March 20, 2020

Q&A with Codesmith cofounder Will Sentance

Hey there, Will! What motivated you to start a bootcamp?

I was lucky to get to go to Harvard and Oxford for college and graduate school and I'm hugely grateful for that but I still graduated frustrated that I couldn't build the things I dreamt up. I saw my friends feeling the same way - frustrated that they couldn't make the impact they wanted to make. Becoming a software engineer was enormously empowering - it let me turn my ideas into reality. Icecomm - a technology we built over a few weeks - is still on of the most popular tools for adding video chat to a website.

This inspired me to help others get these same abilities. It's why, while I believe there is no more transformative experience you can have than at Codesmith, I always encourage people to aspire to one of the top coding programs, whether or not it's Codesmith, as it will change your life.

I'm also enormously frustrated that so much of our professional destiny is determined before we're 18 when many of us aren't yet fully in control. Then when we are ready, many of the conventional paths to success are already closed off. I love that even if it takes months of preparation to get admitted to Codesmith, it doesn't matter what you were doing before, if you bring your total dedication and commitment now, you can succeed.

What challenges have you faced so far with starting your coding bootcamp?

One of the things that motivates me most is improving access to fulfilling creative careers for people who were not 100% prepared at 18. So how can we reconcile that with such a low admissions rate? It's not perfect but by creating free classes - called JavaScript the Hard Parts that I teach each week - we don't wave goodbye when someone isn't admitted but try to help them up to the level where they might be admitted through free classes and advice.

In the program you complete over 300 hours of pair-programming during the 1000+ hours in the program. Pair-programming is a secret hack to rapidly growing as an engineer - but it's also intellectually and emotionally exhausting. This means we put a huge weight on engineering empathy and supporting each other. We've had to ask a few people to leave the program when they've not been ready to be supportive and constructive to others' learning - that's been really tough to do.

What successes have you had with your first few cohorts?

We had our first Hiring Day in January 2016 and we were thrilled to have Whisper, Disney, Riot Games and 25 other awesome companies join. The companies were hugely impressed - I particularly enjoyed Ticketmaster's CTO's response "You've harnessed the magic with these graduates." And so far almost all the grads took jobs with our Hiring Partners which I was thrilled about.

The first 6 figure offer came in 2 days after hiring day and that grad went on to take a role at a technology startup, Whisper - a fantastic app based in Venice Beach, California. He was a consultant in NYC before and wanted to be in a more fulfilling role. It's incredible to hear the impact he gets to have every day and the warm and welcoming culture he's joined at his new company.

One of the grads went off to a company a couple of weeks before their demo day at YC and the same week they came top of Product Hunt - as their first engineer working directly with the CTO and cofounder. It's been 8 weeks since graduation of the cohort and all but 1 has a job already.

What plans/dreams do you have for your bootcamp over the next 5 years?

As 'software eats the world' fields that are still relatively untouched - finance, transport, by 2020, will likely be much more software engineering dominated and the companies that have greatest impact will begin to have software engineers at the core of their leadership.

I want Codesmith to train this generation of leaders - who are immersed in the engineering community as true builders - not just 'able to speak the language' but building the tools of this generation. I want our grads to fuse a product-oriented problem-solving mentality with a deep understanding of programming and software architecture. This is what will create the truly transformative companies over the coming years.

Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?

Invest in as much learning for free beforehand. Challenge yourself to discover whether software engineering truly is the path for you. Be prepared that you may well be able to self-teach enough to get a Junior Developer job without even going to a coding bootcamp.

There are two phases of growth of an engineer aspiring to be admitted to Codesmith:

Stage 1 - Beginner to Novice Developer - Develop familiarity with syntax and work through resources like Codecademy, Codeschool, Team treehouse, Freecodecamp. You can be admitted to most bootcamps at the end of this stage.

Stage 2 - Novice Developer to Junior Developer - Start solving problems with code - either algorithms or building solutions to problems you have - Chrome Extensions are perfect projects at this point. At the end of this stage, you should be ready to interview for Codesmith.

Stage 2 can be tough and even lonely - that's why we created the free JavaScript the Hard Parts classes to help people get through to the Junior Developer level. Because if you can push through this stage and get admitted to Codesmith, you're ready to truly flourish in the intensive environment.

Any advice for people who want to start a bootcamp and/or start teaching code?

I hugely encourage it. Learning through teaching is a core tenant of Codesmith and massive opportunity to grow. In many ways this is the essence of pair-programming. Start by finding a topic you want to share with others - some programming concept, tool or framework. Find a friend who wants to learn and start teaching them. Find a meetup of other folks learning to code and go along and offer to teach the topic. Ask people for feedback afterwards. I like to use the format "something you liked, something to work on" so you have the confidence to hear their feedback. If you enjoy it and people respond well, set up a small group meetup and start sharing topics through the meetup.

Take your teaching to another level by incorporating pair-programming into the session. You can have an even greater impact when you empower others to grow themselves and each other by teaching. Finally, watch this video about teaching others by Philip Roberts at &yet.

Do you see bootcamps replacing college for parts of the population?

The people you meet and the energy you bring to college can be an opportunity for extraordinary growth - but the skills you develop can be mixed at best and the preparation for hiring is minimal - whereas at Codesmith (and some of the other bootcamps) you receive obsessive hiring support to get you a world-class role after graduating. This was part of what inspired me to create Codesmith - that feeling that I didn't have the tools to make an impact - even after College and Graduate school.

Graduate school - particularly MBAs should give you the tools to build your dreams but they're not - grads are left frustrated. I think we'll see an ever-increasing number of people turn down the MBA/Law school path and move into software engineering - even if only for a couple of years but giving themselves the tools, network and way of thinking to enable them do whatever they want to afterwards - much the way consulting, finance and an MBA has done historically.

That being said, I'm happy if people continue to do degrees in a range of fields and then augment that with a top programming training program like Codesmith - together this is one of the best preparations you could possibly have to make an impact in the coming years. The top coding academies are producing new product-oriented engineers who are not just excellent problem solvers but come with diverse ideas and backgrounds.

What is the job market like where your bootcamp is based?

Graduates from Codesmith take jobs both in LA and SF and Silicon Valley - there's Hiring partners in both. We're in Playa Vista in LA - opposite Google's new SoCal HQ (where they're hiring 6000 new employees over the coming couple of years) and right by Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo's SoCal HQ.

The energy is really extraordinary here. We host the largest React.js meetup in the country and it's here in LA. The companies that attend our hiring days are from Los Angeles, San Francisco and even the East coast. It ranges from larger companies like Yahoo, Warner Bros, Disney, and ESPN all the way to brand-new YCombinator backed startups like Locent through to mid-sized companies like Whisper - based in Venice Beach - they're all hiring mid and senior engineers from Codesmith.

Will Sentance is cofounder and CEO at Codesmith, the leading immersive software engineering academy in the US. Codesmith teaches full-stack JavaScript, preparing junior engineers for positions as mid to senior engineers. Will is the creator of Icecomm, the most popular developer platform for P2P video and data communication. Prior to Codesmith, Will was CEO at Ownly and, prior to that, a Software Engineer at Gem. Will is a graduate from Oxford University and Harvard University.

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