Many people have strong opinions on what type of education is best. One might choose to learn from listening to lectures or by building projects. One could even go against the grain and take the intense focus of a bootcamp.
I chose the intensive approach. Bootcamps come in all shapes and sizes, but the one I will speak to is the immersive online software engineering program offered by the Viking Code School. Viking has provided exactly what I was looking for: daily pedal-to-the-metal learning. It’s a rigorous program that brings out the best in its students. Its intensity is not for the faint of heart.
This is a professional’s perspective of an immersive online program.
But first, a quick background on me so you know where I am coming from with all this. Before joining Viking’s immersive program, I was a successful technical project lead in charge of redesigning a major subsystem of the Patriot Missile Seeker. As you can probably imagine, I’m no stranger to hard work and tight deadlines.
Distance Learning: The elephant in the room
Everyone who has taken an online class is familiar with how these experiences often go. The first 1-2 weeks you are going strong, finishing the reading and enjoying the material. Then the next weeks hit, and as every day passes your motivation dwindles. You stop doing the work. By week 5 you are lucky to remember that the class exists.
This is not the case in Viking’s immersive program. The program puts you face-to-face with your partner during the 6+ hours of pair programming. The pair programming is broken up with 3 daily scrums, where demos and code reviews await. Occasionally you’ll have solo programming sessions, but the situation is the same. In the pair programming sessions, you are sharing screens and video with your partner. It’s an incredibly motivating force to have that other person there giving you the immediate feedback you’re accustomed to having in person. The human connection makes you forget you aren’t in the same room as your partner.
How does this online program compare with the App Academies and General Assemblies’ in person bootcamp?
Walk a mile in the shoes of an online immersive bootcamper
Let’s walk a student’s “typical” week in the Viking immersive online program.
- 8:00 - skills assessment, an hour dedicated to testing your skills from the past week’s curriculum. The gloves are off and you had better know your stuff.
- 9:00 - morning scrum, demos, questions and answers
- 10:00~12:00 - pair programming assignments/projects
- Lunch break - eat like there’s no tomorrow
- 1:00 - (scrum) peer code reviews, algorithm challenges
- 2:00~5:00 - pair programming assignments/projects
- 5:00 - (scrum) peer code reviews (all groups)
Much of the same except there is no morning assessment. We kick off at 8:00 am with the morning scrum, and then you are head down, grinding away at whatever assignment or project is on your plate for the day.
Occasionally we’ll have a hackathon project where there is no pair programming. Instead it’s a BYOI (bring your own idea) programming competition. Morning and afternoon scrums are very short these days. At evening scrum, you’d better have a working demo, deployed to Heroku, or your chances of winning are vanishingly small.
Evenings are where the truly ambitious really shine. They acknowledge that 8 hours is not enough to know all they need to know to succeed. So students such as these spend their evenings studying the material for the following day. I prefer learning by doing, so I tend to spend those evenings building apps and breaking them. All told, you’re looking at 12 hours of study a day minimum (yes, minimum!).
Finish up all assignments and projects from the week, that is your first priority. Then move into learning (and it’s a lot of stuff) the new materials. Practice algorithms and find something interesting to blog about. I love algorithms and system design, so for me, thats what you will find most of my blogs discussing.
Average week: 70+ hours (based on experience)
On the face of it, the online and on-site programs look very similar. In class projects and stretch assignments followed up by learning in the evenings and early mornings. Its an experience that quite literally makes you shut out the rest of the world and focuses your attention completely on the course.
However, this is where individuals really start to show their colors. It would be very easy for individuals to fall off the wagon and put off the studying portion of the coursework in an online course. As someone coming in from industry, with leadership experience, this is what really stands out to me. The students keeping up with the pace of the course don’t make time for excuses. They just freakin do it.
Self-motivating & ambitious, not your average grads
I had the pleasure of leading a group in a larger 2.5 day, 6 person hackathon. What I saw in those I worked directly with, was nothing short of impressive. In my time at Boeing, I can’t remember a time where I was surrounded by such productive and driven individuals. In the 2 nights we worked through, I don’t think anyone slept more than 5 hours. Communication was fantastic, at a level that would be envied by any development team.
It was an eye opener for me, a person who is always pushing himself to get better in anything I find myself doing. I see these qualities in myself, but rarely do I have the privilege of meeting another person with this same passion. Let alone, 12 of them! Out of the classmates who have made it this far, none are short in the ambition and motivation columns. There were 20 who started the program, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t a fit and the size of the class began to shrink.
The amount of personal drive it takes to maintain the pace of the intensive online course is quite great. You’d be hard pressed to find an individual with the personal drive of an online immersive student like you’ll find at Viking. You are accountable to yourself in Viking, and the individuals who persist will be valuable contributors to any high performance team because of the sheer will they possess.
Identifying the immersive students
I do not represent the Viking Code School or its affiliates, I am merely a humble student who has completely embraced the immersive online experience. As a matter of fact, I’ve loved every last minute of it.