What’s a Typical Day Like at a Coding Bootcamp?


Jeff Dean, lead instructor at gSchool in Boulder, runs us through a typical day during our 6-month web development immersive. Read on for tips on how to learn to code, insights on our curriculum, and more. This interview was originally posted on SwitchUp.

Run us through a typical day at a coding bootcamp.

Galvanize fullstack web development students start the day with a quick 5-minute standup, a 10-minute warmup and then they go right into class. In the beginning of the program, students typically spend the first 3 hours of the day in structured learning activities, then work on project work in the afternoon after a full 1-hour lunch break. By the end of the program it’s reversed – students get open-ended challenges in the morning and by then we hold workshops and reviews in the afternoon. Also by the end of the course students will spend part of their time working on actual client projects.

This progression from more structure to less is a key part of how can help complete novice developers ramp up quickly, and also prepare our students well for jobs in which they need well-developed self direction skills.

The coding bootcamp/immersive program is a recent trend, and new courses continue to pop up everyday. Is there a unique feature or distinct motivation for your bootcamp?

What motivates us the most is being able to take students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to this amazing tech community and provide them with both the skills they need, and also access to the larger tech community. On the skills side, our full-stack web development course is 24-weeks long so that we can take students with very little experience in technology and get them to where they need to be in order to ship great products right out of Galvanize.

On the access side, every student is a member of Galvanize for the time they are in Full Stack, which means that while they not in the classroom they are working in a space that also serves dozens of startups. This informal interaction with entrepreneurs, developers and venture capitalists is important for students, especially for those who’ve never worked in or around the industry, in that it provides a huge informal network even before they start the job search.

If a person has the interest and aptitude to become a programmer, we want to make that happen. Through our diversity scholarship program to our tuition-back guarantee to our lending partners, every decision we make is guided by this goal to create a more inclusive tech industry.

What backgrounds do you find your applicants usually coming from? Is there a particular kind of student or learning style that excels in your programs? Is there a kind of student or learning style that is not well suited for your programs?

Over the past few years our students have ranged in age from 18 to 55, and we’ve had everything from recent high-school graduates all the way to PhDs, so it’s hard to characterize a typical student. One common theme is that we see a number of students coming from unsatisfying jobs or careers who are either bored or who feel like they are not getting a good enough return on the time and effort they are putting into their jobs.

While we see a big diversity of learning styles, one common thread is that the students who apply and succeed here all share a love of learning. When faced with a barrage of error messages and so much new information, it’s important to really feel a sense of satisfaction and excitement when you make progress, and we both select for that in admissions and also help cultivate it once students start.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing your coding bootcamp and the industry today?

The industry changes very quickly, and keeping the content relevant and the instructors well-versed in new technology will be an ongoing challenge, and one that I’m excited to keep tackling every day. First and foremost our instructors need to be educators, and learning how to teach adults topics that are highly complex and abstract is a challenge and takes time. So on one side we want to keep the same staff because they keep getting more awesome. But on the other, if all you do is teach, you fall behind in the industry.

In the past year our curriculum has undergone a complete rewrite to include much more JavaScript and another framework, Ember, in order to meet the rising need for developers who are fluent in both sides of the increasingly client-server, more reactive we apps that are being built today. We’ve also come up with a number of internal tools and apps for instructors to work on to stay sharp and current, and we make sure that we are hiring instructors with skills we think will be needed in 6-8 months.

Since your first cohorts, how has the direction of your coding bootcamp changed over time, if at all?

We’ve made a big shift recently to increase the amount of client-side work students do, effectively splitting the curriculum half in Ruby / Rails and half in JavaScript / Ember. The main theory here is that second language and framework you learn are the hardest, and if we can help students dig in deep in two different places, whatever comes next for them will be smoother, and they’ll be able to see which concepts are general and which are specific.

We’ve also moved away from heavy group work in the beginning of the program, opting instead to make sure that every student has more “at-bats”, more time writing and shipping code on their own. Group projects still play a big role in our curriculum near the end, but we’ve increased the amount of keyboard time that each student gets significantly compared to when we started.

What kind of roles, jobs, and/or companies do your programs ready your students for?

Our graduates are well-prepared for junior to mid-level positions at companies of any size that build web apps. Our graduates have gone to companies that run the gamut from consultancies such as Pivotal Labs and QuickLeft to enterprises like IBM to early stage startups. Given the length and the in-depth nature of the course, we don’t consider our graduates “bootcamp” graduates – they leave here largely knowing how to turn requirements into software, and are well-practiced in agile development.

What’s the best advice for students who want to attend your coding bootcamp?

Know that you want it, and show that to us. It’s a big decision for most students, and we maintain a rigorous schedule for 6 months. If you just want to dip your toes in and see if you like it, there are great programs out there for you. Once you’ve decided, and you are ready to really level up, prepare to convince us of that.

What’s the best advice for people who want to start a bootcamp?

Come talk to me 🙂 We are always looking for entrepreneurs and developers to add to our team. Between our community members, our venture fund, our masters in data science, our data science immersive and our full-stack immersive program, we have found an amazing formula for a new urban campus, and while I love competition, I’d much rather work with like-minded people to keep making Galvanize more awesome.

How do you see the learn to code movement and the bootcamp industry changing over the next one to five years? Where do you see these programs fitting into the larger picture of education?

I think post-secondary education is largely broken, and I think the learn-to-code movement is the very beginning of a big wave in education. It’s clear to me that immersive, outcomes-based education that’s deeply tied to both urban communities and current economic conditions is a winning formula. Developers are first-movers, but I don’t see it stopping here. I think anyone who looks at $80K student loan debts with dubious outcomes and 4-year investments in their time will start to think twice. Imagine how many different immersive programs you could go to for that much! You could reinvent career 4 times over for the current price of an education that’s increasingly unlikely to serve your career interests even once.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

As an instructor I spend most of my time focused on the class, and it’s nice to get a chance to answer some questions that are outside of my normal daily flow. Sometimes when I’m in the thick of helping students understand like what `this` is, it’s great to consider the bigger picture of what we’re doing every day.

Jeff Dean is a lead instructor at Galvanize and has over 10 years of experience writing software and leading development teams large and small. Outside of Galvanize, Jeff might be playing upright bass & guitar, sleeping late, and eating copious amounts of cheddar cheese. Jeff moved to Colorado from New York while working with Pivotal Labs. His favorite movie is When Harry Met Sally, and he’s considering making it a pre-req for Galvanize. Follow his twitter @jeffrosoft. You can also find him on github and linkedin. Read reviews and learn more about Galvanize on switchup.