How to Attract a Technical Cofounder at Meetups

How to attract a technical cofounder

At the end of this article you will know how to attract a technical cofounder.  You will have steps you can take to turn the tables around, and have developers asking you: “do you need a technical cofounder?”

I spent a couple years of my life bounding into meetups questing for a technical cofounder. I only needed to make one developer fall in love with my idea and I’d have the golden ticket to launch my big app idea.

In hindsight, I sounded like a desperate puppy panting for attention. I even tried the paid cofounder match-making services. To no one’s surprise, the meetups were made up of mostly non-technical folks just like me. The breakdown was probably 80% non-technical and 20% technical.

Here’s how it would go… I would enter the venue, which was typically a startup’s lounge, scribble my name on a name tag, then scan the room looking for the guy that was surrounded by non-technical attendees, like hungry lions salivating at a plump wildebeest.

Great… I had to outshine everyone else.  I wish I knew how to attract a technical cofounder.

I came to the meetups with a mental handicap, I had impostor syndrome.  I could bring just as much to the table even as a non-technical cofounder, but I didn’t know how to show it.

Now that I am a developer, I have a much better idea of what other developers are looking for in a non-technical cofounder. Here’s how you can show that you are bringing a lot to the table:

Show that you’re launching with or without them

Ideally, this means traction with actual paying customers or users on your prototype or MVP.

If you don’t have an MVP or a prototype, yet, demonstrate to the developer that the idea is actually a viable business by getting pre-sales from customers that have enough of a need for the product that they want to fund the product development.

If you’re really early in the game and don’t have any pre-sales or commitments from potential customers, this is slightly dangerous territory to be in because you might not actually have a viable business.  If you’re convinced and want to plow on, show that you have traction with your idea. That means designing high-fidelity interactive mockups by yourself or by hiring an outsourced designer.

By the way, an MVP doesn’t have to require coding. An MVP just needs to prove that there’s a large enough problem that people are willing to use some kind of tool to solve the problem.

For example, Beat the GMAT, a social network for MBA applicants, started off as a blog by one man, Eric Bahn. After having his inbox frazzled with emailed questions, Eric moved onto a forum. But there weren’t enough people answering questions so he did most of the answering himself until eventually he had enough traction with users that they were answering each other’s questions. Fast forward to 2014, Beat the GMAT grew to 3 million active users and his company was acquired by education powerhouse, Hobsons.

Another great no-code MVP is Ryan Hoover’s Product Hunt, a Reddit-like forum for sharing products. Ryan validated Product Hunt with essentially a mailing list. Once there was a proven need, Ryan then partnered with his developer/designer friend to create the site.

How to attract a technical cofounder

Product Hunt MVP

How to attract a technical cofounder

Product Hunt today

Do things that are not scalable. This shows that you have the hustle to launch.

All of these things assure the developer that there’s already inertia. To a developer, it’s much easier to accelerate an already launching startup than to help get a stationary idea moving.  How to attract a technical cofounder… get an app in motion.

Show that you bring immediately useful skills

True or not, a lot of developers are turned off by the idea that they’re going to be doing all the work early on while the non-technical guy just comes up with ideas and features.

What is undeniable is the mountain of work that does not require technical chops. Developers will be delighted if you have the skills to pick up the the slack so that they can focus on the code.

Here are some responsibilities that are necessary from day one that you should get good at:

  • Get out and talk to potential customers and actual users. Understand their pain better than they do. I think it was Ramit Sethi that said that if you can explain your customer’s pain to them better than they do, they will trust that you have the solution.
  • Gather, organize and prioritize the MVP requirements and feature pipeline. Use something simple like Pivotal Tracker. Always have something queued up to be worked on.
  • Master the app so that you can delight customers with frictionless customer support.
  • Get good at sales and writing sales copy. If you’ve never done sales, get a copy of Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything and learn that sales is a repeatable science
  • Start providing value to your potential customers from day one by teaching them and building a pre-launch mailing list. You don’t want to launch to crickets.

A technical cofounder’s job is highly tangible. Their job is to create code. If you have trouble showing your worth, you need to pick up skills and take on roles that are also highly tangible/visible.  How to attract a technical cofounder… bring skills that you can put into use on day one.

