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Guest Blog Post: Creative Fair

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Start-up at Scale – The New Mould

Only shooting stars break the mould. It may be 15 years since Smash Mouth penned those words, but the sentiment is one that has stood the test of time. The modern equivalent might be something like: go hard or go home. In start-up land you most definitely have to go hard; and since the second year of university going home has not been an option for Eoin and I. Simultaneous studies and paid work leave little room for creativity, but if you are committed to breaking the mould, then you find a way.

Creative Fair was born out of a need for us to take control. Research released earlier this year showed that the creative industries are worth £71.4 billion/year in the UK alone. One breakdown gave this as being equivalent to £8 million/hour. It also showed that the sector accounted for 1.86 million jobs in 2012 or 5.6% of all employment.

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Guest Blog Post: Kick-starting your international career

*This is a guest blog post from Ruth Summers, British Council on the topic of international careers*

The world is changing and becoming increasingly interconnected with cultural dexterity and awareness becoming a much desired skill set for those sought after international graduate opportunities.

In a recent study conducted by the European Commission 64 per cent of businesses stated that international experience would make a candidate more employable. For us, the message is quite clear: international experience; be it though working, studying, volunteering or pretty much in any other capacity is a guaranteed way to enhance your job prospects as a UK grad.

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Guest blog post: The Carling Partnership on Video Interviews

chat-interviewMost job seekers are well aware of the importance of face-to-face job interview and deservedly invest resources mastering the various techniques to come out on top. Similarly, candidates are also aware and comfortable with the fact that a typical recruitment process may include a phone-based interview, however some are taken back at the prospect of attending a video chat interview.

Increasingly, employers and agencies use two-way video interview as a modern day successor of phone interview or as an additional stage before the face-to-face interview. If you are apprehensive about your chances to succeed in this type of challenging digital environment, we’ve put together a number of tips that will help.

Always Come Across Willing – If the notion of video chat interview comes up always embrace the opportunity. As you will quickly learn, there are solid techniques that will help you succeed.

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We Got Coders: How long does it take to code?

 

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Learning to code is akin to learning a language. It is a very important, useful skill, one that is life-enhancing and enables new opportunities for us to flourish. Its also pretty difficult. As one of the most common questions that I’m asked about learning to code, I thought I would use this analogy of learning a spoken language to examine “how long does it take to learn to code”?

First of  all, I don’t think anyone truly knows the answer (or ‘it depends’, which is a bit of a cop-out). Learning to code can mean picking up a particular programming language, learning to use a tool, developing your problem-solving skills, learning patience, honing your eyes and developing your communication skills. Its consists of many, disparate and challenging aspects that all conspire together to make a good web developer such a rare animal.

Some aspects of these skills will be easier and some more difficult from person to person. I have for example met lots of developers who are clearly gifted in their cognition and ability to absorb new technologies; but in terms of their basic personal and communication skills are still barely out of the starting block. We each learn in our own way.

The other caveat I need to make is that there is no industry standard. For all the web development bootcamps out there in the world, not all run for the same length of time; and many have changed the length of their courses after some experimentation. However it does seem as though many courses now are starting to converge around the twelve week mark.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

So if we don’t know long it will take to master coding, how much could we expect to learn after a given amount of time, say a day, or a week? If I said to you, how much would you expect to learn if you studied Spanish for a day, I think the conclusion would be that you would learn very little. You might expect to learn a few phrases, get a feel for the language and perhaps get a good introduction; but you’re not going to get a job as a translator. I think the same is true for the myriad of one day and one week training courses. They will show you enough to know whether or not Spanish is going to be for you, and help you get off to a good start on your own, but that’s about it.

Rome wasn’t built in three months either

What if you were to devote three months to learning Spanish? Night and day, for 12 weeks, nothing but Spanish. Verbs, grammar, infinitives, conjugations, reading, writing, testing. Were such a course to exist, it would be rather like the myriad of development bootcamps that have sprung up. With the support of having a dedicated instructor, the helpfulness of peers working towards common goals and an environment conducive to learning, its clear to see that more progress would be made in twelve weeks. In fact, I have seen from experience that a great deal can be achieved in three months. With the right syllabus, and with a group that is broadly even in terms of its ability, a lot of ground can be covered. At We Got Coders, we cover all the fundamentals that we would expect of someone owning to the job title of ‘Junior Web Developer’, including Ruby / OO Programming, Sinatra, Padrino, Ruby on Rails, Databases & SQL, HTML 5, CSS / SASS, Networking, Javascript, Jquery, AJAX, Backbone.js, Agile Web Development, Test Driven Development and Git. By the end of the course, our trainees are well versed in these technologies and have applied them on a practical project. I would also expect them to be able to apply them in a commercial context immediately after the course that completed. To continue with Spanish as an analogy, that means I’d expect you to read and write Spanish, and know the top fifty most common verbs; and you would be able to work as an intern in a company.

