Meet Jack Pope, Marketer Turned Web Developer

jack_pope_blog_posstWe had the chance to catch up with Rails Web Development alum Jack Pope, on what life has been like post-Bloc. Originally from Connecticut, Pope recently moved to New York after accepting a job as a web developer at Tsu, a social media company.

Before enrolling in Bloc, Jack was a photographer and internet marketer. As he got involved with the more technical aspects of his job as a marketer, Jack’s interest in web development was piqued. Although he had some experience with HTML and CSS, he found himself wanting more.

Determined to learn, Jack looked into on-site coding bootcamps in his area. While applying, he kept running into the same dilemma: the upcoming cohorts weren’t starting for another 4-5 months. He refused to wait that long; his mind was set, and he wanted to start programming immediately.

Jack found Bloc, an online alternative to the on-premise programming schools that allowed him to start almost immediately. According to Jack, “Bloc’s just way more practical.” He gave his 2-week notice, and started his course at Bloc.

After completing Bloc’s 12-week Rails Web Development course, he started freelancing and adding projects to his Bloc-built portfolio. “I definitely learned a lot at Bloc and it was a great foundation, but the extra time to work on real projects after Bloc was really important.” Equipped with Bloc’s 12-week course and eight additional months of freelance work, Jack was ready to get a web developer job. He started his job hunt in September, and accepted his offer at Tsu in December.

For Jack, the job hunt was tough but crucial for learning. As expected, there were many rejections before he found the job he wanted. When asked about what he learned from his job search post-Bloc, Jack said, “The interviews you go in for and get rejected from are still really useful. I wouldn’t have passed the interview for this job had it not been for the previous interviews I went through. In each interview, I picked up a different skill and learned how to answer questions in a better way. Even the ones you end up not wanting or getting rejected from are worth having because they’ll help you prepare for the right interview and right job.”

So, what’s Jack up to now? As a Connecticut transplant in New York, Jack is busy working at Tsu, eating all of New York’s delicious food, and exploring the city he now calls home.

If you are looking for a similar career change, check out our Software Engineering Track.

Sign up for one of our upcoming online info sessions to learn more.

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4 Ways 12-Week Coding Bootcamps Fall Short

If you think a traditional 12-week coding bootcamp will land you a job as a software engineer, think again. Here are four reasons why:

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  1. 500 hours won’t get you job-ready.

The number of hours you spend practicing is the best predictor of your success. If you’re learning to code from scratch, 12 weeks will get you hacking, but it won’t give you the time and practice necessary to hone the skills employers require. Employers look for candidates with a deep understanding of Computer Science fundamentals and experience working in existing code bases, not just an ability to hack things together. Bloc’s Software Engineering track provides 2,000 hours of training and was designed specifically to provide the combination of skills and practical experience employers want.

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  1. 12 weeks can’t cover all the required skills.

To land a highly coveted software engineering job, employers expect you to know at least two programming languages, and have experience with version control, issue trackers, database programming, design patterns, open-source contributions, and the connections between HTML, CSS, and HTTP. We didn’t just pull this list out of a hat: we interviewed managers at top engineering firms like Google, Yelp, and Amazon. They agreed: coding bootcamp grads are missing many of these critical skills. 12-week bootcamps only give you the tip of the iceberg, while Bloc’s Software Engineering Track includes Computer Science fundamentals and a mentor-guided open-source apprenticeship.

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  1. Classroom learning can’t compete with personal mentorship.

When you learn a new skill as complex as software engineering, you will get stuck. Something won’t work, you’ll encounter a bug, or a concept will prove difficult to understand. If you’re in a classroom, the class moves forward and leaves you behind. That’s why you need a personal mentor during your learning journey. Getting unstuck is a critical part of learning but it can’t be entirely self-directed. A mentor will share advice, help you stay on track, and even help you practice for technical job interviews. Most other programs only offer minimal one-on-one help, but Bloc’s Software Engineering Track will provide powerful accountability and guidance that’s impossible to provide in a classroom setting.

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  1. Most coding bootcamps don’t guarantee you’ll find a job… and many that do don’t guarantee a real salary.

To determine how effective a course is, see if the program puts their money where their mouth is:

  • Udacity only guarantees “that your gross income from such job will be in excess of your cost of tuition (pre-tax) within a 3 month period following job placement”. That’s an annual salary of only $14,352 if you take their Senior Web Developer program for 12 months — less than minimum wage.
  • Thinkful’s guarantee doesn’t have a minimum salary at all.
  • In-person bootcamps like General Assembly, Dev Bootcamp, and Hack Reactor don’t even have a guarantee.
  • Bloc’s Software Engineering Track has a Tuition Refund Guarantee. If you don’t get a job paying at least $60,000 per year within 120 days of graduation, we’ll refund your tuition.
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The Path to Mastery in Software Engineering

By Mike Jewett, Head of Curriculum

Bloc’s Software Engineering Track takes approximately 2,000 hours to complete. Depending on your pace, we distribute those hours across 48 or 72 weeks. That’s a long time, and students often ask if they can complete the track faster. Our answer is unequivocally, “no.” We insist on 2,000 hours because — like mentorship, curriculum, platform, and community — adequate time is essential for learning a new skill. It can not be truncated, even in the spirit of hustle or efficiency. To understand why time is so important, you must first understand how we view the path to mastery.

