Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Coding Dojo Review - the good part - Community!

Here's a topic that I meant to write about for a while: one of kind Coding Dojo review, on the community. When still a student at the bootcamp, I wrote this blog post about Coding Dojo showing web security caveats: Does your bootcamp teach security @codesumblog? There are some very special things about Coding Dojo. 

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This article is loved on Twitter. Scroll all the way down to see embedded tweets and retweet from Coding Dojo.

At the dojo, you will meet a score of different personalities, nationalities and  origins of alma mater. There are experienced developers, who just didn't choose the sexy languages today. There are businessmen and women, students, people who quit their jobs and made to quit their jobs ... Even the founder himself was a self-taught programmer who was actually a Caltech prodigy in chemical science (? pretty sure it was ChemE, but this info needs to be cross-checked). He understands the taste of being a beginner, an entrepreneur and more importantly, a hacker. The other co-founder in the Philippines is quite impressive too. He was trained with the first version of the curriculum at Coding Dojo, but has since then managed the team in the Philippines, taught, developed and TA'ed those in the US and the students. If traditional schooling has failed you, you may find a surprising utopia here. And it's quite possible to be student-turned-staff here at the dojo, or even manager.

Connections to 500 Startups and Hacker Dojo
The Coding Dojo had its symbiotic days with the Hacker Dojo. Students, staff, alumni, and the founders each has spent quite some time at this Mountain View hub of tech talks, training events, and co-working spaces for startups. The networking that happens here is invaluable. Thanks to early alumni connection the area, Coding Dojo has informal alumni support in the 500 Startups accelerator and fundraiser community. You can possibly get your pitches polished. I had mine polished by a friend right before the demo day.

At one point, a Y Combinator alum also consulted for Coding Dojo. I had personally received contacts, pitching advice, career advice, and job advice from him. That was helpful too. Sometimes, it's about the way of changing your career, not necessarily the skill set.

Proximity is Gold
While San Francisco is sexy and techie, let's not forget that most startups do reside in Mountain View, Palo Alto... yes, actually the Silicon Valley. Coding Dojo has invited some prominent speakers to visit and interact with students!  In my days, there was Mark Otto, and you can only imagine how awesome it was to talk to him, when we were learning how to use Twitter Bootstrap at the very moment. Designers and front-end developers from Pinterest also talked. The best part was, these videos are available even more readers! Click here. Pretty sure I missed out on Startup 500 pitches and Google classes try ons. I think the lectures have gotten even better. Apparently the most recent one was web scale up by a guest speaker from Hackbright. The quality of guest speakers has been stunning since Class 1. Still something worth mentioning, though it is probably less frequent now (need fact check).

The Art and the Video, the Brand 

There's something special about being a Ninja in a Dojo. There is a sense of drilling, training, and mutual respect (yes, a bit Karate kid like). Each student needs to take multiple levels and types of qualification exam in order to qualify for a belt yellow, green, red and black. And each belt contains different technologies. There's some very satisfying to qualify after spending hours (that's a lot! but not a lot for fully functional app, so the exams are actually intense) building a fully functional project. Hard projects and trainings build the best teams, which form communities and the constitute the alumni base at Coding Dojo.

And did I mention Coding Dojo would make awesome pictures and videos of you? Not any more, but the ninja, dojo, belt brandings are still strong, the pictures and banners for demo day are still great, may be just fewer vids.

Instructors that are dedicated
Sometimes I struggle with the typical instructor at Coding Dojo. They aren't your Silicon Valley developer developers. They are trainers, coaches, and hackers who are way more experienced and stronger at teaching than the students. They definitely have a lot to teach, thanks to their experience working with many students and hacking their way through, and they are super dedicated!

I still remember spending hours with one of the cofounders debugging, at very late hours. An army of offshore teaching assistant personnel, dedicated and committed to the students. And of course Randall and Eylem (my former classmates) really showed a lot of patience, good humor and dedication to the students that they have taught.

Coding Dojo offered and I think they are continuing to offer good food as a part of the program. That should save lots of money. And food time, is a great time to make friends and make ideas.

In the end, despite that the commute was painful and the feeling was mixed for a San Francisco-based hacker like myself, the program has worked for many students and has been growing stronger (you can read about the Seattle location here . Seems to be led by an original co-founder and leading students from previous classes) and with more organization. 

May be bootcamps aren't supposed to be magical. They are supposed to do one thing: kickstart and fuel your programming career(they fuel the small kindle that has planted in you). In a way, the dojo training brand and way of life kind of worked out well to build in some grit, and some struggle in that journey to learn to code. 

Folks who talked to me in the past and ended up choosing Coding Dojo have found a combination of factors and characteristics about the Dojo end up working better for them. In their circumstance, timing, and situation, Coding Dojo ended up being a great match. Then taking a step back, against all odds I also chose Coding Dojo because of timing and budget rather than the more obvious, and potentially stronger choice: Hackbright and Hack Reactor (which even had a different name). It's just like college. There will be matches and nemesis. Maybe the Dojo works for you?

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