Empathize with the complexity of their job

If the developer knows that you understand the general concepts or technology terminology they know that it’ll be easy to communicate with you.

A common sticking point that technical people have with non-technical people is that non-technical people don’t understand the complexity of coding. Something that might seem “as easy as adding an additional field to the sign up page” really requires backend and database updates.

Show developers that you can empathize with the complexity of their job.

Unless you want to, you should not be spending your time learning how to code.  It can hurt more than it can help.  The point of having a partner is so that you can specialize and dedicate your strengths to the startup.  If you start trying to improve your weaknesses, you are wasting valuable cycles.

I recommend taking CodeSchool’s intro classes (HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Ruby).  They have video lessons then coding exercises.  How to attract a technical cofounder… learn to speak their language.

Lastly, don’t be desperate like I was.  My desperation reeked like I was insecure with my idea and skills.  If you follow all of these pointers, it already puts you ahead of the pack of all the other non-technical idea guys, so you don’t need to be desperate since you will know how to attract a technical cofounder :).



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How to Hire a Web App Developer: Job Posting Teardown

Two years ago, on a whim, I signed up for an account on Elance, and just barfed out my idea with all it’s features stream of consciousness style onto the job post.  There was no structure to the post and I gave no guidance.  If you read the job post out loud, it sounded like I was explaining my idea to my friends at a bar rather than me trying to explain to a developer how he or she should turn my idea into an app.

As you can imagine, this is a costly mistake.  Because I didn’t provide enough detail upfront, I paid for it in all the back and forth emails.

If this happens to you and your developer is in another timezone, they’ll have to wait 12 hours until you’re awake to get clarification.  Wasted time and wasted money.

Here’s a job posting that I found recently on Elance that is many times better than the first one I created.  This sounds like someone that has maybe done one or two projects using outsourced developers before.  There’s still some room for improvement, though.

Job Posting Teardown 1

How to Hire a Web App Developer Tools & Resources:

If you need help explaining with your job posting description, post your question in the comments and I’ll help you out.



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Frontend vs Backend: Learn Before Hiring a Freelance Developer

This article should take 5 minutes to read and at the end you’ll be able to speak more confidently with developers because you’ll know the difference between frontend vs backend and other major components of a web app. 

Two years ago when I started to design and hire outsourced developers for my first apps I was blissfully ignorant of the technical guts of web apps.  It wasn’t until I deposited my first few hundred dollars into an escrow account for a developer I hired on Elance that I realized I should at least know how the pieces of a web app come together so that I would know if

  1. I am hiring the right kind of developer (frontend vs backend) for the job
  2. and how features and changes would impact the app (frontend vs backend changes could be more or less costly)

I started reading more about frontend vs backend languages, SQL, CSS, jQuery, but after staring at documentation and stumbling through tutorials for hours every day, I was bewildered.  The only thought occupying my mind was “how much of this do I need to know and will it ever end?”  I felt like I was free falling down a dark endless technical abyss desperately grasping at concepts, trying to piece it all together.

I eventually resigned and convinced myself that “I’m just not wired that way”.  I would have to blindly trust that the developer I hired would be the right kind of developer and that they were making the right technical decisions for me.

To some extent that is the right attitude. You hire someone with tech expertise so that they can think about these problems.  However, the more you know about what your developer is doing, the better control you have over the successful outcome of your app.

You can learn enough so that you’re not completely cut off from the technical decision making.  Here are the 3 main parts of a web app.  From here you can dive deeper, but know these things and you’ll have a foundation to build on top of, which is what I was missing when I was trying to learn to the first time around.

The “Backend”

The backend is code that runs on the server.  The backend’s most visible responsibility is sending meaningful data to the frontend.  Think of the server like a server at a restaurant.  You (the frontend) tell the restaurant server what food (data) you want and the server brings it to you.

For example, if you visited your Facebook Newsfeed, the backend is responsible for figuring out which text and images to package up and then sends the text and images to the frontend.

Another large responsibility of the backend is that it interacts with the database.  If someone signs up for a new Facebook account the backend is responsible for saving that user to the database.  Once saved, the backend can then fetch, update and delete that user.