Letting the paint dry

By the end of these bootcamp courses, I believe that the right instructor with the right experience with the right syllabus and the right environment can convey the breadth of the subject in three months. But what about the depth? That is where other bootcamps stop and We Got Coders continues.

Without the ability to apply the skills learnt during the course, to hone them and apply them in a practical setting, the risk is that the vast amount of information thrown at candidates during the course will begin to wither away. You can learn all the Spanish grammar you like from a book; but until you live in the country you are studying, are immersed in its language and culture, you are not going to truly learn Spanish.

Furthermore it is no good to list technologies on a CV, if they are not backed up with some relevant experience (not to mention a glowing endorsement from your client!). Our approach is to work with our own candidates, hiring them directly and putting them onto client projects, supervised by our senior developers, so that we can continue the learning from the classroom to the office. We continue these placements

 for three months, so that by the end of the course a student has spent six months learning to code, and has applied their knowledge on a real-world project, where they can prove to their client that they 

So answer the question already!can stand on their own feet, and earn their own permanent developer position. That is to say, after studying for three months, they’ve lived and worked abroad in Spain for three months and now have a good working knowledge of speaking and writing in Spanish.

In my opinion, once a developer gets to the six month mark, they have covered a huge amount of ground, and demonstrated that they have the desire, intrigue and hunger for the subject. Yet for many employers seeking Ruby development there are few roles looking for less than 12 months experience. We designed our course to alleviate this problem, finding placements for our trainees, where they land a permanent job, allowing them the space to grow into the role and keep learning.

Once the 12 months point is reached, I would expect a trainee to be fluent in web development technology. They would be able to get a job from their own initiative, and probably be choosy about what project and team they would like to work with next. At this point, one could be said to have learned coding; for they are independent and have the track record to be confident about their next steps. So with a gun to my head, I say it takes 12 months to truly learn to code. Just as if I were to live in Spain for a year, I would also expect to have pick up Spanish.

And yet this is still not a satisfactory answer, for we never stop learning. There are always new frameworks, new languages, new approaches, new tools. But the advantage that new trainees have is that they are more adjusted to this style of intensive, on the job learning where time is of the essence. If you learn to love not just coding but learning to code, then the question is no longer “how long will it take”, but “what can I learn next!”.

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Guest Blog Post: Dan Garland, Instructor at We Got Coders’ Shares their Unique Teaching Methods

From combining real client work to promoting diversity, this bootcamp is ahead of the game

DAN GARLAND

16th Sep, 2014

Dan Garland has over ten years experience in creating web applications. After graduating from the University of Bristol with a Computer Science degree, he went on to run a Ruby consultancy, specialising in full-stack web development, working with start-ups and agencies. He has been teaching web development for a year, having completed his first cohort with We Got Coders. In addition he taught in New York with General Assembly, and an open day at Makers Academy in London. We dig into his instructor brain and learn about what We Got Coders’ is doing differently than other bootcamps.

1) Run us through a typical day running your coding bootcamp.

Armed with a strong tea or coffee, we start each day looking back and reflecting on the previous day’s learning. It is an opportunity for trainees not only to ask questions about issues they encountered and to get help from the group; but to also demonstrate their successes and breakthroughs. We invite trainees to present their code from the previous day, explaining the problems that they inevitably run into as well as the solutions that they encountered. We believe that putting people outside of their comfort zone and in front of the group helps to reduce the anxiety about asking questions, and demonstrates that truly everybody faces difficulties in coding from time to time.

Then we’ll dive into a new topic. Each week focuses on a wider theme, with each morning revealing a bit more material through a combination of lectures, group discussion or live coding, where I would lead the group through my approach and demonstrate keystroke by keystroke how I arrive at a solution.

After lunch, we would then apply the knowledge we had acquired in the morning, by working much in the same way as a real software team would; we would fork the exercise from a GitHub repository and work on a series of tasks, each gaining in complexity and difficulty. We work in pairs, which not only develops a trainee’s coding ability, but crucially their ability to analyse a problem before they dive in, their communication skills and reasoning ability. If there is any time left over in the evening, it is either spent on catching up on project work, or much needed sleep!

2) 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 makes us different is that we combine the bootcamp approach with a traditional web development consultancy, that grows its own talent in-house. We find clients who are looking for capable web development professionals: start-ups, growing agency / tech-teams and Government, and supply them the best of our output as contract consultants, working alongside our instructional team. In this way, we can delegate real client work to our trainees, simultaneously building their skill set and experience level whilst delivering quality software to the client and driving down costs.

3) 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?

We aim to have as diverse a group as possible, and our trainees are sourced from a variety of backgrounds. The only common thread that ties the group together is that everyone is a motivated self-starter, with bundles of enthusiasm and an implacable desire to succeed. We look for students who have the spark, the intrigue and the desire to understand why things work and why we build things the way we do. Our best students are those with an open mind and are looking to learn; rather than show off existing knowledge, are humble enough to admit when they don’t understand something and can ask a good question.

