tech. My job as a program manager is to figure out ways to connect students with specific niches in the Portland Community – it is very tailored to the one-on-one experience.
How many Thinkful students are currently in Portland? What career backgrounds do they have?
There are 54 Thinkful students in Portland. We have eight graduates so far from the data science, web dev flex, and engineering immersion programs.
We are constantly onboarding new students in the Pacific Northwest area and their backgrounds are incredibly diverse. Occasionally, we have people who are very technical, but mostly we have people who are not technical but have an aptitude for jumping into the technical space. For example, our students are flower shop owners, a former literary assistant, a theater set technician, photographers, and former medical practitioners. We have people who came out of retirement to start their own businesses by learning the technical skills to launch a new company. So the backgrounds are all over the place.
How many staff do you have in Portland and what sort of roles do they have?
I am the Program Manager, then we have a career coach who's in Vancouver, Washington, which is just very slightly north of Portland. One of Thinkful’s internal lead recruiters is based in Portland, and then we have 28 mentors who are active in the local community.
What events and initiatives is Thinkful leading in Portland?
In Portland, it's about people getting together to meet one another to hear the diverse perspectives in the technology industry. We use a local coworking company called Centrl Office, which has three locations around Portland, to host and support students.
We do bimonthly Thinkful Family Dinners, where we get students, staff, and mentors together to discuss a particular topic with food and beer. We invite speakers from different companies to come and talk about how to make yourself stand out in a candidate pool, how to ace a technical interview, or about implicit bias that graduates will face in the technology space. We talk about how to hack your productivity and get the most out of your learning, as well as things that are very realistic for people coming into technology – the current tech climate, expectations, and how you can advocate for yourself in your first job. We also talk about imposter syndrome, and how to combat those thoughts to get the most out of your course.
We also occasionally accompany students to meetups. We'll have 10 to 15 people join, say hi to one another, and start building their own professional network. Students can then ask us, "How do I effectively reach out to this person for an interview or an informational session or hear about their company?”
Mentors do remote one-on-one mentorship with students – do they also attend events and provide in-person support?
Yes they do both – it's an awesome blend. Our local mentors engage both online and in person with students. Mentors come to family dinners, conferences, and events that they teach with our partner organization. We have one mentor with a background in fine art who worked as a developer for 15 years, and she still participates with the local arts community. She teaches with us at the New Avenues for Youth, a training space for homeless youths, to teach basic technical concepts, if that's the path they want to go down in their education.
Another mentor is also a technical expert with Thinkful. He teaches one-on-one Q&A sessions each week, where students can join him at a coffee shop or a bar, and he will do code reviews, pair programming, and mock interview prep. Students come from all over to sit around a large table, and talk about their code. It looks like a mini meetup. We try to provide an organic, supportive environment so that students will feel comfortable taking part.
Do you try to match Portland students with a mentor based in Portland?
It depends on what the student wants. Our matching process can be very intentional if that's what the student wants. At Thinkful we try to figure out the student’s intentions and needs, then try to meet that need. When I onboard local students, I ask very specifically about their goals and intentions with this program: “Since you're based in Portland, you're going to have a local community. Are you interested in having a local mentor as well or are you working to build your national network?" Our mentors come from all over the place, but they have the same levels of experience and often work with well-known companies that some of our students are want to hear about. In Portland, we do have some of that, but not necessarily as much as Silicon Valley, New York, DC, or Los Angeles.
One student told me she wanted to work for a local dev shop as a front end developer, and wanted to hear from a local mentor who had started their own company. So we partnered her with a mentor who could talk about launching their own company and how they felt in that space. Once the student graduated, the mentor also gave her a lot of information about how to network in that independent dev field. She's now working as a front end developer for a small Portland design shop. She's the first woman on their team of 10 people.
How does Thinkful support students with job seeking? Do you have relationships with local companies?
Our career coaches work similarly to how the mentors work with students – one-on-one. They meet with students either in person or digitally to talk about the intentionality behind the student’s job search mentality. When a student comes in, we have very specific goals that we ask students to follow. Our career coaches make sure we set that tone of accountability, and encourage students to reach out and go to meetups, and also occasionally provide introductions to hiring partners.
We have relationships with a number of local companies. I believe you spoke to Marcus from local company Cloudability not too long ago – he's one of our Portland career partners and is guaranteeing students interviews for a paid internship that could lead to full-time offers. We also have agreements with other local companies around interviewing, projects, and portfolio reviews.
Tell me more about the Portland tech scene. What sort of tech companies need developers?
We have a very dedicated startup community here in Portland, where even developers who work for larger companies have a side hustle or something they want to build. Portland has a focus on being very independent, very local, and very driven by the people who are here. There is a lot of intention around genuine creation that will meet a need in our community, rather than trying to be the next big thing in Silicon Valley. Local companies include Cloudability, Jama Software, Puppet, and New Relic. Those are the companies that a lot of our students have their eyes on and want introductions to. So we try to make sure they have access to those intros.
Then we do have larger brands – Adidas and Nike are both headquartered here. Expensify is here and Intel has an office on the outskirts of the Portland metro area.
Do you have any examples of specific jobs that Portland students have landed? Are they staying in the city?
Most students are staying in the Portland area. I've had only a handful of people who have moved to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Seattle, to work for big tech companies.
One student is currently working as a remote engineer for a company based in Prague that has a Portland space. Every two months, he's flown to Prague to continue learning with this team! I was pretty jealous of that offer once he got it. Another student is working on a back end development project for a very large athletic wear organization based in the Beaverton area, which I cannot name for contractual reasons. We also have a data scientist who was hired at Cloudability to work in the cloud automation software space. He is building data structures and doing a lot of analytical work.
If you're going to be joining a company in a junior position, we want to make sure that you have continued mentorship and that the company believes in professional development so that you can see growth potential in your first role.
How does your presence in Portland improve the student experience for local Thinkful students compared to that of a student in a city that doesn't have a physical presence?
I like to make the bet that if you have an in-person presence, it's just another layer of accountability that makes you feel successful. A couple of our students went through the program and said that they felt like they probably wouldn't have been able to stay with the full stack flex program, or would have stopped believing in themselves, if it wasn't for the community that they were building in Portland.
Students have many opportunities to have additional in-person development conversations with mentors to share their woes and their worries. They have study sessions with other students to prepare for mock interviews. I’ve received feedback from students that building accessible and safe spaces to share when they felt like they were struggling is just as important as sharing their wins and successes digitally with their mentor.
Which other cities does Thinkful have a community presence in? Do you recommend that people who want to do Thinkful move to a city that has a community?
Currently, we are in Washing DC, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, and San Diego. We are actively building these communities in many other locations, including Boston, Detroit, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis. I wouldn't say they should move to a city where we have a community but even if you are in a commutable region, it could be beneficial.
What meetups or resources do you recommend for a complete beginner who wants to learn about Thinkful and coding in general?
We have a Learn to Code Thinkful Portland meetup – that's a great space to hear a little bit about Thinkful, but also actually put your learning into practice. This meetup meets on Mondays and Tuesdays at Centrl Office from 6pm to 8pm.
We also partner with a few local organizations as a community education resource. One of the largest tech nonprofits called Free Geek has an education space particularly for community learners. We teach free 2-hour introductory learning courses on Tuesdays from 3:30pm to 5:30pm with Free Geek in their classrooms with our mentors. People can come through and build their first website, and utilize this free space to figure out if coding is what they want to do.
Thinkful just launched Tailored Talent – custom online coding bootcamps to train students for jobs at specific companies – but what does this mean for students and hiring companies? Cody LeClaire from Thinkful talks logistics and tells us what students can expect if they join a customized class. And Marcus Carter, Talent Acquisition Partner at Portland tech company Cloudability, tells us about building curriculum with Thinkful, why his team is guaranteeing job interviews for Thinkful graduates, and why Cloudability embraces candidates from a diverse background.
Cody, how do companies traditionally hire employees? And how is the Tailored Talent program different?
Cody: We're seeing many companies, especially at the Fortune and enterprise level, radically retooling their current workforce in the wake of changing digital and technical needs. At the same time, there's still a very real challenge for businesses to find the best new talent. The last report published by code.org claimed there were around half a million open computing jobs in America today, and that's only going to grow. So the demand for new talent is overwhelming, but companies don't just want more talent, they want the best talent.
Traditionally, companies recruit graduates out of an educational institution. But we're seeing more and more companies that want to have a hand in the educational experience. Our goal is to really customize the educational experience as much as possible to the individual employer. We know from conversations with employers that they need more specific training. Each company works in specific technologies, framework, stacks, and the general Thinkful program may not necessarily service those specific needs. We did months of research and created our Tailored Talent program, which is designed to match the needs of each business as closely as possible.
Marcus, as a Talent Acquisition Partner at Cloudability, what does your company gain from working with Thinkful’s Tailored Talent program?
Marcus: This is an intentional partnership to create a more diverse talent pipeline. I initially came across Thinkful at a diversity and inclusion panel in Portland, where I sat next to a Thinkful student who really impressed me. I knew we (Thinkful + Cloudability) were both interested in creating a more diverse and inclusive tech environment. Our alignment on diversity and inclusion led us to explore ways we can leverage the partnership to build a diverse pipeline.
To fill this cohort, Thinkful is reaching out to partners like Women in Tech, Women Who Code, and other underrepresented groups to source the students, and that was extremely appealing to us. The opportunity to partner with Thinkful in this capacity far exceeded our initial vision and outcome associated with the partnership.
What is the hiring market like in Portland right now? Where do you currently find software development talent?
Marcus: The hiring market is fairly healthy for entry-level engineers in Portland. Cloudability is unique in that we hire a mix of computer science graduates and also folks who come from coding bootcamps like Thinkful. We actually just hired two Thinkful graduates earlier this year. At Cloudability, we’ve had awesome relationships with code schools in general. I hope our partnership with Thinkful signals to candidates and other organizations our commitment to embrace various backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives.
So Cody, how do the Tailored Talent programs work?
Cody: Thinkful partner companies will work alongside our expert staff to design custom courses that include the tools and frameworks each business needs. We then tailor the admissions and acceptance process to select the best fit for our partner company. This means companies like Cloudability will receive a consistent flow of talent.
We do have a lot of companies that ask about having their employees participate in our Full Stack Flex program, Engineering Immersion, or Data Science, but right now, this is purely focused on new talent.
And what will these programs look like to applicants or students?
Cody: Candidates will apply as usual for either the Full Stack Flex or the Engineering Immersion program. During that admissions process, we’ll reach out to students in cities where we have these partnerships – whether or not they want to have their candidacy considered for these opportunities is really up to them. If they choose to do the Engineering Immersion course through Tailored Talent, companies have agreed to guarantee interviews or apprenticeships to a minimum of 20 students.
Marcus: This program works for us, but I think this pipeline is also good for students. One thing I frequently hear from code school students and college students is that once they leave their university or educational institute, they are left to their own devices, whereas this program offers a funnel to Cloudability and a potential career.
What is the process for building the customized curriculum?
Cody: We identify the organization’s learning objectives, outcomes, and needs to develop the strongest talent pipeline. And then we create a curriculum outline. We'll design custom modules that include those tools and frameworks, and then go back and forth in a very collaborative effort.
Will these custom curricula for companies like Cloudability be completely new, or will they include quite a lot of existing Thinkful modules?
Cody: The first phases of the programs won't change. Much of that fundamental curriculum through the first phase will be the same as our regular programs.
In the last third of the program, students are introduced to the new tools and frameworks that would be required for the business to guarantee them an interview. Obviously, students would be paired with mentors who are proficient with the tools and frameworks required for the organization. But for the most part, their experience would be very typical of our current programs.
Will a partner like Cloudability get to interview Thinkful applicants?
Cody: The company has a very strong hand in selecting students for the Tailored Talent track. At this point, most companies are looking for culture fit, because the students won’t have the technical skills that early in the program. Some partners do want to get involved with more than just the curriculum. They want to have the students visit the employer site, and interact with some of the staff and things like that.
Marcus: There will also be an opportunity for us to speak to the candidates and introduce them to Cloudability. We want them to get a sense for our environment, speak with some of our leads, and just make sure it’s a match for them as well as a match for us.
One of the gaps we might see in working with other code school is you don’t necessarily have an update on how an individual student is managing the workload and progressing. But with Thinkful, we’ll have an opportunity to follow up with mentors, ask how people are performing, find any changes we might need to make, and how can we best support the student, their growth, and their development. It’s awesome to be hands-on in that manner with the mentor.
What happens when students complete the program? Are they guaranteed a job?
Cody: Following the completion of the program, those graduates will transition directly into the company's hiring funnel. Each of our partners guarantee graduates either an interview for an entry-level position, or an actual junior level position. That could be a contract to hire or paid apprenticeship.
Marcus: The interview at Cloudability is guaranteed. Our goal is to have paid interns starting at Cloudability every four to six months. When we take on interns in our engineering department, our goal is to make them full-time. We have opportunities for our front end teams and back end teams, so they would fit in one of those buckets.
In addition to Cloudability, what other companies will Thinkful work with and where?
Cody: Right now we've started with roughly a dozen partnerships in select cities. We're in Portland, Atlanta, Washington DC, Phoenix, and San Diego. We also have some individual partners in other cities like New York.
Our partners are from a wide range of industries including entertainment, FinTech, traditional dev shops, and even consulting companies that are servicing the food or service industries. We are on track to close over 30 partnerships this year as part of our first initiatives roll out.
Have you actually started training any candidates yet?
Cody: We will begin in July, when the first set of students across all of our partnerships begin. We expect graduates to start coming out in December and January.
How is the cost of the program tuition covered? Do companies pay a fee?
Cody: It depends. We do ask that our partners consider contributing scholarship funds to help subsidize the program for our students, but not every company can facilitate that. So the program tuition will still need to be paid by the student directly.
We do offer our income share agreements, which allow students to do the training at no cost until they start earning in their new role.
Marcus: At this point we are not offering scholarships for students, however, I think there is an opportunity to do that in future.
If the student is not hired by the partner company, will the Thinkful tuition guarantee still apply?
Cody: Our guarantee will still apply to any students that enroll in our program. If they don't find a job through that partnership, for instance, we will still invest all the time necessary like we do with any of our students. The career support that we provide after the program would look no different.
What’s your advice to a student who wants to make sure they can succeed in an internship at Cloudability?
Marcus: I have faith in the screening and processes Thinkful has put in place, and as long as you’re progressing through Thinkful, you’ll do well. Yes, we are creating a tailored cohort that fits our development environment, but personality-wise, and how a student chooses to complete the program is up to them. I definitely recommend students attend some of Thinkful’s in-person trainings, lunches, and dinners they offer in Portland, and you might bump into me!
Thinkful recently acquired Bloc, which means that two of the largest and most established online coding bootcamps are now joining forces. But what does this mean for students? We sat down with Darrell Silver, the CEO of Thinkful, to get the scoop on job guarantees, career support, mentorship approaches, and how students can choose the right program for their needs.
Our Takeaways on the Thinkful + Bloc Acquisition:
- The five programs – Bloc’s Web Developer Track and Designer Track, and Thinkful’s Engineering Immersion, Full Stack Flex, and Data Science – will continue to operate independently.
- The job guarantees at each school will remain distinct, but the Careers team will combine to help all students get jobs.
- The admissions processes for each school will continue to operate independently. Thinkful is best for students who want the highest level of 1-on-1 support and more structured courses, to finish faster and start a new career, this is especially true in its communities in Atlanta, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, and San Diego. Bloc is best for students who want more flexibility, with incredible amounts of group support, leaving more time for your other responsibilities as you transition into your new career.
First, tell us the news about Thinkful and Bloc. Can you share details of the deal?
The news: We’re thrilled to announce, Thinkful has acquired Bloc. Bloc was looking to quickly build its community and add new programs. We've been talking to Bloc since December about this deal, and to the team for years. Spoiler alert: we did not disclose the financial details.
Bloc and Thinkful have been competitors for some time – what did you admire about them?
Building online education is hard – I admire anyone who’s done it and has the data to prove it works. When Thinkful started connecting people offline back in 2016 Bloc was figuring out how to do the same kind of thing online for those that can’t commute. Bloc created the best way to get a career breakthrough fully online, while Thinkful created the best way in every city in which we operate.
Bloc today has two great existing programs – the Web Developer Track and Designer Track. Bloc also has an amazing team. Our teams have been working in parallel over the past six years on how to drive great outcomes in self-paced, career acceleration, so the Thinkful team got really excited about finally being able to learn from the shared experiences. The smartest people in technical career acceleration now work at Thinkful.
From a student's point of view, Bloc has the best online flexibility and support while Thinkful brings world-class education and one-on-one support. The combination of those is powerful.
Bloc also has a powerful technology platform. They've approached their mentor community and tracking differently, so that has really interesting consequences for how we want to learn from each other.
Will Bloc continue to operate independently?
The programs will continue to operate as they’ve done, and we will keep investing across all five programs. There won’t be changes made to those programs as a direct result of the acquisition, though both Thinkful and Bloc continue to get better: we’ll never maintain the status quo.
Does this acquisition expand Thinkful's reach at all?
Thinkful has done a lot of work to expand in the US, so far in Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, LA, and DC, Portland. Those six cities drive a lot of our innovation. We don't really consider ourselves fully online even though a lot of students come to us to learn purely online. On the other hand, Bloc is 100% online, and great at it.
What are the differences you’re seeing between the Bloc student and the Thinkful student?
Fundamentally, we're seeing meaningfully different groups of people going to Thinkful vs Bloc. For example, in the Bloc Designer Track, more than 70% of students identify as female, which is just incredible. And the Web Developer Track still stands out as above average in the industry with about 45% women in the Web Developer Track, up from about 25% a year ago. We need to figure out what’s driving that trend and how we be more public about that going forward.
We also see different learning styles in Thinkful students vs Bloc students. The different demands for more flexibility versus more support mean students have different expectations around career services and the flexibility of self-paced learning.
Fundamentally, when we think ahead to 10 years from now, there will be students who want more support, more one-on-one help, more classrooms. Others will want to be more independent, more self-paced. Some may want to commute to a classroom, others will not; and some will have full-time jobs. The variety of learners looking for high-growth careers in tech will continue to grow. And of course, we can't support that with a single program. We have to offer different ways of reaching each student’s goals.
So what type of learner should go to Thinkful vs Bloc?
Thinkful is best for students who want the highest level of 1-on-1 support and more structured courses, to finish faster and start a new career, this is especially true in its communities in Atlanta, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, and San Diego. Bloc is best for students who want more flexibility, with incredible amounts of group support, leaving more time for your other responsibilities as you transition into your new career.
Bloc did a lot of great work in December to drive more group support both through the technology, the pedagogy, and the tracking, and now we're seeing the rewards of that. They really cracked something that a lot of people missed that we’re pretty excited about supporting.
What did other schools miss? What did Bloc crack?
The success of all education is all about how you persevere through the program. Basically, Bloc started to integrate support beyond 1-on-1 into the core student experience. When Thinkful started connecting people offline Bloc was figuring out how to do the same kind of thing online for those that can’t commute. We now have a lot of metrics around both sets of experiences how to measure the effect of grading an assessment halfway through the program or every lesson.
Each interaction point that a student has with the program is now much more measured than I've seen anyone else do. As a result, we can overcome some of the limits of online ed. Students are getting faster responses to their questions, they are getting to know more of the network, and they’re relying more on the expertise of the network for each program. That's really intriguing.
Do you see a future where Thinkful and Bloc merge into one school?
Probably not in the way you think. However, what's really going to be interesting to watch is when we launch a new program. We’ll pull different features from each school (from tech, pedagogy, etc) to drive the next programs.
We’ll learn from both legacies – we're going to look at how to increase support and accessibility in one program, and how to adapt to some offline components in the other. The question that I think is most interesting is: “Where’s the future of tech hiring going to be 1, 2, 10 years from now? How can we reach students other cannot?” We'll find out together.
Will the admissions process change? If an applicant is accepted to Bloc, are they also accepted to Thinkful?
The short answer is no. They should use the admissions process to discover what's right for them. They should go through the admissions process to learn what they're going to get, how that's going to work for them in terms of their schedule, price, and locations for their current and next job.
Will you onboard mentors differently?
Mentors go through separate screening and onboarding processes, and they’re introduced to the program that they’re working in – whether that’s data science or design. Bloc and Thinkful have both done really great work around the mentor community, so now we’re figuring out what to share with each team of mentors. When you get into the specifics the jobs, and certainly the expectations, are completely different.
In the past, Bloc has also allowed students to choose their mentors. Will that stay in place or be extended to Thinkful?
They’re both working as is, but the question is how do we learn from each other? There’s 12 years of history; we’re now closer than anyone to knowing which approach is best in what scenarios.
Will job placement services now be handled by the same team across both Thinkful and Bloc?
Bloc has a powerful Student Success team, and Thinkful a powerful Careers team. We will have one Careers team that supports all five programs (across Thinkful and Bloc). It will take time to get the teamwork right, but the vision and mission for both sides is that the teams collaborate. One of the first topics is CIRR: Thinkful is a founding member and welcoming Bloc to CIRR will be a great achievement.
All the teams are already working together as a single company (or nearly so).
Thinkful is a founding member of CIRR. Do you expect that Bloc will start reporting CIRR outcomes now?
Yes, Bloc will join CIRR. Bloc reports student outcomes already, and CIRR has just done a great job of standardizing that reporting.
It's a lot of work so I'm not sure what the exact timeline is, but everyone wants to join it. The bar is getting higher; you need to have audited results and release them every six months.
Will the job guarantees remain separate?
We spent a lot of time talking about this because the job promise, guarantee, and tuition refund policy are sacrosanct. Both Thinkful and Bloc offer a tuition refund: if you put in the work but don't succeed you get your money back.. That's very consistent and critically it’s very simple. The biggest difference is that Bloc calls this a Tuition Refund Guarantee (TRG) and Thinkful calls it the Job Guarantee.
One of the biggest differences internally (and this is also going to remain different) is that Thinkful says a student is “placed,” while Bloc says they have a “successful student outcome.” The difference is actually really meaningful.
What’s the difference between a “placement” and a “successful student outcome”?
Thinkful maintains an employer network in each of our cities and also nationally. That network provides a direct pipeline to employers. Bloc has built a robust program for the 90% of the US population that doesn’t live within such a short distance. Both work really well, as our outcomes reports show. The difference is in the different needs: Bloc helps you learn how to find employers in your area that are perfect for you, and so we call that a successful outcome because it’s the student that did all the work. Thinkful calls it a placement because we helped the student with a particular connection and intro. Again: It’s about the style you’re after and the opportunities where you are. Both Thinkful and Bloc reach students where others cannot – and it’s because of our flexibility.
Before Bloc, Thinkful had also acquired Viking Code School and The Odin Project. Any lessons that you learned from that acquisition that you’re bringing to the Bloc merger?
We learned two big things – both about people. You have to plan for the team and make sure that we can offer what people want in their careers. At the very beginning, I told the Bloc folks that I expect everyone is working at Bloc because they want to be. They’re based in San Francisco, so if they wanted to walk down the street and take another job, then that would be open to them. That’s also always been the case at Thinkful. I know we create a great work environment for the folks that have just joined our team, but it takes time and trust. The Bloc office will remain in San Francisco and the Thinkful office will remain in Brooklyn. We have great teams in both locations - and across the country, as even those two offices together only represent about 30% of the total team – most Thinks are remote.
The second lesson was about our students and mentors. We want to make sure everyone is influential, informed, and knows about things before the public does. We're not going to have a perfect track record, but it’s critical that our communities aren’t surprised by changes.
In our April 2018 technology bootcamp news roundup we saw four overarching trends – bootcamp acquisitions, employers putting their own employees through bootcamp, a continued debate between college vs bootcamp, and efforts to expand accessibility to coding education for underrepresented groups in tech. We also look at apprenticeships, the evolution of bootcamp curricula, life after bootcamp, and new bootcamps! Read the roundup below or listen to the podcast!Continue Reading →
CloakHire co-founder Max Miller had only hired junior developers straight out of top-tier universities, until he discovered a breed of more mature and workplace-savvy junior developers – coding bootcamp grads. Now Max has hired TWO graduates from Thinkful’s Remote Engineering Immersion Program! Max tells us how his new hires are performing, why it was important that they had remote programming experience, and the difference between CS degree grads and bootcamp grads. Max even convinced his wife, a career-changer, to enroll in Thinkful’s part-time Fullstack Flex program!
Tell us about CloakHire and your role there!
I’m one of the co-founders at CloakHire, but you could call me the CTO or Head of DevOps. CloakHire software hooks up recruiters with available jobs to recruiters with candidates. The candidate gets hired and the recruiters split the commission.
All of our clients are direct hire recruiting firms, mostly independent recruiters (one-to two-person shops). We're in beta right now, but we've already on-boarded about 100 organizations including firms from the Global Recruiters Network.
So you've hired two Thinkful graduates so far. What roles are they in?
I actually first hired two, four-year degree computer science majors and neither of them panned out. So last July, I hired our first Thinkful graduate named Peter and then about three months later I hired a Thinkful grad named Will.
Peter Szujewski is our Head of UI. We had a bare-bones, jQuery style, UI built with PHP, and Peter’s first task was to convert it all to React.
Will McKelvey’s primary role is doing our Behavior Driven Development (BDD) Testing. Testing can fall under a few categories. The most common is Unit Testing (testing functional components and units of code). But at CloakHire we have taken a totally different approach where we actually simulate a browser. Will writes a lot of tests and stories about actions that the user can do and it actually simulates a browser to run them on the site. Will didn’t really learn BDD at Thinkful, so he has learned a few new tools and skills on the job.
As a hiring manager, how did you get connected to coding bootcamps? What stood out about Thinkful?
I asked recruiting agencies that we were working with to test CloakHire for some junior-level developers and they suggested a few developers from coding bootcamps. I talked to about 10 candidates from different bootcamps before settling on our first hire, Peter, from Thinkful.
What really attracted me to Peter initially was the fact that he was older and more mature than the other candidates, and his skills were exactly what we were looking for. I wanted to replace our stack with Angular or React and he came in saying, "Hey, I just learned a lot about React at Thinkful." Other candidates had a lot of general knowledge but would have had to learn a lot of new technologies. The biggest selling point was that Peter was ready and raring to go.
Was it a concern for you that the Thinkful applicants had learned in a remote, online environment, instead of at an in-person bootcamp?
That was actually a selling point! We all work in the metro Detroit area, but do almost (95%) fully-remote development at CloakHire. That's a skill that a lot of people don't have – the ability to work from home and actually get stuff done.
The ability to work remotely was my primary concern about the first two college grad employees. They were definitely functional and pretty good when working in the office, but as we started moving towards more remote work, our workflow broke down.
Our struggle with junior developers in the past has been getting them set up. Whereas most bootcamp alumni have been in other careers, wanted to become developers, and were ready to start their career. They are all just so passionate. This may not be true for all bootcamps, but Thinkful gives students experience and guidance in how to set up your development environment and workflow.
Will and Peter already had established careers, already knew that the workplace is very result-oriented, and perfect is less important than creating a solid product quickly.
Did you ever have to convince your co-founders (or even yourself) to hire from a coding bootcamp?
Not really. My co-founders knew we needed UI help and I said, "Okay, let's try to hire a bootcamp grad." Both Thinkful hires started out as contract employees on 1099s for a one-month trial period and it worked out really well.
Aside from coding bootcamps, how else would you usually hire developers?
In one of my previous roles, I had a team of six developers under me. We hired junior-level developers from a variety of sources. I mainly hired interns from top-tier universities like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the University of Michigan, which have pretty strong engineering programs. We also hired remote programmers from Serbia and other Eastern European countries.
What differences did you notice between those channels and hiring from a coding bootcamp?
College grads might be very technically advanced, but a lot of programming is about pragmatism, not idealism or theory. A CS graduate could know everything about computer science, data structures, and algorithms, but they either don't manage their time well or they're too idealistic. Sometimes you just need to sit down and get stuff done.
A lot of junior development work can be “boring” stuff like database conversions and migrations, and sometimes CS grads won't dive down into the weeds.
Bootcamp grads also stand out to me because they’re not tainted by the core paradigms of C and C++ or even Java. Some people may disagree, but from a technical standpoint, I find it’s sometimes an advantage to only know about a few core concepts that relate to what you're actually working in.
What is the interview process like at CloakHire and how did your Thinkful hires do in that interview process?
My interview process has always been about determining if I can work with this person for a week. In the first part of the interview, I want to hear about your technical knowledge and experience. Then we start a two-week-long interview process. We put candidates on a contract and do pair programming for a week. If that goes well, then the second week is purely remote work. We want to see if the applicant is checking code every day, maintaining quality, and completely regimented.
We then establish an upfront, one-month contract. If it doesn't work, then we can just part ways. And if it does work, then they become full-time developers.
I intentionally make the first few days long and draining to see how they will handle the pressure. The first week was rough, especially with Peter, because I didn't know the Thinkful curriculum very well. I basically handed him a year's worth of code that was totally foreign to him. It was his first experience with vagrant to create Virtual Machines that we all develop on. So it's just a lot to learn.
After Peter started, what made you want to hire another Thinkful grad?
Once I hired Peter and we had established the UI, I realized we were going to need somebody to start doing testing. I asked Peter if he knew anyone from his Thinkful cohort who he would recommend, and he suggested Will. We brought him in, he went through the same interview process, and he's now full-time.
Peter understood our culture, and he was able to explain things to Will using the terms that they learned together at Thinkful. That made the integration and hiring a lot easier.