Popular backend languages are PHP, Java, C#, Python and Ruby.

The “Frontend”

Frontend code is run in the browser.  The frontend is written in JavaScript, HTML and CSS.  HTML is used to structure the data that was sent from the backend.  However, the data is not pretty and it’s not interactive, it’s only organized.

To make it pretty, you have CSS.  CSS is a styling language and is used to add colors to the site, change the font, change the size of the font, specify the placement of images.

To make it interactive, you have JavaScript.  JavaScript is a ‘client-side’ language.  For example, on Facebook, if I want a messaging modal/pop-up to appear when I click on someone’s name in the Facebook chat, I need JavaScript to add that interactivity.

The combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript — collectively known as the frontend — creates the User Interface (UI).

Frontend vs Backend - Google without frontend CSS

This is what Google’s homepage looks like without CSS.

The Database

The database is just like a large Excel spreadsheet.  It has columns and rows and contains all the important information that your website needs to remember between the time a user closes the site and when they re-open the site.

For example, if you made a post on your Facebook wall, navigate away from the site and then come back, you expect to see the post.  The post is there because it was saved to the database.

Whenever you hear of anyone running SQL queries, they are running commands to get or manipulate the data stored in the database.

Frontend vs Backend - A database is like Excel

A database is like a spreadsheet. It has rows and columns. You can add, update or delete rows from the database’s table.

“What does this mean for me when I’m hiring a developer?”

The combination of the database, the backend and the frontend makes up the technology stack.  A full-stack developer is a developer that can write code for the frontend, backend and typically also handle the set up of the database.  For most web apps you can hire a full-stack developer to build out the entire app.  For larger projects you will typically break out the work between a frontend and a backend developer.

If this is your first time hiring and managing developers, I highly recommend you only hire one developer.  Because the frontend and backend are so intertwined you will have to manage work and communication between the frontend and backend developers.  This will unnecessarily complicate your project.

When hiring a fullstack developer, you should still ask for their previous work that exemplifies their frontend skills and their backend skills.  You also want to understand what language they plan to use when developing your app.  This is because if you need additional work done later or if things don’t work out with your original developer, you don’t want to be stuck with a codebase that was written in a language that’s hard or expensive to hire for.

So as you can see, there really is no frontend vs backend as they are both forever intertwined.

Bonus:

Frontend vs Backend and how it all works together diagram

How clicking on a photo album requires collaboration from the frontend, backend and the database.

What technical terms do you hear often when talking to developers that you would like to learn more about?  Post it in the comments and I’ll give you a layman’s explanation.



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3 Keys to a Friction-Free Pricing Page

This article should take 5 minutes to read and at the end of this article you will feel more confident with your pricing page and less worried about customers bouncing off your site when they get to your pricing page. 

This morning I was reading through a SaaS app sales page and when I got to the pricing page I was completely mesmerized. It was a time tracking app for freelancers which I really have no use for because I’m not a freelancer but I was compelled to pull out my wallet like a sucker. The pricing page was just so frictionless and did such a clear job of employing psychological hacks that I started rationalizing paying for the app. I felt uncomfortably out of control. I used to think that I was immune to marketing but even when I’m conscious of it, I can’t stop my monkey brain from reacting. This is good news because it means that there’s a science to building your pricing page to improve your conversions.

Here are 3 key things you have to get right on your pricing page. The pricing page is the first place your potential customer starts thinking about taking their wallet out. It has to be as frictionless and inviting as possible.  You can use these tips to show your developer exactly what to code.

Keep the pricing page simple

Make it clear what the user is getting at the different pricing tiers. Stay away from including too many numbers. You do not want to invite your customer to do math to calculate which deal is best for them. A mistake a lot of sites make is to offer overly configurable pricing where the cost increases with the customer’s usage of the app — essentially pay as you go pricing. It may seem like your customer would want customizable pricing; however, customizable pricing is complicated pricing and confusing for your customer and that is not good for conversions. Dropbox keeps their pricing page barebones and simple. The only numbers they provide are the amount of space you will get with each package. They take another step to remove the guesswork out of choosing a pricing tier by describing what the customer can do and what kind of customer belongs in which pricing tier. Pro @ $9.99 is “great for personal projects” and Business @ $15 comes with “powerful admin features”.

