I’m Considering a Coding Bootcamp: Should I learn JavaScript or Ruby?

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by Andy Johnston, Student Advisor @ Bloc

One of the most prevalent concerns you may have when choosing a coding bootcamp is deciding what language or framework to learn. The two options found at the leading developer bootcamps are Full Stack JavaScript and Ruby on Rails.  So which should you choose? JavaScript or Ruby? Choosing the right language feels like an important choice. You want to know the language is the most powerful and which will give you the best job prospects upon graduating. But depending on who you ask, you’ll get wildly different answers.

Ask a Junior Developer

If you ask a junior developer, early in their career “what language I should learn?”, they’ll likely name whatever language is trending on HackerNews this week. This is because they’re new to the world of software and they want to chase whatever is cutting edge.

Ask a Bootcamp Founder

What happens if you ask a bootcamp founder or employee what language you should learn? Odds are, every bootcamp will push you toward learning whatever language they teach, whether that be MEAN Stack, Ruby/Rails, or Python/Django.

Ask an Experienced Software Engineer

Finally, if you ask an experienced software engineer, someone with some maturity and historical perspective, they’ll tell you what we think is the most honest and authentic answer. Which is that in their years coding, they’ve seen many languages come and go. So don’t focus on learning every language and don’t  chase whatever is currently fashionable. Pick one language and framework, go deep, and learn to build great software. Put another way, the programming language you start with simply doesn’t matter.

To better understand why such a dissonance exists and help you choose the best path as an aspiring developer, let’s take a historical approach with both JavaScript and Ruby.

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What Languages Do The Best Coding Bootcamps Teach?

Some of the best bootcamps in the world were recently featured on Course Report to discuss the value of the CS degree versus a bootcamp education. Let’s use those bootcamps as frame of reference and map out which languages they teach:

Hackreactor: Full Stack JavaScript

Turing: Ruby on Rails, JavaScript

Bloc: Ruby on Rails, JavaScript

Flatiron: Ruby on Rails, JavaScript

Full Stack Academy: Full Stack JavaScript

Startup Institute: Ruby on Rails

As you can see JavaScript is the most popular appearing in nearly every program curriculum, followed by Ruby on Rails. Let’s dive into an overview of these two languages and attempt to answer why JavaScript is so popular.

Should I Learn Full Stack JavaScript?

At 15 years old, JavaScript is older than Ruby, and because it’s built into all web browsers, it is also ubiquitous. However JavaScript has only recently gained popularity in the past four years as powerful frameworks starting with Backbone, Angular, React and Node have come along. Node specifically gained a lot of traction when it enabled developers to use JavaScript to build a backend for their web applications. Moreover, JavaScript is currently the most used language on GitHub and most people don’t see that ending anytime soon.

New GitHub repos

Source: Forbes/GitHub

There is significant amount of excitement around Facebook’s frontend framework React and React Native which allows developers to build mobile applications using only HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. This helps to explain why JavaScript is so often taught amongst bootcamps. The language itself is growing rapidly in popularity in the developer community and more powerful frameworks continue to drive it forward. For perspective, there is also a considerable amount of JavaScript fatigue that can come with React as it iterates extremely quickly and can move fast.

Should I Learn Ruby on Rails?

RailsRails is to this day one of the most popular programming frameworks in the United States. Some of the most popular web applications in the world (AirBnB, Groupon, Hulu and SoundCloud) were built with Ruby on Rails. Many developers will cite the fact that Ruby was built with developer happiness in mind as one of the core reasons why its popularity is so high in the development community. Among coding bootcamps, Ruby on Rails is still taught the most frequently across the board. Furthermore, positions for Ruby on Rails developers are plentiful across job sites like Angelist, Remoteok.io and others.

There is good reason for this demand as the Ruby on Rails framework is well established and has a large, healthy developer community. At the core of Ruby on Rails is developer happiness and another key principle is that Ruby isn’t a directed programming language which means there is room for multiple solutions. One of the biggest advantages for Rails is that it has established conventions which make learning it as a framework much easier. These conventions are blogged about and shared amongst the vibrant Rails community.  As a future bootcamp student if you learn Model-View-Controller in Rails, you have a higher probability of transitioning into a company that uses Rails as you have already learned these aforementioned conventions.

Lastly, since the Rails framework is much older than JavaScript frameworks like Backbone, Angular, and Node, it offers you far more documentation, a bigger library of resources and you’re far more likely to find help on sites like Stack Overflow when you get stuck.

Our Recommendation for Beginners at Bloc

So, what’s our answer? Should you learn JavaScript or Ruby? At Bloc, you’ll learn two languages and frameworks. You’ll start out by learning JavaScript and AngularJS and then move into Ruby on Rails. But our real answer is pretty simple. It absolutely does not matter.

