Why Developers Need 'Finishing School'

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How can developers bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world, on-the-job experience? They can go to 'finishing school.'

In theory, a software developer's knowledge and “fluency” in a programming language should be an accurate gauge of his or her ability to perform well for a company. In practice, however, there are a host of skills and practices that can be learned only through on-the-job experience.

To bridge that gap and to help funnel developers to talent-hungry startups in Silicon Valley, RocketSpace, technology learning community, has created RocketU.

Developer Bootcamp

RocketU is a 12-week bootcamp for developers that’s designed to immerses students in a hands-on environment to help develop business and corporate work experience and hone tech skills in preparation for a career, says Nick Almond, vice president of education, RocketU.

Tony Scherba, CEO and co-founder of Yeti, a small design and development shop that works with Silicon Valley start-ups, designed RocketU's curriculum to address what he saw as a major obstacle in the process of educating developers – that current two- or four-year degree programs didn't do enough to prepare students for development in the real world.

Development in the Real World

"We wanted to address some of our own frustrations in the hiring process," Scherba says. "Especially with new developers, it was difficult to know how quickly someone could produce minimum viable product (MVP), or what the quality of their work is, how they work as a team, how savvy they are at understanding the technology's role in the business," he says.

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"RocketU is not just teaching them programming languages and syntax, but also how a development team works together collaboratively, different ways a team interacts with other business units, how code reviews are performed – all crucial steps in any business that leverages software," Scherba says.

The program is based on the agile software development framework and is broken down into four, three-week modules, or “sprints,” which cover a full-stack software development process, says Scherba. Students learning about the nuts-and-bolts of Web site design, construction and user-experience issues, then move on to front-end development, then to a course dedicated to working within a larger business and finally wrap up with a full-stack development module, he says.

At the end of each sprint, developers present their product to their peers, and the program ends with a larger, capstone project that's presented to carefully vetted startups and other firms invited by RocketSpace.

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"The program is very project-focused, so students also graduate with a body of work that they can show in a portfolio to potential employers," Scherba says. In addition to formal coursework, RocketU offers technical interview training, lunch-and-learn sessions with IT executives, as well as Hiring Days, where any number of the nearly 175 firms that partner with RocketSpace come to interview and vet potential employees, says Almond.

Rocketing to Job Opportunities

"Our hiring partner network is made up of companies we've vetted that are a good fit for the skills and expertise these students will bring to the table," says Almond. "There are opportunities for either internships – which can lead to full-time employment – or for full-time positions," he says.

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"We have students from all walks of life and from every career stage – budding entrepreneurs who want to hone development skills; executives who want to better understand DevOps or to communicate more effectively with their development teams; new graduates with computer science degrees who want to go beyond their theoretical course work and get a more hands-on, true production development experience; folks who are transitioning from careers in finance or retail or the like," Almond says.

"It's a great opportunity no matter where you come from," he says.

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