How are your Thinkful grads doing now in their roles at CloakHire?
Peter is a rock star, he just doesn't know it yet. He is naturally very gifted at a lot of programming concepts that take some people a lot of time to master. Peter will have been working here for a year in July and he's definitely getting a raise – we cannot afford to lose him. I think any company would be very lucky to have him.
Will is very consistent and hardworking; he’s able to do BDD Testing, which is very labor intensive. He's very consistently upbeat, loves doing this job, and is so optimistic.
It sounds like both Thinkful grads had to learn new technologies when they started at CloakHire. How did you help them learn and grow?
There is really a laundry list that all junior developers have to go through whenever they start at a new company. Peter and Will had to learn all about how to set up virtual machines, they had to learn a lot about AWS (where we do our hosting), and a lot about deployments. They also learned about the authentication system and a lot about the internal API that I set up.
A lot of their learning is self-directed. I used to give them very directed help, but Will and Peter both have been very interested in using online course tools. They do short courses on Udemy, and we’ve bought them both subscriptions so they can take as many online lectures as they’d like. They both probably do two a week.
When you hired from Thinkful did you have to pay any kind of referral fee?
No, I don't have a formal relationship with Thinkful. But I'm definitely going to contact them when I need more developers.
So you would hire more Thinkful grads?
Definitely. And if we want to expand our product to a mobile app, I would hire from Thinkful, especially if we want to use React Native. I would probably also look at Course Report and see which bootcamps teach the skills we would need.
I should mention that I didn't just hire developers from Thinkful, I actually also recommended that my wife enroll! Peter and Will were both teachers before taking Thinkful; my wife is also a teacher and wants to switch careers. I’m now seeing her go through Thinkful and I see that Thinkful definitely makes students go through the pain and self-exploration of grasping programming principles. I've bought into the bootcamp mantra!
In your interactions with your clients from the recruitment industry, are you seeing bootcamps become a more mainstream channel for hiring developers?
Yes. Bootcamps are becoming more of an option, but I’m not just seeing that because I work with recruiters that hire mid-top level managers with a minimum salary around $150,000. In the past, hiring through other channels required a lot more time and energy. When I was starting out, companies just had to invest a lot of time with college grads. For example, I went through a very long internship where I got a pretty decent salary.
With a Thinkful graduate, their junior developers are usually mature, have good skill sets, and chose to become developers. I’ve found that Thinkful does a pretty good job of vetting students, so that makes the hiring process a lot quicker and easier from a business perspective. If you're hiring for a startup, it makes all of the business sense in the world.
And as bootcamp grads gain more experience and become managers, I think that bootcamps will become more of an alternative to a four-year college, instead of just a way to shift careers.
What's your advice to other employers thinking about hiring from a coding bootcamp?
You have to know what you want and you need to define the position you’re hiring for. Companies often say, "Let's hire another developer," without knowing who they will work under, what their stack will be, or what their role will look like.
Once you’ve defined the role you’re hiring for, then source from a coding bootcamp, set the person up a little bit and they'll be great at their job. Peter’s skill set fits his role perfectly; Will’s doesn’t. And they're both doing great.
In our March 2018 technology bootcamp news roundup, we discuss all the industry news that we've been talking about at Course Report! We have some fun celebratory announcements, we looked at news about the positive impact bootcamps are having on individuals and companies, and the debate continued between coding bootcamps and computer science degrees. We heard about some great student experiences at bootcamp, some wonderful diversity initiatives, and new scholarship opportunities. Plus, a good number of new coding bootcamps and campuses launched in March. Read the roundup below or listen to the podcast!Continue Reading →
Even if you don’t live in a bustling tech hub, there’s demand for developers in every city. But what if you’re learning to code in a city with a smaller tech community? Veteran Chris Billiau and former supply chain analyst Brian Barrow both studied at Thinkful’s online Full Stack Flexible bootcamp, and did it on their own schedule without moving to Silicon Valley. These two Thinkful alumni now work as a Web Application Engineer and a Front End Developer, have started their own meetups in New Hampshire and Utah, and are proof that you can kickstart a career in tech without leaving your home base.
What were you up to before Thinkful and what motivated you to change careers?
Chris: Until 2013, I was an active duty lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard. During the sequester of Congress in 2011, there were a lot of budget cuts, so after almost 18 years I was let go. I stayed in the Reserves and I just retired after 23 years this past December.
I was forced to figure out what to do next. I spent about three years bouncing around different jobs, looking for a role that provided me with the level of income I needed, that I was interested in, and had the opportunity for future growth. In one of my jobs before Thinkful, I was project managing programmers. I found their roles really interesting so I decided to pursue programming.
Brian: I have a degree in business and supply chain management, and I've been a buyer and supply chain analyst for a few different companies. As an analyst at Overstock.com, I’d play ping pong with the web developers during lunch and talk to them about their roles. I had worked with Excel and VBA and done some programming before, so I started taking online courses like Udacity and Free Code Camp and really enjoyed it. Now that I’ve graduated from Thinkful, having that Excel/VBA background and knowing how to Google answers has been really helpful.
I got to a point in my self-taught learning where I was just stuck. I wanted to be able to talk to someone and I needed a mentor to bounce ideas off of and ask questions.
Why did you choose an online bootcamp like Thinkful instead of an in-person coding bootcamp?
Chris: I lived in Connecticut when I did Thinkful, and I didn't have the ability to drive two hours every day to New York. So as I compared bootcamps, I was looking for courses that were online, or had the majority of the curriculum online.
I really wanted a course that would reflect the level of seriousness and commitment that I would put into it. I wanted to get the best possible outcome and graduate with the skills necessary to get an entry-level developer position. With that in mind, I chose Thinkful.
Brian: I had considered a couple of the in-person bootcamps around the Salt Lake area, but I was in a similar position to Chris. I had a mortgage and a family, and I couldn't just quit my job and drop a lot of money on an in-person bootcamp. I had a few friends who did in-person bootcamps in Salt Lake City part-time and they weren’t impressed, so I was hesitant to go that route. I was pretty focused on an online option.
Someone mentioned Thinkful in a Facebook group for the local Free Code Camp meetup, so I looked it up. Thinkful fit exactly what I needed. I pulled the trigger and it worked out really well.
How was the Thinkful application process? Did you feel prepared?
What's the secret to staying engaged online? Even though you took the Full Stack Flex bootcamp, did you commit to Thinkful full time?
Chris: I actually wasn't working during Thinkful. I was very fortunate to have put money away and was able to take time off. It took me six months of savings, which really put a dent into my family's savings, but it was a very educated investment.
So I treated Thinkful like it was my full-time job. I was studying at least eight hours a day, full-time for six months. When I finished the program and went into the career development portion of it, I was sending out resumes to 10-20 companies each day. I applied everywhere. I treated everything like it was my full-time job. Knowing that I just invested six months of savings into Thinkful gave me a level of urgency that reinforced my commitment and drive.
Brian: It took me just over five months. At the beginning, I talked with my wife and said, "I really want to jump into this career and it's going to be a huge time commitment.” To juggle my time, I would wake up at 4:45am in the morning and work on Thinkful for a couple of hours, and then I'd go to my full-time job. I'd then come home and go to my office area or to the library, to get more Thinkful work done. I was motivated to graduate quickly because I really wanted to get into a new job. If you finished early, then you pay less tuition, so that was also a huge motivating factor for me. It wasn't easy, but it paid off.
Who was your Thinkful mentor? How did they help guide you through the curriculum?
Brian: My mentor was Patrick Ford. Mentorship was the biggest selling point for me with Thinkful. I did okay by myself learning online, but it was good to have my mentor there so I could ask questions, and he would review the curriculum with me. It was good to have that follow up to fill in any gaps that I missed, and have a consistent feedback loop on my progress.
Chris: I really didn't know what I was getting into in regard to what the curriculum tempo and course load would be like. My mentor was key. My first mentor and I worked really well together and had a great rapport. He would say, “Let's skip over that and go to this other section first, or we'll come back to that." He was very hands-on helping me through the course.
He was extremely supportive, not just in terms of the course load, but also as a professional mentor. I could ask him questions like, "Hey, out in the real world, how do these things happen?” etc. Getting input and feedback from someone in the industry doing the work was very beneficial.
Chris, you chose Thinkful because your hometown didn’t have an in-person coding bootcamp. Did you end up finding a tech community where you lived?
Chris: Thinkful was great at advocating for us to cold call people and ask them to have coffee to ask questions. So I started doing that. Fortunately, in the town I was living in, Old Saybrook, there were a lot of people who were involved in tech, so I was able to meet a lot of people.
I was also only 45 minutes from New Haven, Connecticut, which has a very large and robust tech meetup program. I met a lot of people there who were working in the industry; they gave me their input on what it was like to get a job etc.
When I got my new job and moved to Lebanon, New Hampshire, there wasn't a meetup group, so I started one with a friend. That meetup group now has about 90 people, and serves all of the upper valleys of Vermont and New Hampshire. My town is close to Burlington, Vermont, which has a much more robust tech scene. We have Dartmouth College here so there's a lot of turnover of young people in the tech community. Even though the technology industry isn’t as robust as it might be in larger cities, there are a lot of smart people here.
Brian, did you find yourself benefiting from the Salt Lake City tech community?
When I was studying at Thinkful, I started going to larger meetups and tech conferences in the area to see what else was out there. I have definitely seen growth in that area, especially with more people learning to code, doing bootcamps, and trying to get into the industry.
It can be tough to land a tech job in smaller cities – how did Thinkful help with career prep?
Chris: The more I did the program, the more I found that I really enjoyed the back end work and my longterm goal is to bridge the virtual internet world with the physical world with the Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
I didn’t know where I wanted to work right out of the gate after Thinkful, so the career services portion was extremely helpful. Thinkful helped me hone my resume and gave me some great advice. I already had a lot of soft skills since I’m older and had been a professional for so long, so it was more about transitioning what I already knew and molding that into something that was coherent for the tech world. I was extremely impressed with the people I worked with at Thinkful. I wouldn't be where I am now without their help.
Brian: Thinkful’s career services program helped me spruce up my portfolio and resume. Meeting with my career mentor once a week helped me nail down ideas and approaches for certain job applications or email communications.
Once I applied to a company, Thinkful would also reach out to help me get an interview. The Thinkful team actually emailed my current boss and asked for an interview. I had an interview a couple of days later, and got an offer a couple of days after that. I actually ended up with two offers that week so I was able to choose one. All in all, it took just over one month from graduating to start working full time.
Congratulations to you both on your new jobs! What’s your day-to-day life like as a developer?
Brian: I work as a developer for Signs.com, an online retailer of banners and other signs. It's a relatively small startup – there are about 30 employees with a team of six developers. I’ve been working here since May 2017.
They brought me on to work on the front end, styling the website and the HTML. Day-to-day I work on different product pages, and new product page releases that I get from the design and marketing teams. I start marking those up and write the code that makes them functioning web pages. I also help with generic bug fixes on the back end for the general website functionality and other features on the site.
Chris: I work for a small startup developing polymers that detect nicotine molecules in cigarette and marijuana smoking. These polymers are put on a sensor, in a small device that works over Wifi. On the back end, we have a bunch of microservices to evaluate those nicotine levels and send alerts to the owner of the device. Our clients are mostly large hotels and property management companies.
When I started, there were about 11 people at the company. There was one developer and he was doing everything from firmware to the back end to the front end. He had an offshore dev team in India, so I was hired to oversee that team. I've been working on the front end, interacting with the database, and working on microservices. I wear a lot of hats and I’m learning a lot. It's really exciting. I’m learning about being in a startup, and realizing what it’s like to have all this technology come at you like a fire hose. Anyone who's involved in tech knows that every week there's something new you need to learn.
Were your employers impressed by or concerned about the fact that you went to an online coding bootcamp?
Brian: For me, it was a topic of discussion. They already had three developers who worked on the full stack and they needed someone to focus on the front end. Thinkful teaches front end development really well, so I was a good fit, and they weren't concerned that I was a bootcamp grad.
Chris: Looking back, it really wasn't that big of a concern. I think a lot of hiring managers didn't really know what types of qualifications they were looking for – there is no standard. A lot of people don't know how to compare online bootcamps – what do you compare them to? You can't go to college and graduate as a web developer; you graduate as a computer scientist with math skills.
If a hiring manager is concerned about your skills, they will give you a coding challenge. In my experience, employers in web development in tech don’t really care about a degree, which is great. It’s about whether you can do the work or not.
Chris, do you think your military background has helped you in the tech world?
Chris: Yeah, my background has helped me a lot. It’s not just my military background, but my age and experience helped during the interview process. A lot of my interviewers were my age – they were in their 40's and they had a mortgage and kids. So we could relate to each other as peers during the interview. My soft skills helped a lot.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in this journey of learning how to code with Thinkful?
Chris: You get this feeling that people think you know more than you do. There's this give and take where my supervisor says, "Hey, Chris, I need you to do X, Y, and Z," and I'm thinking, "I don't know how to do X, Y, and Z. So now I’ve got to figure out how to do X, Y, Z." I have to rise to the challenge and figure it out. Of course, challenging yourself is how you learn.
My biggest hurdle is realizing when I have knowledge gaps. Usually, when you learn something new, there's more time involved. Thinkful took six months and then you're out on the street doing it. Technology is 10 miles wide and 100 miles deep so there's always going to be something we don't know. It's totally doable, but you also end up with a tech skill set that is like Swiss cheese! You have a lot of information, but there are also a lot of holes, and you don't know where all the holes are until you slice the cheese.
Brian: I think the biggest challenge was probably believing that I could do something new. I'm still pretty young, but imposter syndrome is a challenge, and I had to build the confidence in my own abilities to learn.
What advice do you have for people living in smaller towns thinking about an online coding bootcamp in order to make a career change?
Chris: Even though larger cities like New York have a reputation for tech, smaller towns still have companies which need software developers. Every town in this country is connected to the internet, and every business needs some level of web development.
Also once you make the decision to learn to code, treat it like a full-time job. There's really no waste of time when you're coding, but you will need ample time. If you're not making the time commitment to do it, you won’t succeed.
Brian: Especially if you’re learning online, you have to stay motivated and commit to learning. Since I organized the local meetup group, I see new people all the time but often they don't come back a second or third time. Those that do stick with it are really committed to learning and understanding. It's a good career and it pays well, but it's not easy. A career in programming pays well because it's hard!
Welcome to the first News Roundup of 2018! We’re already having a busy 2018 – we published our latest outcomes and demographics report, and we’re seeing a promising focus on diversity in tech! In January we saw a significant fundraising announcement from an online bootcamp, we saw journalists exploring why employers should hire bootcamp and apprenticeship graduates, we read about community colleges versus bootcamps and how bootcamps are helping to grow tech ecosystems. Plus, we’ll talk about the newest campuses and schools on the scene, and our favorite blog posts. Read below or listen to the podcast!Continue Reading →
In our End of Year Podcast, we're rounding up the most interesting news of 2017 and covering all the trends, thought pieces, controversies and more. Many schools are hitting their 5 year anniversaries – a reminder that although there is a lot going on in this industry, it’s still nascent and there is still room for new innovative approaches to the bootcamp model. We’ve chosen the most defining stories, and it was a very eventful year – a couple of big bootcamps closed, a ton of new bootcamps launched, some schools were acquired, and other bootcamps raised money.Continue Reading →
During his time as a bootcamp student, Thinkful graduate Connor stepped up his game, and became a leader in the Thinkful community in his hometown of Atlanta! Connor was working full-time as a behavioral therapist while enrolled in Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, and soon met other Thinkful students with whom he could learn and share projects. Connor tells us why Thinkful’s job guarantee was so important, how he helped expand the in-person community in Atlanta, and how he landed his Software Engineering job at Aaron’s!
What’s your background before you decided to join Thinkful?
In high school, I took a web design class and in which I learned how to build websites, including my high school’s home page. That was exciting and sparked my interest in computers in general. I also built the computer that I use for video gaming.
At the same time, both my parents worked in healthcare in Georgia. My mom worked with the deaf community at the Department of Labor, and my dad was a Neuropsychologist. That influenced me to want to help others for my career, so I got a psychology degree from Georgia State University and worked as a behavioral therapist with kids who had feeding disorders. I loved it! The feeling you get from improving a kid’s life is pretty amazing.
After a while I realized that to continue my psychology career I needed a masters or a doctorate. Having recently married and purchased a house, I wanted to be able to continue my career without quitting my job and going back to school full-time. So I started researching how to transition careers, and discovered coding bootcamps.
Why did you choose Thinkful over other coding bootcamps?
I looked at a few other bootcamps, including General Assembly (GA), but Thinkful was different because it emphasized flexible one-on-one mentorship. I could work full-time, and code at home on nights and weekends. I had a mentor with whom I could actually interact with, instead of being in a classroom setting. Having that one-on-one instruction was really helpful.
Another big pull was the fact that Thinkful was such a huge proponent of helping students find a job. The job guarantee was one of the main selling points for me. I have met grads from DigitalCrafts and GA, and the biggest difference between those and Thinkful, was the emphasis on career building. I wanted a program that wouldn’t just teach me the skills, but also help me find a job. I knew little parts of the skill, but I didn't know all of the aspects that I would need to get a job.
Were you able to keep working full-time while you were studying?
Yeah. I was working as a behavioral therapist for 40 hours a week, and then I studied with Thinkful about 25 hours a week. My wife hated me during that time, but we had an agreement that Saturdays were her day. Sundays I coded all day. Monday through Friday I coded all night until I went to sleep. That was a pretty intense time.
I kept working full-time for five months of the six month course. After five months, I realized I wanted to put in more effort, commitment, and focus into the code to really make sure I understood the material and could get hired quickly. So I quit my job and studied full-time for the rest of the course.
Thinkful has an in-person community in Atlanta. How did you get involved with that?
Around the time I quit my job, the Thinkful community in Atlanta really started to grow. They really pushed to get Atlanta people together in the same room to collaborate and talk about code. I was one of the first students in to get involved with the community. I wanted to facilitate that growth, and thought it would be a helpful way for me to get better at coding too.
When I was about three months into the program, I also got involved in teaching and mentoring newer and prospective students. After I quit my job, Jasjit Singh, the general manager of Thinkful in Atlanta, offered me a position teaching coding workshops for total beginners. I was able to have an income, learn a lot, and continue working through the Thinkful program. That was really beneficial. I had enjoyed the people portion of psychology, so being able to help create the Thinkful community and provide classes for people was a really awesome experience.
What kind of events are there for people in the Thinkful Atlanta community?
For students, Thinkful organizes dinners at least twice a month around the city. This provided a really cool opportunity for students to have a conversation over a meal, present their projects, and talk about different strategies. We would help each other along during these dinners and also build friendships. It only evolved from there. Students got together outside of those meetings as well and bonded over Thinkful and the challenges of coding.
Do you think that the community improved your experience as a Thinkful student?
I think it was uniquely helpful. We can all lean on each other as students going through this bootcamp. As a community we feel like we are frontrunners for this new style of learning; all wondering if it will work out, and really wanting it to work out. Also, having the additional resources besides the online resources that Thinkful provides, in terms of being able to meet with other mentors and other students, was really helpful. My coding skills improved because I could talk to other people about what they were working on. I could collaborate with people in person and have a discussion with them as opposed to trying to seek them out on Slack which can be a little impersonal. Being in person just made it easier.
The networking potential this community provided was also really awesome. I could meet other people who were jumping into this career, and now I know lots of professionals in the field. On top of that, Thinkful was able to bring guest speakers to events, so we could talk to professionals who were already in the industry. I think that creating that community greatly improved upon the primarily online interactions that make Thinkful as successful as it is. The in person community certainly wasn’t necessary for my success, but the opportunities it provided were really helpful.
I'm interested in the other people in the Atlanta community. What kind of backgrounds did they have – were they diverse in terms of gender, race, and life experience?
I was really surprised and happy to see the number of women who were signing up for Thinkful. Programming is general is definitely a male-dominated field, which is unfortunate, but Thinkful’s community is trying hard to combat that. There are also a lot students from different backgrounds. I made good friends with a woman who was previously a nanny with a one year old, and who had no coding background. She wanted a career that was going to be more financially stable than nannying which is why she went through Thinkful – she actually just got a job last month. Another guy never went to college, but instead chose to use Thinkful as a form of higher education.
Also, two of my coworkers who worked with me at the behavioral psychology clinic have now joined Thinkful. One of them is a man with a little bit of background in computer science, the other one is a woman with no experience with computers. They are in the program now.
How often were you were able to interact with mentors and instructors from Thinkful in-person?
During those student dinners, there was a lot of effort to make sure that Thinkful mentors were there to provide help for students in person. What was really nice about that was after dinner we would break up into groups according to our stage in the program, and each group would have a mentor. It was great to meet a mentor who was working in software development in Atlanta, who could tell me what was going on locally, and help with networking. The mentors I met with online were from different parts of the world. I had two different official mentors throughout Thinkful – one lived in Chicago, and the other was in Canada.
Can you give an example of a project that you worked on at Thinkful and whether you were able to collaborate with any of those other people on that?
As a part of the flexible course, all of my projects were independent with guidance from my mentors, program manager, and portfolio reviewer. I definitely had input from others as far as what I should do in a situation, but all of my three capstone projects were individual projects. A lot of people seemed to like my Node.js capstone project because of the amount of functionality that I tried to pour into it. It was a meal prep application called Dinner Plans. I put a ton of effort into building it, I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed it. That's the one that people encouraged me to showcase to the community.
How did Thinkful help you with preparing to find a job?
Once your program manager approves your three capstone projects, you get connected with a career mentor who meets with you every week to talk about how to structure your resume, portfolio, and cover letters. They also teach you how you go through technical and cultural interviews, how to craft professional responses, and how to talk to hiring managers. That was really important for me since I don't have a computer science background.
One of the best aspects of Thinkful is the emphasis they put on making sure you get a job. They're also incentivized for you to be successful because of the job guarantee. That’s another reason why I would recommend Thinkful over other bootcamps.
Has the community helped you and other students find jobs?
Yes. During my job search, I got a part-time job working for mobile app development company Mobile App Hero. After I got offered my full-time job, I got two of my Thinkful fellow students jobs at that dev shop.
Can you tell me more about the jobs you have had since you graduated from Thinkful? How did you find them and what’s your advice for other new grads?
I was encouraged by my career mentor to network as much as possible. I tried reaching out to people on LinkedIn who had gone through bootcamps. Not just Thinkful, but also GA and DigitalCrafts. I met with a DigitalCrafts grad who had worked at Mobile App Hero, and she connected me with her hiring manager. It was part-time work – almost like an internship, which meant I could continue job searching for a full-time role, but get some job experience. Doing that kind of thing was really helpful. I got hired at Aaron’s two weeks after I started at Mobile App Hero.
What I tell the Thinkful students in Atlanta is to make sure you tell hiring managers that you are passionate about coding. Be passionate and make sure you show that in the interview.
How did you find that role at Aaron's?
My strategy for job searching was to try to make a positive impression on hiring managers by speaking to them directly. The director of software engineering at Aaron’s who received my email was impressed that I took the initiative to reach out. He was also impressed that I had decided to make this huge career transition, and learned how to code in six months. I think people don't normally see that kind of dramatic change or drive to learn something new.
Can you tell me about what Aaron's does and what you do there?
Aaron's was initially a store-based company where people would lease a TV or a couch then pay it off slowly instead of having to pay for the whole thing up front. Over the last 3 years they have built up a bigger ecommerce department which is where I work as a Junior Software Engineer.
Have you had to learn C# and were you mentored and trained in that?
How big is the dev team?
The entire IT department is a hundred or so in this building. I'm on the ecommerce team which has about 25 people. I was looking for a role where I could go into an office, be surrounded by people who are more senior than me, and learn from them as much as I could.
I'm interested in how your previous background has been useful in your new job?
The way that I've been able to implement it the most has been front end development where I have an idea of what people would want to look at or see. I'm trying to use as many psychology principles I can to improve the way that I write code and create the experience for a user. Another skill from psychology is being able to communicate to the company business teams about how a change to the website will positively impact conversion of people actually buying something. It’s definitely a benefit.
Are you still active in the Thinkful community?
I’m not teaching workshops anymore because I have a pretty hefty commute. But Thinkful still holds regular intro classes where they showcase what Thinkful is. I go along to share my story as a student who graduated and got a job in Atlanta. It’s nice because I can explain how the Thinkful community in Atlanta works from the ground up. Then I go to the dinners every two weeks as much I can. People also reach out to me on Slack and I answer their questions.
It's nice to stay connected for networking, so that 5 or 10 years down the road if I want to switch jobs, I’ll have contacts in Atlanta. Altruistically, it's also great as a previous student who looked up to other people that had jobs, to be able to be that role model for somebody else. I want to be that person for students who are under stress in this intense course.
What the biggest challenge or roadblock you've had in your journey to becoming a developer?
Looking for a job. I think there is a lot of stigma against bootcamps. If you don't have a computer science degree, employers think you're not good enough. But I think people are now starting to open up to the idea of bootcamp grads. As more companies give bootcamp grads a chance and mentor them appropriately, I think it will become a mainstream thing of hiring computer science majors to work on dev architecture, and then bootcamp grads to work on more concrete aspects of the website, like front-end and back-end development.
What advice do you have for people who have decided to make a career change through an online coding bootcamp and do you suggest that they look for an in-person community like the one you had?
I'd say, choose Thinkful because I really believe in their mentorship model over the classroom model of teaching. I think that it is leagues better in terms of being able to provide information and help students as much as possible. This is a really intense kind of career change, so you need as much support as you can get. Then having a community and being able to network within Atlanta is also a pretty big aspect. It’s not that the other bootcamps don't have that, but Thinkful is special.
Need a rundown of everything that happened in the coding bootcamp industry this September? You’re in luck! We’ve collected all the most important news in this blog post and podcast. This month, we kept up with the status of the bootcamp industry, learned about how bootcamps are thriving in smaller markets, and explored different ways to pay for bootcamp. Plus, we added 7 new schools from around the world to the Course Report school directory! Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast.Continue Reading →
After working as a wildlife biologist for six years, Jackie Zuker went to graduate school for bioinformatics, but when she graduated she couldn’t find a job in her hometown of Auburn, California. She realized she needed data science skills, so she enrolled in Thinkful’s Flexible Data Science Bootcamp. Jackie tells us how she balanced caring for her young children, and part-time job, with studying, how much she appreciated her experienced mentor, and how her Thinkful project helped her land a job before she graduated as a data analyst!
What is your pre-bootcamp story? Your educational background? Your last career path?
Prior to Thinkful, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in biology. I worked as a wildlife biologist for six years, but I wanted to get into a more technical space, and work more with numbers. I thought the best way to do that would be to transition towards bioinformatics, which is large-scale data analysis centered on studying genomes, population dynamics, and things like that.
So I got my master’s degree in bioinformatics and graduated in 2016. It turned out there weren’t a lot of bioinformatics jobs in my rural area, but I did notice a lot of data science jobs. So I made the decision to work towards learning data science instead of moving to a city.
Why did you feel you needed a data science bootcamp, as well as your bioinformatics degree?
I joined this data science bootcamp because it taught the skills that I was lacking in many of the jobs I was applying for. Joining Thinkful ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made – that money was so much better spent than even the money I spent on my graduate degree. I showed some of the projects that I built through the data science bootcamp to my interviewer for my current job – those projects got me hired.
Did you try to learn on your own or break into data science before you thought about a data science bootcamp?
I’m a very good self-directed learner, but I wasn’t sure what to study, and in what order to study it. I decided that having the bootcamp curriculum would catapult me into this career much faster. I could’ve learned on my own, but if I wasn’t studying the right things, I wouldn’t get where I wanted to go.
How did you choose which bootcamp to go to? What made you choose Thinkful specifically?
I liked that Thinkful offered a Flexible Data Science Bootcamp where you could study a part-time or full-time. I had a part-time job as a wildlife biologist while I was studying, and there were some weeks where I didn’t work at all, and other weeks where I worked 40 hours a week. So having that flexibility was really nice. The fact that it was all online was a big plus because I didn’t have to commute to the city.
I also appreciated the customer service at Thinkful; the people I talked to were available to answer any questions I had. Thinkful had a scholarship for women of $100 per month, and financing options – they just made it as easy as possible for anyone to join. I was a little hesitant at first, but I started with their mandatory Data Science Prep Course, which was a good way to test out their system and see if it was something that would work for me. Also, their curriculum included SQL and machine learning which were important to me – those were skills I had been seeing on a lot of job postings.
Did you look at any other data science bootcamps?
I looked at all of the bootcamps that I could find information about. I didn’t really want to be gone from home for weeks on end so it had to be very close or be online. I also wanted to begin as soon as possible, and some of the online options had only a couple start dates that I didn’t want to have to wait for. I needed some flexibility on the meeting times as well, so that I could work or take care of my kids when I needed to. Some of the shorter also bootcamps didn’t seem like their curricula would go into enough depth for my needs. They each had various pros and cons, and in the end, Thinkful was the one for me.
You mentioned that Thinkful offered financing options. Did you use financing, and what was it like?
I did. The course is $1,500 per month, and so the loan provider pre-financed four months of curriculum for me. It was pretty easy. There was a credit check involved, pretty low payments, and then when I finished early, they actually reimbursed any unused funds.
What was the application and interview process like for you?
My application was basically the capstone project I worked on in the Python prep course I mentioned. I worked hard on it, and they were really pleased. The project was based on a Kaggle competition of predicting home prices. I used Seaborn, different Python graphing tools, Jupyter Notebook, and a certain amount of analysis using Python; which were all skills introduced in the prep course.