New developer frameworks and languages emerge every year and there will always be advantages and tradeoffs of using one or another. This is explained well in a recent talk by Steve Klabnik (minute 39 is the place to start).

Good developers start out by picking one language and framework, digging in, and trying to understand the underlying concepts, design patterns, algorithms and best practices. Great developers have done this enough to understand the tradeoffs of one language versus another, and can pick the right tool for the job. In so doing your skills are future-proof.

 


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Bloc Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Slayton

Jenn Slayton

When Jenn first enrolled in our UX/UI Design Course, she had no prior design experience. With a degree in Elementary Education and experience as a teacher, Jenn knew she’d have to drastically change her skill set if she wanted to find her *dream* job. Since graduating from Bloc and joining the growing Bloc alumni community, Jenn has been crushing it in her new position at ACTIVE Network. We sat down with Jenn and asked her a few questions about how taking Bloc and transitioning careers has transformed her life.


What are you up to now, post-Bloc?

For the last 18 months I’ve been doing freelance for local businesses and an agency up in Michigan, but have recently accepted a contractor position as a UX/UI Designer with Active Network.

Why did you enroll in Bloc to begin with?
Well, you can say it runs in our family! I was encouraged by my brother to take the UX/UI Design Course. He was very sure that it could be something that I would love…and he was right! I was also looking for a career change. I wanted to do something that mattered and would possibly allow some flexibility in raising my family. What I am doing now allows me to do just that.

What were you doing before you enrolled in Bloc?
I was a teacher before starting my family. I thought I would always go back to teaching after raising my kiddos to school age, but the time had arrived and I had lost my desire to teach in a classroom. I needed a change, something fresh. Then enters Bloc!

Tell me more about your job! Where do you work and what’s your role?
Well, it’s pretty exciting! I accepted a contractor position just a few months ago as a UX/UI Designer with Active Network. I am doing both UX/UI design for mobile apps, web and marketing materials. I get to work from my home office making cool stuff with my hair in a messy bun just about every day!

Are you excited for this opportunity?
Yes! I did mention doing UX and UI while wearing my messy bun, right? Yea, best of both worlds!

How was the job-hunt process?
It was long, brutal and interesting. I was connected with a small agency for some freelance work about 6 weeks after completing Bloc. And I love working with them and continue to do so. However, I was also looking for something more full-time, and was very specific when it came to culture and type of work. I want to work alongside a team that is passionate about their job, growing in their craft and striving to encourage others to pursue excellence. Many applications went out. Some interviews were made. 2 job offers were made.

What are your next steps?
I’m planning to soak up everything from this particular opportunity. I am learning from my design director and my coworkers constantly with new techniques, new resources and perspectives. As a former educator, learning is something that is still important to me. I believe we should continue to seek learning opportunities. I have some plans to venture into some other avenues of this technology world. I can’t stop learning. I believe that’s when my craft will become static and boring.

What’s something you know now that you wish you would’ve known when you started Bloc?
I wish I would’ve known to take advantage of the wonderful community of Bloc. I believe the people of Bloc, staff, mentors and fellow students, are the greatest resources to get you through the course. There are Facebook and Slack groups where community has been built. Many people get opinions, questions answered, job leads, etc. through these wonderful groups. I had conjured up the belief that I was “too beginner” and my questions would have sounded lame, which then caused me to miss out. I wish I had known (believed) everyone was a beginner, that’s why they were enrolled to learn something new.

What was the hardest part of your learning journey?
My mentor was an integral part of my journey! Though it was difficult at times to hear his critique, he helped me grow tough skin. It was a hard process for me to learn not to be “married” to my work, that design is not always complete and people have very harsh opinions. It has been the most important part of my journey in preparing me for a career in this field, though. My current employer was very impressed when he heard about the relationship I had with my mentor and made mention it was a reason for hiring me. He needed designers who were able to take critique and realize it’s not personal, but part of the business.

What advice would you give to other Bloc students?
Stick with it. It will be tough because you are learning something new, but that doesn’t mean you are incapable.

Ask questions. Your mentor is your greatest resource in the course. He or she can answer your questions and give you advice & critique that can literally catapult you to a great career. Take advantage of the Bloc community. Connect with other Bloc students. Don’t be timid in asking questions & for their opinions. We are all trying to become better at this new craft, whether it be developing or designing.

A lot of students, while they go through Bloc, often feel defeated when they’re at the toughest part of the learning curve. If you could give any words of encouragement, what would it be? This is probably where my teacher comes out in me, but stick with it. Anything new is going to be tough. If we already knew it, we wouldn’t be enrolled, right? Take advantage of your mentor. My mentor was great at reminding me that I was a beginner, not an expert yet. And though he helped me to grow tough skin, he was also very encouraging that I was heading in the right direction of becoming a great designer.

