My First Cohort

As some of my more dedicated followers might know, in March I left StrongLoop (now part of IBM) after only 14 months with the company. My primary role there was as a developer evangelist which basically means I got to go around to conferences and usergroups speaking about Node.js (read more about that in an earlier post). This was an amazing opportunity and something I had wanted to do for many years. But as much as I love engaging with the Node and JavaScript community around the world, there was still something missing.

The Iron Yard logo

My move in March was to join The Iron Yard at their Washington, DC campus as a full time instructor - and now I'm finishing up my first cohort teaching front end engineering (JavaScript, HTML, and CSS). The experience has been stressful but rewarding. I wanted to take a few minutes today to write up my thoughts on the experience and why I chose to take this route.

Why not stick with evangelism?

I've been speaking and teaching other developers since about 2004 when I became "the javascript guy" at my (then current) employer, the University of Texas at Austin. So many people were asking for help with JavaScript at the time that we decided to hold a few week-long courses on various related topics. This was really my first experience teaching others a technical concept and I was hooked. My first conference appearance was in 2006 at the California Web Accessibility Conference (CalWAC) speaking on accessible JavaScript (a very new concept at the time).

Speaking at Barcamp Nashville

I've been an active participant of whatever local community I was in ever since - helping organize meetups, barcamps, hackathons, and full technical conferences. Over the years the amount of time I spend on evangelism has accelerated and in 2014, while maintaining a full time job not as an evangelist, I spoke at 22 events globally. Last year that number jumped to 28 with the proper title of "Developer Evangelist". While I loved the experiences I gathered, there was always something missing: I rarely had any follow up with my attendees.

Sure, there was the random tweets directly after, and maybe even a follow up via email or blog comments from an attendee, but I never saw any individual transformation from my knowledge sharing. I knew that this was a problem even when I took the job with StrongLoop, but I thought I could hedge those feelings through individual mentorship. That certainly helped, and the two folks I'm mentoring have been amazing and done amazing things (both have had international speaking engagements!).

But I still wasn't satisfied.

Of Bandwagons and Market Growth

That brings us to The Iron Yard. I've been watching this organization for a couple years now and I kept hearing great things. You're probably familiar with the general idea: take some folks with no programming experience, immerse them in a group instruction setting to teach them the basics, then help them find their first gig in their new career. The concept of a code school is not that new, but the uptake by the public is. In 2013 only a couple thousand people in the US graduated from such a school. In 2015 that number was expected to be over 16,000.

Code Bootcamp Market Growth

I'm not one to simply jump on the bandwagon, and I took a lot of time considering a position as an instructor with a code school. I delivered a couple of guest lectures at different schools and talked to a number of current and former instructors and students about their experiences. As you already know I did eventually sign on, and as I said earlier, my experience has been stressful.

My stress was primarily due to my sudden shift from evangelism to teaching full time without much preparation in between - something of my own doing. But additionally, I was now commuting every day versus working remotely and traveling. Developing a lesson plan from week to week - including multiple assignments, exercises, and demonstrations - consumed most of my weekends. Evenings were spent reviewing student assignment submissions and answering the odd question from the current night's assignment. Generally speaking, while the cohort was in session, I had no little outside life.

All that stress for what?

And finally we come to the crux of this article... was it worth it?

I'm just finishing up this first cohort, and I'm happy to report that all of students are on track to graduate and go on to do amazing things. One of the reasons I joined The Iron Yard was its focus on the students post-graduation. Their career support and alumni programs are geared to ensure students are successful for the rest of their lives, not just enough to justify the expense of the course they took.

I feel a connection to my students that will (hopefully) persist beyond our three-month interaction on campus and allow me to see them succeed in this amazing industry and community. Visibility into this transition is what I was missing. The ability to not only have my knowledge passed on, but to see it used to change lives elevates my new position above anything I've done in the past.

And in case you were wondering, you'll still see me out in the community speaking and organizing. With my reduced travel though, I plan to take a bigger role in local events like the DC JavaScript meetup. So come out and see one of my talks if you're in DC, or ping my on Twitter if you want me to come to an event in your area!

Published on May 14, 2016