What was your study set up like? How many hours per week were you studying?
I have two kids under five years old, so I signed them both up for preschool. That gave me eight hours a day where I could dive into this bootcamp. I was going at it 50 to 60 hours a week because I was really passionate about the subject and I wanted to progress quickly. The format of the course broke up a lot of complex subjects into small bite-sized pieces, which made it easy and a little addictive to do “just one more lesson.” I worked during the day, on evenings, and on weekends. In total it took me about 3.5 months.
How did you balance your job as a wildlife biologist with your studies?
Whenever my company needed me I just did that instead. The whole set up with the Thinkful data science course was flexible and I was progressing fast. At the end, I started interviewing a lot and working a lot, which started to impede on my study time, but it was fine because I still was able to carve out some time here and there.
What was the online learning experience like at Thinkful? How were the days structured and how did the instructors deliver the material?
On the first day, we received the entire curriculum. It’s mostly Jupyter Notebook format, and really well-constructed reading materials, with interactive coding blocks, graphs, and pictures. There were challenges dispersed throughout the curriculum. The main component that I thought was really great was that you meet with a working data scientist mentor for three days every week for an hour. I liked my mentor a lot – it was an incredible opportunity to be able to interact with someone so experienced. Thinkful considers that time your time, so you don’t have to just talk about the curriculum, you can dive deeper into concepts beyond the curriculum, get career advice, or you can talk about anything else on your mind that day.
How did those mentor meetings fit in with your part-time work? Did you communicate outside of those meeting?
My mentor was very flexible. We had a loose framework of when we would meet, but that actually changed a few times. He was also traveling a lot, so if he had a plane ride or if I had a sick child or something, it was pretty easy to work around. I could email him anytime, or message him on Slack, or call. There was no shortage of ways to get in touch, and he was very responsive.
How often did you interact with other Thinkful data science bootcamp students?
Thinkful has Slack channels set up, so you can ask other students data science, programming, and job interview questions. Each of the mentors also sets aside a few hours a week to be available for office hours – you can pop in almost any time during the day to talk with somebody and ask them a question.
What is your favorite project that you built at Thinkful?
I continued to work on and improve the initial home prices project that I built in the prep course, and I even ended up submitting it for the Kaggle competition. I used Python, a lot of scikit-learn modules, and Jupyter Notebooks. I was pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m actually going to give a presentation on it in a few weeks to a local women in data science meetup. Thinkful encouraged me to find a local data science meetup, and I found a great one. It’s going really well so far, and now they want me to speak. I feel like, “wow this is awesome.”
How did the bootcamp prepare you for job hunting?
Thinkful provides job searching tips and advice throughout the course. We did a mock interview, where you dress up and they ask you various questions, grill you a little bit, and give you feedback immediately afterward, so that was really useful. The mentors also gave me advice about presentation skills, and really encouraged me to speak with authority and confidence about data science subjects. I ended up finding a job before I got to their official career module. I think there was another mock interview I would’ve done, but I did not end up needing that.
In the prep course they encouraged us to find meetups to attend. They said even if you’re not job-hunting yet, you want to start to get your face known, and meet some people, so that a few months down the line when you’re beginning to look for a job, you’ve already built up these relationships. So I started that early, and I’m still going to those.
Congratulations on your new job! What is the role and how did you find it?
It’s a data analyst position at a local company in the entertainment industry. I found the job on glassdoor.com. During the interview, I talked about my background, and the interviewer was most interested in my data science knowledge. I showed him my supervised machine learning project with the home prices, and another supervised machine learning project predicting whether a bank marketing campaign would be successful. The business has a treasure trove of untapped data, so my projects really inspired them to see what I could do with their data using my data analysis skills.
What have you been doing in your role in your first couple of months?
Because I’m the first employee doing data science at this company, one of my first tasks was to download Python and get systems in place. They gave me free reign to start building some algorithms. Once I had built a project, I created a presentation, and that is now moving through the systems. So I’m building projects, presenting them, and doing various kinds of data analysis on their existing departments.
They want me to analyze how to use those marketing dollars as efficiently as possible and how to direct them to the right people. So that’s one thing we’re working on right now. It’s been super interesting and fun. It’s a big change from wildlife biology for sure.
Are you using the technologies you learned at the Thinkful bootcamp, or have you had to learn stuff on the job?
SQL and Python are huge in this job, along with Excel. But actually, the Thinkful program was really spot on. I’m not able to use Jupyter Notebooks here, so I’m using a different Python environment.
How is your previous background in biology useful in your new job so far?
It hasn’t been too useful, but I was ready for a career change. I did get another job offer at a hospital as well, where I would’ve used more of my biology and bioinformatics skills. But the environment at this company was a little more enticing. The hospital was still using Excel 97, so I could see right away that it would be really hard to change or do anything new there. However, I was doing some project management in my last biologist position, so that’s always useful, being able to delegate tasks, use time efficiently, and things like that.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a data scientist?
So far things have been pretty good. I wondered if gender would be an issue, but so far it really hasn’t been. It seems like business people will see these data science techniques and get pretty excited. Data science is so new and so useful, and people can really see the value in it right away. These skills have opened so many doors.
How do you stay involved with Thinkful? Have you kept in touch with other alumni?
Just a little bit. I’m still on the Slack channel, so I’ll pop in there, and interact. I haven’t talked to my mentor too much recently, but he’s busy traveling the world. Hopefully, we’ll talk again at some point – that would be fun.
What advice do you have for people thinking about going through an online data science bootcamp?
It’s extremely hard and also extremely rewarding. If you have the motivation to learn new techniques, continually update those techniques as the field changes, and if you like to be constantly learning – then data science could be a really great profession for you.
Jose was a manager in the biomedical engineering space before attending Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development online course. When he started learning to code, he set a goal to break into tech before his 23rd birthday; and he accomplished that goal by completing the Thinkful course in just 6 weeks (while working full-time)! Since graduating, Jose’s career as a developer has blossomed – read how he landed his new job at Bank of America!
What were you up to before you decided to attend Thinkful?
Before Thinkful, I had finished my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering technology at DeVry University and was working as a biomedical technologist at a medical sales company. I made sure that all the biomedical equipment sold was functioning properly – I had actually just been promoted to a managerial position and was making a decent salary.
What made you want to learn how to code?
During my degree, our DeVry professors really pushed us to learn how to code. We learned Java, C++ and C, but the problem was that I was more focused on science because of my concentration in biomedical sciences. Typically, when I was in group projects, I was always paired up with electrical engineering majors and computer science majors. So any time any coding needed to be done, the bulk of it was done by the people who had a stronger background in computer science.
Four years down the road, after graduating, I started to miss coding since I didn’t get to code in my job. I'd keep my eye on TechCrunch and see people changing the world with code essentially through web applications or the Internet of Things projects with microcontrollers like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. I decided I wanted to take a stab at building something big myself so I jumped into web development with hopes of building something that could impact people on a large scale.
Did you try to teach yourself how to code before deciding on Thinkful?
Why did you decide that you needed to commit to a coding bootcamp? What stood out about Thinkful?
When I was self-teaching, I came across the bootcamp model because I was trying to get to that next level of competency in front-end web development. I searched online and found most coding bootcamps were like, "Oh, quit your job and come do this for three months," and I thought, "I don't know if I can quit my job." At the same time, none of those options were here in Dallas. There was one in Austin and I was contemplating on going there but at the end of the day, I just couldn't make the sacrifice of quitting my job. I then found Thinkful.
Thinkful would allow me to do a coding bootcamp online, it was lower cost than other options, and you could learn at your own pace which was ideal for me since I was not an absolute beginner and did not want to go at other people's pace.
When I was doing self-study, I was already doing 30-ish hours a week coding so I knew I would be able to finish the course much quicker than what they advertised. Following that pace would allow me to save even more money since the course was charged based on time you spent enrolled. It was a no-brainer for me to quickly spend a lot of time coding to keep the cost down.
When did you attend Thinkful? Was it a couple of years ago?
I took Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development course almost two years ago. I graduated from DeVry in March of 2015 and I started looking into coding about six months after graduating. Toward the latter end of 2015 I set a goal when I first started coding that I wanted to break into the industry before my 23rd birthday, which gave me about almost 6 months of time. I ended up getting a job March 10th just a few days before my birthday on March 24th. That was something that helped keep me motivated and helped push me because I had a very strict goal I set for myself.
How many hours did you dedicate to the online course at Thinkful?
By the time that I decided to enroll in Thinkful I was committed to break into coding as quickly as I possibly could. My goal was to actually finish their course in less time than they recommended. They said a typical person finishes in three to six months. I finished the course in a month and a half, and I had a job after a month.
I put in over 30 hours a week on average. and I actually took two weeks off from my job – I put in about 60-90 hours those two weeks. Because I was able to do that, I was able to get through the course much more quickly.
How did you feel about the learning experience at Thinkful?
It was basically exactly what I was looking for – I’m the type of person who takes a vacation just to work more if it means reaching my goals faster. That's just the type of person I am. They had a structured curriculum, but because it was self-paced, everything just clicked with Thinkful. It was perfect for me.
So what's your secret to staying engaged while learning online?
I'd love to say that I have that figured out but I don't think I do. For me I've always been extremely motivated, so for me, it's not difficult to do these things. I was born into a poor family – I'm a first generation Hispanic and the only one in my family that was actually born here in the US. Times were tough until my parents got their citizenship in order to be able to work jobs that paid more than minimum wage.
I’m also the first in my family to go to college. Once I grew up, I was extremely motivated to be financially secure and to be able to ultimately help my family. So my motivation comes from wanting to contribute back to my family and help bring them up out of poverty. In order to do that, I needed to be extremely smart and hard-working. I made it a point to motivate myself daily by watching motivational videos online multiple times a day and by reading about success stories on TechCrunch.com.
If Thinkful was going to get me a job with a higher salary, then I was going to do whatever it took.
You've had more than one job since Thinkful – how did you get your first job?
After about a month at Thinkful, I was 80% done with the front-end development curriculum and I applied for a job at UT Southwestern, a medical school, hospital and research facility in Dallas. I got a call a week later and they said they liked my portfolio and wanted me to interview. My portfolio consisted of my Thinkful projects. I wrote a great cover letter, I sent it to my future boss saying something along the lines of, "Hey, I don't have experience, but I'm willing to put in the work that it takes to get there. Give me a shot, you won't regret it." Once they realized that I already had a managerial job in a professional setting, they knew that I was very motivated and worked hard, so that helped me tremendously. The job posting also specifically said they were open to junior talent so that was why they took a serious look at me.
Tell us about that first job at UT Southwestern!
Ideally, I would have stayed there 2-3 years, but the Trump administration is cutting a lot of funding to state hospitals which forced me out. They ended up cutting two of my most senior teammates and they weren’t sure if they could keep me on as a full-time contractor. The role was initially a 6-month contract-to-hire role that turned into a one and a half year contract that would lead to me converting over to a full-time employee after that. Since they were going through a downsize, I decided to update my resume and start looking for other jobs.
Also, during my time at UT Southwestern, I had started working remotely part-time for a startup on a side. They let me take on a lead front-end developer role in a really cool project that used Angular 2. When the founder expressed interest in needing a front-end developer who knew Angular 2, he reached out to me so I was fortunate to have everything line up so perfectly.
How did you find your next position?
Luckily, I sent out what seemed like 80 applications over the next two weeks and had two offers at the end of it. A position opened up for me in a different department at the university. I would be doing full-stack development in Python and Django for one of the research teams. At the same time, I got an offer from Bank of America, and I ended up going with Bank of America.
Did you have conversations with Thinkful about your job transition? Were they helpful in helping you find a new role?
When I was looking for my first job, I got the most help from my Thinkful mentor. My mentor helped me prep for interviews – he actually had a lot of experience interviewing developers so he was able to give me a ton of advice.
When I was looking for a second job, I didn’t need to reach out to the Thinkful team because I had already gotten a bunch of advice from my mentor. He was probably the biggest help in terms of getting jobs and just understanding the landscape of searching for, interviewing for and getting development jobs.
When you found the job at Bank of America, were they at all concerned that you were coming from an online coding bootcamp or were they impressed with your previous roles as a software developer?
At Bank of America, half of my team graduated from a coding bootcamp. I was lucky enough to have an engineering degree behind me, so I didn't exactly have that knock on me as I think that somebody else without an engineering or computer science degree might have had.
At one company that I got an offer from, their team told me that they actually preferred a bootcamp education over a master's in computer science. They told me they had actually hired a developer right out of his Master's in Computer Science, but he was not very specialized in web development. He just knew a broad range of topics well instead of being really good at something specific like myself and front-end development.
They told me I had much more specific knowledge about web development. I could hit the ground running with my knowledge since they had me analyze their web app and give them feedback on what to change and how to do it. The other candidate may have been a stronger programmer because he knew more complicated and general programming logic, but I had a more focused experience, which is ultimately what that company was looking for in this specific case.
Bank of America is a huge company – congrats on the job! How do you feel you’ve grown in this second job after Thinkful?
Bank of America was looking for the best coders and cared less about what your background is. They were looking for skills instead of a degree. They interviewed 72 people for 9 roles and I actually have the least amount of experience than my fellow hires.
I've put in a little bit of time outside of work to try to understand their framework so I could get up to speed a little quicker. They’ve given us laptops so I can actually work from home and I've done that to just get to know the framework better.
What's been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn how to code?
Looking back over your transition, how much do you do you feel like you've grown as a developer since graduating from Thinkful?
I've spent a lot of time from the very beginning improving my skills outside of work. From a technical perspective, I feel like, for only a year and a half experience, I have a lot more technical skills to offer than your average developer with similar experience. I spent so much of my free time picking up all these frameworks, getting better at basically every single aspect of coding. I even started pulling in some back-end development so I can eventually become a full-stack developer in the next role that I get.
From a technical perspective, I haven't had any doubts in my abilities because I spend so much time outside of work learning. I'm very young, I have a lot of time, I don't have kids – so for me, I know I can put in the work now.
What advice do you have for other people who are considering an online coding bootcamp?
A concentrated effort is the most important thing. If you spent 10 hours doing a coding tutorial or bootcamp, how much effort did you give in those 10 hours? How concentrated was it? Are you checking your emails or your Facebook notifications, Instagram notifications, and Snapchat during those working hours? Because if you are, you're going to lose value from those 10 hours. Coding is very complex and some of the more difficult to understand topics require a lot of reading and thinking – taking too many breaks or not concentrating while you study can make it impossible to learn.
The most important thing that all companies are looking for is raw technical ability. They're not necessarily focused on degrees. The more concentrated effort you spend on coding, the better you get, and the higher probability you are to get these jobs.
Bank of America interviewed 72 people and they only hired nine of us – we were the nine best developers out of those people. At the end of the day, they're always going to hire the best people regardless of experience.
Why do journalists and industry leaders think that two coding bootcamps are closing? And despite these “shutdowns,” why do companies like IBM still want to hire coding bootcamp graduates? We’re covering all of the industry news from August. Plus, a $3 billion GI Bill that covers coding bootcamps for veterans, why Google and Amazon are partnering with bootcamps, and diversity initiatives. Listen to our podcast or read the full August 2017 News Roundup below.Continue Reading →
Need a summary of news about coding bootcamps from July 2017? Course Report has just what you need! We’ve put together the most important news and developments in this blog post and podcast. In July, we read about the closure of two major coding bootcamps, we dived into a number of new industry reports, we heard some student success stories, we read about new investments in bootcamps, and we were excited to hear about more diversity initiatives. Plus we round up all the new campuses and new coding bootcamps around the world.Continue Reading →
How do you stay motivated throughout an online coding bootcamp (and land a job afterwards)? Many people choose to take online coding bootcamps because it’s more convenient to study from home, or because they don’t have access to an in-person bootcamp in their city. At Course Report, we regularly hear success stories from online bootcamp graduates who have found great jobs with their new skills. But what is the secret to success at an online bootcamp? We asked the team at Thinkful, which offers full-time and part-time remote coding bootcamps, for their top tips to acing an online bootcamp. Watch the video or read the blog post.Continue Reading →
So you want to land a job after coding bootcamp? The statistics are on your side – 73% of bootcampers report being employed as developers after graduation. But did you know that many coding bootcamps go one step further and offer a job guarantee? We’ve put together a list of in-person and online coding bootcamps in the USA and around the world which offer guaranteed job placement. And don’t get caught off guard by the details – we’ve also included specifics about job guarantee tuition refunds, conditions, and tips to help you work out if a job guarantee coding bootcamp is right for you.Continue Reading →
Once Courtney Waller got excited about learning to code, it was Thinkful’s job guarantee that gave her the reassurance to enroll in the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp. The Thinkful team worked hard to help Courtney get her first job, and her past career as a teacher and counselor has now propelled Courtney into her second developer role in the EdTech space. We sat down to learn how Courtney balanced a full-time job with her Thinkful class, what stood out about her mentor, and how Thinkful gave her foundations to build on in her career as a developer.
What were you up to before Thinkful?
I studied Spanish and Math in college, thinking I wanted to be a math teacher. I spent most of my 20s in education, working in higher ed, teaching in Asia, and then working as a counselor. While I liked that social skills-heavy work, I found that I wanted a career that used more of the logical side of my brain. One of my female counseling clients was getting into coding, and I couldn’t stop talking about it. My now husband said to me, “You obviously want to do this, just go learn it!” So I took some free courses online to see if I would like it, and I loved it. I thought it was such a blast.
Do you think your background in education and counseling has been useful in your transition to web development?
It’s helped a ton! Both companies I’ve worked for have been education companies, so the fact I know the education world and my target audience has helped a lot. Because I’m a social person in general and I’ve worked so long in roles that require communication, my skills have lent themselves to leadership roles pretty early on. I’m pretty calm, easy going, stable, and understand how to break down problems.
I think that those communication skills also help to break the stereotype of a coder who lives in their basement and can’t talk to anyone. I’m very personable and friendly, and I think that’s reassuring for non-technical people.
How did you choose which bootcamp to go to? Why did you choose Thinkful?
I did a ton of research on bootcamps, to decide whether I should take an in-person or online bootcamp, what kind of community I wanted, and how much I should pay for it. It felt like I went through every bootcamp on Course Report. What first stood to me about Thinkful was the job guarantee. That gave me peace of mind because I wouldn’t lose thousands of dollars if I couldn’t pull this off.
I also wanted someone to guide me through the material. I knew that a coding bootcamp would consist of me working on projects, but I needed someone I could ask questions of live, rather than just asking questions via a chat room. I had one call with Thinkful, and I loved Liz Parsekian. I started the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp next week!
How did you choose an online bootcamp vs an in-person coding bootcamp?
When I first started researching, I was living in Portland, Oregon (now I’m in Salt Lake City), so I looked at in-person bootcamps in Portland. Even though there were some really good bootcamps, I was still working full-time as a counselor, so it was way more convenient to work on projects around my schedule, rather than have dedicated time that I had to be in a classroom. So that’s why I ultimately chose an online coding bootcamp.
How long did it take you to finish the Flexible Web Development bootcamp?
It took me 6 months from start to finish. I spent 5 months on curriculum and projects, then about 1 month getting my portfolio ready. Once my portfolio was done and signed off on, I started looking for jobs. That job search took about 5 weeks – it moved really fast. I usually spent a total of 25 to 30 hours working on Thinkful each week, and I gave myself a day off every week. So I probably spent 4-5 hours a day reading, coding, going to mentor sessions, or attending online sessions.
Who was your mentor and how often did you communicate with your mentor?
My mentor, Marius, was amazing – we’re still in touch! I really bonded with him, and would totally grab a beer with him. He had a way of explaining hard concepts using normal, everyday language, so I would understand the concept, then he would explain how to do it with code, which was really useful. He was always a resource who knew a lot more than I did. Even when he didn’t know the answer, he was really calm, and said, “Let’s figure it out.” He taught me how to understand that you’re always going to be confused, and how to use Google effectively.
I met with my mentor Marius three times per week for an hour each session. Sometimes if I had a really pressing question I could shoot him an email in between sessions, but usually we kept it to just the meetings. Marius was new to React, so I did switch mentors for three weeks to learn React, then switched back to my original mentor to finish the course.
Were you able to get help from other Thinkful students?
I got as much as I put in. There was a Thinkful Slack community, live workshops, and Q&A sessions, and I used at least one of those resources every day. I would check in, look at Slack, or post a question if I was really stuck to see what other people were working on. Because I did the Flexible bootcamp, I wasn’t learning with a set cohort, but I started noticing people who were around the same stage as me, and we grouped together. In an online coding bootcamp, it’s up to you as a student to be active and to reach out, and I wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t done that. Thinkful definitely encourages you to interact with other students, but there is no pressure; you don’t fail the course because you didn’t make friends.
How did Thinkful prepare you for the job search? Did you get introductions to employers?
Learning the technical material was the best part of Thinkful, but the career services were what made Thinkful worth the money.
Once I finished the curriculum, I moved from working with my mentor Marius to working with Liz Parsekian and Grae Drake. Liz chased down job leads for me, looked for jobs in the area, and leveraged her networks to see if she knew anyone who was hiring. That’s actually how I got my first job – it was with a company that Liz reached out to on my behalf! That was hugely helpful.
On top of that job searching, I had hour-long meetings every week with Grae to talk about interview skills and go through code challenges (and how to solve them). After my interviews, I would debrief with Grae and talk about what I couldn’t handle in the interview. He gave me a lot of practical advice, helped me stay organized, and work my network to get a job. Between Grae and Liz, finding a job felt like a breeze. They took a lot of the pressure off.
Tell us about your first job after Thinkful!
My first job was with a music education startup. They have a video library of educational videos, about things like learning how to play instruments, how to compose music, and sound recording. When I started I was the 12th employee, and the only developer, which was intimidating for a first job, but I learned a lot really fast. I wouldn’t have come across the job if it weren’t for Liz from Thinkful. It ended up being a really good first job in this industry.
How prepared did you feel for that job on your first day? Did you have to keep learning a lot by yourself?
How did you know you were ready to move into your second job after graduating from Thinkful?
My first job was a super fun challenge, but I wanted to be part of a bigger team. It’s kind of a lonely world to be the only developer, especially when you’re new to the industry. There was no one to review my code, and I knew I was making mistakes.
I found my current job using the skills Thinkful taught me in the Career Services phase. I leveraged my own networks, put out the word to developers I had met or interviewed with before that I was looking for new job. I got a referral to an open position at Instructure, got my foot in the door, interviewed well, and everything moved very quickly – about 3 weeks from start to finish.
I probably could have reached out to Thinkful for help if I had needed it, but everything moved so quickly. I did email Liz and Grae after I started the new job to tell them how I had negotiated my salary and used my skills from Thinkful.
What is your current role? Did the company provide onboarding or training?
Instructure had a great onboarding process, which was really nice. There are three developers, and the two most senior developers trained me. They helped me get my development environment set up, told me about some known bugs, and as I started getting project work, they were available when I didn’t know how something worked. There was a lot more support in this role, which was exactly what I was looking for. My confidence is higher in this job, whereas at my first job, it was hard fought.
How far did Thinkful get you compared to the level you’re at now?
When I finished Thinkful, I was relieved to be done, but I knew I was very much in the beginning stage of my learning. It was shocking how far I had come, but I was very aware there was still so much to learn. After working at Instructure, I would say that I’m in “Early Intermediate.” I’ve come so far, but there’s still so much left to learn.
What advice do you have for other remote bootcampers who are going through the job search?
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I got was to go to local meetups. Go learn about code, talk to people with similar interests, and tell them what you’re working on. It will put you out of your comfort zone, but that is the way to get established as a developer. Unless you’re in New York or San Francisco, the coding communities are pretty small, so you’re going to see the same people over and over. Get yourself into that community and get your name known. I didn’t love it at first, but I established connections that I used to get my second job, which I totally love.
Also, know that the interview process is not as scary as you think. Yes, you have to do code challenges, and you won’t know how to solve a problem in front of people, but in all my experiences, everyone was so kind and willing to help. What employers want to see is how you handle yourself. If you don’t know the answer to a question, they want to see what you do, how you talk through it. The more you talk to your interviewer, the more receptive and willing to help they are.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code?
My biggest challenge was learning to love frustration. I realized I needed to learn to really enjoy that feeling and that experience. I now know how to work through it, but that was very hard for me when I first started Thinkful – I felt this pressure and I wanted to perform perfectly. Now I love being frustrated because I know I’ll get through it, and that has helped me a ton.
How do you stay involved with Thinkful? Have you kept in touch with staff or other alumni?
I pop into Slack sometimes to see what’s going on. I’m still in touch with my mentor; we talk every couple weeks via email, and I’ve hired him one-on-one a couple of times when I’m stuck on something. As I get more settled and feel more confident, my hope is to become a mentor at Thinkful. I see myself moving back into the Thinkful community.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through an online coding bootcamp?
First, be really clear about the goal you’re working towards at a bootcamp, because that’s the carrot on the stick when you are frustrated because your code won’t work, or you’re too exhausted to understand. Maybe you want to start a family and this career will help you support them, or you’re in a dead-end job and you want to be inspired – whatever your personal reasons are, you need to keep aiming for those.
Second, make sure the people in your life really understand what you’re signing up for. My husband was very supportive, but it would have been a lot harder if he weren't. He knew I wouldn’t be very available for six months – I’d be tired, working hard, and not as engaging. Going to coding bootcamp really does change your life, but for those few months, you’re in a very different rhythm.
Thirdly, I suggest giving yourself time off. Give yourself a day where you don’t write any code. Go to a park, watch a movie, eat ice cream, let yourself refresh and you’ll come back with more energy and be able to solve the problem you were stuck on.
Lastly, let yourself really celebrate your successes. Don’t be shy about bragging; show off your projects to anyone who will listen, go to your online community and say, “I can’t believe I built this – check it out!” When you have that camaraderie, and people say they like your design, it’s really inspiring and gives you the motivation to tackle the next project.
Need an overview of coding bootcamp news in May? You’re in the right place! We’ve collected all the most important news in this blog post and podcast. This month, we read about a number of insightful surveys about employers, programming languages, and learners. We read advice about choosing a bootcamp, learned about efforts to encourage women and veterans to learn to code, and heard about student experiences at bootcamp. Plus, we added a bunch of interesting new schools to the Course Report school directory! Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast.Continue Reading →
We know that 93% of Thinkful alumni are getting jobs at companies like Intel, BBC News, and PeopleVine, and that the online bootcamp even offers a job guarantee for their Flexible and Full Time Web Development Bootcamp. But how does an online bootcamp help people find real jobs in cities around the world? Thinkful Career Services Managers, Liz Parsekian and Stephanie Bermudez, explain their individualized job search strategy for each student, why mock interviews with mentors start early on, and the importance of having original projects in your portfolio. Plus, Thinkful shares their 3 favorite online interview prep resources!
How large is the Career Services team at Thinkful? Which Thinkful students are they serving?
The Career Services team is comprised of a group of folks whose work ranges from career coaching to company partnerships to overall management of our operations and events. Career coaching sessions have the same structure as 1-on-1 Thinkful mentorship, and are completely dedicated to career development and advancement. The career team works with students from all of our bootcamps, too: Full Time Web Development, Flexible Web Development and Flexible Data Science.
What goes into the career development process at Thinkful? Does Career Prep start on Graduation Day or before that?
A lot of thought, detailed planning, and proactive outreach! Initially, the process was built around our other tenets of learning: mentorship and 1-on-1 support. We also have to factor student location, personality, and long-term goals into the process. It’s not a one-size-fits-all for any job search, so while we have structure and proven tactics, we treat all students as individuals.
As for when it starts, students begin career prep while they’re still in the course. After each major unit, students have a mock interview conducted by a developer who interviews real candidates on the same topic.
They also build capstone projects which go into their portfolio. Often times the projects students build can be informed by knowing about the local job market — we encourage students to research what employers in their area are looking for when it comes to portfolio projects. Job opportunities sometimes come up for students before they’ve graduated, so throughout the course, we provide these tools to level up in ways that complement their learning.
In a way, all of that builds the necessary foundation for the full-focus job search and placement process.
When does the job placement process start? Does Thinkful connect students with employers or hiring partners?
Great question! Usually, the first week or so following graduation involves polishing up application materials (i.e., resumes, LinkedIn profiles, portfolios) and devising individualized job search strategies. As soon as those are ready, we get to work connecting with companies we know in each student’s city.
Over the past years, Thinkful has built relationships with tech companies, digital agencies and other industry leaders and each student will get the chance to meet with recruiters from those companies as well as learn about similar companies in the field. It helps students get a foot in the door, which is crucial for competitive job postings.
What sort of advice do you give your students for creating their online presence? How important is that to getting a job?
Application materials don’t stop with your résumé. In fact when it comes to networking, they start online. LinkedIn is not only a resource for posting your credentials, but for connecting with recruiters and research, research, research. The same goes for social media, except it’s a less formal way to establish your brand and connect with other developers. The amount of times I hear a senior developer say “Tweet at me” to get in touch... is a lot! And a personal website is a must.
How can an online bootcamper prepare for job interviews? Are there specific online tools that you recommend?
To apply what they’ve learned online, students attend job fairs, meetups, lectures, and connect with current developers for informational interviews.
What types of jobs are Thinkful students successful at getting after graduating? Are they generally Junior Developer jobs? Remote jobs?
