Despite the call to meet a nationwide demand for software engineers, companies continue to struggle with hiring the right talent.
Eric Wise, founder of the Software Craftsmanship Guild in Akron, Ohio, identifies this shortage of talent as the primary impetus for his bootcamp. The first software development program of its kind in the region, SWC is a job-oriented bootcamp which offers intensive training for "apprentices" over a 12-week period. We sat down with Eric to discuss the growing pains of building a bootcamp and his advice for others as the field continues to grow.
1) Why did you choose the Java/.NET tech stack?
The various bootcamps around the country have different motivations for what they teach. In our case, we are primarily a jobs program.
First and most importantly, there are more jobs in .NET and Java than other languages. Besides those two, the other top languages are all C-variant languages. This means that for our apprentices starting with a C-based language means it will be much easier for them to work with and transition to the other top languages later if they choose.
Secondly, these languages are mature, stable, and very well supported. This means for our apprentices that besides their classroom materials there are also a wealth of good resources and samples. There are several examples, Twitter being a main one, that when start-up businesses scale, they tend to move towards these Enterprise ready stacks.
Finally, we have some of the best instructors in the region in these stacks. Some bootcamps, like colleges, have junior and mid-level experience helpers in their programs. I am proud to tell candidates that no instructor sets foot on the floor of our program without at least 10 years of professional experience. If you want to pay a lot of money to be taught by a junior, teacher’s assistant, or someone who isn’t a current practitioner in their field, I recommend going back to college.
2) What challenges have you faced so far with starting your bootcamp?
For me personally the biggest headache was getting our housing situation set up. I’m pleased that we have inked a deal with 401 Lofts in Akron which provides fully furnished upscale apartments for our out of town apprentices.
For the first cohort we were caught by surprise that so many people came in from out of the region to learn, so some enterprising apprentices made do with unfurnished apartments when we quickly ran out of living space. We had originally guessed it would be 80/20 regional to outside, but it ended up being more like 50/50. It is a tribute to their drive that they buckled in and toughed it out. With our new relationship that process will be much smoother going forward. Our hiring network partners and other big names in the region are very excited that we are bringing talent into Ohio.
The other challenge was getting the pacing right. Everyone learns at a different pace and in different ways. We are very sensitive to that and trying to figure out how that flow needs to go is something that will be repeated by every instructor in every cohort. A big differentiator to us over some others is we hard-cap our class size at 12. We want our cohorts to be small, focused, intimate, and agile in the approach. The more people you stuff into a classroom the less agile and responsive you will be able to be.
3) What successes have you had with your first cohort?
At this point (August) we have already received offers for more than half of our apprentices. The amount of energy the people who take our program bring is astonishing and inspiring to regional employers. Everyone who really put in the effort and has been consumed with the craft of software development has been rewarded, which is exactly what we are going for.
Our partnership with the Akron Accelerator (tech/startup incubator) has continued to expand based on the success of this program. With this relationship we hope to mix up our hiring network offerings to include some exciting start-ups!
4) What plans/dreams do you have for your bootcamp over the next 5 years?
The lead of the Java cohort and I left good, stable, profitable careers to start this venture simply because we have discovered a love for sharing our knowledge. When I started my career as a developer, I barely knew how to do anything, I had no idea about how to structure an application from end to end, why God classes and Big Ball of Mud was bad. I figured it all out the hard way, by writing code that was hard to maintain and prone to error. I was fortunate to get in with a group of great professionals and through interacting with them I became a great developer and known in my region. My only career regret is that I didn’t meet those mentors earlier in my career, it would have saved me a lot of pain. By starting the guild I hope to give others the access to knowledge and opportunities that I didn’t have starting my career.
As a dream… I hope someday that the reputation and successes of this program are so compelling that employers sponsor the Guild to the point where we can offer the training for free. We recently made a change to our pricing based on employer feedback that offers a 100% tuition refund if you take a job in our network, so we’re making good progress there.
5) Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?
You really have to look in your heart and figure out how badly you want this. Becoming a great developer is not a 9 to 5 job, it’s a lifestyle. You have to constantly improve your skills and constantly be on the lookout for new techniques. If you are going to sign up for a program like ours for the money you can make, or just want a job, you are far more likely to fail than someone who loves it, lives it, and breathes it.
Also, the rate of change is accelerating in our field, especially in the web stack. It’s impossible to keep pace. When you vet bootcamps, take a good hard look at how much attention they pay to fundamentals, because those fundamentals transfer across stacks and will help you stay relevant. I personally worry about the damage that some other camps will do to the model by pushing out people with experience in only a very specific part of the stack who could end up irrelevant in the near future.
6) Any advice for people who want to start a bootcamp?
If you are in it for the money, don’t bother. Without the passion at the owner and instructor level the experience will not be good for your customers and hiring network partners. We have people reach out to us from time to time about franchising under the Guild and we haven’t accepted any offers yet. If someone is going to franchise under our name they need to come to us with passion, a plan, and a real top notch instructor core. It is hard enough to find people who are really good at programming but harder still to find ones who are good and can teach it. You also have to have a lot patience and empathy to work with people who are raw beginners.