Dropbox pricing page

Dropbox keeps it simple. Almost no use of numbers. Describes key benefit at each pricing tier.

If possible, consider obliterating pricing tiers and just going with the simplest pricing model possible: one pricing tier like Groove HQ (http://www.groovehq.com/blog/pricing-that-worked).

Highlight a specific pricing tier

A lot of customers hesitate purchasing because they fear buyer’s remorse. It’s not that they don’t want to pay, it’s that they are actually paralyzed from the dread of choosing the ‘wrong’ pricing package. You can get rid of this hesitation by making the decision for them. Some common tactics are to highlight the ‘best value’ or ‘most popular’ packages. The ‘most popular’ packages is using a powerful psychological phenomenon called ‘social proof’. Susan Weinschenck, Ph.D. and the author of Neuro Web Design states ‘when we are uncertain about what to do we look at other people to guide us. And we do this automatically and unconsciously.’

Hittail pricing page

Hittail Pricing uses social proof to highlight the most popular plan.

Offer a free trial for all pricing tiers

Free trials are industry standard for good reason — it increases conversions. You probably plan to offer it for your app, but you should know the science behind why free trials lead to more conversions and why you should offer a free trial for ALL your pricing tiers. People will pay for your app if they find it valuable and the best way to show that your app is valuable is to get your customer to use it. That means removing any friction stopping a customer from using your app like giving free trials. Therefore, it only makes sense to show them the value of the most expensive pricing tier. Offering free trials for ALL tiers will drive your customer towards converting at a more expensive pricing tier. From the perspective of the customer, they realize that all the tiers are free, so they might as well choose the package with the most features. At the end of the trial, if the customer finds the app valuable, they might also find features that are only available in the higher pricing tiers that they cannot live without. So they end up converting at a higher pricing tier.

Freckle pricing page

Freckle pricing calls out a free trial for all pricing tiers.

Bonus:

Now that you know the keys to get your pricing page right, here’s a mockup that implements all the tips in this article that you can customize for your own site. Balsamiq Pricing Page Template Mockup

Balsamic pricing page template

Screenshot of the Balsamiq pricing page template.

Share screenshots of your pricing pages or use the mockup to create your own and post them in the comments below.



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Find out if your startup idea is valuable over a weekend

Based on readtime this post should take 5.5 minutes to read.

Who would get the most out of this post

You are an entrepreneur that can prototype and agrees that testing product ideas as quickly as possible is the most valuable activity you can spend your time on at this point in your career.

What you get

At the end of this post you will waste less time pondering ideas because you will have a step by step guide that I’ve followed several times to test an idea at scale within a couple days.

Step #1: Determine your goal

My goal for any non-hobby project is to find an idea that is valuable enough that people will trade their hard earned dollars for.  So step #1 is to find your goal.  What question will you ask yourself while you’re testing out the idea to see if it’s actually worth your time?  My question is: “will people pay for this?”

Step #2: Write down your assumptions

Being aware of your assumptions about the product or market is important because as you discover more about the value of your product or market, your assumptions will change and you will need to keep on testing your assumptions.  One of the assumptions for my latest product idea is: “professional writers think it’s important to expand their written vocabulary.”

Step #3: Finding potential customers (go to the ‘watering holes’)

Identify the group of people that you think would benefit the most out of this product.  Find their watering hole.  A watering hole is a place (can be in person, but online is a lot easier) that brings a lot of like-minded people together where they can have conversations.  Like-minded people tend to have similar problems you can solve.  My goto strategy is to find subreddits that my audience belongs to.  Other places you can find watering holes are mailing lists and forums.  For mailing lists, look up LinkedIn or Meetup groups you can join.  Those groups usually have mailing lists.  Start an email or post on the subreddit and start asking questions to learn more about the potential customers and to test your assumptions.  Here’s the post I submitted on a subreddit: How important is it that you grow your vocabulary.

