The What, The How And The Why Behind We Got Coders
Nicole Lyons, Writer and Founder of Purple Yolk visits Dan Garland at We Got Coders to find out how and why the company was started, what makes it different and what individuals need to consider before investing in a web development or coding bootcamp.
I step out of my taxi and find myself in front of a beautiful stately building. I buzz the entry phone and the gate gives way. As I approach, the front door opens widely. “Nicole, it’s lovely to meet you at last. Welcome to We Got Coders”. I smile and shake his hand. Now this must be Dan. I take in the high ceilings, original stone floor and wide staircase. The house is significant because it says a lot about Dan and the company he founded three years ago.
I’m dying to ask about the house. Dan instantly picks up on it and grins. That’s the only encouragement I need before badgering him with questions. He knowledgeably gives me the history of the grade II listed building and there’s photos along the wall to illustrate the story. I half-jokingly ask when I can move in and the instant response is, “As soon as you decide to train as a web developer”. I have to say, I’m rather tempted.
After a tour of the house, and mug of tea in hand, we head into the main lounge. Dan nods to a few individuals along the way whom I assume are the current trainees. There’s a calming, yet buzzy feel to the place and I tell Dan so. “I’m glad it feels that way. We don’t believe in regular classroom teaching here. Instead we’ve created multiple spaces throughout the house for more informal workshops. We find that this encourages trainees to solve problems together and bounce idea around.” The sun is setting and I take in the beautiful view across the valley. It’s hard to believe that we are just a short train ride into London Liverpool Street.
We delve straight into Dan’s own background and how it led him to launching We Got Coders. “The company was born out of my own experience and the type of life I was determined to lead. I saw first-hand that getting a good degree in computer science from a leading university wasn’t enough to secure me the kind of job that I wanted. There was still too much of a gap between my experience and what companies were looking for. I worked hard to enhance my skillset and surrounded myself with great mentors who prepared me for the workplace. However, I didn’t just want financial stability. I wanted the dream and didn’t see why I had to compromise. Now I get to live and work in a picturesque and inspiring place doing what I enjoy. That’s the element that sits right at the heart of We Got Coders.”
Dan’s passion and determination to empower others is clear to see. We move on to discuss the courses in more detail. “We currently provide an immersive 12 week Web Development Fast Track course. It’s split between six weeks of Web Fundamentals, six weeks of a specialist tech stack such as Ruby on Rails or Mobile Development and is followed up with a paid internship. It’s ideal for those who have basic web development skills but need to develop and improve to secure the right job. We also offer a Graduate Programme, which has proven to be very popular. We are aiming to recruit five to ten graduates next year. The main factor that makes both of these courses successful, is the time and attention we invest in every individual that joins us.” I get the feeling that this isn’t your ordinary bootcamp.
I’m already aware that the quality and experience of the instructors for any training course is crucial. I bring this up with Dan and ask how easy it is to find good instructors. “Bootcamps can have the best surroundings and best intentions, but if the instructors aren’t experienced and great at what they do, then you may as well stop altogether. Often candidates looking at courses and bootcamps forget to ask about the instructors and yet it’s a factor that directly impacts an individual's success. Finding the right instructors is definitely a challenge. We hired Lorin a year ago to help me with the hands-on training and we have been looking to recruit yet another instructor for quite a while. I look for developers with over ten years experience and who have been in a classroom before, which I feel is very important when asking for so much from our trainees.”
Zoe, the in-house chief pops her head round the door to let us know it’s time for dinner. Having heard about her delicious cooking, I’m up on my feet and out of the room in two seconds flat.
As I enter the homely kitchen, I’m hit with a mouth-watering aroma. I look around and there are several others, laughing and chatting around me.
After a second helping of bangers braised in cider (I just couldn’t help myself) and a portion of homemade sticky toffee pudding, Dan and I are ready to continue. We go on to discuss how the company secures jobs for candidates at the end of the course. I learn that Dan has smartly built a network of industry contacts who now look to him to fill in the talent gap they have in their web development teams. “We work closely with these companies to see what skills are in demand, so that we can ensure the best fit. For the majority of trainees, we have managed to secure them jobs earning £30,000 a year on average.”
I’m interested in how the selection process differs from other bootcamps like this one. “We take each and every application that is submitted very seriously. If we don’t feel that a candidate is ready, then we will tell them so. We don’t believe in just taking their money. I would rather an individual come back to us in a year when they are ready, otherwise it’s counterproductive. The companies we work with trust our judgement so we cannot take chances when we place individuals in these roles.”
Even with all the carbs I've just consumed from Zoe's cooking, I'm amazed that many of the students are still working even after dinner. It's all to do with the fact that they don't need to worry about the cooking, cleaning or commuting that they would do normally. "Trainees tell us that having a residential option is a big draw for them" explains Dan. "Not having to put down huge deposits and go flat hunting without a job means that we can be a stepping stone for our candidates, especially if they're moving from outside of London".
I awake refreshed, despite the amount of wonderful food I managed to consume the night before. It’s a gorgeous, spacious room that still retains the character of the house. I get showered and dressed and make my way downstairs for breakfast.
As I enter the kitchen I’m hit with the smell of coffee and cooked breakfast. I help myself to coffee and then lean against the worktop to chat to Zoe. I’m curious to hear how she came to We Got Coders and what it’s like to work with the team. “I have a catering background and I’ve always loved cooking, but struggled to find a job that gave me the freedom I wanted. Here I get to source my own ingredients, create my own menus and I’m left to get on with it, which I like.” Right, I’ve taken up enough of her time so I dish up breakfast and take a seat at the table.
Dan and I decide to stay in the kitchen with another coffee for the final part of our interview. I would like to get his thoughts on how he sees the company changing over the next couple of years. “Our Web Development Fast Track and Graduate courses will remain, but we will move more towards a community feel. We have this nailed already with those who live, train and work with us, but we want to develop this further in a number of ways. I want to offer more distance learning courses such as starter courses for stay at home mums or working professionals, who want the basics in place, before committing. The aim is to also modularise the course to enable more flexible learning, where keen candidates can pick and choose what they want to specialise in. At the heart of all this is the constant mentoring and support, useful resources and expert training they will have access to, no matter what stage they are at.”
One thing I’m also keen to hear about is how Dan feels the industry as a whole has evolved over the last few years. “I’ve noticed a number of trends but two stand out. The first is how the educational sector has changed, especially in web development. The choice of tools, resources and bootcamps available for people of all levels have grown considerably. And with the rise in university fees and the time it takes to secure a job, individuals are opting for practical courses over university. The second trend is with online learning. It’s a great way for people to get off the ground, but I feel there’s only so far someone can get without the face-to-face interaction. Sooner or later, if you're looking for a job you'll need to get used to working together in pairs and collaborating in teams.”
Our interview has come to an end and Dan asks if I fancy staying a bit longer and sitting in on one of the classes. I decide to take him up on the offer, but make it very clear that my web development skills are rather scarce. You never know, it might be another string to add to my bow?