How Dev Bootcamp Is Transforming Education To Focus On “Extreme Employability”


Michael Staton is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Learn Capital and a Community Advisor to NewSchools Venture Fund EdTech. He is the founder and Chief Evangelist of Inigral, and is currently mapping the market of innovation in education. He has been sharing an office part time with Dev Bootcamp.

Six months ago, Jessie Young, 26, was working as a marketing manager at Get Satisfaction – a hip, well-known startup. She loved her job. She loved the company. It’s just that the developers seemed to be at the heart of company’s progress. To her, nothing seemed quite as exciting as working on the actual product.

Jessie, like many others these days, was overcome with the desire to learn to code. But she didn’t want to dabble. She had already tried, unsuccessfully, to teach herself a little Rails and Javascript, and wanted to get off the sidelines.

But less than three months later, she was working as an apprentice at the also hip company thoughtbot — this time as a software developer.

What happened in those three months?

Dev Bootcamp, a nine-week intensive program that takes students with no programming background and turns them into world class beginner, job-ready software engineers. More than 90 percent of all Dev Bootcamp graduates, who are called “Boots,” have found jobs in the tech community within three months after graduation.

ThoughtBot has already signed up for Dev Bootcamp’s Hiring Day, December 7th, as well. In the wake of their third Hiring Day, Dev Bootcamp is announcing that they are now accepting applicants to a new Chicago location, with students starting April 22nd.

What’s Extreme Employability?

While MOOCs or massive open online course providers like Coursera focus on scale and open access to curriculum, Dev Bootcamp’s success points to the need for a raw focus on employability, not just access. I like to call this focus “Extreme Employability”, which has three fundamental tenets: 1) aligning the curriculum and incentives with job outcomes, 2) simulating real workplaces, and 3) actively placing graduates in jobs that befit their training.

Employability is important to emphasize in the MOOC era. For nearly 30 years, there’s been a national commitment to improving access to higher education, and for the most part we’ve encouraged more students to go to more schools than ever before. Higher education has gone from something exclusive for the spoiled kids of wealthy parents to something nearly every grade schooler aspires to have. MOOCs are the pinnacle of access – free top quality courses from top quality universities for everyone. But at this point, as promising as they are, MOOCs don’t have an answer for providing real job opportunities for the typical student.

President Obama always gets me a little teary eyed with inspiration when he talks about jobs. “If we want [companies] to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth,” he declared as he presented the American Jobs Act to U.S. Congress.

This national dialog made me look for new models and new ideas. And Dev Bootcamp is full of them.

Teaching Teamwork, In Addition To Piling On Schoolwork

Co-founders Shereef Bishay, Jesse Farmer and Dave Hoover are building a new trade school for the new Silicon economy. With most students learning for ten-to-sixteen hours per day, nearly seven days a week, the program tries to incite personal development in ways that will help students succeed on software engineering teams at high-pressure startups. And the curriculum is consistently iterated on based on feedback from employers, so it’s getting more challenging, demanding, and lengthy in real-time. It’s supposed to be intense. It’s a Bootcamp.

It turns out, most software projects do not fail on the back of technical challenges. They fail for human reasons.

“When you listen to engineering teams and founders,” says Bishay, “You hear over and over again that what they are looking for is a self-motivated, capable, and eager developers excited by anything you put in front of them. Somebody who adds to the team culture.”

In other words, not assholes.

But it’s hard to find a recent computer science graduate who sees programming for the team sport that it is. Most university computer science programs just don’t see those skills as part of a their mandate. This is what inspires Dev Bootcamp’s classroom.

And this fight to reinvent computer science education is getting taken to Chicago, where Dave Hoover, the progenitor of Groupon’s engineering apprenticeship program, will be leading Dev Bootcamp’s team of Chicago-based instructors.

Dev Bootcamp’s focus on teamwork is part of a larger theme of workplace simulation, about creating a holistic environment for people to get used to the nuances of real work at a real job. There’s pair programming, there are code reviews, there are stand-ups, one-on-ones and check-ins.

“We’re creating the type of culture that pushes people to stretch who they are – in a way that prepares them to work on an engineering team and hold their own,” says Bishay.

Preparing them, however, is not enough. At least one staff member at Dev Bootcamp is working full force to place students into jobs. The program doesn’t rely on tuition dollars. Instead, it functions as an agency that makes money when students are successfully placed.

The Big Hiring Day

This is the third element of Extreme Employability. Dev Bootcamp is, like Andreessen Horowitz, inspired by the Creative Artists Agency. On graduation, there are no mortarboards or parental photo opportunities. Instead, there is an interview extravaganza where the turnout has roughly as many companies hungry for new talent as students.

Hiring Day” – the name of this new ritual of graduation – is a spectacle. Everyone goes through a kind of speed dating, where each graduate has a station and employers go from station to station, rotating every five minutes or so. This goes way beyond the “resume” workshop that most colleges offer before graduation, and solves the “out on your ass” feeling many “Boots” remember from their college graduations.

My takeaway from Dev Bootcamp — the number of people doing something to “retool America” just grew by a handful of audacious entrepreneurs. And we should be be pumped. I just hope this Extreme Employability concept starts to spread, that more programs have a greater responsibility for the economic success of their graduates.

Right now, the latest cohort of job-ready software developers are preparing for December 7th hiring day, absorbing the expectations, rigors, challenges, and confusing waters of being thrown in the deep end at a new company, with an alien team and onto an alien code base.

I ask Bishay what happens if some of the grads don’t make it – what if they just drown in the new team they’re joining.

“Then we’ll just have to start making floaties,” he says.

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