Zip Code Wilmington graduated its second class last Friday, and the school’s educators said with each cohort, they’re getting the recipe for a successful coding bootcamp down to a science.
“With each prospective class, we get a little better and they get a little stronger coming out,” said Anthony Pisapia, the head of school.
The proof is in the numbers: The second class began with 31 students, four of whom dropped out in the first five weeks, and 27 graduated last week. Of the graduates, 24 have been placed in apprenticeships or jobs, and Pisapia said Zip Code is working with the remaining three on getting them placed.
The first cohort graduated 16 programmers, five of whom were offered permanent jobs while 11 got apprenticeships. They arrived at Zip Code with an average income of $24,000 and left with an average of $54,000.
So what’s the first key ingredient?
“Coffee!” quipped Tariq Hook, Zip Code’s director of education, a man we once called the “Big Bad Wolf” of code.
That, and learning by doing. But Hook said getting students to learn has required a few important teaching components, aside from java of the bean variety.
He said he’s learned not to get caught up in spending too much time going over semantics when the real learning happens when students apply lessons in their work.
Finding the right pace for covering subject matter has also been important, Hook said, as well as avoiding overwhelming students.
“We’re very aggressive trying to hit benchmarks for topics we cover,” he said. “And then some people start to not love programming anymore.”
That’s not his aim, so Hook said it’s been important to learn when to slow down and give students some time.
Pisapia agreed that Zip Code is an intense program.
“When we say we’re putting in 70 to 80 hours a week, that’s not marketing, it’s real,” he said. “People are staying overnight, well into the evening and are here on weekends. The biggest challenge in running a coding school is to make sure you don’t burn out the students and that you don’t burn out the instructors.”
To do that, Hook said he’s worked to create a positive learning environment and has also had students pick projects they’re passionate about.
“That gets them engaged in reading, doing research and building something they’re emotionally tied to,” he said.
A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post published a story about the burgeoning popularity of for-profit coding bootcamps and how some argue such bootcamps are a waste of money. The News Journal republished the story and irritated Hook when they ran pictures of him and Zip Code with the story.
“They’re showing up everywhere and not teaching skills, and people are not finding jobs,” he said of the bootcamps referenced in the story. “That does not apply to us.”
Zip Code is a nonprofit — and part of Delaware’s larger response to the TechHire initiative — and Hook said students rarely pay more than $2,000 in tuition, as compared with the private $15,000-$40,000 intensive programs.
He and Pisapia also pointed out that Zip Code works with its students’ future employers in planning its curriculum.
“I think it’s pretty helpful to look at the fact that there are 80 full-time bootcamps in the country right now, and we’re one of three or four focused on Java, and we’re looking inside companies to see what’s relevant for hiring entry-level developers,” Pisapia said, adding that Zip Code tailors its program to jobs that are available rather than focusing on placing students with startups or with independent contractors.
The next class starts April 25, and a record 250 applied to enroll, Pisapia said. He’s finalizing the enrollment for that class now, and said applications are open for the upcoming September course.
Most importantly, Pisapia said, Zip Code has figured out how to move forward and also be positive for its students.
“Part of what differentiates us here is that we do that, and folks want to stay here and keep learning,” he said. “That makes me really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”