Bloc: Where do you see yourself in one year?
In one year, I see myself working from my home office continuing to design some cool, useful apps and websites. I love what I do and I love the flexibility.


At Bloc, we’re driven to help individuals change their lives by transitioning into careers they’re passionate about. We offer mentor-led online programs comparable to in-person bootcamps. To check out the programs we offer, go here. #hacktheplanet

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How Bloc Helped 248 Grads Start New Careers in Software Development and Design

(a.k.a. How an Online Program Delivers Real Student Outcomes)

by Courtland Alves, Director of Student Outcomes @ Bloc

Over the last four years, we’ve seen 248 Bloc students go on to work professionally as software developers and designers. Along the way, we’ve learned what it takes to get students into the new career they seek, and we want to share the factors that contribute to the success of a Bloc student.

1. Persistence is required. Students who are unable or unwilling to sustain their effort on the often bumpy path to job readiness will not succeed. You have to fight the demons: bad time management, “maybe I can’t do this” second-guessing, a discouragingly sticky coding problem that makes you never want to open your laptop again, impostor syndrome, etc. The list of obstacles is long and successful students will rise to the challenge repeatedly. A student with a defeated attitude will not succeed in any program, period.

2. There is absolutely no substitute for a skilled engineer or designer to mentor you. The mentor-apprentice model is employed today in almost every software development team, whereby a senior developer or designer takes a junior person under their wing to show them the ropes, pattern their thinking and behavior appropriately, and guide them up the skills curve. In our experience, you cannot replace a mentor with a message board, and you cannot substitute a newly minted developer for a seasoned mentor with deep expertise derived from years of experience. Mentors can push you to your limits and help you navigate the struggles of programming. It takes an experienced mentor to adapt the learning journey to fit your needs. And your mentor is yours for life. Countless Bloc students report forming a strong bond with their mentors, and they stay in touch long after they’ve graduated. The rapport students build with their mentors is priceless.

3. An up-to-date, project-based curriculum goes a long way. Before Bloc offered career-focused programs with recruiting prep and career support for job-seeking students, we found that graduates of our more condensed programs were already having success in their job searches. When we surveyed our Course students – our shorter programs with no job prep or career services – we discovered impressive job success rates. We attribute that success to our approach to “learn by doing”; each Bloc student develops their craft by creating a portfolio of several fully-functional projects that demonstrate their skills in a way no certificate can. Based on these early success indicators (and our conviction that we can do far better to deliver outcomes), we launched our first outcomes-based programs last year: the Full Stack Web Developer Track and Designer Track, which are more comprehensive programs that provide recruiting prep and career support and have proven effective in providing outcomes for students.

4. Guided, rigorous career support is mandatory. Shifting focus to outcomes-based programs meant making our career support world-class. Career support is manifested in many ways in the coding bootcamp industry, but we’ve found that if it’s not built into the core of the program, the efficacy suffers. From our perspective, bolting on a week of resume preparation and cover letter drafting at the end of the program is a suspiciously limited amount of energy to devote to the challenge. At Bloc, career support is integrated into the curriculum early to ensure students are focused on their end goal from the beginning. We ask students to network proactively, complete mock interviews, and submit required programming reinforcement assessments early and often. Our feedback loop is tight: if a student struggles to master a skill, they don’t move forward until they understand it. If a student performs poorly on a mock interview, they’ll take time to answer their skills gap and then get another interview.  If a student fails to apply to 10 jobs per week, we give a nudge to maintain persistence and focus, and help the student buoy their confidence. We’ve had four years to sniff out where and when students hit roadblocks – we know, with almost frightening accuracy, when a student may face a struggle and how to handle it.

5. Act in the student’s best interest without regard to how it affects a placement rate. We don’t play the numbers game just to show an alluring job placement rate. What if a student is offered a job that’s a bad fit for their skills and interests? What if a student prefers to seek out freelance work instead of a salaried position? What if a student wants to wait a few more months before applying to jobs? All of these scenarios create difficult complexity in calculating a placement rate, but are best for various Bloc students!  This requires specialized attention for every student from Bloc’s Mentorship and Student Outcomes teams. We’ve learned the importance of assessing every student’s’ career goals even before they begin the program. Where does the student live? What is their current skill set? What is the student’s desired outcome? Do they have a family to support? We know students enroll to make a life change, and we help and advise them with their goals in mind, not a placement rate.

6. Physical presence is simply not a requirement. We believe that the individualization of an online program will provide better outcomes than an in-person bootcamp! Students can slow down in the areas they struggle in, speed up in the areas they grasp quickly, and focus their learning on their strengths and passions. Student persistence, experienced mentors, a project-based approach, and genuine student advocacy in career support are the most important factors for success, and none of those required an in-person learning format.