Mastery

Any craft can be mastered, barring physical limitations. That is to say, I believe that I could become a masterful guitar player; but my dream of playing quarterback for the New York Giants is undoubtedly limited by my age, height, speed, strength, and my body’s inability to absorb blind-side sacks delivered by 250 pound linebackers.

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Illustration by Joey Kirk, Curriculum Developer at Bloc

But most crafts can be mastered, and the path to mastery has been well-defined for hundreds of years. During the middle ages, an apprenticeship system emerged where young adults lived, worked, and learned from an experienced mentor — a master. An apprentice signed a contract and spent seven years learning a craft like metalwork, medicine, cobbling, or tailoring. After their apprenticeship, the apprentice became a master, established their own business, and mentored apprentices of their own.

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Illustration by Joey Kirk, Curriculum Developer at Bloc

The apprenticeship system of the middle ages was successful, and still applies to current crafts, like electrical work, which has a standard apprenticeship of four years. The apprenticeship system is successful because of three factors: mentorship, practice, and time. In the middle ages, masters provided the mentorship and the apprenticeship contract ensured that practice and time were accounted for. Let’s discuss each of these factors.

Mentorship

A mentor is more than a teacher. Mentors know how to teach, but they are also masters of their craft. A mentor adapts to their apprentice and their apprentice’s learning curve. They understand when to pressure the apprentice, when to help, and when to challenge. A mentor can predict when the apprentice will struggle and adjust their lesson accordingly.

A mentor ensures that the apprentice practices realistically; they know that the apprentice can get only so far with drills and menial tasks, the apprentice must also work on real projects. The mentor knows how to administer these lessons effectively. In Mastery, Robert Greene discusses the benefits of learning from a mentor:

“Mentors do not give you a shortcut, but they streamline the process. They invariably had their own great mentors, giving them a richer and deeper knowledge of their field. Their ensuing years of experience taught them invaluable lessons and strategies for learning. Their knowledge and experience become yours; they can direct you away from unnecessary side paths or errors.They observe you at work and provide real-time feedback, making your practice time more efficient. Their advice is tailored to your circumstances and your needs. Working Closely with them, you absorb the essence of their creative spirit, which you can now adapt in your own way. What took you ten years on your own could have been done in five with proper direction.”

Practice

When you commit to learning a craft, you accumulate personal debt. “I will become a grandmaster chess player” is a lofty goal that will require an arduous apprenticeship. The only way to pay down a debt is with consistent payments over the course of months or years. In an apprenticeship, your payment is practice.

Your payment may be small one day and large the next – 30 minutes of practicing chess tactics or 4 hours of match play – but the key is that you keep paying. Any debt can be paid off, as long as you commit to a regular payment schedule. Consistent practice is absolute with an apprenticeship, without it there is no path to mastery.

Practice is effective enough to overcome the lack of natural abilities. Bill Bradley was tall as an adolescent, but not athletically gifted. Despite his lack of natural aptitude for the game, he fell in love with basketball and committed himself to playing it well. In another excerpt from Mastery, Robert Greene explains Bradley’s approach:

“Managing to get his hands on the keys to the high school gym, he created for himself a schedule–three and a half hours of practice after school and on Sundays, eight hours every Saturday, and three hours a day during the summer. Over the years, he would keep rigidly to this schedule. In the gym, he would put ten-pound weights in his shoes to strengthen his legs and give him more spring to his jump. His greatest weaknesses, he decided, were his dribbling and his overall slowness. He would have to work on these and also transform himself into a superior passer to make up for his lack of speed.”

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Illustration by Joey Kirk, Curriculum Developer at Bloc

Through disciplined and consistent practice, Bradley became an all-time great professional basketball player. He mastered a craft that’s constrained by physical attributes, which is a remarkable achievement. After he retired from basketball, Bradley applied similar rigor and work ethic to another craft he was not naturally suited for – politics. He served three terms as a U.S. Senator for New Jersey, and a campaigned for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination.

Time

Time is the most misunderstood factor in the path to mastery, because a beginner  underestimates how long it takes to become proficient at a new craft. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell postulates that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a craft. This has become commonly known as the “10,000 hour rule,” and has proliferated in both supporters and detractors. Gladwell defended the rule in his article Complexity and the Ten-Thousand-Hour Rule. Gladwell cited the conclusion of a 40 year old study about expertise, regarding their research of chess grandmasters:

“There are no instant experts in chess—certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions…”

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Illustration by Joey Kirk, Curriculum Developer at Bloc

The time it takes to master a craft depends on the person, the craft, and the mentor, though 10,000 hours seems to be a reasonable average for most cognitive crafts. For 99.99% of people, there are no exceptions to this average. Mastery takes time, and there are no shortcuts.