Placed graduates get jobs in web development, but titles vary – different companies use the terms ‘engineer’ or ‘developer’ to describe the same roles. Within that category it really depends. Some students may get jobs beginning on a junior track, some may qualify for senior roles. In general, we see “junior” in a title much less than “engineer” or “developer”. Remote jobs are out there on the junior level but require more work to be considered for and in some cases, aren’t the right choice for a first role. We have special suggestions for students who are looking for remote only work which makes them stronger candidates.
Can graduates of Thinkful apply for job listings that require a CS degree? Should a bootcamp graduate still apply for that job or should they just skip over those listings?
Don’t skip! If you check the fine print on most of those listings it’ll say CS degree or equivalent experience. There’s your window. Now show the company why it is they want to hire you and what your qualifications are, with or without that degree.
How can bootcampers demonstrate that they have soft skills throughout the application process? Is this something they can show on a resume?
Definitely, there’s an opportunity to manage your “personality” and presence just about anywhere. If you’re reaching out on LinkedIn, be friendly. If you’re meeting with a developer for coffee, be prepared with questions. We like to pose the question to students, “Would you like to work with you?” That’s not easy to answer sometimes! But, there are rules we teach students that take out the mystery.
Obviously bootcamps are growing, and there are a lot more graduates in the job pool these days. How can Thinkful bootcamp grads set themselves apart from other candidates to land the job?
Thinkful graduates have a few key ways to stand out, most notably their portfolios and their enthusiasm for programming. Each of their capstone projects is an app that they came up with, planned, and built. That has a big contrast with any bootcamp graduates out there who are building ‘clones’ of existing apps. Employers have told me that they value the originality and dedication that such projects show.
Several other elements come into play, including soft skills such as how a graduate acts in an interview, and throughout an application process. Giving students mock interviews so they feel comfortable doing a coding challenge and coaching them on how to approach hiring managers goes a long way.
In addition to all of that, there is still a ton of opportunity in the job market for developers which bootcamp graduates are filling. The industry still has a talent shortage and, given the rate of growth in tech, we have no reason to expect hiring for developers to slow down.
In your experience, what do employers love about Thinkful graduates?
Employers love that Thinkful grads are ready to hit the ground running. Thinkful’s bootcamp is practical and based on what we see developers doing on the job. On top of years teaching students, we spent a lot of time on corporate training for senior engineers. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.
We pass these lessons to students and hear that this leads to faster ramp up times than average in a new hire. Companies also really love someone who’s enthusiastic about programming and problem solving and that’s a spirit we see in our students. Someone who is working a full day and comes home to work out a tough coding problem; trust me, that’s someone a company wants to hire. I also read recently that a greater percentage of women developers come out of bootcamps over CS degree programs. So companies may also find bootcamps like Thinkful are a way to add diversity to their workforce.
Have you noticed that employers are looking for a specific language or specific soft skills right now?
Thinkful was the first online bootcamp to publish verified job placement stats – why was that important to your school?
Verified outcomes are crucial to the future of education in general. Students need to know that they can trust you based on hard data, not promises. Sharing data with students is baked into our mission and process, so it’s an understatement to say it’s important to Thinkful — it’s at the core of what we do.
Students come to coding bootcamps looking to get new jobs as developers. Every school should give them a reasonable expectation of return on investment, it’s the responsible thing to do. We’ve found that students greatly appreciate having tangible reasons to trust us with their education and helping them build their future careers.
Tell us about your job placement guarantee. How long do you continue helping your graduates find jobs after they graduate?
Eligible students who complete the Flexible and Full Time Web Development Bootcamp are guaranteed to find a job as a developer within six months of graduating or we’ll refund their tuition. We work with every student for up to six months after they graduate, but even after graduates are placed, alumni know they can reach back out to us with questions. In fact, we got a nice letter recently from an alum who moved to a new company and told our Head of Education, Grae, that she used his negotiation tactics to get a big bump in pay and a signing bonus, she thanked him for it. The whole team was super happy about that!
Any final thoughts or advice on how to get a job after an online bootcamp for people who are job searching?
The job search is a separate skill set from coding and you’ll want to be good at both, but like coding it takes practice. Get out there and meet people! Feel comfortable among your new peers. Keep learning about this industry.
Online coding bootcamp Thinkful has recently expanded into Data Science! We sat down with Head of Education, Grae Drake, and Lead Data Science Instructor, Alex Nussbacher, to learn more about their new online Flexible Data Science Bootcamp. If you’re interested in data science but feel you don’t have enough flexibility to learn full-time and in-person, then keep reading. Learn why Thinkful chose to make the application process a three-week prep course and how they created a curriculum full of real data sets, experiments and projects to build a comprehensive portfolio.
Why expand Thinkful bootcamps into Data Science?
We've been teaching data science for a couple of years as a Skills course. We've learned a lot over the last year from our Web Development Bootcamp, and we’re now able to invest that learning into data science.
We could’ve chosen to teach mobile development or product development, but we chose data science because it's where we see the most opportunity in the future. Your job title may not be “data scientist,” but the ability to think critically and use large amounts of data to make informed decisions about new business is a skill that will be relevant to many different positions. The demand for qualified applicants who have those skills will continue to grow aggressively.
Can you really teach data science through an online, flexible bootcamp?
Bootcamps are very oriented towards practical outcomes. In academia, you care a lot about theory and publishing research. In industry, you care about adding value to a team and making a product that people want to use. Data science is oriented towards industry – how do we make our product better? How do we make intelligent decisions about what to do next? How do we enable behavior that wasn't previously possible?
This job is very much based on practical skills, which are well suited for learning in this type of format.
What are the admissions requirement for the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp ? Are you looking for applicants who have some technical background?
This is the first Thinkful program that has an application process. In general, we've been as open and as accommodating as possible to students. We don't want to raise barriers to students.
Web development, in particular, is a field that is accessible to anybody with interest. I think that data science is a little bit more demanding and in order to be successful in our data science bootcamp, the bar is higher. Students are learning a lot of math, programming concepts, and computer science fundamentals at the same time. You're learning to use very specialized data science tools that are themselves quite sophisticated.
Specifically, we're looking for somebody who has a combination of experience with programming, math, statistics and scientific research. In addition to that, we’re interested in somebody who has demonstrated the ability to work very hard in a relatively independent setting through our three-week prep course. We designed the prep course as a way to give applicants a perfect sense of what the bootcamp is going to be like and for us to see them working in that setting – working with a mentor, demonstrating the persistence and grit that you need for a self-paced program like this.
Do you give applicants a Python coding challenge?
We don't. Instead, we ask students to write Python and talk about Python with their mentor in the three-week prep course. They are spending nine hours with an expert talking about Python, and we ask those students to put together a capstone report at the end of the prep course.
They're using the Python, statistics, and fundamental data science packages that they learned in the prep course to put together that capstone report. They have to find a data source that they’re interested in exploring, use the tools they’ve learned to ask and answer three analytic questions of the data, and then propose a deeper research question that they’re not currently equipped to answer but hope to be once they’ve got the tool set under their belt.
That's actually a really cool admission process! Why not just filter out students without a specific technical background?
We think the best way to see how capable somebody is at doing data science is to see how they do the actual work. Other bootcamps filter based on a student’s background, very rigorously. If you haven't been in academia and you haven't been a programmer, and you've been self-learning the entire time, it can be difficult to show your potential to a full-time, in-person data science bootcamp. Our prep course is open to everybody. So if you come in and show that you can be successful, then that's what we want to see for admissions.
What is the difference between Thinkful’s Data Science Skills Course and this Flexible Data Science Bootcamp?
The Thinkful Data Science Skills course is one of our lower intensity courses. It's designed for people who are looking to pick up a related additional skill on top of their current skillset. It's perfect for somebody who has a handful of hours a week and wants to learn something new over a longer period of time. It does not go into the details and depth that we do in the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp and does not get you job-ready.
The Flexible Data Science Bootcamp gets you job-ready and includes much more one-on-one support and other types of support. You'll be meeting with your mentor frequently, you’ll have dedicated career coaching, job search support, and networking support.
Should someone take Thinkful’s Programing for Python course before the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp?
The prep course for the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp is perfect if you want to pick up Python for data science. The Programming for Python course is better if you want to pick up Python for its own sake or for web development.
How did you develop a full curriculum for the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp to get students ready for their first job as a data scientist?
We wanted to give people a really broad and solid base. One of the things we learned while teaching web development is that deliverables are crucially important, because they give you a clear goal and keep you accountable. Also, you’re applying the learning in a real-world context and then you’re able to show that work to employers. That is something that we are keeping very prominent in the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp.
We also want to teach these various tools through industry-focused examples and experience-based examples. We'll use mentors to reinforce this learning, but we want students doing real data science work.
I'm also particularly happy with the emphasis that we're putting on experimentation, which falls on the fringes of data science. We want to make sure people can go out into the wild, into a company.
Why did you decide to teach Python vs R?
We're starting with Python because we love the range of applicability that Python offers. It’s appealing to us and to students.
The Python versus R topic is an interesting one. Chances are good that you might end up using both Python and R in practice. In a program like this, we need to focus on one language, but if you want to learn R in parallel to Python, then we can help you do that. That’s one of the things I love about a flexible program like this.
Tell us more about the projects that students will build during the bootcamp.
We're starting off very structured, and then give students more freedom as we go forward. We'll give students data sets– for example, the Bay Area Bike Share– with very specific requests and requirements. That gives students a preview of how much you can actually learn from real-world data sets. We're asking them to find the answers to questions like, “how many people rode their bikes on rainy days?” We’re also using AirBnB data, which is a pretty big, open data set and a product that our students are familiar with.
Over time, as you become more competent, we give you a bit more freedom in the data science workflow. We've always been very flexible and accommodating for people who want to do something different. Data science is a very big road. We're going to teach you the stuff that you're going to need to know for any position, but we also want to give you a chance to go deep in a particular area, like finance, economics, natural language processing, biostatistics, image recognition, or visualization engineering. We have a very explicit section of the course that is focused on the particular industry, specialty, or technology that most interests you. This specialization paired with a broad base produces the T-shaped data scientists companies are looking for.
Because this is the flexible bootcamp, what does that mean for student-mentor interaction? How much time should a student expect to be spending with their mentor?
Students work with their mentor one-on-one for three hours per week, and there are a number of other times that you can join mentors for the data science course or Python mentors for their open sessions. We specifically designed the bootcamp to work with people’s full-time jobs and commitments, but it is still demanding.
Is anyone currently enrolled? What types of students are excelling in the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp?
The entire time I've been at Thinkful I've always been shocked at the variety of students. Our current students, who are just finishing the prep course, don’t have similar backgrounds. One student is a career academic who taught computer science at college and wants to actually get into the industry now. One student is a serial entrepreneur who's owned a number of businesses and is looking to pivot out of that.
We have a student who’s been writing high-performance C++ code for 11 years and is a very talented engineer, but wants to switch to the data-driven side of programming. Another student is a philosophy undergrad who has no technical experience right now. He is finding the prep course very, very demanding because he doesn't have that technical background.
Do you offer a job guarantee for the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp?
We're not offering a job guarantee with this course. Frankly, we also haven't seen the job guarantee be super relevant to our web development bootcamp, and so far only a single graduate has needed to use it.
There is job placement and career assistance included in the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp, right?
Correct! You essentially have the same job search support as our Web Development Bootcamp. During the bootcamp, we put a lot of effort into networking efforts, making connections for you, helping you make your own connections. We also conduct mock interviews so that you are ready and comfortable talking about data science with data scientists once you get into the interview setting.
For the Flexible Data Science Bootcamp, we'll be adding presentations, which is a little bit new. Communication is a much larger part of data science than web development.
Once you graduate, you’ll get one-on-one support from a professional career coach. They'll help you with your resume, LinkedIn profile, GitHub profile, AngelList profile, and your portfolio. They'll help you understand the interview process, and help you understand how to craft a resume so that it makes it through the applicant tracking system of the enormous company that you'll apply to and is actually seen by a human.
As a company, the Thinkful team members are all nerds about learning, and I've been really happy to see how many of my colleagues want to take this course!
Over 1300 coding bootcamp graduates entered our sweepstakes competition to win a $500 Amazon Giftcard just by leaving a review for their school on Course Report. This time, our lucky winner was Johnny from online coding bootcamp Thinkful! We caught up with him to find out a bit about his coding bootcamp experience and why he decided to attend Thinkful.Continue Reading →
Every cohort in Thinkful’s Full Time Web Development Bootcamp gets to take part in an online Demo Day to demonstrate their final projects. We recently attended a Thinkful Demo Day to see two teams present the projects that they worked on for three weeks. Each team explained the technologies that powered their projects, the roles each team member played, and they shared their screens to show off what they built. You'll be amazed at what these new developers built in just a few weeks; read on to see Game of Towers, a retro-styled tower defense game, and Sync-In, a music aggregation application!
The projects were presented through Thinkful’s custom-built video chat software where students can present simultaneously, and other students or participants can react to it in a chat bar down the side. Students can share their screens or show their webcams when presenting.
Each Thinkful student learned brand new technologies specifically to build their projects. “Once these students start working as developers, they’ll need to learn new technologies on the job," explained Bhaumik Patel, Head of Thinkful’s Full Time Web Development Bootcamp. "The world of web development is always changing, so making sure students are able to learn new skills is an essential part of a Thinkful education.” During the presentations students explained why they chose each technology and any challenges they faced.
Mathew Johns - Team Captain
JR Ruiz - Algorithm Overlord
Beatrix House - Design Lead
Matthew Rayburn - Database Engineer
Playing the Game
Game of Towers is a tower defense game the team describes as “inspired by a popular HBO TV series.” On the home page players can choose “login”, “register”, “play game” or “high scores”. Players place defense heroes to shoot at “creeps”. A creep is an evil character from the TV series which tries to follow a predetermined path. The player can earn money by killing creeps and then use the money to buy more defense heroes. The player also scores points by killing creeps. The game is divided into waves and with each new wave, more creeps arrive. You lose lives when the creeps get to the endpoint of the path.
The team used HTML Canvas for the graphics, React and Redux for the front end, NodeJS and MongoDB for the backend, Passport for authentication, and A* algorithm for the AI. They used an entity component system (ECS) to define the behavior of the game’s components, and piskelapp.com to design the sprites. The A* algorithm controls the path of the creeps.
- The team members had to learn a number of technologies from scratch, as they had never used them before.
- One of these was Canvas, which most of the team needed to know.
- JR, who was in charge of algorithms, found learning A* to be pretty challenging– it took him more than a week to get the hang of it but once he got it, it seemed to work well.
- Mathew found ECS difficult to understand, but later found it worked well for maintaining large programs.
- Beatrix, who was in charge of design, did not have much experience with games, so she had a whole new vocabulary to learn, on top of the new technologies. “It was really inspiring, and I’m really excited to have these new skills.”
- Matthew, the database engineer, had some issues getting Firebase integrated, and had to scrap a few days’ work to use MongoDB and MLab instead.
In the future, the team plans to integrate socket.io to make the game multi-player.
Surbhi Poswalia - Project Manager
Lavie Ruan - Scrum Master
Michelle Nguyen - Design Lead
Kevin Lee - Product Manager
Sync-In is an all-in-one music platform that brings together music from three different places– YouTube, Vimeo, and SoundCloud. Users can then search and create playlists using songs from all three services. Sync-In is designed for music explorers who may want to mix listening to underground artists on SoundCloud with more mainstream music on YouTube. “You can get the best of both worlds without switching between platforms,” Michelle says.
When users get to the Sync-In homepage they can log in using either Google or Facebook. The welcome screen shows the user’s favorite playlists. If users click on a track, they can add it to the queue of the music player. Within the playlists users can add tracks, delete tracks, and move tracks up and down. When users type in a term on the search page the search results will be from YouTube, Vimeo, and SoundCloud. Next to each result is a play button, and an add to queue button. Users can also checkmark tracks and add them to a new playlist. Users can opt to make playlists private or public.
- They found the Google and Facebook authentication very hard to implement.
- They found it challenging to migrate from front end to back end and vice versa.
- Each member of the team had their own style of code, so they had to work hard to make sure the code they wrote was understood by other members of the team.
- As the app grew larger they had problems implementing new features. More communication between team members was needed, which took away from the coding time.
The team would like to integrate more music platforms to allow more cross-platform music searchability, add customizable profile pages for users, and make the app compatible for mobile so users can listen to music on the go. They also would like to deploy the app officially and legally.
It’s that time again! A time to reflect on the year that is coming to an end, and a time to plan for what the New Year has in store. While it may be easy to beat yourself up about certain unmet goals, one thing is for sure: you made it through another year! And we bet you accomplished more than you think. Maybe you finished your first Codecademy class, made a 30-day Github commit streak, or maybe you even took a bootcamp prep course – so let’s cheers to that! But if learning to code is still at the top of your Resolutions List, then taking the plunge into a coding bootcamp may be the best way to officially cross it off. We’ve compiled a list of stellar schools offering full-time, part-time, and online courses with start dates at the top of the year. Five of these bootcamps even have scholarship money ready to dish out to aspiring coders like you.Continue Reading →
Welcome to our last monthly coding bootcamp news roundup of 2016! Each month, we look at all the happenings from the coding bootcamp world from new bootcamps to fundraising announcements, to interesting trends we’re talking about in the office. This December, we heard about a bootcamp scholarship from Uber, employers who are happily hiring bootcamp grads, investments from New York State and a Tokyo-based staffing firm, diversity in tech, and as usual, new coding schools, courses, and campuses!Continue Reading →
Jason Humphrey has been mentoring students from Thinkful’s programs for almost two years, including students in their newest course, the Full Time Web Development Bootcamp. When Jason isn’t mentoring, he is working as a Software Engineer at Fidelity Investments and maintaining his own open source framework. We asked Jason about the difference between Thinkful mentors and instructors, how he structures his mentorship sessions to maximize learning, and why he does whatever it takes to help his students be successful.
Can you tell me about your background in tech and coding and how you got involved with Thinkful?
I grew up building websites. In high school, I built my own little website to sell computers using jQuery and it did really well. So I've been doing web development for a long time. For the last four years, I’ve worked full time at Fidelity Investments as a Software Engineer. I have also built my own open source framework called MeanStackJS and I just became a Pluralsight author.
How did you learn to code? Did you teach yourself? Did you get a computer science degree?
I’m self-taught, but I also have a degree. It started in my freshman year of high school. I took one class of Visual Basic, and I was like, "I’ve got to do this." When I finished a couple of Visual Basic courses that my high school offered, I started teaching myself more. I read everything I could – documentation, projects and whatever open source code there was. Since then I’ve refined my skills to be able to teach myself things really fast.
I went to school at Marietta College in Ohio because I played college basketball. I graduated with an Information Systems degree, and a minor in Energy Systems Studies.
How did you get involved as a mentor with Thinkful?
A couple of years ago, I started to look at a few different enterprise training options for my tech team. That’s when I found Thinkful and got in touch with the team. My team didn’t end up working with Thinkful, but Thinkful still asked if I could review their courses. I started reviewing, giving them some feedback, and helping out with other stuff. They eventually asked if I’d like to work with them. I started doing Workshops and Q&A sessions, and then moved into mentoring sessions for both the Flexible and Full Time bootcamps. I’ve been mentoring at Thinkful for almost two years now.
Before you got involved with Thinkful, were you convinced by the coding bootcamp model?
Before I came across Thinkful, I was a little skeptical of coding bootcamps. I had a traditional view of education, so the idea of a coding bootcamp was foreign to me. But the model has grown on me now, because I really think students can learn a lot in a concentrated amount of time. I wish I'd been able to reduce my four years in college to one year or even six months – that would have been awesome. Thinkful has totally changed my paradigm of thinking about bootcamps.
What stood out to you about Thinkful, and drew you to become a mentor?
I honestly believe in their vision and attitude towards students: to do the best you can for them. It just makes sense to give students one-on-one time, and extra time if they need it. You do what it takes to make this person successful and Thinkful figures out a way to make it work. Their goal to give students the best product they can is something I absolutely love.
I also know that mentoring with Thinkful helps change lives. We take people from all walks of life and help them become programmers. For example, a recent student of mine who just graduated from Thinkful was Sean who was previously a chemist, and now he works at Intel.
You have a lot of experience as a developer – did you have teaching experience before mentoring with Thinkful?
No, I didn't have any formal teaching experience in the sense of professional training. But I kind of grew up teaching in informal ways. I've always been a mentor to other people, like when I played basketball, and in helping people younger than me. My dad, my sister, and some other family members are school teachers. So teaching came naturally because I watched them do it for so many years.
Also, I've taken the time to refine my skills. I research what helps people learn, how to approach situations with questions, and how to improve my teaching. I've also taken my own style of learning and tried to implement that in my teaching. I like learning how to teach people.
I'm interested in what the role of a mentor at Thinkful actually involves. How do you work with your students?
I have seven students right now, which is near my capacity. Every day I meet with them for at least half an hour. My role as a Thinkful mentor is to help guide the student in any way I can. Whether they get lost in the content, need career advice, want to build something new, or want to bounce ideas off me, I'm there. It's not limited to technical coding questions. You can ask me anything.
I also tell my students they can find me anytime. If you need to find me on the weekend, you can. If you want to book an extra session with me, I'll make time for that. A lot of students get stuck on weekends and I’d rather they don’t sit there stuck for four or five hours. My role is to be there for whatever they need. If some students need to be pushed, I push. If some students need extra time, I point, teach, and show. Every student needs something different. My role is a little bit of everything: a mentor and life coach.
How do you structure those regular sessions with the students?
In the scheduled sessions, the first thing I do is check in with how the students are doing and what's going on in their lives. A solid mentor builds a relationship with their students. Students don't spend that tuition money just to meet with a person they don't feel comfortable with. Then I'll ask what they are stuck on in the coursework, and where they need help, which will usually take a lot of time. Once we work through that, I ask, “How can we look forward to advance your learning? Where are you struggling?” Depending on the topic, some students learn quickly and others need a little extra help, so I focus on what I can do to make each student better.
What is your personal teaching style like? If someone is stuck on a problem, how do you guide them through that and teach them how to do it?
My own teaching style is very hands on. If a student is stuck on a problem, the first thing I ask is, “what do we know and what do we not know?” When you have an issue, you can always go back to the last known spot when everything was working fine – whether it's in a line of code or that the command prompt that won't work. Then I will help the student figure out what the problem is in that spot. We'll review the logs and try to figure out what the computer is thinking. If we can understand what the computer knows, we can find a solution.
Once we get a problem working, I will take a step back and try to give the student an analogy or another example so we can learn from the “aha moment” we just had. We will try to do it again or reproduce the error somewhere else and fix it again. At the end of the day I want students to know how to solve this again on their own.
I’m teaching my students how to be self-sufficient down the road and not have to see this issue again. I will re-ask them a couple of days later to make sure they have cemented that lesson in their mind. Near the end of the course, these students start to become really independent and don't need me as much. They've learned how to debug and how to research.
How does the Full Time Web Developer Bootcamp work in general?
Students go to class daily from 9am ET to 6pm ET. There are about 10 students per class with one dedicated teacher and two Technical Assistants (TAs). it's about a 1:3 teacher to student ratio. Throughout the day they'll go through workshops, watch presentations from the teacher, go over the course material for that day, and do pair programming.
Between 6pm and 10pm, students will meet with one-on-one with a mentor for half an hour. During the day, when students are working with the TAs and teachers, it's focused on code, code, code. But when they come to me, it's a more of an informal chat. The TAs will explain something, provide a solution, then the students will come to the mentors and say, "I don't get the solution. Can you help me out?" Sometimes students don't want to raise their hand in a class setting because they don't want to feel silly or ask what they think is a “stupid question” in front of all the other students. And that's where mentors step in and help out.
How do you actually communicate with your Thinkful mentees? Do you do a video call?
Thinkful has their own video chat system, in which students can log in and join a Session. As a mentor, I have my own room and my students just jump in my room when they want to talk to me. It's so easy because it's just a URL – you log in and you're there.
Are your students in different time zones and how do you coordinate with them?
I'm lucky to be in Texas, which is on Central Standard Time (CST). I have students in Washington, New York, Florida, and Illinois. They're all over. My availability to meet with students starts when I get off work around 4pm or 5pm CST. I stay up late, so even if people on the West Coast want to meet later, it’s really not an issue. The coordination is not that hard because I use a Calendly calendar. If students need something outside of normal meeting hours, they can check my availability on Calendly and book it.
How do you balance Thinkful mentoring with your other work that you do?
I plan out my days very well. I have goals, and I use a Pomodoro timer through Kanbanflow to constantly track what I'm doing. I work on Thinkful when I get home from work, generally from 5pm to 8pm. Some students need more time, some students need less – it depends on how the day goes. I save 8pm to 11pm to eat, and do my own thing. Then at midnight until 2am, I'll work on personal stuff like my MEAN Stack framework, NPM modules, and my consulting services. People think I'm crazy, but if you plan things out accordingly, eat properly, and have a little self-discipline, it's pretty easy to maintain.
You mentioned before how the Thinkful curriculum constantly evolves. Do you ever get the opportunity to give feedback or contribute to the curriculum?
I do. I used to contribute and do actual coursework writing for them, but once I started taking on more students, I didn't have time for that stuff anymore. But I can easily give feedback to some of the course managers and the curriculum team.
How do you help out with career coaching or job placement?
A lot of times when students ask me about careers, I'll first direct them to Thinkful’s career services, to make sure they know that's what Thinkful offers. When they ask me specific career questions, I will give them my professional opinion on what I've seen, what I do in my own areas, my experience working in corporate America, or even what I'm consulting on.
I tell them what I've seen working, what works for me, and what worked internally. I give my personal recommendations but also make sure it would align with Thinkful’s. I also give students my personal opinion on how I would approach the job interview, my thoughts on how to stay calm, or how to keep the conversation going.
Do you think there is an ideal Thinkful student? Do you find there's a certain type of student who does well in the Full Time Bootcamp?
I've seen a lot of students come through the full time bootcamp now. The ideal student is a hard worker. We've had smart people who crush Thinkful and get the job. We've also had students who jump into the program and then don't care anymore. I've seen both ends of the spectrum, but the ideal students are right there in the middle – the hard workers. They wake up early to study a little bit more. They go to bed studying what they're going to learn tomorrow. They put in the extra time.
If you can put in the time and work, the knowledge will come. You only do this intense bootcamp once. And if you crush it, you're more likely to get the job that you want. Hard workers generally take full advantage of their time and do a phenomenal job.
What would you say is the goal for a student who completes the Full Time Bootcamp? What kind of roles do they have the skills for?
They have the capability to be a full stack developer. But junior full stack developer jobs are hard to find, there are not a ton of those jobs out there. Most of the time employers want to hire developers for either front end or back end.
When you graduate, you can pick an area to focus on. Do you want to go more towards front end or back end? What do you like? By the end of the course people usually know whether they want to do front end or back end development. People who love both are very few and far between. I think I’ve only had two out of fifteen students who found full stack developer jobs, and the rest of them either took front end or back end positions.
What is your advice to someone if they are tossing up between doing Thinkful’s Flexible program or the Full Time program?
Ask yourself, if you had an eight-hour task to do, would you finish on your own by the end of the day or would you do better if someone pushed you? Are you the type that needs to be pushed? Or are you self-disciplined enough to do it by yourself? The majority of people are not. If I was to redo all this stuff and relearn, I would go to a full time bootcamp because I want to be pushed every day, so I feel like someone's watching over me.
If you're doing a part time or flexible bootcamp, you need to be able to sustain yourself with your own knowledge. Basically, if you need someone to push you, you need full time. If you don't, then do flexible or part time.
For any readers who are beginners and wondering if a coding bootcamp is right for them, what online resources or online communities do you recommend?
There is a lot of free content out there. I would say, first figure out what you want to do. Do you want to build websites? Do you want to build front end stuff? Or do you want to be able to build websites from front to back and do full stack? Once you figure out what you want, there are a lot of free online tutorials. Node.js offers free coding exercises, Angular has some free coding stuff, and MongoDB has some free courses to get your feet wet and see if you like it.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add to make sure our readers know about Thinkful and how the mentor program works?
There are a lot of great coding bootcamps out there. Find what fits you and your needs. The reason I work at Thinkful is because I know the type of service we can provide and I know what the one-on-one mentorship does. Three or four hours a week with me and you will be on the path to success. I know if I was going to go do a bootcamp, I would want that one-on-one attention and that's what I love about Thinkful. I believe in spending extra time with people one-on-one, not in a group. We'll get through this, but at the same time you have a ton of other resources in the community to utilize (office hours, Q/A sessions , Workshops & Thinkful community).
After a degree in popular music, Joe Reed was bored with working in London coffee shops and wanted to challenge himself, so he enrolled in Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development Bootcamp. Joe worked with a mentor based in Europe, and graduated from the online bootcamp in just three months. Joe tells us how useful the Thinkful Slack channel was for getting help from other students around the world, how in-depth Thinkful’s career coaching was, and how his music background helped him get a job as a Junior Web Developer for BBC News!
What is your pre-bootcamp story? Your educational background? Your last career path?
I got a degree in popular music which got me into a coffee shop job for the following couple of years. It was a great course, but I had always been quite realistic with my aspirations going into that. I was bored as you reach the ceiling of a coffee shop job quite quickly. So I wanted to challenge myself a bit more.
What made you choose Thinkful’s online coding bootcamp over other options?
As I was researching, I noticed a tendency for other bootcamps to advertise their courses as the “most intense experience of your life,” and then guarantee that you’ll be a rockstar coder with lines of employers waiting for you. That attitude was not really my relationship with coding; I’ve enjoyed doing this since I was a teenager, and had already made websites for friends. There was a disconnect between that kind of marketing and how I wanted to progress as a developer. As I was on Thinkful’s website, and emailing past students and mentors, I realized Thinkful’s attitude is about the people. It’s about how you can learn programming on your own terms, and get out of it what you want to get out of it.