To date, 248 Bloc grads have successfully switched careers. Most are working in full-time salaried positions, some are working as freelancers, others launched new companies. We are bursting with pride at everything they’ve accomplished, and we’re eager to help the next 5,000 students do the same!

In the future, Bloc will publish an official Outcomes Report, which will isolate our career-focused programs for measurement. It’s too early for Bloc to publish these success metrics, as only a handful of the hundreds of students who enrolled in our career-focused programs last year have graduated and are within the post-graduate recruiting phase.

Genuine student advocacy is a core value at Bloc, and we hope you’ll come to find that our approach to outcomes is true to that value. If you have any question or concerns about our approach, please write us at outcomes@bloc.io.

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Bloc Alumni Spotlight: Rene Gomez

Rene Gomez

Rene Gomez has joined the ranks of our growing number of exemplary graduates. When Rene first enrolled in Bloc, Rene’s experience was impressive – but not technical. After 18 years of serving as a police officer, pastor, and counselor, Rene was craved a new, different, type of challenge. Unwilling to attend a traditional university, he found Bloc to be the best alternative. Now, Rene is working as a Developer at Onovative. We conducted a Q&A with Rene to learn more about him and his learning journey.

Why did you enroll in Bloc to begin with?
“I started doing the basic search to figure out how to how to program that wasn’t college and masters. I already have both and I’m really sick of formal classroom instruction. I didn’t want to write any more papers. I was looking for something much more hands on and I knew there was a lot of cool stuff online.

It came down to two places online that offered mentors. It was between Thinkful and Bloc. I don’t know! I just liked Bloc. I liked the flexibility. That conversation with Andy, my Bloc Student Advisor, was really significant.”

What were you doing before you enrolled in Bloc?
“Before Bloc, I worked with teenagers and families and people in crisis. I’ve been a pastor for the past 18 years. I did a lot of counseling and helping people… there was also a small stint as a police officer. I was a cop for just over a year.”

Tell us more about your job! Where do you work and what’s your role?
“I’m now a Developer at Onovative.”

How excited are you for this opportunity?
“I’m so pumped. After working with my mentor, Ben Simmons, it really helped me solidify that I want to work with a live team at my first job. I knew I wanted to work locally, in person. I applied, didn’t think I would get it, and was surprised that I got it!”

How was the job-hunt process?
“I’m sometimes overconfident. I would say after a couple of months with Bloc, I decided to see if a place would even consider me knowing what I know. I started applying for jobs starting November. Did an initial screening, did a code review online and totally bombed it. Did a second one, they wanted me to relocate. Third one, no response. Fourth was this one.”

What was the hardest part of your learning journey?
“The hardest part was first trying to do FizzBuzz. I was awful. I felt like I understood things decently, but then I got this coding challenge and I didn’t even know where to begin. I must have spent all day on it. And I was still working full time, so I was tired and it was a lot.”

What advice would you give to other Bloc students?
“I was kind of embarrassed at times because my mentor is so good at this and I’m not.
Getting used to, or writing out, the steps of what I want to do is really important. I read that piece of advice in the beginning and didn’t take it seriously. Sitting down, understanding the problem, writing out what you understand and don’t is essential. Writing out how to approach the problem is SO helpful. I’d say that’s the number one thing that I did that helped.”


At Bloc, we’re driven to help individuals change their lives by transitioning into careers they’re passionate about. We offer mentor-led online programs comparable to in-person bootcamps. To check out the programs we offer, go here. #hacktheplanet

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Comparing Salaries for Coding Bootcamps vs. Computer Science Degrees

By Prasid Pathak, Head of Student Advising

One of the most common questions we get here at Bloc is:  “Don’t I need a Computer Science Degree to become a developer?”

The answer, in our opinion, is no. Last year President Obama pointed to bootcamps – saying “It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code.” He was referring to an economic shift from a credential-based economy to a skill-based economy.  Employers and hiring managers care less about where you went to school and more about your ability to deliver high quality work as a dedicated contributor to a team.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code.”

Recently, our friends over at Stack Overflow published some data that actually shows that this shift happening.

Stack Overflow (Quora for Developers) just released their 2016 industry wide survey of over 56,000 developers. They found that 57% of developers don’t have a CS degree. Even more telling, bootcamps (an institution that didn’t exist 5 years ago) now represent 6.5% of the industry. So no, you don’t need a degree to get hired.

The second question we often get is “Won’t I be more successful if I have a degree?” The answer to this one surprised even me.  Up until recently, we probably would have advised students that if they can afford to quit their job and go back to get a degree in Computer Science, they would probably be able to command a better salary if they did.

But that appears to be changing.