An Apprenticeship for the 21st Century

The need for cobblers isn’t what it once was, but as software eats the world, the need for software engineers grows. The craft of software engineering lends itself to the apprenticeship system. It is complex and requires skills in reasoning, logic, art, math, and theory. Software’s complexity requires masters to develop it, and teach it.

Unfortunately constraints such as time, money, and competition in business impact the ability for masters to train apprentices. Formal software apprenticeships exist – thoughtbot, 8th Light, and Trunk Club offer paid apprenticeships where apprentices train with master software developers – but these apprenticeships are limited. They last only several months, are offered in specific locations, and admit a small number of apprentices.

These limitations demonstrate the difficulty with scaling apprenticeship programs. Coding bootcamps attempt to solve the problem of scale by offering online and and classroom-based focused training, but they lack the key factors of mentorship and time. The average coding bootcamp lasts 12 weeks, or approximately 500 hours.

Hours of Practice

This is the average learning curve for becoming a software professional. The minimum number of hours needed to become a proficient, entry-level full stack web developer is approximately 1,000 hours. After consulting with world-class engineering teams, we learned that there is a skills gap between a full stack web developer and software engineer, which neither coding bootcamps nor universities are addressing.

We believe that this skill gap can be closed with an additional 1,000 hours of focused practice, which is why we require a minimum of 2,000 hours for our Software Engineering Track. We support this requirement with a tuition reimbursement policy – if you’re not able to start a career as a software engineer after graduation, we’ll refund your entire tuition. We are able to make such a guarantee because we know that the apprenticeship model is effective, given proper mentorship and 2,000 hours of consistent and focused practice.

Bloc’s mission is to offer software engineering mentorship at scale; to provide a way for anyone, anywhere to learn software engineering as an apprentice. The tuition pays for the factors required in the path to mastery:

  • Our mentors and curriculum teach students and provide realistic practice through building software and contributing to open-source software.
  • Our platform ensures that students develop a consistent and focused practice schedule.
  • Our track is paced for 2,000 hours, which ensures that a student has spent enough time as an apprentice to begin work as a professional software engineer.

While it would be interesting to offer a 10,000 hour program for software engineering mastery, we believe that 2,000 hours is an appropriate amount of time to start a new career as a professional software engineer. A graduate of our Software Engineering Track will understand how to learn from a mentor, they will have disciplined habits and practice consistently, and with these skills internalized, they will know that the path to mastery is simply a matter of time.

It’s an inspirational idea – to think that you can master a craft with such a simple formula. Seek mentorship, find realistic ways to practice your skills, develop consistency in your schedule, and practice for years. You will become a master.

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Bloc Acquires DevBridge

by Roshan Choxi, Co-Founder and CEO

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We recently announced the launch of our Software Engineering Track. Our goal with the Software Engineering Track is to build the best program for engineering education; more robust than a coding bootcamp but more modern than a computer science degree. We designed our curriculum with input from the best engineering teams and built a team of mentors with an average of more than 9 years of professional engineering experience. To cap off the program, we acquired DevBridge: a career services startup that has worked with many San Francisco coding bootcamps to prepare and place their graduates. Here’s what students and employer partners of DevBridge said:

“It was challenging to find a job coming out of a bootcamp. DevBridge swept in and not only found me an amazing junior position in no time, but has continued to support me with whatever information I have needed now that I’m employed.”

-Majd Murad, Software Engineer @ Rhumbix

“We were blown away by the quality of DevBridge engineers and can’t wait to work with future Bloc grads.”

-Carlo Almendral, SVP Product @ SixUp PBC

Our curriculum sets the structure for a comprehensive program which covers full stack development, data structures, algorithms, complexity analysis, framework architecture, design patterns, and open-source software engineering. Raw technical skills are important, but soft skills and meta skills are basic requirements for succeeding as a professional software engineer. Staying in tune with the industry and trends, practicing communication and collaboration, managing your psychology, and guiding your career are all fundamental to building a prosperous career as an engineer or designer.

We’re excited to acquire DevBridge and bring on its founder and CEO, Courtland Alves, as our Director of Student Outcomes. He’ll lead the integration of job preparation into our curriculum and train our mentor team to guide students into new careers. Bloc exists because the world needs better engineering and design education, and student outcomes are the clearest barometer of our success. DevBridge will be a major upgrade for our students and a great step towards making our Software Engineering Track the gold standard for engineering education.

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Don’t Learn to Code in 2016

by Mike Jewett, Head of Curriculum

If you want to fail at something, make it your New Year’s resolution. “I will get in shape,” “I will be a better friend,” and “I will learn to code” are all unattainable goals. Goals in general are misguided and formless ideas. Achieving something is the result of many small steps performed consistently, not the result of an intangible idea.

I’ve worked at Bloc for three years, and have seen many students learn to code and change their careers. I’ve also seen students fail. I believe most students fail because they focus on the goal of learning to code, rather than the steps for learning to code. If you want to become a developer in 2016, don’t make learning to code your goal. Instead, complete small tasks related to coding, and do them consistently. Each of the tasks below requires only 10 minutes. To kickstart your new coding habit, do at least one per day. I’ve outlined six tasks, so even if you do all of them in a day, you’ll only spend an hour.