General Assembly and Makers Academy both had online courses, and they all had great reputations. It just came down to what appealed to me more as a person.
How did you decide on an online bootcamp specifically? I know there are a few in-person coding bootcamps in London– did you consider those?
I did entertain the idea of an in-person bootcamp for a period. One barrier to entry was the cost. Not only are you committed to spending up to £9000 up front, you’ve got to live without working for three months. So I looked at General Assembly, Makers Academy, and Founders and Coders. I went to a couple of Founders and Coders meetups; they are entirely funded by finders fees from their students, so they don’t charge students anything, but they’re hyper-selective, and only take cohorts of 20 or so at a time.
Yes, I suppose so. I knew that I wanted to be very focused on front end, and still try to do as much design work as I could. Thinkful was quite full stack heavy in the end, but I was able to focus more on the bits where I wanted to develop my skills. It was really useful to have all that back end experience, particularly when it came to applying for jobs.
Why did you choose to do the Thinkful Flexible Web Development Bootcamp rather than the Full Time Web Development Bootcamp?
Thinkful introduced the full-time option just after I started. I think I still would’ve gone with the flexible bootcamp because it was just going to suit my life more easily. Even though I quit my job, we had also just adopted a puppy, and it gave me the opportunity to take on freelance work when I needed to.
Did you think about doing a 4-year CS degree?
I looked into it briefly, but I knew I wanted a different environment, and something faster. Living in London, everything is very time sensitive.
What was the Thinkful application and interview process like for you?
I sent the Thinkful admissions team a couple of emails while I was deciding on the right course. Eventually, they set up a video call with one of their course leaders, Derek. We had a chat, and it was as much my responsibility to decide that Thinkful was for me, as it was for him to check if the course would meet my needs. I started Thinkful the following week, so it was a pretty quick turnaround.
What was the Thinkful learning experience like? What was a typical day like when you were working?
I probably devoted more hours to Thinkful than most people doing the flexible bootcamp– it was all I was doing all day. I’d get up in the morning and start working on whatever ongoing project I had as part of the course material. The general structure was to follow a tutorial, try and elaborate on the tutorial by yourself, then apply the concepts from that tutorial to a bigger project that you lead from inception to completion.
I’d start working on that, and note any obstacles I came up against. Then I’d have an hour-long video session with my mentor at 10am or 11am, where we’d go over any issues I had, or sometimes he’d just watch me code and comment on my work. It was useful to have someone watching what you were doing. That also prepared me for the interview process for jobs, having to think on my feet and code in front of someone.
What material did the Thinkful course cover?
How often did you interact with Thinkful mentors? Did you have one assigned mentor?
I had one full-time mentor, but there were numerous other mentors who I came into contact with. I met with Victor, my mentor, for three one-hour long sessions each week. Then you have Program Managers with whom you can arrange meetings with whenever– and it’s really encouraged to do that. Thinkful encouraged me to stay in touch, tell them how I was finding the course, and would send us resources and contacts.
Thinkful also has a really active Slack group. There are so many remote students and mentors all over the world, so you can basically ask a question at any time and there will be someone awake to help you. For me that was a massive draw because, coming from a music background, I didn’t have a network of coding friends, so it was nice to have that community.
How did meeting with your mentor work with your timezone? Where was your mentor located?
My mentor was located partly in Scandinavia and partly in Uganda. There were quite a few Europe-based mentors with whom I came into contact to ask questions, and chat with in my own time zone, which was useful. It was still very U.S. heavy, but Thinkful is increasingly worldwide. I’m still a member of the Slack channel now. When you’re a student, having a load of alumni in a Slack channel is a great resource as well, not just for technical knowledge. If I have a job opening in the department where I work now, I would definitely give my Thinkful channel a heads up and tell them to keep their eyes peeled.
How else did you communicate or interact with other Thinkful students?
There were sometimes interactions organized between students, which would’ve happened on Slack. There were a couple of times where we thought, “It would be useful if we had a Google Hangout, where we could check out everyone else’s work and give each other feedback.” It would be a really informal thing, peer critiquing in a nice safe environment. Everyone lived in quite disparate places, so it was mainly communication via Slack and occasionally a little video call.
What is your favorite project that you built during Thinkful’s online bootcamp?
The one that sticks with me most was an early project to make a quiz, and give a user their score at the end of it. I did a quiz about Prince, and for each right or wrong answer, it gave you a Prince GIF. That was fun. Thinkful would provide a brief for a project, so you’d be familiar with how to build a product, but what your quiz was about and how it was designed and styled was up to you.
How long did it take you to finish the Thinkful course?
Just over three months. From the beginning of April until the end of June– each day, on average, I was committing about six to eight hours.
How did the bootcamp prepare you for job hunting?
This is something Thinkful was exceptionally strong in. Really early on, you start mock interviews. Over the three months, I did four mock interviews. You don’t get graded on them, but you do get feedback at the end, which doesn’t happen in real life. If you don’t get a job you’ve applied for, nine out of ten times you don’t hear why. So to get that immediate feedback– to hear what you were strong at, and what you could improve– was such an amazing and valuable resource.
As for putting me in contact with people, Thinkful offered me a couple of contacts, which did not end in jobs, but it was useful to talk to those employers. From the outset, Derek the Program Manager told me how fierce the London job market is. I would be competing with computer science graduates, and a lot of companies only accept CS graduates. But Thinkful did a great job keeping my confidence up.
Thinkful also encourages you to hold informational interviews with people. That involves finding someone who has a job you want, and emailing out of the blue to say, “I’m trying to do what you do, I think what you do is great, can I buy you a coffee, and have a chat.” I did one informational interview in the end, and it was such a fulfilling experience. He gave me so many great resources in terms of how to get better and pointed me to lots of companies that might be interested my skills.
What are you up to today? Do you have a job as a developer?
It was a really long process, but I now work as a Junior Web Developer for BBC News! It’s great. I first found the job listing in June, and after the huge online application, there was a 20-minute screening call, then a live online coding challenge, a long form technical test, and then a three-hour interview in person– so it was really protracted and intense. I started working there in September, the day before my 25th birthday, so my story had a nice wholeness to it. I made this choice to take my skills to the next level exactly a year ago and I did it!
Congratulations! What sort of projects are you working on at BBC News?
Since I’ve been at BBC News, the first major thing I was doing was the U.S. election results map, which was insane. I did the map part of that page, which was intense, as I was definitely thrown into the deep end.
The second major project went live recently and is for the OECD Pisa data. It’s an international schools assessment system which comes out every few years and has been published in six or seven different languages. So it was not just a matter of making it a working, functioning product; I had to look at how does this page look when you fill it with Russian text, or with right to left languages like Arabic.
How did you find the job at the BBC?
The BBC has quite strict protocols they need to follow, so they can only advertise jobs themselves. One thing Thinkful did was get me in the habit of checking job listings every day. Especially in a place like London, there are so many new job listings each day, and so much to sift through to find roles appropriate for you. But again, having the Thinkful Slack group was a great resource for that. Everyone is constantly sharing links to databases of companies who were hiring, and pointing out companies which are worth cold calling.
Are you using the stack/programming language you learned at Thinkful or have you had to learn new technologies?
How has your background in music been useful in learning to code and in your new job?
When I had my screening call with BBC News, my line manager said, “I think it’s great you’ve done a music degree, because that tells me you have a mind for abstract thought.” That was something I’d benefited from up to that point, but I hadn’t realized quite why. It’s true, I can deal with concepts that aren’t that easy to sum up in a few words.
I’m also used to working in a project-based manner. Being in a band is a collaborative project that I work through. There are bits where you’ve got to graft, and be really creative. That applies a lot when I’m writing code. You’ve got to find solutions to a lot of problems, and the way my brain does that is built on a lot of skills made from practicing and writing music.
Music can be so programmatic in general, because there is such a strict set of rules. But within those rules, there are a million ways to solve the same problem. It’s definitely that combination of science, math, and art that has linked the things I’ve been interested in, and enjoyed the most.
How do you stay involved with Thinkful? Have you kept in touch with your mentor or other alumni?
It’s felt pretty busy since I started my job. But it’s great that the stuff that I’m doing now is out on such a global platform, so I can share what I’m up to. The election map was seen by nearly 20 million unique users which is insane– too many people to comprehend.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
Follow your heart, and choose a coding bootcamp based on your gut. If you read a review of a place and there is one bad review and that gives you a bad feeling, then trust your feeling. But if you see a place with one bad review and you still feel great about it, that’s probably the right decision.
It does get difficult studying remotely. There are times when, particularly for me when I was working on the back end, I felt “there is no way I can do this.” But you persevere and get through problems, and then you think “wow that was great.” At the same time, drink lots of water, take breaks, and try to be a stickler for your own schedule. If you’re working from home, set your boundaries and create a “working day” for yourself. You could keep putting off work, but similarly you can take work too far into the evening. So treat it like a job.
Robby and Sierra spent three weeks working on their final project called Book Kit, an application to share and save online resources. But even though they worked closely together every day, they were actually in separate cities! That’s because Robby and Sierra were students in Thinkful’s Web Development Career Path, a full-time online coding bootcamp. We touch base to learn why they each chose to study online with Thinkful, how they collaborated remotely, and how Thinkful is guiding their job search. Plus, Sierra and Robby give us a demo of Book Kit!
I'm sure you both had a life before Thinkful – Sierra, what were you up to before the Web Development Career Path?
Sierra: Before I joined the Thinkful program, I was getting a master's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I've always believed that people have a right to access information in the format that they prefer, and I thought the best way to achieve that was to become a librarian.
I still admire librarians, but after the master's degree, I think my skills are more suited towards web development and making apps more accessible to people with disabilities. Our final project, Book Kit, is definitely an extension of that; it allows you to access bookmarks more conveniently.
Were there computer science requirements in that Information Sciences master’s degree?
Sierra: I actually majored in computer science in my undergrad, but that was focused more on software engineering than web development. I did have a bit of experience, but it was rather limited. The CS experience that I had in undergrad allowed me to do more front end work during my master's degree program. That led me towards Thinkful because I needed a bit more structure in my learning.
Robby did you have experience with computer science before Thinkful?
Robby: Actually, I studied architecture in college, but I took one C++ computer science course six years ago. Since then, the only experience I've had with programming was with Team Treehouse and Codecademy.
Before Thinkful, I was working at Thomson Reuters, providing tech support for tax and accounting companies. Then I decided to take the full dive into web development and software development.
You both did the Full Time Web Development Bootcamp; why choose an online bootcamp as opposed to an in-person option?
Sierra: I had to consider transportation. I'm visually impaired, so it's very difficult for me to find ways of getting around, especially in a city without public transportation like St. Louis. I was worried that an in-person bootcamp wouldn’t be very accessible for me.
Did you find that Thinkful was able to accommodate your needs?
Sierra: They were definitely open to accommodating my needs. I'm very good at coming up with my own solutions, but they were definitely there to support me if I ever had a problem or an issue with any of the curriculum or the assignments.
Robby, did you research in-person, immersive bootcamps?
Robby: Yeah. I was actually doing a bunch of research and applying to a couple of schools in San Francisco and in New York. I live in Michigan, but I'm from New York. One of the biggest factors in my search was cost. Thinkful allowed me to stay in Ann Arbor and not have to put my life on pause and disappear for three or four months. Being able to stay at home also kept the cost down. I know bootcamps aren't cheap by any means, but moving/living expenses are a hidden cost of bootcamps.
As I researched, Thinkful also had a lot more transparency- like reviews, job results, etc. I was looking at a couple of other bootcamps, which were a lot bigger and have been around longer, so they’ve had more stable success. But what drew me to Thinkful was that they heavily invest in the students. They offer a job guarantee and if the students don't succeed, then the company itself is screwed. I wanted to take a risk, because I knew that they would do everything possible to accommodate and help their students succeed in the best way possible.
It must take discipline and self motivation to learn online- do you have any tips?
Sierra: Personally, it was important to find a quiet space in my house where I felt comfortable, but I knew that I wouldn't be disturbed, and to set aside time every day. What I really liked about the Thinkful program was that we pair-programmed from 9:30am to 4:30pm, and then we had a one-on-one mentor session after that. Then I tried to set aside time after class to do extra coding or extra practice.
That accountability sounds helpful. Robby, did you also dedicate a specific space to learning?
Robby: Yeah. I think all of us worked from home or chose a specific space. The Full-Time Bootcamp wasn't too self-driven. Even though we were learning online, we had a pre-set schedule every day. If I were to do it on my own it'd be very scattered and it would take a lot more discipline. But because that structure definitely helped out.
Sierra, you mentioned pair programming. How did you interact remotely with your instructor and with other students?
Sierra: Thinkful provides a written curriculum that we were required to read overnight so that we were prepared for the next day. In the morning we had a 1.5-hour workshop where a presenter went through the material, gave some examples, and did live coding. After that, we're paired up into teams of two or three to work through more examples or on a project.
Technically, we did workshops via a video sharing platform, very similar to Google Hangouts. Pair programming was done through Screenhero, which is a screen sharing application. We followed best practices for pair programming, in that someone was a driver and someone was the navigator. The driver was the person writing the code, and the navigator was reading over their shoulder and suggesting things to do and researching syntax on the side.
What I really liked about the whole experience was not only the structure, but also that the program was project-oriented. With my background, I had a relatively solid technical foundation, but I was lacking project-based, real-world experience. Thinkful did a great job giving me that other side of the coin.
And when did you start your capstone project, Book Kit?
Sierra: Actually, Book Kit was our first full stack application project, and when it came time for our capstone, we threw around a few ideas, but we eventually came back to Book Kit because we wanted to improve it to make it useful to the community.
Can you share your screen and give us a demo of Book Kit!
Tell us what Book Kit does and how users interact with it.
Robby: Book Kit was birthed out of a need we saw to save and share online resources between bootcamp students. We traditionally shared resources through Slack, but Slack has a limit to stored messages. During our experience, a lot of resources were poorly organized or were just eaten up by Slack.
So we decided to build Book Kit. It's built so that you can pull all of your bookmarks in, organize them, easily search for them, and share between people. Users can share folders, upload screenshots, real-time search, etc. We knew bootcamp students were always going to be in GitHub, so we offer log in with GitHub.
Was incorporating GitHub authentication a difficult challenge?
How did you go about planning the project? Did Thinkful teach Agile Development or a specific project management tool?
Robby: Because of our time restrictions, we couldn’t stick to Agile development or test-driven development. However, since we already had one version of Book Kit, we were able to spend time thinking through the functionality.
We tried using Trello for project management, but we eventually used open communication through Slack and Screenhero.
Sierra: That being said, we did spend a lot of time planning, and writing up a really thorough Read Me file for our GitHub page with everything we wanted to see in the project, deadlines, and user stories that we wanted to fulfill. We spent a lot of time planning before we even wrote a single line of code.
Which technologies did you use for Book Kit? Were any of those outside of the Thinkful curriculum?
Robby: Many. Many things!
Sierra: I was in charge of the entire back end, including designing and implementing the database- we used Postgres and the Node.js server. Because we used Heroku, the Node.js server served the static pages and acted as the main API for accessing information. One of the biggest lessons that I learned while designing the back end was the tradeoff between a clean relational database design and what the front end needed.
I also spent a lot of time trying to optimize queries for Postgres, and that helped me dig deeper into Postgres as a database management system. I have queries that are really, really long, but they do what I need to do in one query instead of having to make multiple calls to the database.
What technologies and libraries did you use on the front end?
Robby: We worked with React and Redux as our main front end framework. We used the LESS pre-compiler for CSS using web pack to bring it all together to one file.
How much help did you get from your Thinkful instructor and mentors throughout the project?
Robby: We had a standup meeting every day with our advisor. By the project phase, our instructor became more of an advisor.
During the course, we had two main instructors who would teach workshops every morning and they alternated, and then two TAs that would be on call while we were pair programming who were on call anytime we got stuck on something. They were there to help us think through problems and guide us in the direction we wanted to take.
Sierra: We were able to talk to multiple developers currently working in the field, who could share current information and advice on what they were working with. We had one mentor for the first half of the program, and they got to know you and the areas that you were struggling with.
After that, we had the Flex Week, which was a really interesting experience. During Flex Week, we could each learn a framework or library of our own choice, build a project and present it at the end of the week. We were assigned a specialized mentor for that project depending on what technology we chose to learn.
And after that, as Robby said, our instructors throughout the course took a more advisory role in helping us with the project.
Sierra, I love that you mentioned earlier that you wanted to make technology more accessible. Did that motivation carry into designing Book Kit?
Sierra: Definitely. My main motivation for the project was to help people access this information more easily. Even during the project, I still struggled with my bookmarks in Chrome. I think I had over a thousand at one point, and Chrome's bookmarks manager is really bad for searching and recognizing bookmarks. Book Kit was to help increase organization and help people access that information later on.
As for web accessibility in general, we definitely tried to follow best practices by using accessible forms and elements like that. Although, like I mentioned, I was mainly focused on the back end during this project.
Tell us about a tricky feature during the project and how you solved it?
Robby: One of the main features that we wanted was to have shareable folders (for example, a Cohort 2 folder for our class).
Sierra: We did spend several days brainstorming how to set the rules of permissions and who was able to delete what and when and how. It was a mind teaser, but it was an interesting challenge.
I'm curious about career outcomes and prospects so far since you graduated. Has Book Kit been impressing employers?
Sierra: I've had a few interviews so far. I got sick right after graduation, so it's been a little bit of a slow process, but definitely people seem very impressed by it. It's a great project to illustrate both my passion for information and my technical ability.
Since you graduated, are you still meeting with your mentors about the job search? How is the Thinkful career team supporting you?
Robby: That's been pretty awesome. Actually, after graduating, that’s the reason that I'm very confident in recommending Thinkful to others. I've already had a few interviews, and Thinkful has continued to support me.
Thinkful also pairs us with a career mentor after we graduate and we work with them on nontechnical things like cover letters and our resume. That's been awesome. I think Sierra and I both have the same career mentor and she’s been helpful in marketing ourselves really well. That lets us focus on technical stuff. For me, the career support's been kind of the selling point of Thinkful.
Sierra: And the Thinkful career team is constantly improving that level of knowledge and updating it to conform to the latest trends and standards.
Any advice for someone thinking about an online coding bootcamp or a coding bootcamp in general?
Robby: For me, one of Thinkful’s big selling points was the incredible access to mentorship. Because Thinkful doesn't have to pay for brick and mortar classrooms, they could spend more money on mentors who are actually working.
We were paired with mentors who were web developers working in the field, not just academics. And they fit us in around their schedules as well- the mentors were literally based all around the world. Mine was based in the UK. One of our TA's was based in Australia, so he woke up at 3:00am to teach, which is insane. Anytime we needed help, we could just ping someone on Slack.
Also, I know some people that I've talked to are afraid that an online bootcamp doesn't give them the same kind of leverage or the networking possibilities because it’s not in a specific city. That may be true, but at the same time it allows you to build networking skills in your location and utilize those in the market where you want to work, rather than in a different city that you're not familiar with.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today and showing us Book Kit!
Welcome to the October 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 fundraising announcements, to interesting trends. This month we are also covering our Women In Tech Snapchat takeover! Other trends include new developments in the industry, new outcomes reports and why those are important, new investments in bootcamps, and of course, new coding schools and campuses.Continue Reading →
Connie and Kyle just graduated from Thinkful’s first Full Time Web Development Bootcamp class in August and built a game called Gerald the Raccoon for their final project. Both grads came from non-technical backgrounds, but realized they enjoyed coding, so they enrolled in Thinkful’s remote online coding bootcamp. Connie and Kyle show us their final project (they even shared their screens), and tell us why Thinkful felt like a brick and mortar school.
What were your education and career backgrounds before you decided to go to Thinkful?
Connie: I graduated with an environmental science degree and the work I found when I graduated wasn't super satisfying. A lot of it was for profit and not really in line with what I learned in college. Somehow I ended up in the mortgage industry, and found that the technology in the mortgage industry is not very advanced. So I got interested in learning more about the technological side of things, and did some research. That's how I ended up wanting to learn how to code, and eventually I found Thinkful.
Kyle: I graduated from Cal State, LA with a degree in business and accounting. I worked at a large CPA firm for about two years. The work was pretty challenging, and I really liked that it was changing all the time. It was project based, but for the amount of hours that I was working, I just wasn't that interested in accounting. I wanted to be building stuff.
While I was in college, I coded all the time from Codecademy, and I was really interested in it, but I was living in LA, and there weren't many bootcamp options in LA at the time.
How much coding had you done by yourselves before you decided to do Thinkful?
Connie: I spent some time on Codecademy, but it was hard to stay motivated. I also tried learning Python from a few books, but I just felt that a bootcamp was the right choice to learn everything I needed with actual guidance from people.
Kyle: I coded with Codecademy, Udacity — just a bunch of free resources I could find. I would get really into it, then I wouldn't have the structure and I would kind of give up for a while. Then I would get back into it again and give up. I was really just looking for some structure and some “between the lines” guidance from some experienced instructors.
Since you are both in San Francisco, did you consider doing in person, full-time bootcamps rather than an online bootcamp like Thinkful?
Connie: Yeah. One of the other bootcamps I was considering was Hackbright, the all-women's bootcamp. I thought that was really interesting. I attended one of their informational sessions, which was really helpful as they had some alumni and instructors talk. But their bootcamp wasn't starting around the time I was looking. I think it was a month or two before their next cohort would start. Then I saw Thinkful, and I reached out.
I was initially considering Thinkful’s part-time program because I wasn't sure if I wanted to quit my job and dedicate all my time to it. Then they reached out to me about how they were starting a full-time program and I just went with it.
Kyle: Yeah, I did too. I was looking at a bunch of bootcamps and what initially made me go with Thinkful was their part-time program before they had a full-time program. It was easy to make payments per month, the payment options were great, and it was easier not to commute to San Francisco. It was flexible. When Thinkful started their full-time program they offered me a discounted price. So Thinkful was the best option for me as they had already treated me well with the part-time programs, so I decided to go with them.
Were you worried that studying online wouldn't be as immersive, and you wouldn't be able to focus as much as having actual people sitting next to you?
Connie: I had some reservations. I didn't even get a chance to try out the part-time program before going into the full-time program. I had actually never taken an online course, not even in college. But one thing that was really hard to get used to was the fact that we started 6am Pacific Time, 9am Eastern time. That was one of my biggest concerns*. I was hoping to eventually adjust to it, which I did, but it was not ideal.
Kyle: I knew that it was going to be structured well, so I wasn't too concerned with it. I was concerned with not getting as much attention as you would in a brick and mortar school, but that was definitely not the case at all. I probably got more attention than I would at a brick and mortar school. Waking up at 5am every morning was probably the hardest part, and I never got used to it, but it was definitely worth it. I got all the attention I needed. It was really immersive, and you're constantly working with somebody so it was really engaging.
*Note: Classes now start later to accommodate west coast students.
Did either of you have any methods for helping yourselves get in the zone for bootcamp? Did you have a little workstation set up that you went to each day?
Connie: I had a desk, but beyond that it was just making sure I woke up on time, get a little water and food. I just made sure I was awake, and that was pretty much it.
Kyle: I had to leave my house to go somewhere else to study because my roommates are always loud. So I would go to my house owner’s private office to work, and that was a good way to separate my living area from where I would do my Thinkful work. It felt much better than being online in my bedroom.
Tell me about a typical day and the learning style at Thinkful.
Connie: We'd start off reflecting on the previous day or the previous week, and go over any questions we had about concepts we had covered. After that, one of our instructors would present a lecture with some slides, and go over coding examples to illustrate a new concept. Sometimes it would be a code along to cement the concepts in our brains.
After that, we would do some pair programming. The pairs were predetermined the day before. At some point we’d take a break, regroup with the entire class, discuss what we'd been working on, or what we'd been stuck on, and go over some concepts that maybe everyone didn't 100% understand during the morning session.
Then for the rest of the day, we would continue pair programming. During each pairing session, we'd have a TA coming around answering questions, making sure that we were doing everything correctly.
How do you interact remotely with your instructors and other students?
Kyle: In the morning when there would be a lecture-type scenario, we'd be in Thinkful's OWL room, which is their video conference room. We'd all be there, and we'd see each other, our screens and the day’s concepts. When we were pairing together, we used Screenhero where you can share desktops and use a separate cursor on the other person's screen, and even type into their editor. It's kind of creepy, but it worked really well.
How did you come up with the idea for your final project Gerald the Raccoon?
Kyle: We knew we wanted to make a video game because during our curriculum, we were too busy and weren't able to play video games for months. So we decided to make a Gauntlet-type dungeon crawler game. Somewhere along the way, we deviated from that and decided to make a game about a pissed off raccoon who's trying to kill farmers and we named him Gerald. We really wanted to make a random dungeon crawler 2D canvas game.
Awesome! Can you share your screen now and show us what the game looks like?
Our treasure chests are garbage cans. You click them, and you destroy the mobs so you can get to the next level. I'll show you our death screen, which says "you're dead sucker. Do you want to play again." We spent about three weeks on it. I'm not going to lie. It was initially an incredibly frustrating process. I think we went in not realizing how difficult creating a game is when you don't have any game developing knowledge.
One of the difficult things that we encountered was figuring out the algorithm for the mob because we needed a way for the mob to be able to track where you are and follow you and attack you. And so that was definitely one of the most difficult things that we encountered.
How did you come up with the actual game design for the characters and the graphics?
Connie: The graphics, like the background, the tile, these are sprites pulled from the actual Gauntlet game. A lot of people have these little individual tiles readily available for use. You can use a series of numbers to determine things like, "Do you want to use a straight piece, this corner piece or this corner piece?"
For the characters, we were looking for sprites that were available. I came across a Kirby game, and they had some sprites available. So I just suggested to Kyle, Simon, and other teammates, “How do you guys feel about having a raccoon?" Everyone said, "Sure." Everything was random and on a whim and somehow it all came together.
You mentioned you had to use a few technologies that were new to you. How were you able to learn those in that short timeframe?
Kyle: We researched resources online, but we found that most resources for the required technology were really bad, especially for making games with HTML5 Canvas. It was really frustrating. For three solid days we were trying to find a tutorial that would get us close to making this game, and we couldn't find one. We knew we needed just one unified basic starting point, and around day three we found one. Basically, you have to connect the dots of what you learned from each individual tutorial and start building from that.
What was the biggest challenge you had while building this and how did you overcome that?
Connie: The biggest challenge really was starting. Game development is not covered at all in the full-time Thinkful course. But we wanted to try something new, something that we hadn't done before, so the biggest challenge, as Kyle said, was finding the correct resources, resources that would actually be helpful.
One big piece of advice that we got was to pull a template from an online resource. Instead of trying to build something from scratch, we pulled a really basic template and then refactored the code in a way that made it useful to us. Having a template, and finding a really good tutorial eventually made everything click.
When you were working on the game, how did you collaborate on that remotely? How were you able to tweak it and work on it together when you weren't in the same room?
Kyle: We frequently did conference calls and shared screens. We talked on Slack all the time, and we used Screen Hero. We constantly kept each other updated, and we used GitHub of course to collaborate.
What are your future plans for “Gerald the Raccoon.” Are you going to keep working on it or adding more features or anything like that?
Connie: I don't think either of us really has time right now, but one future goal is to make it suitable for smaller screens. Screen responsiveness would be a really interesting challenge to tackle in the future.
What are you both doing now? Are you looking for jobs or are you working on projects?
Connie: It's a combination of looking for a job, refining skills, and learning new skills. At Thinkful we focused on React as opposed to Angular so I'm taking the time to learn Angular. Kyle and I just recently concluded an internship, and now we're back on the job market.
What was the internship?
Connie: It was a two-week online internship just to get a taste of what freelancing would be like. We were working at a really small digital agency helping build out one of the apps and learning about different technologies. In Thinkful we used GitHub, but at the internship we learned a bit about BitBucket, and we were assigned tickets via Jira. It was a really brief internship to get a taste of what real life coding is as opposed to being a student.
Before you graduated from Thinkful, what sort of career support or advice were they able to give you?
Connie: It's a lot of advice actually. I think one of the best things about Thinkful is the careers services. It's ongoing. Not only are you going to get advice on how you should polish your resume, your portfolio, your LinkedIn, among other things during the course, but they're also giving you advice on how to approach your interviews; how to go about a phone screening, and how to get practice with a whiteboarding interview, data structures, and algorithms. Career Prep is really helpful in pretty much every way in our job search.
Was Thinkful's job placement team able to help you with any kind of networking in your area or anything like that?
Connie: Yeah, definitely. It's really helpful. They know recruiters more so in the New York City area because that's where they're based, but they do know recruiters in the Bay Area, as well as engineers distributed around the country. So they'll help us do the outreach and help us connect.
Kyle, how useful did you find that career help from Thinkful?
Kyle: It's been really helpful, especially the mock interviews. We're allowed to take as many mock interviews as we need to really get practice with whiteboarding, and answering tough technical questions, as well as just common presentation and confidence. I felt that part was really good. Their advice on how to approach the job market is really helpful, and we get constant guidance afterward. We have stand-ups every morning, even now, and we have meetings twice a week with our career advisors, so it's helped a lot.
Are you looking for any specific types of roles?
Connie: For me ideally, I am looking for front-end roles. I feel that's what I'm going for at the moment. Check out Connie’s portfolio.