Global Salaries for Coding Bootcamps vs. Computer Science Degrees

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Among the many fascinating statistics in Stack Overflow’s report (like that developers under age 50 prefer Star Wars to Star Trek, which, as a staunch Picard fanatic, sorta broke my heart), they also broke out salaries by education-type. This first chart shows global salaries normalized across country.

US Salaries for Coding Bootcamps vs. Computer Science Degrees

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The second shows salaries for developers in the US.  On both graphs, those with a Masters degree earn the most. However bootcamp graduates are one of the top 3 earners. In the US bootcamp graduates earn on average $6000 more than developers with a Bachelors in Computer Science!

So the answer to “won’t I be more successful if I have a degree” is actually unclear. Our answer today is “maybe, but maybe not for much longer.”

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Alumni Spotlight: Fong Fan

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At Bloc, we’ve taken note of how impressive our student body is. Just when we think our alumni have done it all, we hear from several more about how they’ve built incredible products, successfully pursued entrepreneurship, or transitioned into newer, better careers. We had the opportunity to interview one of our many outstanding graduates, Fong Fan, who recently joined the Adorable team as a developer.

Tell me about yourself, Fong! Who are you, and how did you end up enrolling in Bloc? What were you doing before you enrolled in Bloc?

  • I was working at Epic as a technical services engineer, solving technical software problems for hospital organizations. The problems ranged from operational to technical and I gained a lot of exposure to hospital policies and workflows. The philosophy of customer success drove a lot of the corporate culture and was heavily incorporated in my day to day decisions. Overall, I gained a wide breadth of experience in technical problem solving, project management, and customer service through my tenure at Epic.

Tell me more about your new job as a Developer after Bloc! Where do you work and what’s your role?

  • Adorable is a software development consulting company that delivers web services backed solutions. We work directly with clients to ensure their success, whether that means developing a product for them from scratch or providing them with some of our extremely talented engineers to work on building out new features or addressing their pain points.
  • My role so far has been mainly focused on learning the technologies that we specialize in and getting up to speed on them. I have only been there for a month so far but I’ve been focused on honing my front end skills by learning React.js as well as prototyping a project to determine its fit in the market. I have also been helping out with YWeb  (a web development career training program for underrepresented groups in the technology field) as well as the local Ruby on Rails Meetup group – both of which are sponsored by Adorable IO.

Are you excited for this opportunity?

  • I have been really grateful for how welcoming the team has been as well as the emphasis on mentorship. I’ve definitely learned a lot in my first few weeks and I’ve been exposed to a lot of stuff I otherwise never would have seen (at least for a while). I definitely have a large mountain to climb but I’m glad I’ll be doing so with the team at Adorable.

How was the job-hunt process?

  • Grueling. Most of my online applications were probably filtered out or flat out rejected. I had more success with referrals and companies that were familiar with bootcamp students/had an onboarding program. In the end though, I found Adorable through the local meetup where I was able to establish a relationship with Jim (founder of Adorable).  To be honest, this aligned with all the various articles I’ve read regarding job hunting – it’s not necessarily what you know, but who.

What are your next steps?

  • I’m going to spend a lot of time at work and outside of work continuing my education and building my skills. At work, I focus on pairing, working on projects, and learning from the wide breadth of knowledge of my co-workers. Outside of work, I listen to podcasts (Ruby Rogues, JavaScript Jabber, TEDTalks), practice on Upcase, read blogs, and talk shop with some developer friends. But don’t worry – I still play volleyball, watch TV, and grab drinks with friends to keep my sanity. 😉

What’s something you know now that you wish you would’ve known when you started Bloc?

  • Learning is hard. In school, we learn to pass exams and then forget it all (mostly). In real life, we have to learn and continue to build on pre-existing knowledge and experience to continue pushing the boundaries of what we can accomplish. This is a different mindset that I learned to adopt as I progressed through Bloc. I realized that a good curriculum and a great mentor can only take you so far. If there’s a concept or a technology that you want to learn to use, you really need to have the grit and passion to learn it yourself.

What was the hardest part of your learning journey?

  • (basically what I had above – that learning to create software is not going to be simple and straightforward)

What advice would you give to other Bloc students?

  • Don’t expect anything to come easy. It’s a tough career with lots of challenges and roadblocks. Despite having a formal education in engineering and having taken a few computer sciences courses, completing the curriculum at Bloc required me to spend a lot of time studying. I spent several hours a day (balancing a full time job in a challenging role) learning and struggling through the exercises.

A lot of students, while they go through Bloc, often feel defeated when they’re at the toughest part of the learning curve. If you could give any words of encouragement, what would it be?