As our focus is on producing engineers, we aren’t well suited for entrepreneurs, project managers or hobbyists who are looking for more rounded knowledge. There are plenty of more relevant programs out there. We’re more likely to discuss the finer points of keeping your code DRY and applying Object-Orientation to your code than the latest craze to be upvoted on Hacker News.

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

Keeping abreast of change is a challenge across the tech industry; but this is particularly the case with bootcamps. As with software, ‘software rot’ is a problem and keeping the course material up-to-date and relevant is a priority for us.

Our approach in dealing with this issue is to open-source some of our course material, starting later this year, which will encourage collaboration, feedback and maintenance of our exercises. Furthermore, we have the advantage of combining our training with real-world consultancy, which means that our instructors are only teaching for at most six months of the year, with the rest on front-line development with our clients. This allows us to keep our skills sharp and to have an unrelenting focus on what our clients are asking for.

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

I have been impressed by the amount that I have learned in the last year from working with We Got Coders trainees. Each group has been different; in terms of the pace, the dynamic and the culture of the group. The differing priorities from the technology stack that our clients are asking for means that we must constantly review and improve our course materials. Therefore we are building more flexibility into the course; allowing for the instructional team to adapt to the pace of the group and to steer in different directions.

For example, based on trainee feedback, we’re now building a one-week half term into the middle of the training program, allowing for some catch-up and consolidation. We are pushing our final project time to after the initial twelve weeks (not during the last week, as many bootcamps still do), which we’re using to add an extra week of Ruby fundamentals and object-orientated approaches at the start of the course.

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

To cite examples of trainees who completed the training phase and were admitted to our mentoring programme, we put forward candidates to our client base, as contract consultants ready to work on full-stack development. Supported by our instructional staff, they have used industry best-practices, such as Agile development and Test-driven development, to directly delivering features to the client’s project from the outset. Our clients include SaaS style start-ups looking to build on their MVP to rapidly add features demanded by their customers; mid-sized companies looking to build their in-house development team, working on service-orientated architectures, to digital agencies looking for overflow resource on a large blue-chip client project.

On the other hand, we recognise that it is a bad idea to push a candidate into this kind of role unless they are truly ready for it. That’s why we’re making longer-term investments in our trainees, offering in-house or open-source development for those trainees who we want to work with further, but whom we think need a bit more time to let their newly-acquired knowledge to sink in. We also offer a graduate scholarship, where we waive the training costs for a trainee who works at We Got Coders for a 24 month period, allowing us to build up their work experience to the point that they are capable of finding a web development position independently.

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

Do your research and be prepared. Unless you are looking to get a permanent job as a web developer at the end of the course, there are lots of courses out there that are more suitable than ours. We also set the bar high on our intake, accepting between 5-15 trainees per course. Our selection process requires between 40-50 hours of background reading, which is assessed through a programming challenge, which must be completed before an interview is granted. During the interview, we conduct a pair-programming code test to ensure that you have already grasped some of the basics. This allows us to keep a cohesive group, where there is a manageable range of ability and experience.

Expect to work hard, and to prioritise this above everything else for twelve weeks. I believe that with these kinds of courses you get out what you put in. Our trainees are putting in 50-70 hours a week at least, and we generally work bank holidays.

8) 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?

The bootcamp model has amply demonstrated that the University model is insufficient to meet the needs of today’s tech economy. As an institution that began life as pairing masters with apprentices, universities are now a long way from preparing a developer who can walk into a job with one of our clients, who need someone who can hit the ground running; rather than taking six to twelve months before they become productive. Ironically, this master / apprentice pairing is actually much closer to the model that we have adopted, and is working well for us.

As more universities and companies wake up to the technical deficit faced in today’s marketplace, I think we are going to see more consolidation in the bootcamp market and a return to the kind of learning that we are advocating: with companies providing training as part of the job, whether outsourced to a bootcamp or done in-house, and universities providing hands-on assistance and mentoring.

9) Is there anything else you’d like to share?

What I love best about what I do, is that with technology and teaching, we have daily opportunities to be creative, and to apply ourselves to making something truly exciting with code. When I’m not cutting code or teaching, I like to play music. I’m a synth geek and like to make my own trippy ambient tracks. I have played festivals and toured around the world with eminent and pre-eminent musicians, and I see a lot of parallels between creating music and creating code. I think that it is the ability to imagine something and put it into practice, particularly if it reaches an appreciative audience, whether at a gig or via HTTP, that makes the creative side of technology so magical.

My big hope is that I can help others to achieve their goals; where other’s have graciously helped me in the past. Although I’ve been a web developer for over ten years, it took me a long while before I felt confident enough to say I was a truly independent developer; and had I enrolled on a bootcamp style course, it might have been a lot quicker to get to where I am now. I feel that this is what gives me an insight into the challenges my trainees face, and why I’m determined to help them achieve at We Got Coders.

This interview has been edited for publish.

Dan Garland is an instructor at We Got Coders and can be reached @dmgarland and github. Also, check out @wegotcoders for their latest updates!