Kyle: Yeah, same with me. Check out Kyle’s portfolio.
Are most of your cohort mates from Thinkful looking for front-end work or is there a big range that you've come across?
Connie: I think for the most part, as far as I know, everyone's looking for front-end work.
What sort of advice do you have for people who are thinking about changing their careers and doing an online coding bootcamp like Thinkful?
Kyle: They should definitely spend some time coding and learning from online resources. People should set a structured schedule, and see how that goes for them, and to see if they are comprehending from an online perspective. They should know that with Thinkful, it feels like a brick and mortar school that's online. It's not really like a learn-at-your-own-pace type of scenario. I'd say as long as you can make sure that you have a really good quiet area to do your work, that's really all you need.
Is there anything else either of you would like to add about your experience at Thinkful bootcamp?
Kyle: Yeah. I felt like Thinkful was constantly making sure that they were doing their best to serve our needs. The Thinkful staff members are really adaptable, and really committed to wanting to make it a program that gets you results, and really turns you into an engineer who can go out, learn on your own, and get a job. I think a lot of programs can be kind of stagnant, structured, and immalleable. Thinkful did a lot to make sure that we were doing okay.
As Thinkful has evolved from an online coding course provider to a full-time, online coding bootcamp, they’ve tightened their focus on student outcomes. Thinkful published its first Jobs Report in 2015, and since then co-founder Darrell Silver has been outspoken about encouraging other bootcamps to do the same. We asked Darrell to discuss in detail about collecting and analyzing students outcome data, why auditing is crucial to the process, and why outcomes are essential to maintain student trust.
For our readers who don't know, what is your role at Thinkful?
I'm the CEO and co-founder (along with Dan Friedman) at Thinkful. We're just about to hit our four year anniversary.
How has Thinkful changed over the past four years? What does it look like compared to the original product?
It's surprisingly similar in the approach to education. We've always been an online school and we've always had one-on-one mentorship. Each one of our 7,000 students has worked with a mentor throughout the entirety of their Thinkful program.
What has changed and evolved the most is actually our focus on outcomes; our programs have become more intensive and rigorous, with a higher promise to students. Because of that trajectory, outcomes data and job guarantees have evolved as well.
More than half of our students are enrolled in the Full Time Web Development Bootcamp. Both Full Time and Flexible courses have a job guarantee.
We still have a lot of students in our Skills courses like backend development and mobile development, which promise proficiency in the topic. We also have a reasonable amount of enterprise training; for example, Uber uses Thinkful to train hundreds of their back end engineers.
Thinkful has also made it a point to report on student outcomes. Why was that important to you as an education company?
That’s almost like saying, “Why does your car need four wheels?” I suppose you could get away with three, but it's not quite as stable.
We've been talking about outcomes internally since we launched the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp program in April 2015. We knew this would be important, so we started tracking data from those first students. Once we finally got enough data — meaning enough students had graduated — and started seeing that students were graduating and getting jobs, we knew it was time to build a public tool to show those outcomes. So in November 2015, we put together the Transparency Report, then we kicked off the third-party audit in January, and published that in mid-April (PDF).
Is there something unique about the coding bootcamp industry that makes it difficult to report student outcomes?
One of the things that makes it really difficult, and it's a bit ironic, is that because the industry has grown so fast, up until recently bootcamps didn't actually have to try very hard to attract students. Between the demand for web development, under-employment, and all the major macro forces that drive the industry, as a founder, you could start a new bootcamp very, very easily and if you built it, people would come. While that’s an incredible opportunity it also means that when the industry needs to mature, the schools who haven’t planned for that just aren’t going to survive.
A coding bootcamp can't just add in “transparency” at the end of their marketing website. They actually have to build the approach into the culture of the company, and into their relationships with their teachers and their mentors. We built significant tooling around those statistics, to make sure they’re accurate and we can back up where they come from. It’s why we can report outcomes each month when most schools are only annually.
When I see bootcamps today that still don't report outcomes in a rigorous way, I think it’s not only bad for the industry, but it's also going to be harder for them to catch up. There are some schools that will end up cornered if they don't start publishing their data soon. They're going to start doing things that reflect poorly on all of the other coding bootcamps.
In-person schools usually have to be approved by their state’s regulatory agency. For an online school, have you faced any of those types of regulation roadblocks?
That's a really good question. We haven’t yet. At the moment, we work with our preferred lending partner, Skills Fund, to make sure we’re in compliance with all consumer lending practices.
What metrics do you include in the Thinkful Web Development Bootcamp jobs report?
The jobs report includes enrollment, graduation rate, job placement rate, time to graduate, and demographics like gender, location, etc.
How frequently do you update the report?
We update Thinkful’s numbers publicly every month. We do updates at the of end of each month, reported on the 15th, meaning we get two weeks to make sure that all the data is in the system properly. The Web Development Bootcamp jobs report publishes every month automatically; there's no button to press, it publishes on its own.
Will graduates from the Full Time Web Development Bootcamp be reported separately from the flexible students?
At the very beginning, we think those Full Time grads will get lumped into this one report. If you look at the most current report as of June 30th, 243 students have joined, and that includes Flexible and Full Time. The nature of a Full Time program is that students will graduate faster, and don’t have jobs while enrolled. So, inevitably those stats will diverge. When they do we'll split them apart. There's no question about it.
What do you predict will be the major differences in outcomes between the Full Time and Flexible students?
How long it takes to graduate is a stat that will start to become different in a meaningful way. Two-thirds of students in the Flexible bootcamp have jobs, while none in the Full Time program do. We don't think the placement rate is going to change, but again, these are all just predictions. If the numbers diverge we’ll report on that.
If somebody “pauses” a Thinkful course, do you count that paused time in the duration of the course?
We don't because you're not spending time or money on the course.
This is actually a big difference from some other schools. There are schools that offer a job guarantee, and in order to be eligible for it, you cannot take a vacation for more than two days (a weekend). That means you may have to be sending out interview requests and cold emails to employers every day for six months. I don’t know what those students do if they catch the flu. At Thinkful, if you pause, the guarantee pauses until you come back.
Since you started reporting student outcomes, have you found that you needed to add or remove certain metrics?
High level, the report looks basically the same. We haven't had to add or remove any new data (except monthly updates).
We’d like to add ROI: when does Thinkful actually pay off? We get asked that all the time – especially when students would have to change cities, quit their jobs or find a daycare with other programs.
Thinkful has had the outcomes results audited, right?
Right. We had the first results audited as of February 29th, and we'll do it again in 2017 for 2016. It's a huge process, and we don’t take it lightly.
There are some schools that say auditing is unimportant. How important do you find auditing to successful outcomes?
Basically, I couldn't disagree with that more. I think when we talk about outcomes data and guarantees, you're not actually talking about the web page that you publish with graphs on it. What you're talking about is the culture of looking at data around student success, carefulness, and consistency across your entire team.
We had to build a web page to publish students outcomes on our website, but it's much more about the process of how you got to those outcomes. So when someone says the audit doesn't matter at all, that's really not understanding the underlying reason for outcomes data in the first place; which is that students need to be able to trust the school they're going to. Trust comes from consistently having a great experience, and consistency in a company comes from having an aligned a team that's not overly dependent on any one person, but knows how to communicate as a group. Reports, audits, and a data-driven culture are what makes that trust possible.
If your company has an underlying culture for clear data, then the auditor is going to succeed, and they're going to find clear and transparent answers throughout your organization.
In Thinkful’s case, we honestly thought we were pretty good going into the audit, but we definitely got tighter afterward. The audit is one of many ways schools can show they’re serious about each student’s success– not just to students but to the entire company.
What do you think about other frameworks (like Hack Reactor's SSOM) or methodologies that schools are releasing for other schools to adopt?
Frameworks without data are bullshit because they're a discussion about a discussion. A school needs to be rigorous and clear and transparent about how it came up with the numbers it came up with. As a community of schools, we need to debate which is the right way and why are they different, and so on. Hack Reactor has done a good job in that. But I don’t think it’s useful to publish a model for thinking without also getting into the nitty-gritty of answering each and every little question. The devil is in the details.
The proof is going to be whether schools release verifiable outcomes data, and I believe we’ll see schools actually doing that this year. There will be differences between schools, which are important, but relative to where we were in 2015, it’s going to be night and day.
In my opinion, the frameworks released by each school are just not going to get adopted. If I'm right, then in January 2017, every credible school will have an outcomes report but each framework will have been adopted by only the school that created the framework. Students see past that kind of grandiose talk – they want the facts.
The next conversation we as an industry need is about standardization, which will slowly start to take shape next year. First, we need to get the data out there, then we need to have a long debate about what the data needs to show. I think it's inevitable that there’s a standards body but it's not going to happen this year. The most important thing is that we publish outcomes now, and separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of schools.
Do you think that online schools like Thinkful should be considered in that conversation about outcomes standardization?
Of course – when the school provides support, online education works and the students perform as well or better. All the money offline schools pay in rent we pay in providing support for students: 40 hours of Q&A sessions each week, daily workshops, 1-on-1 mentorship. Those things just aren’t possible except online. This is the opposite of what many students think about online education (we have MOOCs and video courses to thank for that impression.) But when students see the support they get at Thinkful, they come around. Thinkful has educated more students than almost any other bootcamp, but it's not because we're online. It's because we've been around for a while and our courses appeal to a lot of people. The biggest difference is really around admissions policies.
When calculating student outcomes, how do you decide whom to exclude from the calculation?
If you look at the most recent report, 81% indicate that their goal is to get a job as a developer. That's the group that we're including as “job seeking.”
The students who don’t indicate that they want a job as a developer tend to be really unique, fun cases. For example, Tristan Walker enrolled in the Web Development Bootcamp, but didn’t do it to get a development job.
How do you deal with someone like that who's just unmotivated to find a job?
If a student graduates and is job seeking, but fails to find a job, then that's still a failure for Thinkful, and it shows up in our stats. We can't say, "That student didn't put their heart into it. Therefore, they weren't really seeking a job." No, no, no. We ask you up front, on day one, when you enroll if you're job seeking. As a student, you’re allowed to change that status, but once you graduate, you can’t change that status and neither can Thinkful.
Why should outcomes matter to students when they’re researching a coding bootcamp?
Education is one of the biggest investments you're going to make, and it's one of the most consequential. As a student, you have to understand the purchase and the investment you’re making, and the only way to do that is to build trust with the school you choose. You build that trust by seeing the statistical likelihood that you will fit in with the students who have been successful, looking at the actual data and deciding whether it reflects your goals and chances for success.
There's a whole host of reasons why students choose a school: does it teach the way I want to learn? Do I want to learn in a classroom or do I want to learn with one-on-one mentorship? Can I make it affordable? Can I fit it into my schedule? Will it disrupt my life? And then, of course, you have to ask, "Am I going to succeed?” Those are the questions that our Outcomes Report answers. It’s completely shocking to us that anyone has attended a school without knowing the answer to those questions. As an industry, we’ve been really lucky, but students should really dig into those outcomes.
Welcome to the July 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 trends this month are initiatives to increase the diversity in tech, some huge investments in various bootcamps, and more tech giants launching their own coding classes. Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast!Continue Reading →
Remember, the Course Report community is eligible for $150 off Thinkful's Flexible Web Development Bootcamp!
What were your career and education backgrounds before you started the Thinkful bootcamp?
Sean: I am a scientist. I have a bachelor's disagree in biochemistry and a master's degree in materials science. When I graduated I took part in three different research studies – one at Arizona State University, one at a Local Lab, and one in South Korea.
I have been interested in learning to code since I was young, because my dad worked at Intel. He would often bring home spare computers for me to toy around with. I was always interested in computers but I had never tried making it my profession. Last year while I was working at a lab, I saw what a brilliant scientist my supervisor was, and how much passion he had for science. I realized I probably wouldn’t be as passionate as he is in 20 or 30 years and I should find something I have always been interested in. So I started learning how to code on the side, doing Codecademy and Udacity courses. I just got really into it.
Simon: I don't think I could be more different. I started out as a musician in my early days in the UK and did that through to university. I tried to be a musician and make that as my living, but didn't work out for various reasons. Eventually I needed something different, so I did a lot of random jobs from legal services in the government, to banking, to pub management.
Coding is one of the things I did in my spare time because I like problem-solving. I'm a bit of a Rubik's cube addict. I'm a member of Treehouse, and I did that just for fun – it's a great resource. Then I moved to San Francisco, and it was just the best place I could be to do coding. So I was like, “I enjoy it, why not see if I can do it for a living?" So that's when I started shopping around for courses and ended up on Thinkful.
Where are you both located right now?
Simon: I'm from Leeds (England) originally, but I'm in San Francisco.
Sean: I'm in Chandler, Arizona right now.
What time zone is the Thinkful program in?
Sean: For me, it goes from 7am until 2:30pm PT
Simon: We are the first cohort to go through it, so it's on New York time. It starts at 6am for me. They bumped the cohort start to an hour later for cohorts after us.
Are you both dedicating all your time now to Thinkful or are you able to have a job?
Simon: For me personally, no I don't have a job. Thankfully, I've got a wife who has a good job, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It does take up a lot of your time.
Sean: I'm spending pretty much the whole day on this because I just got married two months ago, and my wife is still in Korea while she waits for her visa. I was thinking about what I could do on my own – I've had so much free time, so I decided to do this full-time course.
What made you guys choose Thinkful over any other programs you’ve come across?
Simon: I actually did another bootcamp when I first moved to San Francisco 18 months ago. It was pretty terrible. It was a very similar concept of online learning where you have exercises and a mentor. But the course content was ripped from online documentation of things like Ruby on Rails so you could have done it on your own. It was a lot of money, and it put me off to going to bootcamps completely.
The reason I eventually settled on Thinkful, was after a discussion with my wife I realized, "I still love it, I still want to do it.” After looking around, I was between Thinkful and Bloc IO. And I think the clincher for me for Thinkful was I went on the website, entered my email address and phone number, and they got back to me instantly. I got a call within half an hour from a guy called Noel who is a liaison. He ran me through the whole course and said, "This would really suit you.” He was just so enthusiastic, and wanted to help me.
Sean: Originally, I wanted to join Hack Reactor in San Francisco so I applied for the remote program because living in San Francisco can be really expensive. And they told me I got conditionally accepted. After my wedding, I took their remote prep course which was four weeks long. Then after four weeks I had a second interview, and again they said I was conditionally accepted, and “feel free to reapply a few months later.” I was on a time constraint because my wife is arriving soon, and I wanted to be job-ready when she arrives.
Then, like Simon, I was looking at other options, and a friend who was in the Hack Reactor prep course with me, recommended the Thinkful Full Time Career Path, and told me to reach out to them. And then, like Simon said, they replied within less than an hour. I realized, "When I email Hack Reactor it takes them three weeks to reply, then Thinkful replies in 30 minutes. Maybe this is a better course for me." So that's why I decided to join Thinkful.
Did either of you consider in-person bootcamps?
Sean: Yes at first, I was thinking about Hack Reactor’s onsite program. A close friend told me, "You should consider onsite over online because you can get a much better experience that way." I was thinking, "You know what? The whole finding a place to live and the living cost would actually interfere with my study.”
What was the application process like? Was there an interview or a coding challenge when you were applying for the Thinkful full-time program?
Sean: Actually, my prep course was even shorter than two weeks because I really wanted to join the June 6th cohort, so I called Bhaumik before the end of May. He said, "You have to finish this two-week prep course in one week. We look into personality more than actual coding skills. If you finish this in a week, you have a chance of entering the full-time course.”
This Thinkful Full-Time Career Path program is very new, so I'm really interested in what the actual learning experience is like.
Sean: We're in week four right now. The first two weeks were kind of easy, because it was a lot of front end which I had experience with from Udacity and Codecademy courses. By week three, it became increasingly difficult because we were learning back end. At the same time, it was very interesting and I'm learning so much. It's very fast paced so every day, even when class is over, I can’t just go hang with my friends. You have to really commit to it and treat it like actual college. I think I’ve studied more than I did in grad school for the past four weeks. So it’s working and I love it.
And what’s the structure of the program? How do they teach you the content?
Simon: You start off the day with one hour with the Thinkful mentor, who for me is a guy called Joe. I think he's teaching you guys as well, Sean. He basically wrote the course. So we are with him for an hour in a group of six and we go over the concepts we’ll be learning that day. Then you go off and pair program. You do that for a few hours then break for lunch. Then you do another one-hour session to see how everybody has done, and show your work to each other. It doesn't matter if you don’t get it or if it was totally wrong. They want you to make mistakes, so when they go over things with you, that repetition helps cement the concepts. In the afternoon it’s back to pairing. At the end of the day, there are evening exercises, and a daily reflection about how you’ve done that day, and any comments on how to improve.
There is also the evening call with your mentor which is one-on-one. I do a one-on-one call with my mentor after class to go over today’s topics, and ways I can advance – it’s wonderful.
Sean, how many people have you got in your cohort?
Sean: Right now we have seven classmates. We're paired in two groups of twos, and one group of three and we switch back and forth, so we get to experience working with another partner and working in groups of three. What Simon said about his experience is pretty much the same for me.
Do you know where your other cohort members are from? Are they from all different parts of the States or from other countries?
Sean: I think most of them are on the East Coast because I'm the only one with the sleeping issue. I have to get up 6am in the morning and then everyone else is all fresh.
Simon: We've got four in the Bay Area – there is a group of us who are up at 5am to start at 6am. We've got another guy in Georgia, one person in LA and another in New York.
Are you getting to know your classmates quite well?
Simon: Yeah. We actually meet up regularly. They encourage you throughout the course to go to meetups and go to talks. So I've been to talks and meetups with a couple of the Bay Area people who are all on the course.
I think we're ready to do the screen share. Sean, could you share your screen with us and show us what the Thinkful platform looks like?
Sean: This is the dashboard and the pre-course materials we had to finish before starting day one. It’s pretty much self-explanatory. It tells you who your pair is for the day. I’ll jump into the room workshop and show you how that works. There's an instructor in this video room with seven other students, and then he goes through his PowerPoint slides with us.
When you're in the video room, can you see other students or just your instructor?
Sean: I can see other students as well. It's exactly like Google Hangouts. Individuals can share their screen, chat, post links etc. Usually, the instructor will go over yesterday's questions, and how everybody did on the previous project. We'll have a short presentation period where each group presents their project for two to three minutes. Then the instructor will go through his presentation slides explaining today's projects. For example, one project was building a street fighter using a jQuery, VENTS, and callbacks. It was very cool.
Is there a way to see your progress and how far through the program you are?
Sean: This is what I've done in the past four weeks. So the first two weeks was mostly working on front end projects. In our third and fourth week, we were working on spec. Right now we are working with Mongo database, Mongoose, building a server, building a virtual client, all that fun stuff. I don't have a firm grasp of it yet because it's been only a week.
If we go back to the dashboard again, over here it's got the calendar so what happens when you click on this?
Sean: Every single day is planned out. We also have a daily reflection that we can click on. This needs to be done every day. Basically, you write about what you learned today, give feedback to the course, give feedback for your pair as well. We improve as a group. I think that's the whole goal of the course.
So you’ve got all the different steps on the left-hand side there? And the ones that don't have text next to them, are these ones that you haven't completed yet?
Sean: These ones are not checked because you're supposed to submit your project, but we're doing that on GitHub anyway. Our instructors like to let us work with GitHub more than the actual course website because that better prepares you for the industry. This is my GitHub account. I have worked on 34 repositories over four weeks.
This is one of my projects. I'm a big soccer fan, so I made a Soccer Hub using a soccer API. You can search for any league. I can click on a team and it shows the player stats and highlights. If you click on YouTube videos, they will play right away. It took me a day and a half to make this at the end of the second week. It was fun!
I'm interested in how you're finding this learning style different compared to free online resources like Codecademy?
Simon: I still occasionally refer to Codecademy and Treehouse. But it's the structure of Thinkful that really makes you better. You've got one-on-one tutors, you've got your friends in the cohort, who you can ask questions, and you use Slack constantly to communicate with everyone. I think it’s the idea that you're not alone – even though I'm by myself in my studio flat, I don't feel alone. With Codecademy and Treehouse, if you don't get the concept, you’ve got to start looking things up and go further and beyond, which isn't a bad thing. But with Thinkful, you don't have to. You've got people there to answer your question straight away.
Sean: I took Codecademy, a little bit of Code School, and Udacity. The reason I wanted to join a bootcamp is probably for the security and network. Security meaning that the more I pay, the more dedicated I am. That's just me. I dedicate myself more when I make a payment commitment. I paid $12,000 to Thinkful, and it's a full-time course. I'm committed to it 100%. I’ve got multiple TAs helping me out, mentors, and a network of developers. That provided me more security in terms of, "Okay, I could probably get a job after this bootcamp."
When do you expect to graduate from this program?
Simon: It’s four months in total, so I've got another month and I graduate on August 5th. Once the course content is finished, you're working with the career team who I've already spoken to multiple occasions. You constantly work with them from that point, and they suggest the next frameworks or technologies to learn. You meet with them twice a week until they find you a job.
Have they started doing job preparation stuff with you?
Simon: They've done quite a lot with me personally. They get you at a level where you’re comfortable learning the concepts and then start working with you to update your CV, organize your GitHub repo, and all the bits you need in your portfolio. Then you’ll have a meeting with the head of placement, and talk through everything. He gets to know you personally and says, “Okay, you have this kind of personality so you need to do that, or improve on that.” It's quite intense. It's like all the things you need to do to get ahead.
I'm interested in what your plans are when you graduate. What kind of jobs are you hoping to get when you graduate?
Sean: I haven’t really thought about what type of coding job I'm looking for. When you start the course your one-on-one mentor looks at your background and tries to figure out what job might be suitable for you. He said to me something like, "You've studied science for many years, you probably want to look at a data science jobs.”
Simon: I'm very focused towards more frontend things, and Thinkful is frontend focused, but there is enough backend to get you through interviews, do whiteboarding, and algorithms. But I'm still more of a frontend kind of person. I wouldn’t go knock on Google’s door. But a lot of startups are looking for the exact things that these code bootcamps are teaching – React and things like that. I’ll likely end up in a startup, or a mid-level company.
What advice do you have for people who are considering an online bootcamp?
Sean: First of all, read a lot of a Course Report reviews. I probably read about a hundred of those before deciding which bootcamp to choose. It's really about which bootcamp fits you and your needs. Think about your current situation, think about your finances, if you have a time constraint like I do, then consider that. And think about your learning habits – do you learn better onsite or online? Just consider every single point and figure out which bootcamp is best for you. Gather up as much information as possible, then make the decision.
Simon: Be prepared to work a lot if you're going to do one of these full-time programs. If you have the financial ability to be able to not work, then I recommend that. A girl on our course had a part time job at first, but she had to give it up. I think if you want to prepare ahead of time, use things like Codecademy and other online resources. I can't recommend Treehouse enough because something like that is really going to pull you ahead. So just go through what you can and if you really love it, just do it. Totally worth it.
Welcome to the June Course Report monthly coding bootcamp news roundup! Each month we look at all the happenings from the coding bootcamp world, including new bootcamps, what we’re seeing in bootcamps internationally, outcomes, and paying for bootcamps. Plus, we released our big Bootcamp Market Sizing and Growth Report in June! Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast!Continue Reading →
Welcome to the May 2016 Course Report monthly coding bootcamp news roundup! Each month we look at all the happenings from the coding bootcamp world, from acquisitions, to new bootcamps, to collaborations with universities, and also various reports and studies. Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup podcast.Continue Reading →
What is it like to study at an online coding bootcamp? How will you interact with your instructors, mentors and other students? And will your learning portal be a place you look forward to learning each day? We have done the research and asked some of the most popular online bootcamps to give us walkthrough demos to answer all your questions about studying online.Continue Reading →
Melanie is a student studying remotely from Toronto with Thinkful's part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, and she shared with us what it’s like to learn to code online. We talked to Melanie about why she chose to do an online bootcamp rather than an in-person course, the difference between Code School and Thinkful, and Melanie even shared her screen with us to give us a sneak peak into the Thinkful learning experience.
What is your pre-Thinkful story, and your background before you decided you want to learn to code?
The part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp is more intensive than Thinkful’s skills courses – did you have to quit your job?
I started Thinkful in mid-November, and I have been learning part time in addition to working at my full-time job.
What resources were you using to teach yourself to code before you started Thinkful?
I started doing lessons on Code School mainly, but I found that those small, one-off courses didn't really give me a good overview or good delta towards a career in web development. I choose Thinkful because they gave me a clear path towards a career.
How did you make the decision between in-person and online bootcamps?
I created a spreadsheet of different bootcamps. I considered brick and mortar bootcamps and the UdacityNanodegree in Frontend Web Development. I had to make a choice between quitting my job to start a physical bootcamp where I meet with people every day, versus a completely online bootcamp where I'm not meeting with someone and it's really self-directed. I found Thinkful to be a happy medium between those two options. I get one-on-one time with a mentor from the industry, as well as a clear path towards a career, and there is less risk involved because I don't have to quit my job to learn.
What was the application process like when you were applying for the part-time Thinkful Flexible Web Development Bootcamp?
I met with a Thinkful advisor, Liz Parsekian, to hear more about Thinkful and ask questions about how the program works. I got a really good feeling from that conversation, and so Liz set up a meeting for me with Derek Fogge, the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp program manager. Derek asked about my experience and goals and based on that he recommended the part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp.
Can you tell me a bit about the overall learning experience? What’s a typical day for you when you're working on Thinkful?
A typical day will begin in the evening. After work I'll typically come home and log in to my dashboard and continue on from the project I was working on. Either reading materials that are next on my career path, or working on a project or a portfolio project. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening I also meet with my mentor to discuss any problems or issues I have.
Are you matched with one mentor who you communicate with regularly?
That's right. My mentor, Jack Melnick, and I meet every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for an hour. It's really motivating to make it through the course work if you know that you have a mentor meeting coming up.
How many hours per week have you committed to Thinkful so far?
I've actually been tracking that in a spreadsheet so I can tell you with some reliability that I work on Thinkful between 20 and 30 hours per week.
Do you know how long it's going to take you to finish the part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp course?
I started in November, and I'm hoping to graduate mid-June. So that will be six and a half months in total.
Okay, Melanie – let’s screen share! Could you start by showing us the main dashboard for the Thinkful platform and what you see when you first log in.
This is the dashboard that I see when I first log into my account. At the top of the page are my goals. These are the major milestones along my career path and we're halfway through it, I’m on goal 15 out of 24. The last goal I completed was a mock interview on May 2nd. Beneath that is my specific progress towards a goal. I'm currently on a goal called “Learn One Front End Framework” and I’ve completed 9% of that goal. I can access the course material for that goal by clicking on the 'continue course' button, which will bring me to the contents for that particular goal, where I'm at in the course content.
How do you know how you’re progressing through the course?
On the side of the screen is my “Streak” which tracks my learning streak. This is a new feature, so right now my learning streak is only one day, which means that in the past one day I only made one commit and I have completed zero assignments. The idea is to help motivate me to increase my streak of days for committed or completed assignments. Beneath that is My Team which shows me my mentor, Jack, and gives me the link to the video chat room that I would go to meet with him, and also links to Derek or the program manager. Beneath that is the list of curricula that are currently available for me to follow. Right now, I’m actually going through the Frontend in AngularJS curricula.
Have you worked on any of the other tracks there or are you just doing that one?
I've completed the Front End Web Development and Web Development Career Path curricula so far.
Can you take us back through to one of the lessons that you're working on?
Sure. I’m at the sixth part of lesson two and unit one of Introducing Angular. For the particular project I'm working on now, I’ve been given instructions for creating this Angular app of Mad Libs. These are resources that I'll need to complete it, some gentle guidance, and at the very end is a space where I'll submit the link to my completed project. Once I paste a link to my project and click “submit,” that task is checked off which is reflected in my progress bar on the homepage.
That's so nice and clear so that you really feel like you're making progress.
Yes, yes. It makes learning into a bit of a game too.
How much do you use to GitHub as part of this Thinkful program?
All the time. Since the first or second lesson in the course where we're introduced to GitHub, we're using it for every single project. All of my projects are in my GitHub account.
Where are you able to communicate with mentors and other students?
I communicate with my mentor, three days a week for an hour and for that I would go to our video chat room. If we’re not meeting for a mentor session, then we communicate through Slack. Here's the Thinkful Slack channel and there are several channels that you can join. Right now I'm showing the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp channel. I would post questions here that other students or other mentors can answer. Otherwise I can chat with my mentors through private chat messages.
Do you interact with other students? Are you also answering questions?
Yes. Sometimes I do know the answers and I will try to contribute.
I don’t regularly interact with other students, but recently I have been chatting with a few other students and made some offline connections with a couple of them.
Are you able to show us the video app that you use to communicate?
Yes, I'll go to the room now. This is a video conference room that I would join with my mentor. There are things you can do in here so if during a mentor session my mentor wants to send me some code, then he will copy it to the chat window. There are also buttons you can use to mute, background noise, turn off your video, share your screen, or open the chat.
It's similar to Google Hangouts but it's awesome that it's integrated with your actual platform.
Yes, it's built right in so you don't need to worry about setting up an account with Google or going through their interface. Quite streamlined.
How do you give feedback to the Thinkful team?
If I wanted to give feedback about course content, I would simply mention it in the Slack channel. We also fill out NPS surveys at weeks 3, 7, and 11 to answer specific questions about how the course is going.
How is the job hunt integrated into the learning experience?