  • Stick with it. Grit is often the defining characteristic of successful people. This means debugging, researching, posting on Stack Overflow, reaching out to the slack community, or talking with your mentor – whatever you need to do to get the job done.
  • I liked watching/listening to motivational videos on YouTube when I felt unmotivated. Nothing like listening to CT Fletcher or Arnold Schwarzenegger to get pumped up about writing some code! One of my role models is Elon Musk so I get motivated listening to his talks about his inspirations and motivations.

Where do you see yourself in one year?

  • In one year, I better be looking back at the code I’m writing now and thinking “This is some damn awful code. Who wrote this? Oh… me”.      
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Now Arriving, A New Kind of Designer

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By Chris Courtney, Lead Design Mentor at Bloc

Less than a month ago, KPCB John Maeda outlined his vision for the evolution of the modern designer while unveiling the latest edition of his #DesignInTech report at SXSW.

The high-level overview of these future designers includes:

  • Ability to build to business needs while maintaining empathy for the individual customer.
  • Can operate with fluidity on large projects, designing for customers at scale.
  • Delivery high quality design work that customers require in the products they trust.

While Maeda painted these individuals as something that will exist in the future, we know that these designers exist today—because they lead some of tech’s biggest success stories. AirBNB, SoFi, Pinterest, Slack, Github and scores of others were co-founded by designers who resemble the outline that Maeda describes.

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It’s no surprise then, that as employers look to great design as a way to differentiate, the demand for great designers will grow commensurately. CNN named design one of the best jobs of 2015, projecting the market for designers to grow 18% over the next 10 years.  

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 5.42.52 PMNor do we foresee an end to this growth. There will never be enough designers in a world that continues to create new screens (TVs, Watches, VR) to interact with and new systems so complex they never truly finished (Facebook, Twitter, Android, iOS).

 

Now add to the mix an education and training landscape ill-equipped to deliver the quality and scale of design talent required by a rapidly evolving vision for this ideal designer. University programs have been slow to adapt both to the increased demand for technical skills, as well as to the specific skills students need to be employable.

That’s why we are thrilled to announce that Bloc is launching the 24-week Product Design Track to prepare students for a new profession as a next-generation digital product designer.

Today.

 

So What is a Product Designer?

The industry has many names for these polymaths who who take a holistic approach to designing digital products and services. Whether you prefer Design Unicorn, Full Stack Designer, or Product Designer, this new breed of design leader unifies a product’s design across workflow, user experience, user interaction, and visual design to create a seamless product or service. Product Designers are able to see the forest and the trees together. They guide and shepherd the overall experience.

Over the past three years, we have worked closely with companies around the globe to determine the core skills that enable product designers to immediately contribute in the workplace and created a program to consistently produce designers that understand how to build products that solve problems for their users while meeting business requirements. Additionally, our graduates can articulate the design process while carrying out ALL of its component parts (research, building, testing, deployment) – a comprehensive skillset critical for anyone who is going to be working on a cross-functional team for years to come.

Our new Product Design Track combines a new curriculum with a stronger network of industry leading mentors to deliver a comprehensive training regimen for aspiring designers. Coupled with a rigorous review and testing process, Bloc graduates emerge ready to go straight to work as a professional designer, with extensive experience working closely with an experienced design mentor to hone their skills…

I’m proud of the work that the Design Mentor & Curriculum teams at Bloc have done to bring this new offering to life and know that we’re going to be celebrating the launch of even more design careers with the Product Design Track.

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What Companies Look for in Software Developers

Software developer positions are highly desired. Just as astronauts, Supreme Court justices, and Hogwarts professors must have a variety of skills and knowledge, software developers have a combination of technical knowledge and soft skills. This post explores the skills that many companies look for.

 

Familiarity With Multiple Languages

While many software developers find themselves working primarily in only one language, it’s helpful to have experience in others. Fluency in multiple languages exposes developers to different design patterns and allows them to work on a wider variety of projects. Software developers working in web development may want experience in a backend language like Ruby or Python and a frontend language like JavaScript or CoffeeScript. In iOS app development, developers should know Objective-C and Swift. A person who knows multiple languages is called a polyglot, and this skill set is highly desired.

 

Knowledge of Modern Software Development Tools

To be effective, software developers need to know how to use modern tools:

– version control software (like Git)
– issue trackers (like Jira and Pivotal Tracker)
– web computing services (like Amazon AWS and Heroku)
– database programming software (like SQLite and PostgreSQL)

The knowledge of these is critical to the duties of a developer. Without knowing the tools that modern teams use, it may be difficult to collaborate with team members, organize source code, or prioritize tasks.

 

Strong Negotiation Skills

Software developers are responsible for implementing new features. As part of this process, they’ll need to work with developers and engineers on their team to select a specific approach. Debate, disagreement, and discussion are common, so negotiation, conflict management, and compromise skills are very important. While the computer programming part of the job is critical, software developers are expected to be team players who contribute more than simply churning out code.