Sign up for GitHub and Watch a Repository

GitHub is where developers collaborate on software. You won’t be able to contribute code right away, but there’s no reason not to sign up for a free GitHub account. A GitHub account allows you to follow developers and source code (known as repositories, or “repos” in GitHub). Pick a few repositories and follow them by selecting the “Watching” notification, shown below:

watch_repo

You’ll receive emails when developers update the repositories you watch. Read the updates and focus on the narrative – you won’t understand the code yet – just read the comments and get a sense of what the developer is trying to do with the code they submitted. Here are a few active repos you can watch, though the actual repo isn’t as important as becoming comfortable in GitHub, and learning how developers collaborate.

  • Twitter Bootstrap – The most popular HTML, CSS, and JavaScript framework for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web
  • jQuery – A JavaScript library that makes it easy to program dynamic web site interfaces
  • HTML5 Boilerplate – A professional front-end template for building fast, robust, and adaptable web apps or sites
  • Ruby on Rails – A popular web application development framework

Codify Your Twitter Feed

Most prominent software engineers, developers, and designers use Twitter more than any other social media platform. Following them is a great way to learn about the software industry: trends, lingo, open source updates, hiring trends, etc. Unfollow Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, One Direction, and other people who don’t even tweet for themselves. If someone tweets their inane political ramblings – unfollow, pictures of their meals – unfollow. You get the picture; eliminate the noise in your Twitter feed. Once you’ve pruned your list of followings, consider following these prominent developers and companies:

  • Chad Fowler – Author, CTO, speaker, and early Ruby evangelist
  • Dave Thomas – Programmer turned publisher of one of the most well-respected technical book brands, The Pragmatic Bookshelf
  • David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) – Creator of Rails, CTO at Basecamp
  • GitHub – The world’s most popular code collaboration tool
  • John Resig – Creator of jQuery
  • Kent Beck – Author of Test-Driven Development, programmer at Facebook
  • thoughtbot – Well-respected development and design consulting firm, and prolific open source contributors
  • Yehuda Katz – Prolific open source developer, Rails contributor and Ember creator

This is a small list, but once you follow them you’ll receive recommendations for people like them. Spend 10 minutes per day reading their tweets, and you’ll start to learn about the software industry and how developers think and speak. The purpose is not to mimic them, it’s to understand them.

Ask a Question

I’m always surprised at how much I can learn when I simply ask the right person the right question. No matter if you’re a total beginner or an expert, you will always have questions when learning. To receive a good answer, you must ask a good question; yes, bad questions exist. A question is bad if it’s not asked thoughtfully. A thoughtful question provides context, is articulate, and has a defined scope. Here’s an example of a bad question:

I have a Ruby array of two fruits, and I can’t seem to access an element successfully. What does “nil” mean?

That’s a bad question because it’s impossible to answer without more information; it lacks context. How are you trying to access the element? Which element are you trying to access? Are you getting an error? If so, what’s the error? Does nil refer to the problem you’re having or something else? Ask a bad question like this, and you’ll get a bad answer.

A good question looks like this:

I just started to learn Ruby. I have an array consisting of two fruits: fruits_array = [“apple”, “banana”]. I’m trying to access “banana” by referencing fruits_array[2] but keep receiving “nil” in my irb. Why won’t it return “banana”?

This is a good question because it’s written well and is grammatically correct. It also provides adequate context: “I just started to learn Ruby,” “I’m trying to access by…,” “I keep receiving nil…,” etc. This question provides all the facts someone would need to answer it. It’s an easy question to answer for an experienced developer, which makes it likely that someone will answer it and answer it well.

There are many great places to ask questions. Quora is built for asking questions in general and Stack Overflow is built for asking technical questions. We’ve written “Getting Help on Stack Overflow” at Bloc, which provides details on using Stack Overflow. Once you have a GitHub account and have codified your Twitter feed, you can ask questions on those sites as well.

Write a Blog Post

Writing is one of the best ways to improve your coding skills, because it forces you to clearly articulate your intent. Coding forces you to articulate your intent as well, only to a computer instead of a person. You write for people, you code for computers, but you use the same thought process for both.

Write 100 words (less than half a page) about anything you’d like. The only constraint is that you must try to clearly articulate your thoughts. Medium is a great platform for writing, and integrates with your Twitter account. As a separate task, read Writing to Learn by William Zinsser. It will open your eyes to the power of writing.

Write Code

At some point, of course, you’ll actually need to write code. There are many places to write code – none better than a simple code editor on your laptop – though as a beginner you may want an easier place to start. Sign up for a free account with Codecademy and Codewars. Codecademy has tutorialized, in-browser courses that teach you the basics of programming syntax, while Codewars will challenge you to solve puzzles (called “katas”) with different programming languages. Both are great places to practice writing code.

