Hey there, Don! What motivated you to start a bootcamp?
I co-founded a company called Eight Bit Studios in 2008, a about the time when the first iOS SDK was released. I had been programming for the NeXTStep system in the early 1990’s and had deep roots in the technology providing the foundation for iOS so I steered our company to deliver iOS products for clients straight away. Finding developers was an altogether different matter one which proved problematic for several years after starting the company. In the summer of 2012, Brandon Passley who was, at the time, the CTO of Vokal approached me to partner with him to found Mobile Makers. We started Mobile Makers to capitalize on the Bootcamp movement and educate mobile developers that we could hire. While Brandon has moved on, I continue to fight the good fight with Jessi Chartier, our new CEO, as we look to disrupt the high school education model and bring coding to a younger audience.
What challenges have you faced so far with starting your coding bootcamp?
The largest challenges in the beginning were admissions and meeting the needs of a variety of students. Going up against a culture where college was seen as the only option to learn programming was a large undertaking, but with a few years under our belt and the clear success of bootcamps, we now are much stronger. Structuring the curriculum to support the variety of student needs was also a challenge early on, but since Jessi Chartier our CEO and Stacy Sniegowski, our Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction joined, each with their deep education backgrounds, our ability to differentiate and focus on student progress. With solid educational leadership firmly shaping the Mobile Makers model and our new partnership with Hack Reactor, we are very well placed with a slew of new career services to support our students and graduates.
What successes have you had with your first few cohorts?
From the very first cohort, our students were getting jobs. I realize that was ostensibly our goal but it was still pleasantly surprising that our students were mastering such complex iOS concepts and landing jobs. As we have had no career services until very recently, these students were landing their jobs 100% on their own. It was extremely exciting. Additionally, we've seen students find success beyond the walls of careers. We strongly encouraged our students to participated in Startup Weekend when it was happing in Chicago, and coincidentally the first several cohorts overlapped with Startup Weekends. Our students were mostly on winning teams! It was astonishing. Our first cohort produced a student who won the second Startup Weekend he entered, with an idea he pitched: Fishbit. Not only did he win, he was courted by several local entrepreneurs and eventually moved his small operation to a San Francisco-based hardware incubator where he’s been growing the company.
We've also been thrilled at the success of our high school program. We've been able to help over 16 schools offer iOS development to their students, and we can't wait to help more.
What plans/dreams do you have for your bootcamp over the next 5 years?
I know I share the dreams of the very capable women running our school: we want to change education. I believe we have crafted a unique blend of project-based and student-driven curriculum that works in bootcamp form as well as part of an embedded school program. Not only have we seen massive and measurable success in our high school programs, the energy level of these students is quantified by enormous and unprecedented leaps in enrollment numbers. I want to change the adoption of software development as a career path for girls and women. As an industry, we are not leveraging 50% of the population by not effectively engaging the girls and women who would make fantastic coders. This is my current passion.
Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?
Before applying: Do. Your. Research. Know what you want to do. If you don't have clear goals, you will struggle in any bootcamp.
Once you get accepted: Do. Your. Pre-course. Work. I can’t overemphasize that point enough. We know what success looks like and success is built on a solid foundation of the fundamentals found in the pre-course work. Do not ignore it. Do not take it lightly. Be serious. Be studios. Be ready to exercise your brain to the point of optimal frustration as move into the career of the life long learner.
Any advice for people who want to start a bootcamp and/or start teaching code?
I am presently on the technical advisory board of a non-profit coding bootcamp called Code Platoon. So, as it happens, I give advice on a regular basis on this topic. Locking your instructor model early is the most important part. I firmly believe any can learn how to code but it take an especially empathetic and emotionally supportive developer to effectively guide students through the pitfalls of learning to code.
When choosing your curriculum, make sure it’s a technology or platform you believe it. Eventually, students will need to borrow your confidence to master concepts. It will be much easier to transfer confidence when you truly and passionately believe in your product.
Do you see bootcamps replacing college for parts of the population?
For the right person a bootcamp can short circuit the path to a professional career in coding. My computer science degree from New Mexico State University has been invaluable throughout my career and due to the intensity and sheer depth of study, I felt I was prepared to take on anything. To add context: my career predates the internet by several years. Students with a college education will no-doubt have rounded out some of their knowledge edges and that ends up being valuable. But, I do believe, that for the right person with the right mix of grit and determination, a coding bootcamp might just get you from 0 to 60 with enough gas to power their junior career.
What is the job market like where your bootcamp is based?
Mobile Makers is based in Chicago with a campus in San Francisco. For software programming in general, both regions are very strong. San Francisco has the obvious market with no shortage of world-class brands both in technology and business incubators. Chicago, the silicon sleeping beast, has a strong history in terms of hi-tech banking and well established telecommunications not to mention medical/pharma. During the past 10 years. we have enjoyed a kind of renaissance of new business as we have become home to a slew of business incubators attracting global investment dollars and top-tier talent across the domain spectrum.
In the summer of 2011, Don co-founded The Mobile Makers Academy and is the Chief Instructor, ushering much needed iOS development talent into new careers. Don has been an outspoken advocate for women and girls in tech, seeking to bridge the technology gap by exposing the fun and creative side of programming. He frequently mentors both high school and college students who display an interest in technology and coding.
Don is also a partner and co-founder of Eight Bit Studios. He loves meeting new developers, seeing their tremendous potential, and giving them the opportunity to be great. At Eight Bit Studios, Don develops software on various studio projects, careful to learn something new with each one. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to him on Twitter via LinkedIn.