 

Understanding of Algorithms, Data Structures, and Complexity

Great code should be understandable and maintainable, but it should also perform efficiently. To write performant code, software developers need to understand how data structures, algorithms, and complexity relate. Different structures for storing data (like queues, graphs, trees, hash tables, etc.) can improve the way data is organized. Algorithms can provide different ways to search or sort this data, and different algorithms are preferred for different use cases. Complexity measurement, analysis, and optimization allows us to describe, measure, and improve the performance of a solution for a given problem.

Combined, these skills allow software engineers to write code that runs faster or takes up less space. Everybody hates to wait, so this work can vastly improve a user’s enjoyment of a product. Great performance can also help a product survive longer because it has a good foundation.

 

Task Organization and Management

Software engineers are given a wide variety of tasks from small but critical bug fixes to architecting a major project. While issue trackers like Jira and Pivotal Tracker can help organize these tasks, engineers must comprehend the tasks and their relative priority, consider co-workers and customers whose work depends on these tasks, and organize their workflow accordingly. Critical thinking about task and workflow management is an important part of software development.

 

Practice

Whether it’s previous jobs, open-source software contributions, or your own personal projects, software engineers are expected to have practice working with large and complex code bases. This helps them understand how different parts of a program work together, which enables them to effectively add features and understand the cause of bugs.

 

 

Considering a career in software engineering? Consider learning with your own personal mentor in Bloc’s Software Engineering Track.

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Why Apprenticeships Are on the Rise

Ask any VP of Engineering or CTO, and they’ll tell you hiring talented developers is getting harder. Meanwhile, ask one of the millions of underemployed millennials, and they’ll say they are willing to learn, but can’t get their foot in the door. Apprenticeship was once a commonplace feature of the American economy, but for the last 30 years it has been in decline. Apprenticeships are the critical link to closing the skills gap for employers and reducing unemployment for millennials.

To understand why apprenticeships can bridge the gap, let’s take a look at the marketplace for technical talent.

Traditional Universities are Failing Us

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First, the gap between supply and demand for technical talent is widening. On the supply side of the marketplace for technical talent, we have universities. According to the Department of Labor, 400,000 new CS grads will enter the workforce between 2010 and 2020. In that same period, nearly 1.4 million new tech jobs will be created. That’s a shortage – a skills gap of – 1 million more jobs than graduates.

Second, even those students graduating in computer science, aren’t prepared for careers in software engineering. Universities care about helping students become job-ready. But that isn’t their singular goal. Many also seek to teach a liberal arts education and to publish ground-breaking research. Because of this, there is no singular focus on one goal. As a result, students graduate ill-prepared for industry. According to Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, employers are seeing “a real lack of applicability in terms of skill level” from college graduates.

For example, top tier university computer science curricula often include courses in advanced math, physics, compilers, and operating systems. When we surveyed engineers at top companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon, they told us they used less than 25% of their university education in their career. According to Rob Gonzales, co-founder of Salsify, “many ‘core’ CS courses really aren’t that critical for becoming very productive engineers. I’ve never had to write a compiler or operating system in my career, and the last time I thought about finite automata was 2001 when I was studying them myself.”

Meanwhile, few universities teach essential skills a software engineer will use every day. According to Mo Kudeki, a Software Engineer at Twitter, “Although I went to a top Computer Science program, there are software engineering topics that we never covered that are crucial to being a great engineer, like how to methodically debug something, and how to give and receive a good code review.”

All of these factors combined result in a tremendous mismatch between the skills with which American students graduate and the skills needed by employers.

Employers are Hungry But Ill-Equipped to Train

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While employers are hungry to recruit great talent, their appetite for growing that talent themselves has been declining for the past decade. According to Lauren Weber of the WSJ, apprenticeships in the US have declined over 30% from 2003 to 2013.

Furthermore, even those companies that want to provision such training may be unable to do so. Training programs require experienced instructors. According to Gonzales, “you must have someone to manage the program full time, including doing daily coaching, code reviews, design sessions, planning sessions, one-on-ones, communication outside of the group to gather requirements, etc. This person should be respected throughout the organization, as getting the program started and effective is going to be a bumpy road that will draw on company resources even beyond the coach.”

Unfortunately, the shortage of technical talent has left most companies without the bench strength to fill existing headcount and also train a large pool of junior developers. According to Marcy Capron, the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Polymathic: “Companies don’t have an infrastructure for ongoing learning. We really need a guide to mentoring junior devs. Hourly consulting firms can’t afford it because you can’t bill mentoring to the client.