Read Code

Reading code is an underappreciated practice. It may not be as exciting as writing code, but it is equally, if not more important. GitHub and Codewars are great places to read code. You don’t need to understand all the code in a GitHub repo or Codewars kata; start small and pick a class, method, or single line of code. Use the Rubber Duck technique to explain the code to yourself. By reading code you’ll expose yourself to new patterns, syntax, logic, and approaches that you would not otherwise know. Tutorials can only teach you so much, reading code will take you much further.

10 Minutes a Day and Free!

All of these small tasks are free – they don’t require subscriptions or memberships. You won’t learn to code by doing these tasks consistently, you will code. Please, don’t make a grand resolution on December 31st – instead, commit yourself to small tasks and you’ll succeed in 2016. After you’ve created habits out of these small tasks, you may find yourself wanting to take your coding journey to the next level and change careers.

At that point, consider Bloc’s Software Engineering Track, where you’ll learn full stack web development, computer science, and open source software development with an experienced mentor. We guarantee you’ll get a job after you graduate, or we’ll refund your entire tuition.

I may not love New Year’s resolutions, but I do love New Year’s Eve; friends, college football, those tiny hot dogs… it’s an amazing night. Happy New Year, and I hope you find success in 2016.

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GitHub Best Practices: Get the Most Out of the GitHub Platform

GitHub is a website that hosts code in a Git repository and provides collaboration features like bug tracking, code review tools, access control, and project discovery. There’s a lot to learn.

Just getting started? Start with GitHub’s Hello World guide and Try Git tutorial to get the basics.

This article will explore best practices and techniques for getting the most out of GitHub.

Master the GitHub Flow

Most GitHub projects, open-source or not, expect collaborators to follow the GitHub Flow. All contributions should follow these six steps:

    1. Create a branch. This can be in the main project, but if you don’t have access, you can make a branch in a GitHub fork of the project.
    2. Add commits. The changes you’re proposing should be in isolation with short, clearly written commit messages. (More writing tips here.)
    3. Open a pull request. When you’re ready to formally propose your changes, open a pull request so other collaborators can review and comment.
  • Discuss and review your code. Actively discuss the changes with collaborators. If needed, push updates to your feature branch — no need to open a new pull request to add them.
  • Deploy. If everyone agrees your changes look good, deploy your changes. For example, if you’re using Heroku, push your branch to the production server.
  • Merge. If the deploy went smoothly, merge your changes into the master branch.

Read more about these steps and their variations in Understanding the GitHub Flow.

Tweak Your Settings

Your GitHub Settings page offers a variety of powerful settings. Here are a few:

Find Interesting Projects

GitHub is a wonderful collaboration tool, but it’s also great for finding software. Here are a few great ways to seek out new software:

For more tips, read Github’s Be Social guide.

Learn Obscure GitHub Secrets

Every truly great product is chock full of hidden features that mainstream users never learn. Since you’re cooler than them, learn these features now so you can say you found them before they were popular.

  • Append ?w=1 to a pull request URL to hide whitespace from the diff.
  • Keyboard shortcuts let you jump around quickly. Some popular ones:
    • g + i to go to a repo’s issues section
    • t to search for a file
    • s to go to a search bar
    • ? to see other shortcuts (these change per page)
  • Install hub, a command-line interface to GitHub that allows you to create pull requests, fork repos, and more.

For a list of cool hacks longer than you’ll ever read, check out this GitHub Cheat Sheet.

Become a Great Publisher

GitHub is fantastic for publishing code. It also has a few other publishing tools you should know about:

  • Markdown support allows you to style text, add images, and link to other resources in issues, pull requests, comments, and Markdown (.md) files
  • GitHub Gists are great for publishing a few small files — they’re great for sharing code snippets and short notes.
  • You can host static web pages with GitHub Pages. Developers often use them to market software or host documentation.

Also, if your software is exploring an interesting idea, adding Digital Object Identifiers makes your code citable by academic researchers.

Want to Learn More?

Consider signing up for Bloc’s Software Engineering Track, where you’ll learn GitHub and a lot more with a dedicated, expert mentor.

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Should I Become a Software Engineer or a Junior Web Developer?

The software industry uses words like hacker, programmer, coder, developer, engineer, and architect to differentiate between similar-but-not-identical skill sets. These terms are poorly defined, which causes ambiguity, and their appropriate uses are still debated today:

Bloc offers two related Tracks for students who desire to learn these skills: a Full Stack Web Developer Track, and a Software Engineer Track. Since the definition of these terms can be ambiguous, let’s be explicit about what we mean. (Others may use these terms differently.)

Software Engineer vs Jr Web Dev ChartIf you graduate from the Full Stack Web Development Track, you’ll be able to develop and maintain web apps. You will learn two programming languages, how to create databases, advanced styling techniques, and more.

But there exists a class of problems not covered by this Track. As an example, consider this question: “Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?” It’s called the Traveling Salesman Problem because a salesman must travel through many cities and make the best use of their time. There are many problems like this.

For example, Airbnb might want its users to create search queries like “Given a city and a list of Airbnb rentals, what is the cheapest way to rent Airbnbs for three straight months, using only Airbnbs that have a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, or both?” A junior web developer may not be prepared to write code to efficiently answer that question. A software engineer grad is armed with techniques and skills that make them capable of solving these open-ended and complex problems.