I haven't graduated yet so I can't speak from experience, but I know that Thinkful arranges mock interviews with students every month. Mock interviews give you practice and experience with the questions that you will be faced with when you actually start interviewing for web development positions in the real world. Following that, my understanding is that I'll be paired with a career coach who will help me work through my CV and on the job hunt to find suitable positions.
What do you like best about learning to code through the Thinkful online platform?
What I like best about Thinkful in general is the mentorship aspect. I find it really valuable that I've not only gained real insights into the industry, but after meeting with someone for hours, three times a week, they also become your friend. For that reason I think graduating from Thinkful is going to be bittersweet. The community and mentorship aspects are really the best features.
You used Code School before, an online learn-to-code resource. How is the Thinkful experience different from using a free online resource?
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about taking an online coding bootcamp in order to become a developer?
My advice would be to know what you want out of the experience. If you're looking for a change in career, Thinkful is a great option. If you're generally interested in learning different skills, Thinkful does offer other courses, aside from the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, which might be useful too. If you're just looking to pick up skills, then Code School or Codecademy are good places to start. But if you're looking to level up quickly, Thinkful is a great option.
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 →
Ryan is a mentor for online coding bootcamp Thinkful, which means he works one-on-one with students in the Web Development Career Path. Like most Thinkful mentors, Ryan balances teaching with his full-time job as a Front End Developer for a Washington D.C.-based machine learning company. Ryan tells us about how he taught himself to code, what inspires him about mentoring at Thinkful, and why he is his student’s “first and best friend in the software development industry.”
Tell me about your background in programming and education.
I went to college for economics until 2008. I got into programming in 2009 and was lucky enough to get a job as a web developer without any experience or knowledge. It was a unique situation that may seem ideal, but it was also very stressful, and I had to learn how to create websites on my own in a self-directed way. Part of my job was to actually teach web development to other employees, which ended up making me a better developer. I spent a lot of time teaching as well as learning and building. Teaching in a field like software development helps you retain those concepts; because knowledge is cyclical, not a simple linear progression.
What resources did you use to teach yourself how to code?
StackOverflow was a big one. I think solving real problems is the best way to learn, so asking and answering on StackOverflow was a great tool. I mainly learned by Googling, finding resources, and following people on Twitter to learn about new techniques and libraries. Googling is key. Learning how to describe a problem and search for a solution is an incredibly important skill for a software developer at any level.
The other resource that helped was Github and reading other people’s code. While coding, you learn how you think about and solve problems. But by reading other people’s code you learn how they approach problems and you learn about other problems you didn’t know existed. I often tell students that taking the time to read code is my best advice about learning to write code.
How did you decide that teaching programming needed to be part of your career?
In 2014, I started teaching a 10-week, part-time front-end developer course at General Assembly. There, I learned how difficult it is to keep a whole class on the same technical level, moving forward at a similar speed. If you care about student outcomes, you end up working with a lot of students one-on-one to help them catch up or get ahead. So I taught one course, then took a break.
When I decided to go back to teaching, I wanted to find a service where I could teach online one-on-one. When I Googled it, Thinkful was the answer. I applied to Thinkful and started teaching there in June 2015.
Looking back, do you think a program like Thinkful would have been useful when you were learning to code?
Back then I needed mentorship; someone to teach me best practices. I was a pretty lax developer for two years, until I started reading other people’s code and learning best practices that way. To have a mentor pointing out the best approaches to code (and why) would have been really useful for me. Having some structure and direction helps students progress a lot faster. I see that in students who do Thinkful courses– they develop and grow so much faster than I did.
When you’re not mentoring at Thinkful, what is your full time job?
I work full time as the lead front-end developer at a company called IT.com in DC. We do machine learning applications that center around search. My job is to architect our front end applications and help implement them alongside other developers. I’ve been there since November 2012.
How do you balance your full-time job with mentoring at Thinkful? How many students are you working with?
I teach in the evenings and the number of hours I work varies depending on how many students I have. Right now, I have three students, so that’s nine hours a week of work just for one-on-one sessions. Outside of one-on-ones, I’m also reading students’ Githubs and answering questions. Thinkful has an active Slack community of all Thinkful students so I’m very active there, and I’m always communicating with students. I also do workshops on weekends and Q&A-type sessions.
How are you matched up with your Thinkful students?
There is a queue of students who are looking for mentors, and when I graduate a student, or they switch mentors to learn something I don’t know about it, I go to the queue and pick up another student. Students have profiles they fill out to indicate what technologies they want to learn and their long-term goals. I read those, and if one matches what I teach, I’ll take on the student. It’s very self directed from the mentoring standpoint. Thinkful also takes an active role in making sure students are matched with mentors – most of my students were introduced to me by Thinkful.
Do you have set times to meet with your students? How does it work with different time zones?
We do have set times, but it turns out we rarely keep them. Something will come up for me or them and we work around it. All of my students have been within the U.S. so far, and I’ve had a few students on Pacific Time three hours behind me. Thinkful does have a lot of international students and mentors, and other mentors teach students in different time zones. I did have a student who took an extended vacation to Israel so he was in a very different timezone, but we made it work.
Do students just have one mentor while they are at Thinkful?
Not always. For example, when it comes to frameworks, I teach React but I don’t teach Angular. I’ve never used Angular in production so I can’t teach it as extensively as other mentors. So if a student decides they want to learn Angular, they can learn from one of the other available mentors who teaches Angular.
Are you responsible for job placement and career readiness?
Thinkful has a dedicated team to help with career placement, resumes, and interviews. I focus on the student’s portfolio, helping them build and refactor projects that showcase their skills. I also cover skills like issue tracking, and use of source control – skills needed in a professional development environment. If you’re applying for a job and the employer sees that you can code, and you also understand how to work as part of a team even when working alone, that will set you apart.
Other mentors also do mock technical interviews, and I prepare students for the problem component of those mock interviews. Students practice with actual problems and learn to look at problems in a high-level, abstract way. I tell them if you can approach the problem at a high level, the code will come if it’s going to come. And then we also work on basic web development fundamentals, terminology, and concepts so students can answer questions about them.
Do students at Thinkful work with other students at all? Is there a collaborative environment, even though they’re learning online?
We just started a project making games around stamp collecting that a lot of students are working on together. Students also find each other through Slack and collaborate together. I didn't realize at first that students communicate a lot, but they all seem to know each other. It’s great because you really get the chance to treat people like coworkers when you’re working on a project together.
What is the format of a lesson when you’re interacting with a student?
It really depends on the subject matter. Thinkful’s curriculum is very project-based, so students work on projects in between sessions. Often they’ll come prepared with questions they’ve encountered, specific bugs, and problems. Usually at the outset I’ll answer any questions they have, and I’ll help them debug. Debugging is such an important skill. Other times if I’m introducing a new concept, I will just talk about something for an hour. Or if the student hasn’t had enough time to really work on something, we’ll pair program, but I don’t take the driver’s seat.
We’ll move on to the next part of the curriculum when the project is completed to a point where they have grasped the concepts. If there is something they’re not getting, we can stop and go over problems, and do some more specific work to catch them up on it.
What is your approach to teaching online?
While we’re learning, I structure the lesson like I’m a senior developer and you're a junior developer and we’re working on this project together for work. I’m more experienced so I’m going to lead and help you, but in the end I’m going to let you do your own work. That’s how it works in a real development environment so I think that’s good preparation.
How long do students usually take to graduate from the Career Path?
The target is four to six months and I think that’s about accurate for my students.
Can you give us an example of a student you worked with who had an interesting project or experience at Thinkful?
I have had students who have worked on their own startups during Thinkful. I have one student who already had a startup which centers around MCAT preparation. So we’ve been working on expanding upon that idea, and we’ve built a lot of functionality around it. That’s a really cool project.
Are you starting to see your Career Path students getting jobs as developers?
I have two students who have gone on to get jobs so far. One is starting at IBM as a front end developer. The other is working as a software developer in Montana. I definitely keep up with students after they graduate. I’m not just a mentor, I’m also your first and best friend in the software development industry.
Do you have any input or influence over the curriculum you teach? How flexible is the curriculum for students?
Yes, 100%. Our curriculum is hosted as a private Github repository. We all have the opportunity to make contributions so it’s very much a collaborative curriculum. And it does have flexibility built into it. I’ve been very flexible in terms of what I’ve ended up teaching students and the technologies we’ve used.
When I started the Career Path was a very new program but it’s been refined over time. It’s the same in teaching as it is in software development, you start out with a prototype and you iterate and make it better. It’s evolved a lot and I think it’s in a very good state right now – students are getting a lot out of it.
How do you know when a student is ready to graduate and start the job search?
The main requirement for graduating from the Career Path is having a certain number of projects that are portfolio ready, which is important not only for a check mark to graduate but also in the future when students are trying to get jobs. We want to make sure students have those projects to show for their time.
Online MOOCs are infamous for their low completion rate. How do you approach retention/attrition at Thinkful and ensure your students are motivated to complete the program?
I’m very much a cheerleader for my students in an honest way. Most students never feel like they’re moving fast enough, but in fact they are making a lot of progress. I focus on helping them see the progress they’ve made, and understanding the end goal. It can be easy to forget that and get lost when you’re stuck. I help them realize that they will get stuck, but the only way to know something is a mistake is to make that mistake. Thinkful also has a very active support staff, which keeps an eye on student progress. They are very responsive if a student is falling behind, and they reach out to me and the student to figure out how to help.
How often do you meet and interact with other Thinkful mentors? How does Thinkful help you become a better mentor?
We have a Slack channel specifically for mentors. We communicate all the time, and I know a lot of other Thinkful members through that community. And Thinkful mentors are encouraged to be students themselves, so all the resources and curriculum for students are also available to mentors. I’ve learned a great deal from other Thinkful members.
What is the feedback loop like between students, Thinkful admin staff, and mentors?
Students have a direct line to Thinkful and people who are close to the curriculum. There is a strong connection there to give feedback about the course. And if students talk through Slack about projects, that’s publically available for Thinkful to observe. As far as giving feedback about me, there is a survey. All the feedback I’ve received about my teaching at Thinkful has been positive.
What’s your favorite part about being a Thinkful mentor?
It’s being able to work with students one on one. Not just my students, but all Thinkful students through our Slack organization. I think that’s what I missed in teaching a classroom class; the ability to tailor my answers and teach to the needs of individual students. It makes teaching more rewarding because you’re more effective. And that’s what you want as a teacher, to be effective, and to help people keep moving along this path.
Tyler Silva was working as a print and motion graphics artist, when solving a technical issue at work got him interested in web development. He wanted to pursue this goal without quitting his job, so Tyler enrolled with online coding bootcamp Thinkful. He graduated from their Career Path program in July 2015 and quickly found a job as a front end developer for marketing and CRM platform PeopleVine. Tyler tells us about working full time while studying, his supportive mentors, and becoming a Thinkful mentor himself.
What were you up to before you decided to do Thinkful? What was your education background and your career path?
I have a Bachelor of Science in arts technology from Illinois State University, which encompassed a very broad background. I got to try out a bit of everything and see what I liked.
During college, I got a video internship with Illinois State Athletics, where I got experience working with sports marketing and video editing. When I graduated, I got a job at an event production company, working with US Soccer and FIFA. I was a print and motion graphics artist there for about a year and a half.
A year into that job, I noticed we could really improve the approval process which took 20 minutes to update every time we got an approval and was all through Adobe Muse. I thought, “there must be a better way to streamline this process.” I started looking into different ways to do it, then I was like, “I really I like web development; I want to take this further.” But I didn’t feel I had the skills to actually build my idea, so that’s how I found Thinkful.
In your arts technology degree, did you do any web design, CS or any back end classes?
How did you figure out which bootcamp to do?
I actually used Course Report. I wanted to find an online school. I couldn’t do a full time bootcamp because I couldn’t quit my job and lose my steady income.
The thing that stood out about Thinkful was they offered one-on-one mentorship. Having someone there to keep me accountable for doing my work was a big plus for me. I looked at all the reviews on Course Report, I did a bit of research outside of Course Report, then I reached out to Thinkful and asked them a lot of questions. I knew where I wanted to be and had a good idea of what skills I needed. Thinkful provided adequate answers, so I chose them.
Did price or the type of language Thinkful taught affect your decision at all?
Price did ultimately make a difference because I was looking at other online bootcamps and a lot of them were a lot more expensive, especially for Career Path-type courses.
At that time Thinkful’s Career Path wasn’t too expensive, and luckily I had a credit card so I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna max this out because eventually if I get a better job, I’ll be able to pay it off.” But I also told myself that now I had to work really hard and get this done as soon as possible because they charge you monthly.
Which class did you end up choosing?
I chose the Career Path, which was a front end course. It starts with an introduction to front end, then you do intermediate front end and Angular. Then there’s a ‘choose your own skill set’ section, followed by a career section where they look over your resume, go over your Github, and help with your online profile.
What attracted you to Career Path? Was there a job guarantee?
When I took the Career Path course, there was no job guarantee like there is now. I think what enticed me was I’m actually speaking with a recruiter who works in in the tech industry and knows what to look for, and they’re willing to help me and look at my resume. That’s the way they sold it to me and it helped tremendously.
Who was your mentor?
I had two mentors. I started with Chris and did the introduction to front end section, and part of the intermediate section with him. Then I switched over to Kyle because Kyle knew a bit more about Angular. Chris saw how fast I was progressing and said, “You need to switch because I know you want to get this done as quickly as possible so I think Kyle would be your best bet.”
You said they charged you monthly so you had set a goal to finish within a certain amount of time. Did you talk about that with your mentor?
Yeah, I was very upfront about it. I was like, “I'm paying this amount of money to do this, I want to get this done as soon as possible. I’m going to be busting my butt to get this done. I hope you’re on board with taking this rollercoaster ride.” They were both like, “ Absolutely.”
How did you choose a mentor and what was the process like? How often did you meet?
The way Thinkful works is you fill out your profile with what you want to do, where you see yourself going, and how you want this to work. Then your application gets submitted into a mentor list and the mentor actually chooses you. The only reason I know this is because I am actually a mentor now – they offered me a position and I started in February.
Chris was on Pacific Time and I was on Central time. We met on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 6pm CT, so it was 4pm PT for him. For the Career Path you meet three times a week. For any other course, you meet once a week. Because I wanted to finish quickly, I was putting in about 40 hours a week, on top of working full time. I had a lot of coffee and minimal sleep!
That’s amazing especially for an online course because that’s often the biggest concern, “will I get uninspired after a few weeks?” And attrition is so high with online courses.
I did sometimes feel like “You know what? It is online, I could slack off right now.” That’s why whenever people ask me about the Career Path course, I always recommend it – it keeps you accountable because you are meeting with your mentor three times a week. I was upfront with my mentors and said, “I need you to check in on me and ask ‘did you finish this?’” And they did.
Is that the type of mentor you’re going to be?
It’s definitely a case by case thing, because some people don’t want that and some people do. It’s just having the transparency to ask and be upfront and be like, “Hey, what’s your favorite type of teaching style? What would you rather hear from me? Would you rather I was hardass or would you rather I gently guide you along?” I can do both but it’s really up to the person.
Were your mentor sessions mostly you asking questions or were you actually learning material, lecture-style from Chris and Kyle?
The mentor sessions were 45 minutes to an hour long. It depended on the day because some days I was like, “You know what? I feel really okay with my code right now. Can we just have a conversation about this development style or this language?”
There were some days where I said, “I’m not sure how this works. Can you help me figure out this bug?” Then other days we just chatted about the pros and cons of the Google app engine for 45 minutes.
How deep did the intermediate section go?
It went fairly deep. It touched on coding styles and the best way to structure the code. I learned about Gulp.js which was great. I also learned about tooling, Browserify, and how to package your code, so that was really nice.
Angular was next. I learned an entire section on Angular and built about six different projects. But I think they’ve changed it now so you can choose between Angular, React, Ruby, and Node.
At the end of every section, they had you make your own project. Like, “Come up with your own idea and your mentor will be there to help you.”
Did what you learned in your undergrad or previous job overlap with what you learned at Thinkful or was it totally new material?
There was some overlap just because I already had a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. I originally learned HTML4, and at Thinkful it was all HTML5, so it was way more semantic. And it was the same with CSS.
So you get through the intermediate and Angular sections. What came next?
I think they’ve changed it since then but when I did it, you worked through all of the technical sections, then towards the end of those you start working on the career section.
I actually requested to do the career part sooner because there was a conference in Chicago called Tech Week coming up with a hiring fair. So I wanted to know that stuff so I could talk to companies at Tech Week.
What career help did you get? Did they help you prepare for interviews?
We started with cleaning up your Github, making sure everything has a ‘readme’, and is explained nicely. We looked at LinkedIn, and the best way to present yourself. We also went into resumes, how resumes can mimic your LinkedIn, and how you should change your resume depending on what job you’re applying for. A developer resume is very different from any other resume I had written in the way you present yourself. If you say you know a language on your resume, you better be prepared to talk about that language. If you’re still learning some skills, make sure you note that you’re learning them instead of just saying you know them.
I mentioned I had two different mentors, but I technically had three because I had a career mentor too. He was based out of San Francisco and helped me go through everything. When I had interviews, he talked me through how to present myself and gave me a nice pep talk.
How did that Tech Week hiring fair go?
I had an idea of building my own Angular application to present a personalized thank you message for anyone I talked to at Tech Week. It parsed its own JSON file and read the URL I put in.
At the fair, I talked to every person I could and got their business card. I had a little booklet where I wrote something we talked about next to their business card. When I got home, I typed up all these personalized messages into a JSON document and depending on the URL, it would present a personalized note and a link to my resume, my Github, my website, and enough info about me to get a conversation going. I sent out about 25 emails and I got five responses. Two responses turned into interviews and I ended up getting a job at PeopleVine where I am now.
Congratulations! What was the perception you got from companies at the hiring fair when you told them you were learning from Thinkful?
A lot of them had not actually heard about Thinkful. I explained quickly what it was and they were like, “Oh, that’s really cool! How often are you doing this?” I’m like, “I’m working and doing this full time” and they were like, “Oh, wow! Good for you!”
I think it’s important to have confidence in yourself and show you would be a worthy employee. An interview is just as much about you asking questions as it is for the employer. Just because you did an online bootcamp rather than a degree does not mean you’re any less of a coder.
Tell us about PeopleVine? What are you working on there?
We’re a marketing and CRM platform aiming to put the customer first. We’ve created a platform where all of the customer data you have available can be accessed in different parts of the platform, allowing you to create a more unique and custom experience for every person. We do everything from surveys, to newsletters, and contests.
I started in August 2015 as a front-end web developer and support specialist. Currently, I am redesigning all of the out-of-the-box templates that come with PeopleVine when you create a company.I have also started implementing Gulp into our build processes, allowing us to automate a lot of the compiling tasks that we do.
As for support specialist, we work with a few agencies, and when they need help setting up a marketing campaign or a scratch-off contest, I guide them through the process. We’re just six people, so we wear a lot of hats. We have four developers, a content strategist, and an intern.
And now you‘re a mentor, which is awesome. What drew you back to Thinkful?
I have always enjoyed teaching and I think the best way to learn – even learn new things – is to pass on the knowledge that you know. As soon as I started Thinkful, I knew I wanted to be a mentor afterwards because to help explain my ideas. If I am unsure about something, I’ll do the research and explain it to one of my students. It’s a great way to keep your skills up to date. I’ve always thought knowledge you hold onto is wasted knowledge – you should always pass it on.
Do you have advice for people considering an online bootcamp or considering Thinkful?
Considering any bootcamp in general, just know it’s going to be a lot of work and if you put in the work now, you can make your life tremendously better in the future.
I think if you are going to commit to a bootcamp, if can be even better if you’re charged it monthly. But if you have to pay it all at once, make sure you remind yourself that you paid for this and you better show up to your classes!
Online coding school Thinkful offers career placement services to graduates of their Web Developer Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, and so far 93% of their graduates have found jobs within four months of graduating. Thinkful Community Manager Bhaumik Patel tells us how the career placement works, what sort of jobs graduates are getting, and explains the money-back guarantee. (Oh, and the Course Report community gets $150 off Thinkful Flexible Web Development Bootcamp!)
When does the job placement/preparation process start? How long do you continue helping your graduates find jobs after they graduate?
Preparation starts as early as the onboarding call with Derek Fogge, Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development Bootcamp Program Manager. He’ll spend an hour understanding each student’s career goals, prior experience, and location, and turn that into a learning roadmap. After the first month, a career services mentor will schedule the first mock interview to get students exposed to the job process immediately. Career services will continue to meet every month until graduation. At this point, the job search ramps up with weekly meetings for up to four months after graduation. It’s important that we start this entire process early and encourage students to reflect on their progress often in monthly assessments.
Who’s involved in career placement?
Everyone at Thinkful, to some extent. There’s actually a wall at HQ where we post pictures of new graduates and leave them there until they’ve successfully been placed. Taking them down is always fun. Grae Drake, our Head of Education, runs the career services program and leads a team of nine career services mentors who meet with students regularly during the course and after graduation.
Do you have a job placement guarantee? What are your current job placement stats?
Indeed! If you put in the work and don’t land a job with four months of graduation, you’ll get all of your money back. Aligning business interests with the successes of our students keeps everyone accountable. We’re proud of the fact that 93% of job-seeking graduates have landed a job within four months of graduation. You can find more of our placement stats on our public Jobs Report.
What sort of advice do you give your students for creating their online presence? How important is that?
We train students to use GitHub (via command line) in the first unit and encourage them to push code there every single day. A portfolio is also a critical medium in displaying your work, especially if the prospective client/employer isn’t familiar with GitHub. Besides that, we ask our students to submit an updated LinkedIn along with resumes and cover letters to the career services team. We don’t push students to maintain a presence on Twitter unless they’re already active.
Where do you suggest students start their job search? How do you help with networking?
By the time our students reach graduation, most of them have a rough idea of what their ideal role might look like and where they might want to work. From that information, we’ll build a list of companies based on preferences around size, industry, and potential salary. Once that comes together, we’ll tap into our network of 300 mentors and more than 5000 students to seek introductions to the right people at each company, and take it from there. On their end, we encourage students to get involved in their community and attend local meetups and career fairs. There’s demand for developers at every company so it’s important to just get out there and talk!
How does Thinkful prepare students for job interviews?
It starts well before the actual interview. By meeting with an engineer three times every week, they’re already practicing effective communication with senior engineers. They’re learning how to ask questions and debug efficiently from Slack and office hours. On top of that, they have monthly assessments with career services mentors that increase in difficulty. Once the job placement phase officially starts, the student will start meeting with him/her on a weekly basis to review applications, cover letters, and schedule more interviews.
How do you help with imposter syndrome and job offer consideration?
Many bootcamp grads get hit by imposter syndrome upon graduation. They might not understand their true value after only coding for a few months. We help them overcome that fear throughout the program by encouraging them to build projects and pushing them further every week. Sometimes it just takes an active voice (from both of their mentors) reminding them that on a regular basis. That’s a big reason why human relationships are essential in outcomes-driven online learning. As for job considering, we encourage students to go out in the real world when the right offer comes, nothing beats experience. We see 50% of our students land jobs before graduation.
What specifically are most of your graduates looking for in a job? Can you give some examples of the sort of jobs your graduates are in now?
Titles vary dramatically in this industry but our students land full-time jobs as developers, programmers, and engineers. Specifically, we’ve had full stack engineers, CSS wizards, and frontend developers, at small startups and large companies.
In your experience, what do employers like about your graduates? Have you noticed that employers are looking for a specific language or specific soft skills?
Our students can solve problems and build. At every opportunity, we encourage our students to break projects down into the smallest of pieces. We encourage them to ask questions and push code to GitHub every day. We arm them with the tools (git, command line, editors) needed to contribute on Day 1.
Employers want graduates who can learn quickly. Because languages can become outdated quickly, it’s important for engineers to be able to adapt accordingly. Thinkful students have opportunity to learn (and practice) a wide range of new skills in a short amount of time. They’ve already practiced the art (and it is an art) of Googling and finding answers on StackOverflow.
Can graduates of Thinkful apply for job listings that require a CS degree? Have any got jobs this way?
Our curriculum already covers the skills asked for in a majority of the jobs our students apply to. With that said, we do encourage to punch above their weight class, so to speak, and apply for positions that require more experience. We’ve noticed most job postings are aspirational and our students can demonstrate sufficient competency through their portfolio and interviewing skills alone. We’re also confident our students will continue landing these jobs as we add more content typically taught in college, starting with algorithms and data structures.
Do you want to be a front end developer or a back end developer? Understanding your career goals at the end of a coding bootcamp can make it easier to narrow down which school is best for you. This can be a tricky task if you aren’t familiar with these terms – but no need to worry now that you have this guide. Let’s dig into the difference between front end web development and back end development: which programming languages you’ll learn, which coding schools teach them, and what to expect from a career as a back end or front end web developer!Continue Reading →
CareerFoundry and Thinkful offer online mentored courses in Web Development and UX Design. Whether your concern is cost, curriculum or job placement, this deep comparison will help you decide which online coding bootcamp is best for you.Continue Reading →
Course Report has some exciting things rolling out in 2016, but for now, here's what you may have missed in November! Remember to email me with noteworthy news to include in next month's roundup.Continue Reading →
Welcome to the September 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!
This Week on Course Report:
- Should you learn web or mobile development first? We dive into this question with advice from Atlanta's DigitalCrafts code school!
- Have you tried Thinkful's Workshops? Grae, the Head of Education at Thinkful, gives us the scoop on their newest offering for bootcamp grads and working engineers.
- Mechanical-Engineer-turned-Web-Developer Kacy Ebel talks about her career change and her experience at We Can Code It's women-only bootcamp.
Aquisitions, Fundraises & Regulation
- General Assembly announced their $70MM Series D. This reporter thinks about what the fundraise could mean for their London campus.
- Hack Reactor acquired Chicago-based Mobile Makers Academy, adding iOS to their offerings. They also announced "Hack Reactor Core," the umbrella under which each school will operate autonomously.
- Inside Higher Ed reported on General Assembly's journey through regulation and expansion. Education Dive provides a nice, brief summary of the article.
- The Huffington Post reported on a letter from Jeremy Shaki and Khurram Virani (Founders of Lighthouse Labs) to parliament on code literacy, outcome-based education, and Canadian innovation through technology.
New Campuses + Courses:
- Dev Bootcamp announced they will open doors in San Diego this November.
- Montana Code School's first cohort started class September 28. (Listen to Montana Public Radio's story on the bootcamp).
- ThoughtKite will teach their first Toronto iOS bootcamp in October.
- Code Fellows has overhauled and reorganized their courses (bye bye Dev Accelerators, hello Code 401!)
- Applications for Code Platoon, a Chicago bootcamp geared towards veterans, are now open.
- Global News Canada writes about Toronto's Bitmaker Labs.
- Fortune Magazine explores women in Coding Bootcamps.
- FCW finds that coding bootcamps are 'Very empowering, very transformational.'
- A LinkedIn researcher blogged about the types of jobs reported by bootcampers on the networking site.
- Delaware Online looks back on ZipCode Wilmington's first bootcamp cohort.
- Built in Chicago: How Designation is bringing the bootcamp model to design.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee computer coding school expands as employers show interest.
- The Street: Future Code Monkeys May Skip College and Head to Boot Camp
Have a great October!
What is your role at Thinkful and what do you work on day-to-day?
I’m the Head of Education at Thinkful, so I lead the mentor teams, the content teams and the operations teams. I joined Thinkful originally to build the mentor team (we’re close to 300 now), so I’m very closely involved with the mentors (and I even mentor students myself!)
Thinkful now has three offerings: the flagship one-on-one course, the career path courses and now these new Workshops. Could you tell us more about the new Workshops?
Our new product is actually serving existing engineers, so this is not aimed towards beginners. We assume these students have built working software before, know how to use a text editor, all of these things.
We’re looking to serve a market of people who are working in development but want to stay at the cutting edge of technology or build out their skill set to what they really want it to be. Each workshop is about one hour.
How much does access to the Workshops cost?
It’s a monthly subscription, comparable to sites like Code School. It’s $49 a month. That includes unlimited access to all of the workshops that we have and other resources including our community, general Q&A sessions with our mentors and course library.
What can someone expect to accomplish at the end of a one hour Workshop?
Generally, the workshops are led by a mentor and a small group of students attend. The mentor will talk with everybody at the beginning, understand what their level of expertise is, what their goals are and then they’ll dive into making the project.
Mentors are screen-sharing while building the app, talking through what they’re doing, explaining the decisions they’re making, prompting the students and asking questions - “Is everybody on the same page? Is anybody stuck? Is there anything I’ve done that doesn’t make sense?”
At the end of that, the student will have some functioning software if they have been coding along. If not, then they have the course to reference later on their own time.
At the end, mentors wrap up with a discussion of the topics covered, concepts learned and the next steps. That’s always the question - “Okay, I can build a shopping list app, that’s great. What do I do next?” That’s how we close the workshops.
What are some use cases that students have been using the Workshops for so far?
We’ve been doing workshops for a few weeks now.
One example is a team of engineers that need to learn React.js quickly and they need to skip directly into best practices and not make mistakes that are going to cost them down the road.
We also see people who are graduating from boot camps who have the skills they need to land a job but know that there’s a whole universe of technologies out there that they want to master to continue their career past the junior level.
And then we see people working on teams that just don’t have access to expertise. In the most ideal workplaces, you’re working with other developers who are incredibly smart and skilled in the technologies that you want to learn. If you’re working remotely or you’re working on a small team, maybe you don’t have that, so we see people joining in on workshops to access this expertise.
Are you using Google Hangouts? How do the Workshops work logistically?