Step #4: Go and build the most minimal viable product (mmvp?)

Based on the initial feedback from the watering hole, go and build a prototype.  It just has to demonstrate the purpose of the application or service, it doesn’t actually have to work.  Step #5 tells you why it doesn’t actually have to work.  In my opinion, anything that takes more than 1 day to prototype is too long.  All you need is enough to find out if you’re on the right track or if you should change directions.

Step #5: Record a video of you walking through the product

The video should be short – get it down to 2 minutes or less.  Most people don’t want to watch long videos and if the video is too long then the MVP is too complicated.  Walk through and explain what the application or service does.  You shouldn’t be selling or pitching the product (this is the mistake I made as you’ll see in the video) because you want their honest feedback.  At the end of the video I like to continue the conversation by asking a question at the end like “would you pay for this?  and how much?”  Here’s the video I produced for my latest idea: http://youtu.be/yBEKB3zbrRY

Step #6: Message the people that conversed with you at the watering hole

Ask them to watch the video and continue to ask questions to test your assumptions.  Since I want to know if someone will pay for a product I will ask them:

  1. Would you pay for this?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. What’s needed that will make this product valuable or more valuable that you would pay for it?
  4. Who do you know that you think will pay for this product? (if you can ask for a referral/intro, even better!)
  5. What is the most valuable benefit of this product?
  6. What problem do you think this product solves?  Do you have this problem?
  7. If you have this problem, what are you doing today to solve it?

Step #7: Keep talking, iterate or scrap

If you think there’s value in the idea, talk to more people.  If you think you’re on the right track, iterate and go through these steps again.  If there’s no value, scrap the project.  You need to make your decision within a few days though or else you might get too tied to the idea to think rationally – learn to ‘kill your darlings’.

What I learned

Video works great!

  1. It’s very passive and does not require much effort for the user to watch.
  2. It also makes it easier for you to build a prototype since you are the one clicking through.  When someone else needs to navigate you need to spend more time explaining or fleshing out the prototype so that they don’t run into dead-ends (links not going anywhere or buttons not doing anything).
  3. It’s scalable and multi-threaded.  You don’t need to wait to speak to each user one at a time, you can send out videos to multiple people.  I aim to send out the video to 10-20 people directly and will post it on forums, mailing lists or subreddits.

What idea I tested

I prototyped a Chrome extension that helps a expand a user’s written vocabulary.  The user puts together a list of words they want to learn, and as they type in Chrome (for example, on their blog) the extension looks out for words the user typed that can be replaced with a word they want to learn.  Watch the video, it’s easier to show than to explain 🙂 http://youtu.be/yBEKB3zbrRY.

And here’s how the testing helped me refine my assumptions.  A product assumption I made was that it would be a freemium app where the user can put down 10 words they want to learn and if they want to learn more than 10 words they would have to pay for a subscription or one-time fee.

After sending the video to potential customers and talking to them, I discovered that I might need to change my assumption.  A user suggested that I might be solving the wrong problem.  He said that the most burdensome part is actually to come up with new words to learn.  So that I should offer an add-on service where I curate and provide users with new words that they can start learning and charge a subscription for new words every month.

A market assumption I made was that only professional writers would find this extension useful.  In fact I submitted the post on the /r/writing subreddit.  After speaking to another user, they suggested that I actually market it towards students like ones that are preparing for written tests like the SATs.

I hope you can use this step by step guide to validate your ideas moving forward.  Nothing wastes more time than pondering if an idea is useful or not for weeks or months on end.  Stop wondering and start testing.

I’d like to find new quick ways to make it easy to test.  I am considering moving from videos to animated GIF walkthroughs next.  Let me know what you think on Twitter: @felixthea.



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Developer bootcamps: a look from the inside

Based on readtime this post should take 10.5 minutes to read.

This look inside is written for someone like me, 6 months ago. I’ll talk about what the program was about, what the day to day was like and what I thought after completing the program.

Prior to the bootcamp, I spent four years at an adtech startup, two of which as a product manager.  Experience in the tech industry is not required to succeed in a bootcamp.  Most of my bootcamp classmates came from other industries.

