Of Feet, Doors, and Dev Bootcamp
[Update: We’ve just announced on TechCrunch that we’re opening Dev Bootcamp in Chicago in the Spring.]
In April of 2000, I was a family therapist in DuPage County, Illinois, with no formal technical training. I had recently taught myself HTML and had become proficient at “programming” with it. As I worked with HTML, I noticed that the work energized me. At the same time, I had tried and failed to teach myself Java. Despite that failure, I was convinced that I would enjoy and excel at developing software. So I decided to join a tech company, an early ed-tech startup called Edventions, based in Skokie, Illinois. It was eventually killed off by the dot-bomb explosion, but before its eventual demise, this startup, and specifically Irv Shapiro, allowed me put my foot in the door that opened to my career in software development.
Six month later, I was presented with an opportunity to shift my focus more fully into programming. I needed to learn Perl in order to keep my job. With a mortgage, a baby daughter, and a pregnant wife, my motivation to learn Perl was not insignificant. So I learned Perl, despite my previous failure with Java. I learned Perl extremely quickly, impressing Joel Grossman and Steve Bunes in the process. Steve put in a good word for me at the American Medical Association which, when Edventions collapsed, helped me land my second tech job. That second job was arguably an even riskier proposition than my first, just 6 months after I had started programming professionally. I spent 3 years at the AMA, and eventually got my big break at ThoughtWorks, which kicked off the series of fortunate events that has been the last 8 years of my career.
All of this was made possible by that foot in the door, and facilitated by a more immersive learning environment at Edventions. A big reason I failed to learn Java was because I was learning in isolation. I would read Java for Dummies between clients during the day, and then type in the magical incantations on my PC at night. I learned Perl in the presence of many experienced Perl programmers, a few of whom went out of their way to give me a hand up. The stark contrast between these two approaches to learning left an indelible mark on me.
My 4-year road from Edventions to Thoughtworks was incredibly frustrating and I wanted to short-circuit it for other aspiring software developers. So I shared what worked for me, and a couple years later, I led the formation of an apprenticeship program. The program took people who were within striking distance of our entry-level requirements, and surrounded them with dedicated mentoring, and a feedback-rich learning structure. (A more detailed description.) It does not prescribe curriculum, relying instead on competent mentoring and immersive project work. Obtiva’s apprenticeship program reflected my “upbringing” at Edventions and was born out of my belief that there were many other people like me out there who had no formal technical training, but great potential. I believed we could identify those people and expedite their foot in the door experience. By 2010, the program was on autopilot, and I had started shifting my focus further upstream, closer to pure beginners.
In 2012, I met Shereef Bishay in San Francisco. He had just started Dev Bootcamp. We kept in touch. I kept visiting. I spent time with their students. I looked at their job placement numbers. Shereef, and his business partner Jesse Farmer, had created a culture and a process which expedited and formalized the foot in the door phenomenon. They did this by focusing their entire business on one thing: creating an environment where high-potential beginners can work unfathomably hard for 9 weeks, and leave with a job as a web developer. Over 90% of these beginners end up with jobs that pay them an average salary of over $85,000.
While those hiring and salary numbers are fun to share, there are more powerful forces at work here. I’ll write more about these forces in the future, but the one I want to reiterate is the force created by these diligent students as they walk through doors that were closed to them just a few months prior. I’ve discovered that opening doors is my life’s work, and that Dev Bootcamp is the most efficient door-opening process I’ve ever experienced.
Related: I chose to join Dev Bootcamp full-time this Fall and have been quite gruntled!