Here’s an analogy outside of software development: a Full Stack Web Development Track graduate is like a construction worker who builds bridges. Bridge-building is highly skilled labor, requiring lots of practice and knowledge of different materials, approaches, scenarios, and designs. A great bridge-builder can adapt their approach to different types of gaps, different weight requirements, etc. But ultimately this person is combining existing tools to construct something, not designing something new.

A Software Engineering Track graduate is like an architect or civil engineer. This person understands the theory behind everything – not just which metal to use where, but why: how to measure it and prove it. This person also understands at a more fundamental level how the sausage is made: what goes into the metal alloy, or how the specific curve of a support beam is important. They are uniquely qualified to design new bridges, and make more creative, iterative improvements on existing bridges.

The former will likely always be employable, at least in areas with bridges. But the latter is indispensable to society: without them, we can never evolve. Ultimately, graduates of the Software Engineering Track can solve harder problems, handle more complexity, and create more robust software.

Now that you know the difference, consider which track to enroll in.

Which Bloc Track Should I Choose?

Given your hard work and diligence, Bloc Tracks will change your career and your life. All Tracks teach professional-grade software development skills, include dedicated one-on-one mentorship from an industry expert, and come with exclusive access to Bloc’s Employer Network and Career Services team. Each Track follows the tried-and-true Bloc approach of building real software, starting with carefully sequenced and technically rigorous curriculum and transitioning to independent work at the end.

In the Full Stack Web Developer Track, you learn the critical skills for modern web development, including Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. You practice these by creating a variety of web apps during your course. Graduates of this Track are qualified to work as junior web developers.

Here are the main differences:

Full Stack Stack Track vs Software Engineering Track

Compared to the Full Stack Track, the Software Engineering Track (SET) covers more advanced topics, and requires one thousand hours of additional work. Both are premium experiences designed to help you get a specific outcome: new skills and a new job. SET’s length provides its students with enough time to master the advanced skill set. Whichever direction you go, a Bloc Track will teach you to write outstanding software, improve your career, and enrich your life.

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Coding Bootcamps and the Authenticity of Placement Rates

by Roshan Choxi, Co-Founder and CEO

AUTHENTICITY

We’ve never formalized our core values at Bloc, but if you surveyed our employees you would probably see authenticity in the top three most cited responses — followed closely by swag and batman. We’ll focus on authenticity today.

Authenticity is a word that we use very specifically, and we don’t use it to mean the same thing as honesty or transparency. The easiest way I’ve found to articulate the difference is to explain it in the context of someone asking a question:

Honesty is truthfully answering the question someone asked.

Authenticity is truthfully answering the question someone intended to ask.

Transparency is a bulk CSV export of your data.

Here’s an example: when we raised our Series A investment last year, a few of my friends asked me if I was now a millionaire.

An honest answer would be yes. On paper, if we had hypothetically raised a round with a post-money valuation over $5M and I owned at least 20% of the company I would have 20% x $5M = $1M ownership in a privately valued company and could technically be considered a millionaire.

The authentic answer would be no, not even close. The question my friends intended to ask was “do you have a million dollars of liquid cash that you can spend to buy me a Tesla Model S?” And the answer to that question is decidedly “no”,  unless Elon would accept Bloc equity as cash.

… AND STATISTICS

The developer bootcamp industry has an obsession with something called “the placement rate number.” It’s meant to measure a program’s efficacy by quantifying the percentage of graduates who successfully start careers as developers.

Bloc is one of few programs that has never advertised a placement rate. Prospective students are eager to ask us for this statistic, and I don’t necessarily blame them given how appealing it is to use a simple benchmark to compare programs.  We don’t publish a placement rate though, as we believe it would potentially conflict with our commitment to authenticity, not because we lack confidence in the efficacy of our program.

When a prospective student asks us “what is your placement rate?” we could honestly say anywhere between 0-100% depending on how we qualify our answer.  We could, today, say that 99% of our students find jobs after they graduate from Bloc in a way that is both technically honest and legally defensible, but not authentic or ethical. It’s not very difficult to game that statistic.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.07.56 AM

99% of our “splorkdents” find “globs” within 90 days of “schmanuating”.

Credit: SMBC Comics.

The truly authentic answer has nothing to do with statistics though. The question our students intend to ask is closer to “Does your program work?” or more specifically “Will your program work for me?” We’ve found a better way to answer that question: our Software Engineering Track comes with a tuition reimbursement policy for students who are unable to find new careers in software development after graduating, and now our students don’t have to worry about landing on the wrong side of a program’s 90% placement rate.

When there are programs with less than 20 grads touting a 100% placement rate and dozens of hidden qualifications, that number devolves from a transparent industry benchmark to a disingenuous marketing prop. While we look for authentic and quantifiable ways to evaluate program quality, I’ll encourage students to dig deeper: ask about the curriculum, background and experience of instructors, tuition and opportunity costs, and the hidden qualifications of these placement rate numbers.

