Red Squirrel's Nuts

I constantly forget where I bury my nuts, but at least they sometimes grow trees.

Dec 31 2013

3 Phases of Beginner Software Developers

One of my biggest takeaways from launching Dev Bootcamp in Chicago in 2013 was the realization that Dev Bootcamp exists to efficiently transition people from paying to learn to paid to learn. There are few things more life-changing than that transition. I remember how profoundly it changed my life when I started getting paid to learn to be a programmer when I was 26.

Using what I learned this year about the “transition from paying to paid”, I came up with the following 3 phases that many successful beginner software developers are transitioning through in today’s software development education ecosystem.

Dabbler phase

The learner has enough context to begin to see the things they need to learn. They know the tools necessary to run programs, though they may not truly know how to use them yet. They can speak “tech” to a certain extent and are able to cobble together solutions to technical problems. They’ve completed online tutorials.

This phase is typically free or nearly free.

Examples include: Khan Academy, MOOCs, Codecademy, and Treehouse.

Immersive phase

This is an intense period of learning where the learner gains initial fluency through immersion in the software development ecosystem. When I think about this phase, I imagine my sister dabbling with French for years, but not gaining fluency until she spent a summer in France. She didn’t come back and write epic French literature, but she could speak like a native.

In this phase, learners are typically paying or scholarshipped.

Examples include: Dev Bootcamp, Hackbright Academy, and Launch Academy.

Apprenticeship phase

These learners now have the context and fluency to allow them to enter the world of professional software development. This phase is characterized by working on the job with a real software team delivering software. Apprentices are one-on-one with a more experienced mentor, pair programming for most of their hours together.

In this phase, learners are typically paid.

Examples include: and 8th Light’s apprenticeship program.

Some Thoughts

Not all of the current offerings on the market fit neatly into these phases. For instance, costs money, but is not immersive in the same way that Dev Bootcamp is immersive, since is a remote mentoring experience while Dev Bootcamp students spend 40+ hours/week face-to-face with instructors and many additional hours face-to-face with each other. Another example is gSchool, which lasts 24 weeks and aims to get beginners through the apprenticeship phase before graduation. Finally, there are those people who can make the transition from “free to paid” without ever paying much of anything along the way. This was my journey, and I co-wrote a book to help others make that same journey.

Your Thoughts

Head over to Quora to weigh in on which programs fit in which phases…

Learning to Program: In which of Dave Hoover’s Dabbler / Immersive / Apprenticeship phases do each of the “learn to code” offerings fit?

Thanks to Dan Croak of Thoughtbot for some helpful edits of the 3 phases.

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