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An Interview with Andrew Jensen, Coder Foundry's Lead Instructor

We're luckier than a lot of bootcamps; since our founding, we have had the pleasure of having a University level professor at the helm of Coder Foundry instruction (and when it comes to coding bootcamps, that really isn't the norm). Our lead instructor, Andrew Jensen, recently sat down with the team over at Course Report to discuss his background, how he found his way to Coder Foundry, and his take on our program and the bootcamp movement. Below is an excerpt from that interview.

Q: Coming from a Computer Science PhD and a fairly traditional education background, did you have to be convinced of the bootcamp model at all?

Actually, it made all the sense in the world to me. I had honestly become disenchanted with academia as a whole. I was discouraged by the fact that the curriculum I had to teach my students was dictated by accreditation and not by what the students needed. If the university wanted to be accredited through the Federal Department of Education then they had a certain criteria that they had to meet and it just happened to be that 85 - 90% of the curriculum is Computer Science theory.

Over a four-year period of time, Computer Science students have very little practical coding experience. The thing that I liked about Coder Foundry is that it’s based upon learning as a science. The science of learning has proven for the last 150 years that people learn best by doing. They don’t learn by sitting in a lecture. They learn by getting their hands dirty, and that’s the way Coder Foundry functions; that’s our business model.

We teach all of the students that come through our courses the skills they need to get their careers underway. They’re going to learn more by applying those skills than they will ever learn from me lecturing to them for eight hours a day.

Q: How many cohorts have you taught now?  

We’re on our third Master Class- that’s our full-time class, eight to ten hours a day. We also offer a part-time, evening class. It runs for 24 weeks and covers the same topics as the day time course, but it is targeted towards working professionals that want to further themselves without leaving their current jobs. I taught the first session of the part-time course, but now I focus on the Master Class. We brought on another instructor, Thomas Parrish to teach the evening class for us now.

Q: Is there a difference in the expected outcomes between the evening class and the full-time class? Do you expect people to be at the same level when they graduate?

We do. Really, the only difference is the length of the program. Most people have jobs that they’re interested in keeping while they go through the part-time class.

Q: Can you take us through the technologies that you cover in 12 weeks?

In the beginning of the course we introduce students to some basic web development skills. We assume at least a basic knowledge of HTML, but we do introduce them to the Twitter Bootstrap framework and CSS classes.

We do quite a bit of JavaScript work in the beginning of the class, so during the first week it’s a lot of JavaScript exercises. Then we move them from that into a C# environment and we have them start building personal websites. We want our students to have a professional personal site that they can use to showcase the work that they do here so that future employers can see what they’ve been producing.

We also have students start a blog page on their personal website that allows them to journal while they’re going through Coder Foundry. At the end of each week they write about things they learned, questions they had, impressions and milestones.

By journaling, there is a written record of their thought processes. We can see areas where they’re struggling, things they’re excelling at; it gives us a better idea of how to work with each individual student. It also lets potential employers look and see their progress from day one and see how quickly they move through our curriculum and how much they learn.

Q: Do you assign pre-work before students start the class?

We do if we feel they need it. We want everyone to start our program having similar background knowledge so that no one struggles in the beginning, or so that our more experienced students don’t feel like their time is being wasted on the basics.

Q: Do you expect the average student to start with some technical experience?

We really prefer that they have at least a basic understanding of coding. Specifically, we want a student to have experience with object oriented languages; if they’ve worked in C++ and Java, that’s fantastic.

Our curriculum is really rigorous, and with the amount of work that we’re covering between C-Sharp, AngularJS, and web API, we just don’t have time in 12 weeks to teach everyone object-oriented programming from the ground up.

Q: Do you have resources for people to look at before they get there?

We tell each student which subjects they should check out; tutorials on HTML, Javascript etc. W3 Schools is a great resource. During the application process, students complete assessments and we evaluate their code and conduct personal interviews to assess their abilities to succeed in the course. We don’t want to take anyone’s time and money if they’re not going to pass.

Q: What type of person have you found really excels in the Coder Foundry class? 

Sometimes it surprises me. It’s tough to make a judgment call during an interview. What I have found is that the people who do best never miss a class; they’re always there. We cover so much information so fast that if you miss a day, you’re going to have a really difficult time catching up.

A successful student also takes advantage of our Friday lab days, and they do work outside the classroom. We have regular instruction Monday-Thursday and Friday is optional. We have instructors and mentors here to answer questions and help with coding problems and we encourage all of our students to be here for those Friday lab days.

Q: Do you all give assessments throughout the course?

I’m not a proponent of exams. I’ve given enough of them over the years to learn they are just not an accurate representation of somebody’s ability.

Instead, we evaluate our students’ work. We treat them like employees instead of students. We give them project specifications and deadlines. Each of their projects has to be complete according to the specification by the deadline or they simply don’t pass that project.

Q: You’ve done this course three times so far; what have you iterated on?

That’s one of the great things about a bootcamp: we’re not tied to a set curriculum. The things that I’m teaching this third class are quite a bit different than what I taught our first class.

We’ve learned a lot with experience. We learned things that needed to be taught a little bit differently, elements we needed to add to the projects, and we’ve found that we could strike some unnecessary elements. Nothing huge- just little things here and there that we needed to do to modify the curriculum. We try to do that after each class.

Being a bootcamp, we have the flexibility to change, which is incredibly beneficial for our students in the long run.

You can read the full interview with Andrew over on the blog.