We’re Seeing Renewed Investment and Innovation in Technical Skills Training

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So with universities failing us, and employers hungry but unable to grow their own talent, a new breed of apprenticeship-like programs have leveraged technology to deliver better outcomes, more affordably than ever before. Computer science bootcamps put students through compressed programs to prepare them for coding jobs. These bootcamp programs have found traction with employers and graduates alike. The first coding bootcamp was founded just four years ago, but Course Report estimates that over 150 bootcamps graduated more than 16,000 alumni in 2015 – a combined estimated market of $180M, up from $0 in 2011.

According to Western Governors University President Bob Mendenhall in the Washington Post “Neither accreditation nor regulation has caught up with the power of technology to impact both the quality and cost and accessibility of higher education.” And last month, Udacity raised $105 Million bringing their valuation to $1 billion, Dev Bootcamp was acquired by Kaplan, and Bloc recently announced a year-long Software Engineering Track, which includes a 3 month apprenticeship, before students start the job search. And now a slew of specialized apprenticeship programs are emerging.

Employees are also more open to non-traditional university education than ever before. According to a 2014 survey by Glassdoor, 72 percent of employees said they value specialized training over earning a degree. What’s more, 63 percent of respondents said they believe that nontraditional ways of learning new skills — such as certificate programs, bootcamps, webinars and massive open online courses — could help them earn a bigger paycheck. This growth for nontraditional skills training may be coming at the expense of graduate programs, with more than half (53%) of employees saying a graduate degree is no longer necessary to be offered a high-paying job.

So What Should We Expect to See in 2016?

As apprentice-like programs cross the chasm from early adopters to early majority, we may see see savvy millennials foregoing the traditional 4-year campus experience in favor of a leaner hybrid, pairing community college with a technical apprenticeship that gets them into the workforce and learning on the job earlier and with less debt.

With the hype around coding bootcamps reaching it’s zenith, we may see these programs coming full-circle, as they begin adding-back curriculum covering the computer science theory that they once eschewed.

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Amazon Teams Up With Bloc to Launch Alexa Developer Training

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We’ve teamed up with Amazon to teach Bloc students how to create new capabilities, or skills, for Alexa, the voice service that powers the Amazon Echo.

At Bloc you’ll learn cutting-edge technologies and industry-relevant skills. Gartner has named ‘Internet of Things’ one of the top trends disrupting technology in 2016 and beyond, which is why it’s important for you to gain experience working with these devices. Alexa is a perfect place to start, because it can be used to control smart home devices like the Amazon Echo, NEST thermostats, Philips Hue lightbulbs, and Belkin WeMo switches.

This is Bloc’s second Internet of Things project (our first was a project to create an Apple Watch app). The new Alexa project is available to those who enroll in Rails Web Development, Frontend Web Development, the Full Stack Track, or the Software Engineering Career Track.

Why You Should Learn to create Alexa Skills

Completing the Alexa project offers these rewards:

  • First, your new skills will be published in the Alexa app (Amazon’s voice app store), which will in and of itself be a great addition to your portfolio.
  • Second, you’ll gain experience with three additional platforms: Amazon’s Alexa Skills Kit, AWS Lambda (part of Amazon Web Services), and the NodeJS backend JavaScript framework.
  • Third, if you get your Alexa skills certified by June 30, 2016, you’ll be eligible to receive a free Amazon Echo. This is a Bloc exclusive benefit.
  • Finally, try your luck at getting a job on the Alexa team! Work with your mentor and the career support team at Bloc to polish your portfolio and resume, and submit your application for one of the Alexa team openings.

More About Amazon Alexa

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Alexa adds voice capabilities to devices like Amazon Echo, Fire TV, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap. Alexa is well-positioned to be at the center of a connected home, has been the subject of Super Bowl ads, and is being hailed by many as the most game-changing platform since iPhone. The Alexa developer community has already released over 400 skills including teaching the Amazon Echo to order a pizza from Domino’s, call an Uber, play a song on Spotify, and connect with dozens of IoT devices.

“We’re delighted to collaborate with Bloc to help developers and designers learn more about Voice User Interface Design and how to build Alexa skills,” said Rob Pulciani, Director of Alexa. “We look forward to seeing more great Alexa skills from the developer community. Their creativity is making Alexa even better for customers.”

 

Alexa Skills Created by Bloc Students

Henry Schaumburger is a graduate of Bloc’s Full Stack Developer Track and was part of the pilot program for the new Alexa project. Henry and his mentor Mark Carpenter decided to create an Alexa skill that looks up the geographic location of a telephone area code. Check out a recording of his Alexa skill at Henry’s portfolio website.

Attend the Alexa TechTalk

Henry and Mark hosted an online TechTalk about how they built their first skill with Alexa. They cover how they used two platforms — Alexa Skills Kit and AWS Lambda (part of Amazon Web Services), and the JavaScript runtime environment Node, to create this simple skill. Check out the recording here: Getting Started with Alexa TechTalk

Happy Hacking!

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