BACKGROUND ON THE COURSE

  • I attended App Academy’s New York City program.   App Academy also has classes in San Francisco.
  • The program teaches students Ruby and Ruby on Rails.  Plus all the front-end content that all other bootcamps will have (JavaScript, HTML, CSS)
  • Classes have about 20-25 students
  • There is a head instructor and a couple teaching assistants

THE CURRICULUM

I’ve been told that as long as you focus on learning the fundamentals of a language, it’s not that important which language you choose as your first.

I agree with this stance as long as the language does not have such a steep learning curve that a newcomer would become dejected and give up.

When you’re learning or doing something new the most important thing is to first get momentum. I think Ruby on Rails is a great start if you want to become a web developer because you can get something up relatively quick, point a domain to it and you can show your friends “look what I made” and for me, that was extremely motivating and kept me in the game.

The course is 9am to 6pm and 12 weeks long, broken down like so:

  • Week 1 and 2 – Ruby
  • Week 3 – SQL and Active Record
  • Week 4 and 5 – Ruby on Rails
  • Week 6 and 7 – JavaScript and CSS
  • Week 8 and 9 – Work on final projects
  • Week 10, 11 and 12 – Hiring bootcamp (resume and github cleanup and interview prep)

GETTING IN TO APP ACADEMY

The App Academy application process is pretty selective, I believe less than 5% of applicants will get in. I do think that if you’ve made an attempt to teach yourself how to code and made some progress, you should have a really good shot. App Academy looks for self-starters because although it’s held in a classroom, the majority of the time spent will be independent or with one other classmate as your partner.

App Academy was my #1 choice because they were the least risky. They have a tuition model where the student only needs to pay $3,000 upfront and nothing additional until the student actually gets a job. Once employed, he/she owes App Academy 18% of their first year base salary payable over 6 months (minus the $3,000 down payment).

DAY TO DAY

Nearly every day involved pair programming. Pair programming is where I would be randomly paired up with another student to code together.  Partners are to discuss the problem and solution together and then one partner would dictate and the other would type for 15 minutes at a time.  At first we tackled small problems then eventually worked our way up to full-day and sometimes multi-day projects.

The purpose behind pair programming is to help students learn by teaching. To teach effectively, I had to solidify my own understanding, and I would get instant feedback on whether I’m teaching  (thus understanding) effectively from my partner. Pair programming also forced me to go at a slower, methodical pace rather than just diving in and coding blindly without thinking about the problem and the possible solutions more thoroughly.  Most students including myself found pair programming challenging for the first week because up until then we were mostly coding and learning in isolation.  We would often take turns implementing our own solution rather than collaborating.  Over time most of us got more comfortable; however there were still some students that had trouble collaborating even towards the end of the course.

On most days we also had 1 to 1.5 hours of Q&A and a lecture, where the instructors would typically demo how to use some new concept we were learning.

WHY DID I APPLY TO A BOOTCAMP IN THE FIRST PLACE?

My 5-year goal was to:

  1. learn enough web development so that I could get and do a good job as a junior web developer
  2. get paid to learn
  3. and then develop web apps of my own to generate income so that I can eventually work for myself

I’ve had numerous false starts when teaching myself to code. There is a ton of free education online but that was my problem. There was just too much and I always had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t spending my time wisely.

So a bootcamp gave me exactly what I needed. A bootcamp provided step-by-step guidance in the form of a curriculum, which gave me the confidence that I wasn’t studying something I didn’t need to. So now all I had to do was show up and do the work.

DID IT MEET MY EXPECTATIONS?

Before the bootcamp, I would have said “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Now I know a good deal more of what I don’t know. I think this is the “basecamp” that all aspiring developers want to get to because from here you can start to chart your own path. I can now get a job and I know enough to start developing some web apps.

In terms of employment, I returned to my previous company, but now as a junior web application developer.  Two weeks after the end of the hiring bootcamp, I know five of my classmates are employed.

App Academy recommends that you plan out about 1 to 2 months of post-course runway for your job search.  Speaking to previous cohorts, I found that most people were be able to find a job within 1 month.

Getting hired isn’t easy, but it is possible.  It is a numbers game.  The current stats are around 40 applications before getting an interview and for every 3 interviews, a job is offered.