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Introducing the Software Engineering Track, Our CS Degree Killer

by Roshan Choxi, Co-Founder & CEO

A Brief History of Bootcamps

The last five years have been host to exciting innovations at the cross section of technology and education. Codecademy’s Code Year launched in January 2012 under the banner of “coding is the new literacy” where we witnessed the unlikely celebrities of Mayor Bloomberg and Will.I.Am championing the democratization of technical skills. Udacity and Coursera brought lecture material from Ivy League universities to the masses. Pluralsight, Lynda, and Udemy built libraries of video lessons, and the fledgling bootcamp industry emerged.

At Bloc, we remember the origins of this industry well, as we first began mentoring students from our home/office over Google Hangout sessions and Shereef Bishay taught the first Dev Bootcamp cohort over on Market Street in San Francisco. Founders of several other bootcamps –Hack Reactor, App Academy, and Hackbright – would emerge from the first Dev Bootcamp cohort. General Assembly shifted from a Manhattan co-working space into vocational technology classrooms. Traditional technology education was stale, expensive, and disconnected from its goal of creating job-ready graduates. Bootcamps offered a better way for students to start careers in technology by focusing entirely on pragmatic training in web development. In an 8-week program,* students learned enough to land a career at tech companies whose need for developers and designers was not met by traditional education.

Employer-Driven Education

Bootcamps emerged from challenging an assumption of higher education and asking the question: what skills do employers really want? And do those skills require 4 years, $80,000 and an “accredited” degree to learn? Coding bootcamps improved education for aspiring developers by starting from the skills employers want and working backward from there. Bootcamps range from 10-24 weeks, cost $10-21K, and often provide better outcomes than most colleges. Today, there are over 100 bootcamps with a combined estimated market of $180M, up from $0 in 2011.**

After initial skepticism, engineering leaders and hiring managers have been pleasantly surprised by how much bootcamp graduates learn in a short period of time. Bootcamp grads focus 100% on pragmatic developer training and they are capable of producing their first day on the job. They’ve built applications in modern web stacks, have experience working collaboratively using Git and GitHub, and understand how to ship features from idea to deployment.

However, if traditional computer science education had become too divorced from pragmatic developer training, bootcamps may have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction and lack some of the foundational principles of software engineering.

Here’s what employers are saying:

“Students leave knowing how to build a web app and write basic JS but there is NO instinct for when to use it or why they are using a tool.That was a huge part of undergrad that I’m uncovering only because I’m seeing this other side.” — Engineer, Nest/Google

“[Bootcamp grads] can often code regular problems but don’t understand what goes on under the covers. Since much of my experience is with mobile devices, understanding what happens underneath a call to an algorithm or the use of a data structure can be critical to get desired performance.” — Adam Fineman, Director of Platform Architecture at Amazon

“[Bootcamp grads often lack] computational understanding of what will cause problems with scale [and understanding the] nuances of different languages and what they are good for and why as opposed to just how to use them.” — Matthew Mengerink, VP of Engineering at YouTube

“The hiring market is saturated with people coming out of bootcamps – we can hire a few but don’t want to hire too many. The other thing we really like to see is someone who graduated from a bootcamp, then did something “real” – a job elsewhere, or an apprenticeship, or created a startup. Then we consider them on par with someone with a CS degree.” — Ross Bell, Engineering Manager at Trunk Club

The majority of the employers we spoke with have hired bootcamp graduates and are happy with those hires. Employers are generally impressed with how much a bootcamp grad can learn in such a short period of time, but concede that — despite its flaws — computer science universities are teaching their students for four years and it’s difficult for any bootcamp to compete with that. Bootcamps are a breakthrough over traditional education, but there are opportunities for improvement by preserving some of the fundamentals of a computer science degree.

The Software Engineering Track

Using feedback from the most highly regarded engineering teams at companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, today we’re launching Bloc’s Software Engineering Track. We’re taking the pragmatic training of a bootcamp and combining it with the foundational principles of software engineering to create a program that is a cut above every other bootcamp and computer science university.

Programming Learning Curve

 

The program will be 48-week full-time or 72-week part-time, online, and cost $24,000. It will be broken up into four phases:

  • Backend Web Development
  • Frontend Web Development
  • Software Engineering Principles
  • Open Source Apprenticeship or Paid Internship

The first half of the program covers the curriculum of most bootcamps as students learn full stack web development. The second half incorporates feedback from employers to teach the principles of software engineering: data structures, algorithms, relational databases, and framework design. In the final phase, students work on creating and contributing to open source projects, while some eligible students may apply for a paid internship at Bloc (and eventually other employer partners).

To demonstrate our confidence in this program, we’re offering full tuition reimbursement if students are unable to find a new career within 120 days of graduating.***

The Future of Technology Education

With our new program that combines the best elements of traditional computer science education and vocational developer bootcamps, we will produce software engineers that are ounce for ounce as good as those from MIT, Stanford, and even our own alma mater the University of Illinois. Computer science education is evolving, and we are preparing students to excel in an economy where every company is a technology company.

Learn more about Bloc’s Software Engineering Track.

