We had the chance to sit down with Launch Academy Co-Founders Dan Pickett and Evan Charles. With 16+ cohorts under their belt (and a 93% job placement rate for grads!), they offered their insight on upcoming technology trends and what it's like to run a bootcamp.
SwitchUp: What motivated you to start Launch Academy?
Dan Pickett: I love educating as much as honing my own craft. I’ve always had a passion for exploring new tools and technologies, but sharing my understanding of them became a bit of an addiction. Launch Academy provided me with a way to feed that addiction and build something meaningful that truly changes lives.
Evan Charles: I realized that people who desired to become developers had very few choices, if any, other than pursuing a CS degree at a college or university. I thought to myself, “There had to be a better way.” Around that same time, I happened to be writing a list of things I was passionate about: helping others, building things, and technology. Launch Academy allowed me to satiate all three of these passions at once.
SU: Tell us about you and your team's background before starting Launch Academy.
DP: I had owned a software consultancy since I was about 15 years old, while I still worked part time at a pizza shop. When I was studying computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, I was both working and learning about the profession at the same time. I was able to compare and contrast what I was learning in college to what I was doing in the field. I found that there was often stark contrast between the two. After graduating, I got the startup bug and joined a Boston-based consumer product company as their Director of Engineering. While I was there, I learned about how to lead and cultivate development talent, leadership, and running a startup.
EC: From a professional background perspective, the rest of the team couldn’t be more diverse from each other. We have circus performers, reformed recruiters, and, of course, software developers. We like to think of ourselves as “appropriately weird.” But despite our diverse professional upbringings, it's the closest group of people I’ve ever worked with. I know I’m expected to say that but it really is just true in this case. We all share the common trait of caring deeply for our students and their success.
SU: What challenges did you overcome when starting Launch Academy?
DP: Whenever the world encounters something new, it’s almost always met with skepticism. I had many developer friends that questioned the bootcamp model, which can really rattle your confidence as an entrepreneur. Even our very first students were unsure about us and the future of this emerging bootcamp space.
SU: What successes did you had with your first cohorts?
DP: It has been one of my greatest joys to see our “Launchers” out in the professional world doing great things. Our graduates have gone on to manage teams and contribute to open source libraries, like Ruby on Rails itself. But it’s not necessarily about that for me; it’s the smile on their face, the spring in their step. It’s the physical manifestations of someone that feels professionally fulfilled and love what they do.
EC: Now that we’re on our 16th Boston cohort, it's been a minute since our first few cohorts. Our outcomes are what determine our success. As of the time of this writing, 93% of graduating students who were job seekers during 08/11/14 - 07/29/16 obtained full-time, non-temporary jobs in their field of study.
SU: Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?
DP: With an emerging field like ours, there’s a lot of hype and heavy selling going on out there. If you can rely on the accounts of students and imagine yourself in a particular bootcamp’s environment, you’ll be in good shape. That’s why we’re supporters of sites like SwitchUp, where prospective students can get firsthand accounts from those that have come before them.
EC: Above all, ensure that you love the act of learning to code because it doesn’t stop after you land a job. Unlike most industries, the act of learning is not temporary in this industry. As a developer, learning is the default daily mode of operation throughout your career. So make sure you love it before making a large investment of your time and money.
SU: What plans or dreams do you have for Launch Academy over the next few years?
DP: I have two major dreams, really. First, I believe that as our programs become more
reputable, student financing will become more accessible.
The second comes back to my leadership nerd origins. I believe that the current talent shortage in technology is for empathic and capable leaders. Software development, like many professional endeavors, is an incredibly human pursuit. Our current modalities of education, traditional or otherwise, inadequately prepare tomorrow’s leaders. We’re beginning to consider how we can answer this challenge, and I think it starts with encouraging more diversity in the field. If we introduce emerging leaders who bring different perspectives and backgrounds to their teams and put things like communication first over technical prowess, it could infuse the industry with a new generation of technology leadership talent.
EC: We want to help more people but we want to do so with the same level of quality that we have provided to the first 500 graduating students. That's the main challenge we currently face. To achieve both of these goals, we’ve dedicated ourselves towards scaling quality. That starts with ensuring we hold tight to the hallmarks of critical aspects of the educational experience, such as our industry leading teacher:student ratios, quarterly hiring partner informed curriculum updates, recruitment of full-time A-players to the team, and ensuring that every decision we make is done so through the lense of a discerning student.
SU: What sets your curriculum apart from other bootcamps? What types of resources do you offer when it comes to learning?
DP: Our curriculum is fully original. It is developed, written, and delivered in house by our team of instructors. I think what sets us apart is what we call our “offseason.” Teaching and shaping tomorrow’s web development professionals can be exhausting, so we’re intentional around providing our team with a three week break every quarter. During that time, each team member helps update our curriculum and hone their own professional skills. That means, with each passing cohort, we get a large, dedicated opportunity of time to revise and improve our experience.
SU: How are lessons structured? Can you give us an example of a typical day at Launch Academy?
DP: Pedagogically (or andragogically, as we like to say), Launch Academy is known to be a flipped classroom that practices challenge based learning. Wow, what a convoluted list of academic jargon!
Here’s the deal: we give our students reading, video, and some material to practice at night. In the morning, in small instructor-facilitated groups, we have a student summarize their interpretation of the material for the rest of the group’s benefit, and it brings about this awesome and fruitful student led discussion. After our morning mentor groups, we take a deeper dive into the material, led by one of our instructors. After that, we assign a project for students to work through collaboratively. The idea here, with the flipped classroom, is to optimize the class time for putting new knowledge to work. Students aren’t silently reading or consuming information during the day; instead, they’re building, and their peers and our team are there to help them through it. By 4PM, we’re ready to release the next set of assignments to repeat the cycle over again.
SU: What is the job market like where Launch Academy is based?
SU: What technologies or trends do you see gaining popularity and why?
SU: Any advice for people who want to start a bootcamp and/or start teaching code?
DP: Always put the student first. If you always advocate for the student, the rest will work itself out.
EC: Do it for the right reasons. I’m a firm believer in the connection between passion and success.
Dan has been in the software game since he was 15 years old and eventually fell in love with educating and mentoring aspiring web developers. He is an educator with strong expertise in software development and management, specializing in developing Ruby on Rails web applications. He is a firm believer in the promises of agile development methodologies and efficient web frameworks.
In addition to overseeing the Experience Engineers at Launch Academy, Dan also co-organizes the Boston Ruby Group, a local community of Rubyists and enthusiasts of open source software. The group meets the second Tuesday of every month for project nights and welcomes both experienced and new Rubyists. Prior to co-founding Launch Academy, Dan was the Principal and Software Developer at LaunchWare, Technical Co-Founder at Textaurant, and Director of Engineering at Second Rotation, Inc./Gazelle.com.
Find Dan on Twitter and Github.
Co-founded LaunchPad Group (2006-2008) Co-founded Chatterboxes (2008-2012) Co-founded Launch Academy in 2012
Evan has long been driven by his passions for helping others, building things, and technology. After working in the finance world for his first decade out of school, he decided to make a change and pursue a more fulfilling career with the goal of helping others. He first founded LaunchPad Group and sold the company to invest the money into Chatterboxes, a pediatric practice specializing in speech-language pathology, that he co-founded with his wife, Megan. Over the course of 8 years, the two helped thousands of children and families before Megan took over the company so Evan could pursue Launch Academy.
Follow Evan on Twitter.