COULDN’T I GET TO WHERE I AM WITHOUT THE CLASS?

If you’re self-studying, as long as you have the confidence in the program/curriculum/tutorial you’re using, learning is your #1 priority, and you have the time you can learn on your own. I do think I could have gotten to the basecamp on my own, but it would have taken me much longer than a couple months. And I was willing to put out the funds to get the momentum going in my web development career and also to save time and energy that would have been much more significant if I were to learn on my own.

There are articles coming out now that speak against the efficacy of these bootcamps for getting student jobs. I think with any skill you’re developing, you have to have a plan on how you want to use the skills you reap. Nothing is guaranteed.

WHAT DID I END UP BUILDING?

We were instructed to build a clone of an existing site for our final project (facebook and evernote clones were my class’ favorites to clone). This capstone project would be used as the  example of all the knowledge and skills we learned and it would be presented in our github for potential employers to evaluate. The reason why we’re highly encouraged to create a clone of an existing site is so that a.) we don’t have to spend precious time explaining to employers the functionality of our clone, and b.) we don’t have to worry about UX.

I chose to build an Urban Dictionary clone for companies to create internal-only custom dictionaries of jargon for educating new and existing employees:

Rampup Ready

My twist on the site is the ability to build curriculums. An employee can use the curriculum builder to search for words and definitions, drag and drop those definitions to include in the curriculum and produce a curriculum they can email to an employee. If they are a new employee they can learn all the terms to be ramped up before their first day or if they are an existing employee they can learn definitions they aren’t familiar with.

I want to keep on working on the app and begin testing it with startups to see if my web app is solving a real (and painful) problem. I’m still pretty embarrassed by the web app because it’s not where I want it to be with regards to the features, design/UX, the code isn’t elegant and there are still bugs. But like Reid Hoffman says: If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

If you own or work at a company and think this is something your company is missing, I would love to chat with you. Please email me at felixthea@gmail.com.

HOW TO SURVIVE THE COURSE

App Academy issued one assessment a week to make sure that students are staying apace. They also have a rule where if you fail more than two assessments you will be asked to leave the course. Out of about 25 students, four left (three were kicked out, and one voluntarily left). We were told that four was the most of all the cohorts.

The teaching style is not for everyone as it is very hands on and moves quickly.  I think the key to getting the most out of the course is to try your best to continue doing whatever you were doing before that gave you energy and kept you from burning out.  These are anecdotal but here’s what helped me:

  1. Keeping a rigid schedule and routine. I woke up and went to bed pretty much at the same time during the entire course, including weekends. This really helps combat the tiredness that you will feel from being locked in and learning for 10+ hours a day. If you went to bed at 3am and woke up at 11am on the weekends, your body is going to be in for a shock when it has to wake up at 7am come Monday.
  2. Take care of your body (exercise and diet). The first three weeks I totally dropped my workout regimen because I thought that it would distract me from my study and would waste precious time. However, once I started my regimen back up by working out for about 45 minutes every day 5 days a week, I really saw a marked improvement in my energy levels and that really helps when you’re trying to retain and process a ton of information. I think the 45 minute (+ 30 minute shower, etc.) was worth it. I also really tried to eat light for breakfast and during lunch so that I wouldn’t feel like a zombie after a meal.
  3. Don’t waste time. It’s only 9 weeks long, and only 7 weeks of actual studying. Use your commute and weekends wisely to get in as much reading as possible. I had a 2 hour commute every day which was probably my biggest mistake, but I tried to make the best of it by doing all my required readings during the commute.

WHAT I COULD HAVE IMPROVED

  1. All the projects we worked on had solutions, I should have spent more time reading the solutions. It would have exposed me to new and likely more elegant implementations and would also teach me the art of reading other people’s code.  Now that I am working with a team of developers I realize how important it is to be able to read code that was written by someone else a long time ago.
  2. If you can afford it, live close to the class.
  3. Use the TAs more. There were two TAs and they were both super smart and pretty much had an answer to every question we had. I tended to wait until I was stuck for 15 minutes or more before calling over a TA.


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