We actually use an app that we built specifically for workshops. It shares a lot of similarities with Google Hangouts. A limitation of Hangouts is that you can’t share your camera feed and your screen at the same time, so we added that solution- we’re really excited about it.
What product exists right now that you would you compare Workshops to?
The Workshops are probably closest to what you see at really good conventions or meetups.
You may be familiar with Front End Masters, they do recorded video content by experts on niche topics which are great. But, I have not yet made it through an entire 4 hour video, and I always have questions along the way.
Code School and Treehouse are putting together fantastic quality content but it’s all static - it’s all recorded content or written content. You don’t see anything live at this scale.
Who’s coming up with Workshop topics? Are they topics that students are asking for? Are they things that mentors want to teach?
And beyond that we’ve also been soliciting courses and workshop topics among mentors. We say, “You’ve been working with students in our courses. What do you wish you had time to cover? What had you seen students struggle with that you would love to spend more time on?” We’ve seen a number of workshops and courses developed on those topics.
One of our mentors just made an amazing course on manipulating SVG graphics in React. The animation that he’s doing is mind-blowing. You could never add something like SVG animation in React into our set curriculum because only some people are going to be interested, but it’s so fascinating to have the option to learn that.
What have you found makes a really good mentor, especially in the workshop context?
It’s an interesting mix of skills that you don’t find together very often. It’s a deep understanding and passion for technology, an interest in sharing that passion with other people, and interpersonal skills to get other people excited about it.
We get a lot of questions asking about how bootcamps like Thinkful and other mentor-based bootcamps train their mentors. Do you have specific training for mentors?
Absolutely. We have an ongoing training process that mentors go through, including best practices, the Thinkful platform and any particular challenges that our students encounter. It’s a learning process for everybody.
We have mentors who have been with us since the very beginning. They love what they do and they are, and I’m not exaggerating, world-experts in the area of online mentorship because they’ve been doing it as long as the technology has been around.
What have you’ve learned in doing these workshops?
We've learned that recorded video isn't a replacement for live interaction with real people. And you don't see much in the way of live interaction on the web because connecting groups of people in real time is hard! We thrive on feedback from users, and have been consistently getting 9-10 out of 10 about our users’ experience. We've been doing online sessions for so long at Thinkful and we're always looking for ways to improve.
Interested? Find out more about Thinkful’s Workshops.
In this Live Q&A, we’re joined by Derek Fogge, the Front-End Development Career Path Program Manager at Thinkful, and Cynthia Kellog, a student in the course. We learned so much about the Career Path courses, including:
- How the course was developed and what you'll learn as a student (skip to this answer!)
- An example of a real project that Cynthia made while in the Thinkful class. (skip to this answer!)
- How mentorship works in a Career Path class. (skip to this answer!)
Watch the Q&A on video or read the full transcript below!
Derek, tell us what brought you to Thinkful and what your background is as a developer.
Derek: I was one of Thinkful’s first students. I was working in advertising for seven years as a designer at a traditional ad agency. Nobody wanted to deal with web stuff, so we outsourced everything and we were losing tons of money. I did a little HTML and CSS, so I struggled through the first few years, self-taught, and hit walls and had no one to turn to. I didn’t know any other developers. About 5 years into struggling with that, I saw a post on Hacker News for Thinkful and thought it was interesting, so I signed up. I did the basic Intro to Front End course. A couple of months later, I left my job in advertising and started freelancing. After 9 months of freelancing, I landed my first job as a full time web developer at an agency called Mint Digital. Around the same time, I also started mentoring at Thinkful, which I really enjoyed. They offered to let me start writing courses. At some point, I asked if there were any open spots there and they said they could make one for me. I became a mentor in residence at Thinkful about 9 months ago. Since then I’ve been leading course development and now I started the Career Path.
You’re sort of a classic Thinkful success story.
Derek: We have quite a few former students working for Thinkful now!
Do you still work on development projects as well?
Derek: Yeah, I have side projects and I pick up freelance here and there. I try to keep it to the weekends.
Cynthia, do you want to tell us your background?
Cynthia: Sure. I am a Thinkful student in the career path course. For the last 3-4 years, I have been the non-technical co-founder of a consumer-based gift giving app. About a year ago, I found myself without any technical co-founders because they both left for various reasons. That’s something you hear about a lot in the startup industry. You have people who don’t have technical experience and they need to hire technical help. At any kind of networking event, probably the greatest need is technical co-founders. I myself was at this juncture for the first time and I thought, “I can shut everything down,” which was not really anything I wanted to do. I could hire somebody and find somebody who could work for free because I didn’t have a lot of money, or I could just learn to code myself and I thought that was a really great option. That’s what I did. I signed up at Thinkful and I started with the Front End Web Development course because the Career Path course was still being planned out. Partway through that first course they opened up the Career Path, so I joined that.
Had you tried other self-guided teaching before you started at Thinkful?
Cynthia: Yes. I played around with Codecademy. Just that though. My only technical experience was in managing a designer and a back end developer. I did dabble just to understand what I was asking them. I knew just enough to be ‘dangerous,’ as they say.
Derek, can you tell us when you started working on the Career Path course and what’s gone into creating and designing that?
Derek: Sure. Thinkful has existed for about two years, so we have a lot of data points about our students. We really have a good understanding of our students and their goals. We noticed that there was a large percentage who wanted to make a career transition, not just level up as a programmer. So we also realized that many of them were willing to make a larger time commitment than what our previous courses had required, which was 10 to 15 hours. I started thinking about my own journey as a developer and what it took for me to be confident enough in my skills to get a full time job as a developer. One course wasn’t quite enough for me. It is for some students. I still wasn’t totally confident showing my code to a technical hiring person. The 9 months of freelance is what got me to that. I was thinking about that and talking about it. What if we could make a course that encompassed all of that experience plus our curriculum? We pretty much put all of that together. We wanted to formalize that experience.
Liz: What’s different between front end development and front end career course? Is it longer? More hours each week?
Derek: The biggest difference is the length. It’s a 6 month course. Some people have gone through portions of it faster than expected, but they gave a larger time commitment. We require 20 hours a week to sign up for the course. What it entails is that you get 3 mentor sessions per week, one hour sessions instead of our usual 45 minute sessions. It starts with the Intro to Front End course, but then it goes into an Intermediate Front End course, which is best practices and modern standards of development. Then an Angular course, but that is becoming very optional as things progress because some students want to learn Backbone or Ember. We’re trying to customize the course around the student’s goal and not tie it to any particular technology, as long as it’s still front end. We have some students learning Node too, so I guess they’re doing full stack.
After that, they go and do a custom project. That’s where my freelance experience comes in. I had a lot of experience with different code bases and projects outside of my usual small business and agency sites I was building. I wanted to let the students decide what they want to work on and what they feel passionate about and let them create custom projects. That’s the final step before they go into career services. They’re matched with a technical recruiter or a hiring manager who preps them with mock interviews and reviews of their portfolio and GitHub account to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward.
Do most of the students coming through know what they want to do when they graduate? Are the mentors also career counseling as they go through?
Derek: Some students do come in with a goal, usually a short-term goal like getting a job as a web developer. That usually gets honed as they go through the course talking to their mentor and seeing what the possibilities really are. It tends to change as they progress.
Why has it been important for Thinkful to focus on job prep and career placement now as an online bootcamp that didn’t necessarily start thinking about placing jobs?
Derek: The timing is just right. It’s been 3 years listening to students and assessing their goals and now we feel like we know how to get them there. The ability to customize the curriculum. A lot of mentors have written curriculums so they can help the students craft these project briefs. It’s just the right time for it I think.
You talked about the big transition after you graduated from your Thinkful class being that 8 or 9 months of freelance work. Are you setting students up for freelance work during the class? What goes into those 6 months?
Derek: They consider themselves the client. It’s not necessarily matching them with freelance clients, but they’re working on ideas from their own minds. They’re not following a curriculum. They’re working with their mentors to craft a project based on what they’re interested in. I personally find the best ways to learn are to get a job and convince somebody that I know how to do it, or to have an idea that I’m passionate about and I want to see exist. We’re working with the latter there. Students are taking their hobbies and interests and applying them to these projects.
Cynthia, how far are you through the Career Path now?
Cynthia: I’m most of the way through it. I probably have another month depending on how much time I can dedicate to it. I’ve been in it for a couple of months.
How many hours on average are you devoting to the class?
Cynthia: I do work part-time. I am dedicating about 20 sometimes 30 hours a week. As I get better and more proficient at writing code, I find myself getting more excited and spending more and more time on it. I’m starting to actually build things that I really love.
You’re still working on your startup as well, right?
Cynthia: I shut down what it was originally was when I started the course and now I’m retooling it, so that it’s something completely my own and something I can manage and use my new skills to build. It’s going to be my pet project. It’s going to turn into this tastemaker, gift giving blog. My core is trying to help people be better gift givers. We had one take on that and it didn’t really take that well. People weren’t all that into it, and so now I just want to start a new version of that. I’ve integrated one of the Thinkful projects into that gift giving theme. I’m able to take the curriculum and build it and modify it and that’s what’s great about having in-person mentorship. You get a project outline and you can see how everybody’s doing it and you can decide what’s interesting to you and tool it in that direction.
Have you found that you’ve been able to choose the technologies to learn and what technologies have you been learning over the past few months?
Cynthia: Yes. Absolutely. Anyone in tech knows that there are constantly new things coming out. Instead of learning Angular, I’m going to be focusing on Backbone, Ampersand, and maybe a little in React. That’s what’s so great about having this extended mentorship period because you really get to know your mentor and what their strengths are and what your strengths are and you can suss out what’s interesting. Over six months, tech changes so much.
Has Derek been your mentor for this career path course?
Tell us about your favorite week of Thinkful so far.
Cynthia: That’s a really hard question because there are so many parts that I do like. I was building my gift giving quiz, “What kind of gift giver are you?” and it was the first time I was coding something of my own. The moment it started to work was a really big moment. This week I’ve been working on my gold build environment and I couldn’t get it to work for a week and a half and then in our last mentor session I finally got it working. Constantly you’re being challenged and you can’t figure something out and then you get it. As I learn more, my abilities keep growing, which I get super excited about.
Logistically, are you going through a curriculum throughout the week and then meeting with Derek three times a week in addition to going through curriculum by yourself? Or are you doing most of your learning together?
Cynthia: There is a Thinkful curriculum that I follow online. It’s broken down into units that each have lessons and projects and stuff within that. Like right now I’m learning how to draw on canvas and we’re building a little replication of Flappybirds. We’re learning that game build environment. I have resources and links along with that. As I go through it, if I get stuck or don’t understand something, we have mentor sessions and Derek helps me with whatever the issue is. There’s no set topic for the mentor session, but Derek is there to help me when I need help.
Derek, I imagine there are two sides to having a very flexible curriculum. Do you feel like you get to learn as well as you’re mentoring? What do you do when someone wants to learn something super new, do you have to learn it also?
Derek: Yes. I definitely am learning as I mentor. I try to stay a few steps ahead of the student if I can. I try to talk about what they want to learn next. With Cynthia, she wants to learn Ampersand instead of Angular. One of the mentors on Career Paths is really deep into Ampersand and I’m pretty new at it. We’re informally calling it mentor swapping. She’s going to be assigned to that mentor and I’ll probably take on one of his students, or they’ll give one of his students to a mentor who wants to teach Angular. He doesn’t want to teach Angular. I help out the students in Slack, which is a chat application, every morning with any problems they’re having. I’m definitely being exposed to a lot of stuff I’ve never done before. It’s been great for both sides.
How large is the Thinkful mentor network now?
Derek: It’s pretty big. I think total we have about 300 mentors on file. At any given moment, 200 of them are active and maybe 50-100 on hiatus. People get busy. It’s a part-time thing. We keep it loose.
Cynthia, you mentioned the project that you had worked on, the gift quiz.
Did you work over Google Hangouts basically?
Derek: That’s something I did want to bring up. That’s one of the biggest differences. I mentor in Intro to FEWD and Career Path FEWD and the differences between how the sections go is drastic. In basic FEWD, since you haven’t seen your mentor in a week, they’re accessible via Slack or email or something, but a lot of students don’t take advantage of those things. They come to the sessions with a week’s worth of questions and they’ve been lost for a week, so they might be losing momentum. Career Path you meet with your student almost every other day. There aren’t a lot of stacked up questions. It’s questions about they’re working on now. What ends up happening is we pair-program right in session, which is pretty rare in Intro to FEWD, just because you don’t have the time because it’s 45 minutes and most of that is just for answering questions. With Career Path it’s usually here’s a question; we screen share; we write code together; I point out issues and she catches stuff. It’s really interactive. I found that to be the case too when I was working on Midigital. I was trying to learn Ruby on Rails forever by myself and in an hour or two sitting with a senior Ruby developer, everything just clicked. That is definitely the biggest difference. They get unstuck as fast as they get stuck. It’s constant progress.
That’s really cool to build that working relationship.
I know that you’re not entirely through the program yet, Cynthia, but do you feel like you’re getting more comfortable as someone who will emerge as a technical cofounder as opposed to a non-technical cofounder like you were before?
Cynthia: Oh yeah. This morning I spent my morning getting an SSL certificate for my startup and doing that all myself and I’ve been going through and getting all the docs and getting everything set up. In the startup world, everyone’s constantly asking for a tech person. Especially people I know who are new to it are constantly asking if I can build them a website. Now I can finally say yes. I can build most of that. As with everything it takes a couple of people and minds to build a fully scalable app. I absolutely feel like I’m at a point where I can start saying yes.
Do you think that you will do freelance or contract work when you graduate, or do you want to relaunch the business?
Cynthia: The business I’ll keep as a side or pet project. In the meantime, I’ll probably take on some freelance clients to start making some serious money.
Derek, will the Career Path course hook people up with job opportunities afterwards in a tangible way? Will you be making connections either to contract opportunities or employers or doing interview prep, things like that?
Derek: So that is possible. It depends. Some students don’t live in tech cities and it might be a little tougher for us to find job leads for them, but we will ensure that they’re ready to do interviews and get jobs. For students like Cynthia, she lives in Silicon Valley, so she shouldn’t have any trouble finding work with the skillset she currently has. The bigger tech hubs like New York, SF, Atlanta, Austin, we do have the ability to find job leads directly for you and prep you.
How will you be keeping up with alumni success?
Derek: One of the benefits of being a Thinkful student is that you get access to our Slack community forever. I’ve never seen anything like this as far as code communities go. Everyone is helping everyone. Students are helping students. Mentors are helping students. Students have helped mentors. I’m just seeing every variation of that. My hope is that everybody stays on there and keeps growing and keeps the network together. I do check in with students with who have left. My students so far have been in the basic front end course. I still stay in touch with many of them to make sure that they’re still growing and learning and seeing if they need help.
I love that Thinkful is thinking about job placement and job prep. Is there anything that we did not cover on logistics or when the next course starts?
Derek: There was a lot of demand for this course. I think it overwhelmed our capabilities a little bit initially, so we did go back to the cohort model. If you enroll within the week we try to match you with a mentor by Wednesday. Otherwise it’s open enrollments. Like I said before, this course is sort of becoming full stack, so we might start to formalize that and allow for Ruby on Rails front end or full stack and Node front end. There are actually a couple of students learning Ruby on Rails in this course too. I’ve seen every variation and I just want to get those out and make them known on the landing page that it’s up to the student with what their goals are.
Cynthia, anything we didn’t cover on your end? Any advice for people looking to do a Thinkful course in the future?
Cynthia: No, I think that we covered it. I’m super excited to be able to build what I want to build. I have ideas all the time. The only thing I wish is that I had done this earlier. It just takes time. I’m thrilled.
Liz: It’s so great to see someone go from non-technical to technical and acquire those skills. I can’t wait to see what you end up doing in the next couple of months. Awesome. Thank you so much for joining this live Q&A.
[As of October 13, 2017, The Iron Yard will no longer be operating.] Whether you're thinking about applying to an Iron Yard bootcamp or want to learn front-end programming on your own schedule, the Self-Paced Front-End Engineering course from Iron Yard + Thinkful may be your answer. In this Live Q&A, we'll chat with Eric Dodds of Iron Yard and Bhaumik Patel of Thinkful about the new course and how it can give YOU a headstart.Continue Reading →
[As of September 2018, Thinkful no longer offers bootcamp prep courses for prospective applicants. A 2-week prep course is provided to accepted students.] Bhaumik Patel started his programming journey as one of Thinkful’s first students, and has now joined the team full-time as Community Manager where he worked directly with every student from their onboarding experience to graduation. Bhaumik talks to us about Thinkful’s newest partnership with in-person coding bootcamps and his role in it as Program Director!
Which schools do you have partnerships with (or plan to in the future)?
We’ve partnered with MakerSquare, App Academy, Iron Yard, DevPoint Labs, Byte Academy, and Wyncode and our pilot courses are live today with these schools. Our Bootcamp Prep Course page has all the details you'll need about these partnerships.
We’re excited to bring back our MakerSquare (Austin, SF & LA) prep course after great success with their pilot. All of those have a rolling admission policy so the course is suitable for students targeting different bootcamp cohort starts.
We’re finishing up the curriculum for App Academy (SF & NYC) to prepare for their coding challenges now so that will launch on May 11th. For Iron Yard (Durham & Tampa Bay), we’re training and onboarding in-person mentors in preparation for a June 1st launch. (If you’re interested in those courses, just send me a quick email and I’ll send you more info.)
What inspired the bootcamp prep courses?
Story time! Two years ago, I learned that I could become an engineer without a CS degree. My dad had forwarded me a marketing email from App Academy which got me excited. At that point, I couldn’t commit to moving to NYC or SF so I looked for online options and found Thinkful. A good friend and I joined one of the earliest cohorts of the Frontend course. I ended up joining Thinkful a couple of months later and have been here since.
Over the last year, we got to know Harsh, the founder of MakerSquare. They had a clear need: help make their applicants even more qualified for their cohorts. We ran a pilot program in January that went well. After the success of that pilot, we began working with other schools. We’re now working with Iron Yard in Durham & Tampa, as well as Devpoint Labs in Salt Lake City, Wyncode in Miami, Byte Academy in New York, and App Academy in San Francisco and New York. Fun fact: App Academy’s NYC class is one floor above our office.
Who is the ideal student for the bootcamp prep courses?
I’d break it down into two groups. The first includes students not yet qualified for a bootcamp. We’ve worked closely with each school to create a program that specifically prepares you to be a great student in their program. The second group includes people who are interested in programming but not yet committed to quitting their job to become a developer. These introductory courses give students a preview of what’s to come in the engineering world before quitting their jobs and taking on big financial risk.
In the beta/test with MakerSquare, did the students who took the prep course get in to MakerSquare? What were their outcomes?
Yup! Of the 7 students in our pilot, 5 were accepted into MakerSquare or Hack Reactor on their first try (and one of the others was strongly encouraged to reapply the next month). Two had to pause the course for a month but plan on applying, and the last one dropped. The accepted students are currently enrolled at MakerSquare, so we’ll so update you in a few months on hiring outcomes :) I also want to start publishing our acceptance rates into bootcamps once we have enough students enrolled!
Will the curricula change depending on the school?
How important is it to have a portfolio of work when you apply to a top bootcamp? How does Thinkful address this?
That depends on the bootcamp. Our partners with strict admission criteria have programming exercises + technical interviews in their application process, so our curriculum reflects that. We remove some projects in favor of smaller exercises.
For others with a more accessible program, it’s important to demonstrate some passion for programming. Building projects and adding to your portfolio is the best way to do that. For those programs, the project-driven approach in our Frontend course is perfect. We want to make sure that students have a portfolio and GitHub profile ready to go before starting the bootcamp.
Who are the mentors in the prep course? Bootcamp instructors or Thinkful mentors? Who is working with students on-site?
Except for Iron Yard, who will have their own instructors on-site, every mentor is from Thinkful. Many of them have also have personal experience with bootcamps. Patrick Ford and Brian Patterson graduated from Hack Reactor and MakerSquare, respectively, a year ago. Another Danielle Adams, graduated from Dev Bootcamp! The on-site mentors are also intertwined in the engineering culture of the bootcamp’s location so they can service as advisors when the student starts the job hunt :)
What’s your role in the course? Will students interact with you?
My most important job is to make sure student has an awesome experience. My goal is to onboard every student with a call and follow up every few weeks. I’m also onboarding the mentors for this course to make sure they’re aware of the student’s goal and any curriculum changes. I’ll also catch up with the admissions team of the bootcamps to make sure the curriculum is up to date. Once the pilots are launched and running smoothly, I’ll start working with other bootcamps who share the same values to expand our reach.
Anything else I left out?
Tuition reimbursement! Students who are accepted into the bootcamp will have a tuition credit applied to their in-person experience. MakerSquare, for example, will apply the $1500 of the $2000 price to the student’s bootcamp tuition! For most of these bootcamps, you can apply up anywhere from 50% to 100% of the price of the course to the tuition.
You don’t have to be a data scientist to read into these statistics: A McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that by 2018 the US could be facing a shortage of more than 140,000 data scientists. The field of data science is growing, and with it so does the demand for qualified data scientists. Sounds like a good time to pursue data science, right? No kidding! Data scientists make an average national salary of $118,000. If you’re looking to break into data science, or just trying to refresh and hone the skills you already have, Course Report has you covered. Check out this comprehensive list of the best data science bootcamps and programs in the U.S. and Europe for technologies like Hadoop, R, and Python.
Apple’s newest, beginner-oriented programming language Swift has made developing for the iPhone a possibility for new and experienced developers alike. iOS developers earn over $100,000 on average, so it's a perfect time to learn to program for the iPhone. With the help of one of these iOS bootcamps, you could find yourself developing mobile apps utilizing Objective-C, Cocoa Touch, and Swift.
Python is often hailed as one of the best programming languages for first-time coders to learn as they break into programming. It’s the main technology powering big data, finance, and statistics, and its clean syntax reads like English. Python developers are in demand, not to mention the average Python developer in New York City earns $140,000 per year! Companies like Amazon, Dropbox, and Dell are built on this powerful language, making it a great time to learn Python bootcamp. We’re breaking down Python bootcamps, across the country and online, for a range of price points and time commitments.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 →
Several online, mentored coding bootcamps have gained recent popularity for their flexibility and support. In programs like Thinkful, Bloc and Tealeaf, students are matched with an experienced mentor to keep them engaged and learning throughout the course. While this model allows for excellent scalability, online bootcamps typically aren’t able to guarantee jobs or salaries as we see with in-person, immersive bootcamps. However, with online bootcamp Thinkful’s recent fundraising announcement, we may see this shift.
Thinkful is an online, mentored program pairs a structured curriculum with one-on-one mentorship to accelerate students' learning. For a limited time, the Course Report community will get $50 off tuition to the new Bootcamp Prep Course!
To claim your $50 Scholarship, simply mention the scholarship when you apply to Thinkful. Email email@example.com and we'll be sure your discount is applied once you're accepted to the Thinkful.Continue Reading →
Online, mentored coding bootcamps offer convenience and structure without forcing you to quit your job or move to a new city. But not all online programs were created equally, so which one is right for you? We'll learn from alumni at each online coding bootcamp, ready to answer your questions about their experience during class, how they found mentorship and community online, and how their careers have skyrocketed afterwards.Continue Reading →
Looking for coding bootcamp exclusive scholarships, discounts and promo codes? Course Report has exclusive discounts to the top programming bootcamps!
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!Continue Reading →
Apple released their new programming language, Swift, for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch this month. The language is meant to be interactive, fun, and works side-by-side with Objective-C so developers can use it with their current apps.
So how can you learn Swift quickly? Check out these programming bootcamps that are already offering classes in the language and get started on your next iOS project!Continue Reading →
Thinkful and Bloc are both online programming schools that employ mentors to propel their students to success. Both schools offer full-time and part-time bootcamps that take students from beginner to job-ready, junior developers. And as of April 2018, Thinkful has actually acquired Bloc. So which online bootcamp should you choose: Thinkful vs Bloc? Here, we've examined how Bloc and Thinkful compare to each other in terms of focus, curriculum, cost, job guarantees, and more.Continue Reading →
Darrell Silver and Dan Friedman founded Thinkful to add the human element back into online learning, combining an online curriculum with over 100 mentors to teach over 1000 students.
We talk with Darrell about the Thinkful mentor network, their project-based approach to teaching, and his take on becoming an accredited institution.
How did Thinkful start?
My co-founder, Daniel, and I started looking at online education because Dan had been learning to code himself or the past year, and the process proved both fascinating and incredible inefficient. I’m a much more traditionally trained engineer- so when we started working together, our dynamic proved really powerful- one person with a trained background, the other trying to learn quickly. So the answer was sitting in front of us the whole time: adding the human element back into online learning, started as mentors ourselves, working with students one-on-one, and that has evolved into what you see today.
How long have you been operating and how many students have gone through Thinkful?
We launched in February 2013. We’ve had well over 1000 go through Thinkful. Right now, we have over 400 students enrolled.
How many mentors do you have in your network?
We have well over 100 mentors in the network. They're the face of our company, and we work hard to make sure they're helping our students each day. The scale of the mentor team is also key to our success. We got some feedback when we had a couple dozen mentors, but we found that a truly diverse group gave us the unique opportunity to learn lots of new ways to help students. Basically, more voices is making better education, every day.
Take us through the teaching process at Thinkful. What’s the curriculum like and how do you help students get through the material?
What makes it work is how we combine three things together: curriculum and technology, a group of your peers, and a mentor with whom you work one-on-one. Any one component isn't enough: it's the combination of all three that makes Thinkful magic.. When you enroll,you start with between 20 and 40 peers whom we match with you to be at similar skill levels to your own. It's crucial that students are empowered to ask questions other platforms may discourage as being too junior. We've found that if students are comfortable they'll ask more questions, and more questions leads to more learning. It's just that simple.You talk with a community manager who sets you up in the curriculum, and then we set up a time with your mentor. Once in a class, you follow a tutorial that teaches a skill, then build a project based on that skill, and then you have time with your mentor throughout and afterwards to review and ask questions. The community is with you the whole time and the skills get more advanced as you go through the course. By the end of it, you have a portfolio that you’ve created throughout.
You have courses in Python, Rails, and iOS. How did you choose those?
Which of your classes are the most popular?
We carefully monitor that and so far they’re all growing basically at the same rate.
What do students get out of an online bootcamp like Thinkful that they may not get from an in-person course.
Thinkful offers flexibility for those who aren't ready (or can't) risk quitting their jobs, changing cities or spending $5,000-15,000 on their education. That being said, if you can access and afford the better bootcamps – Hack Reactor, for example – they can be a compelling offering. We've seen a lot of students take Thinkful and use their knowledge to really excel in other bootcamps.
What are you looking for in potential students? Do students need to have a technical or programming background?
The most successful students are the ones who are curious. The students who have tried Codecademy, and they want to go deeper- those are the students who do really well. Many of our students are complete beginners. You can really do well when you get personal attention and you have curiosity; we can provide one of those, and we try to inspire students to expose the curiosity that they have.
Do you ever reject an applicant?
We believe learning should be accessible to everyone. That being said, it's crucial that our students are successful and so we have two policies to help students achieve success. First, we encourage students to talk with us on the phone before signing up – it helps them get comfortable with the program, it helps us know their learning goals, and it helps make sure students have the time for Thinkful. Second, if the class doesn't work out for you for any reason we immediately give you your money back any time within the first two weeks. If we can't deliver on our promise, then we shouldn't benefit. Refunds are pretty rare, but often when I speak with people who are on the fence I suggest they give it a try because there's simply no risk!
Do you facilitate offline meetups for Thinkful students?
Not as much as we want, although it does happen now that we have so many students. We just hired another community manager who is working with students in the NY area. When I’m travelling, I visit mentors and students, listening to feedback, and charting our next phase of growth. We sponsor Startup Weekends and Hackathons, and we are able to do some neat things in the community here in New York. Because our mentor network is so large, we like to pair mentors with students in the same location if we can- that has a huge affect on the engagement of the students and the potential for their future.
Does Thinkful help graduates find jobs in tech once they've completed the program?
We are doing a lot of work with companies who want us to train entire teams using the Thinkful method. Most of our students have full-time jobs, and it’s becoming natural for students to get a promotion in their job through Thinkful, and then the company sends a whole group of folks to us- so we facilitate that. Upon graduation, we build a portfolio page with students with all of their work and the source code. For students who are looking for a job immediately (which is the minority), we’ll help them more informally, if they’re qualified.
What makes Thinkful different from Tealeaf and Bloc.io?
The biggest distinction is that we’re flexible in terms of time commitment, dollars and skills required at the beginning. Frankly, Bloc is doing well, and I think that’s great- we’re all in the same rising tide. If you’re a student comparing a 25 hour/week vs a 7-10 hour/week class, then you probably know how much time you have available. If you don’t have a full-time-job’s worth of time to spend, then Thinkful can be a better choice. I recommend that people poke around on something like Course Report and read reviews to pick the one that’s best for them. We’re much more interested in opening doors for people who can't go back to graduate school but need to learn to advance their career.
After the VentureBeat article came out about regulating California schools, is Thinkful concerned at all about becoming accredited as an online post secondary institution?
You never know what the future holds, but I don’t think we’re on the path to being accredited. I don’t think that’s a valuable asset to our students. I think the skills you learn and being able to demonstrate them are going to win out. That being said, I think this actual change in the regulation shouldn’t be overanalyzed- really, what they’re doing is trying to prevent fraud. And that’s a good thing, because removing or preventing fraud will help grow this world of education.