 

* The first DevBootcamp and Bloc programs were 8 weeks long

** From Course Report’s 2015 Bootcamp Market Size Study: https://www.coursereport.com/resources/course-report-2015-bootcamp-market-size-study

*** Including other restrictions

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Veterans Thrive in Coding Bootcamps

When considering a new career after military service, a different type of bootcamp is allowing veterans to excel in today’s tech economy.

The transition from military to civilian life can be an agonizing process for many veterans. Members of the military spend years cloistered in a separate world, building hyper-specialized skills and networks that do not easily translate to lucrative opportunities in the civilian job market. The good news is that coding bootcamps may just be the ticket to affordable and rapid career advancement for service men and women.

Coding bootcamps are accelerated programs that teach software development skills to folks who want to switch careers or shore-up their coding skills. Coding bootcamps can be online or in-person, full-time or part-time, and can span anywhere from 12-72 weeks, depending on weekly time commitment.

Bootcamps, whether of the military or coding variety, are intense. Like basic training, coding bootcamps are highly structured and require extraordinary focus for hours everyday. The attributes that make a good soldier – mental toughness, discipline, focus, and attention to detail – closely align with the attributes that make a good developer, as learning to code isn’t a walk in the park. At Bloc, we’ve seen veterans excel in our program and go on to promising new careers in software development, one of the fastest growing (and highest paying) job markets.

 

Transitioning To Civilian Life is Hard

After leaving the military, many veterans struggle to figure out how to fit into the civilian workforce. Though the military has some resources to help, many veterans don’t take advantage of them because they don’t know what’s available or give up trying to navigate the highly bureaucratic benefits system. Johnathan Smith, an administrative specialist in the Marine Corps from 2005-2009 and a recent Bloc grad, explained, “Getting out of the military is actually quite awful. It’s not a smooth transition process at all.”

Johnathan Smith

Johnathan Smith – Veteran and Recent Coding Bootcamp Grad

One of the biggest problems facing vets upon leaving active duty, is that many don’t have the skills necessary to launch careers in the fast-growing technology industry. Instead many take manual labor jobs after they leave the military because without a college degree and relevant work experience, employers don’t give them a second look.

Recognizing that many veterans and their spouses face these challenges, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative focused on expanding employment and career development opportunities for veterans, in April, 2011.

Even though some vets are eligible for paid tuition under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, many choose not to go to college, as it is often ill-suited for them. They are older, get married younger, have been put in highly strenuous situations and generally grow up much faster than the typical college student. Balancing academic pursuits with family and financial obligations is a constant struggle for vets that often forces them to drop out of school.

The Facts For Features: Veterans Day 2014 report released by the U.S. Census Bureau, says that in 2013 only 26.8% of veterans 25 years and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29.9% of non-veterans. While the Million Records Project, a study spearheaded to analyze the efficacy of the GI Bill, found that 52% of the sampled veteran students earned a college degree or certificate, compared to 54% of non-veteran students.

 

Coding Bootcamps Are Working For Vets

Robert Cox, one of our recent grads and a member of the Marine Corps Reserves, had taken a few computer science courses at the University of Alabama, but dropped out due to family struggles. That brief exposure to technology stuck with him, and he dabbled with basic online coding resources such as Treehouse to get his feet wet with programming concepts. When he got serious about pursuing a career in software development, he enrolled in Bloc, where he received a veterans scholarship. He received a loan from Navy Federal to pay for the remainder.

For Cox and other veteran students, a coding bootcamp is a better fit than pursuing a four year computer science degree. Coding bootcamps are, at the very least, a third of the price, require an eighth of the time, and teach more directly relevant skills for in-demand positions in software development.

The biggest value veterans get out of their coding bootcamp training is hands-on experience from the project work included in the curriculum. For example, through his capstone project, Cox built a website for his sister’s monogramming business, a project that otherwise likely would have cost her thousands but allowed Cox to demonstrate his coding skills.

Robert Cox Smaller

Robert Cox – At His First Software Apprentice Job Post Bloc

Upon graduation, not only did Cox have a solid portfolio of real applications, but he also had a strong recommendation from his mentor. These accomplishments helped him secure a Software Developer Apprenticeship role at a startup in North Carolina, where he works for and learns from experienced web developers. Of his military friends, Robert said, “They have no idea the startup scene that I’m working in now even exists. People from the military would thrive in the startup industry because they were trained to work under extreme pressure.”

It’s no accident that we are seeing veterans flourish in our programs, as the characteristics required to excel at the craft of software development, especially in high-paced startup environments, are so closely aligned with the qualities that servicemen and women develop in the military.

Coding bootcamps solve problems that have haunted veterans for decades in a unique way, despite no federal funding. For veterans a coding bootcamp is a no brainer as the practical skills can translate quickly into increased income potential and career momentum.

In 2014 we launched the Bloc Veterans Program which offers veterans $500 off any of Bloc’s programs. In honor of veterans day we are upping the ante on our Veterans Program to $2000 off our Full Stack Developer Track for the month of November. Veterans looking to kickstart their future in software development can apply here.

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