There are plenty of things you don’t anticipate when you start a coding school. Good and bad things. The amazing feeling you get when you find out one of your graduates is interviewing at Google = good, having to change the name of your coding school and rebrand (rookie mistake) having started it up just 7 months earlier = very bad.
But nothing has been quite so unanticipated as having to migrate a completely in-person coding bootcamp in Barcelona at a moment’s notice. It meant managing expectations and emotions in the face of an indefinite lockdown.
Fortunately we were prepared. We had a week to put things into place, and already had a defined format for taking our in-house model of teaching online into a blended learning experience.
So, here go my insights on making all this happen on a tight timeline, and how it’s been a pretty rewarding experience for everyone involved.
1. We started a coding school with a powerful mission because, if you build it, they will come.
CodeOp is a coding school for women, trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals. I started the school with a mission to focus on this underrepresented group in tech, to lessen the gender gap in the sector (with the pleasant knock-on effect of reducing toxic masculinity in tech). I’ve always believed in education and the sacredness of educational spaces, and wanted to set something up that offered the same values—the sense of nurturing, growth, direction and power that I’ve derived from the educational experiences in my life.
Having such a strong vision has translated into building a community that shares and reflects the same principles. Everyone here believes in the mission, and we’ve created this amazing space that’s become more than physical.
Over the last few weeks I’ve seen our students come together to nurture and guide each other through the changes we’ve had to make. Students finishing up their courses have volunteered to help those about to start, lending a hand with the new format so that things run as smoothly and happily as possible. It’s gone beyond education. Physical and spiritual health have been rallied around —there are online meetups for so many things, including a morning squats class! Our students are conscious of being there for each other. It’s not just that I believe in them or that they believe in themselves, they believe so strongly in each other that this mission has taken on a whole new level, and that’s a beautiful thing to see.
2. We chose teachers who’re dedicated to the cause and what they’re teaching.
A recent graduate said in her feedback: “The team you’ve got is super awesome, Katrina. I’ve seen firsthand that a company succeeds mostly because of the team. You have both a great service and an A* team!”
I was pretty happy with that.
When I hire teachers, there are four key things I look for without question:
- Experience teaching
- Years of industry experience
- Spirit—a little twinkle in the eye, a certain je ne sais quoi
- Mission driven folks
Our instructors are complementary, a mix of experts in different areas who have been in engineering for 20+ years and newbies who went through our bootcamp and have been in the field for just 9 months. Everyone has a different approach. I believe this kind of diversity in skill level is key, as well as the fact that we have a 1:5 ratio of teachers to students.
The care and passion CodeOp teachers have for their subject naturally translates to the digital space. Our instructors want our students to understand the material—that’s their number one objective, and the environment is literally independent. How many stories are there of incredible instructors finding ways to teach using rice grains to count in lieu of calculators, or dirt to draw when they don’t have boards? Real educators always find ways to communicate their knowledge by maximizing their resources.
3. We kept the value of our in-person classes alive, adapted for remote classes.
From early on, it was obvious that it wouldn’t be sufficient to just replicate our in-person programme online, and so both staff and students quickly adapted and found creative ways to stay connected, communicate and most importantly, not compromise the learning experience. Fortunately, Agile methods and minds translate to crises.
The two main technologies we use to bring our online learning experience to life are Slack and Zoom. Slack is the main tool used for communication and organisation (as well as a surprising amount of memes). We utilise Zoom for screen sharing, whiteboarding and student-led virtual classrooms, keeping it as interactive as possible to mimic the in-person classroom.
Of course, there’s a certain camaraderie that builds from an in-person bootcamp. Lunch and coffee breaks are usually moments to share your coding ‘aha!’ moments or your frustration with that one bug you can’t seem to find a solution for. Such moments aren’t as organic with the online experience, which is why we’ve been even more intentional in building them into the program.
Events such as online community squat challenges and social tea time give us a chance to regain those moments where students can share stories about this intense learning experience and have a laugh at the same time. With the online program we encourage students to reach out to teachers, and the team makes a more mindful effort to touch base and check in on the student’s experience of the program.
We stay very aware of the entirely different setting. In the physical bootcamp space, everyone is focused on learning and their coding journey. But, if you’re working from home you could have kids that want attention, flatmates that decide they want a chat, or a sock drawer that’s screaming to be reorganized.
Realizing how important it is to design a proper at-home work setup and create helpful at-home rituals and routines around your work, we have Judith. As our agile coach and remote working guru, she helps students adjust and answers any question related to succeeding in the remote working world.
4. We created a slack community where everyone—students, graduates and the extended CodeOp community—can stay in touch.
We set up an additional CodeOp Slack community in March 2019, after our second cohort of students. The vision for this was having a supportive global network of women and TGNC folks with shared values and technical interests. Our applicants have come from over 75 countries worldwide—we imagined how powerful and rich a resource this community could be! Now with over 80 women and TGNC folks involved in the channel, it’s really caught fire.
People share articles, seek guidance, post challenges, share what they’re currently working on, ask people to test out their projects and so much more everyday. It’s a self-sustaining community that encourages and supports each other. It’s gone beyond helpful communication to what feels like a group of super smart, hardworking individuals communing in a shared, safe place.
5. We stayed present and empathetic.
My job at this stage is a balancing act of leading business from an operational standpoint and leading the business in terms of planning and predicting the future. None of that has changed, only the context of it. All of this now just happens in the seclusion of my own home. But I miss my team; they’re at the heart of everything that’s so great about CodeOp.
Resiliency always kicks in at these moments, so I can’t say that I am worried. Resilience has a way of cutting through superficiality or BS, and I appreciate this. It gives you perspective into what matters.
Having made sure everyone’s immediate needs are met, I’m now working on ensuring our new systems in place are working well for both staff and students. I’m in planning mode, trying to make predictions about the economy and our sector, locating any opportunities to support others through our services. Now, more than ever the digital gap is widening. Those without digital access or skills, are more impacted by the lockdown. I’d like to have CodeOp working to make situations like these more sustainable for any affected individuals.
How we move forward
Apart from the immediate support we’ve offered our current and prospective students, I think CodeOp is yet to play a bigger role in this crisis we’re facing.
The obvious fear playing on our students’ minds is whether or not they’ll be able to find a job considering the current and future economic crisis we’ll face post-pandemic. Because software developers and data analysts are highly sought after and can work from almost anywhere our mission now is to:
Support (via scholarships) those who’ve recently found themselves unemployed so that they can equip themselves with a new skill during this period.
Create more connections between employers and prospective employees through online job fairs.
We’re readying ourselves and our students for the very different global landscape likely to emerge after this crisis.