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A new kind of bootcamp is taking the tech world by storm

BY ALICIA SWIZ | PHOTOS GIEDRE KRULIKAS


Casey Cumbow never knew what she wanted to do with her life until a random Facebook post led her to an unlikely career: A junior instructor at the Chicago branch of Dev Bootcamp (DBC), an educational web development program. Over the course of its immersive 19-week curriculum, DBC transforms novice tech-lovers into employable software developers. At DBCís downtown location, Casey chats with us about the importance of building technical and emotional skills and the value of empathy in the workplace.


CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU FOUND YOUR WAY TO EDUCATION?

Iíve always loved math but I never really knew what kind of career I wanted to have. I had roommates my freshman year in college, from rural areas, who were doing math that I had learned in middle school. That blew my mind and ignited my passion for education.

I joined Teach for America and for two years I taught middle school math in rural South Carolina. I enjoyed teaching but I had some issues with other teachers. They were just really jaded and negative. I didnít want to be in the classroom anymore. I enjoyed it but it was a lot. I felt powerless. Itís crazy how students fall through the cracks. The system is notÖfair? Iím not sure if that is the right word, but definitely not equal. When I left the classroom I wanted two things. I wanted something intellectually stimulating. While teaching is hard itís not really about learning new things. Youíre not pushing yourself. And, I wanted to make a difference somehow.


ďWhen I left the classroom I wanted two things... I wanted something intellectually stimulating. And I wanted to make a difference.Ē
AND THAT LED YOU TO WEB DEVELOPMENT? THATíS SURPRISING.

[Laughter] I had no background in programming. I wanted to make a difference but I didnít know what the right avenue was because education is soÖdifficult. Thatís when I started looking into education technology companies and found that a lot of them are hiring developers. Of course, I didnít have the background for that and then, randomly, a friend of mine posted something about Dev Bootcamp on Facebook.

Once I began, I discovered I really liked programming. It had similarities to the reasons I like math: step-by-step, you get it wrong you go back and find out where you went wrong. You solve the problem.

I had a fantastic experience as a student, so much so that a few weeks after graduation I thought ďwell, maybe I want to teach here.Ē I still have the goal to work with an education tech company, but right now I am really enjoying teaching and sharing my knowledge with students. I can really relate and empathize with students especially since Iíve been through it.

ONE OF THE GOALS OF DEV BOOTCAMP IS TO BE ACCESSIBLE FOR PEOPLE WITH NO TECHNICAL EXPERIENCE. HOW DO YOU ACCOMPLISH THAT?

We want students to learn two main things: One, how to figure things out on your own and to rely on yourself. And, two, itís okay to struggle and be uncomfortable and have to ask questions. Youíre given real challenges every day. A list of tasks and things you need to learn and complete. Itís a lot of trial and error. A lot of times they throw you in and they say Ďhere figure it out on your own,í and then you get a lecture about it.

In my cohort, none of us had a real technical background and thatís what I find to be most inspiring about DBC is that people come from all kinds of backgrounds and they all make it through. As long as you are passionate about something you can make it happen. It might take you longer than someone else but if you have the drive and you really want it there is no way you can fail. With the resources here itís almost impossible.


YOU ALSO HAVE SOMEWHAT OF A UNIQUE CURRICULUM THAT GOES BEYOND THE TECHNICAL SIDE OF THE TRADE.

Feedback is incredibly valuable here. As a developer you will always be a part of a bigger team. Understanding where people come from and why they are feeling a certain way is so helpful. It makes you more effective. You pair with someone every day here. If youíre having a bad day you can tell them ĎHey, I didn't sleep last night I'm going to be a little tense.í So you are already off to a better start. You solve problems faster and it prevents conflict. It just makes life easier because you are not tiptoeing around a problem. You are identifying it and trying to solve it.

So there is the technical side and then there is teaching people to be empathetic. Empathy-training workshops are part of the curriculum. Giving students the skills to work in a pair and really connect with people on a deeper level. Even yoga is part of the curriculum. Also, improv is mandatory. Itís just one class youíre second week here. I was so nervous but itís so much fun. It breaks the ice. Something we say a lot here is ĎGet comfortable being uncomfortableí and thatís the perfect example.

Personally, I am a completely different person than I was eight months ago. Iím more outspoken and Iím not afraid to look dumb. I would never do karaoke; I would never do improv. And, now itís just like yeah. Thatís the environment that DBC creates for its students. You be you.


ďAs humans, we want to be better and we want to learn things and contribute.Ē
HOW DOES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO SOMEONEíS PERFORMANCE IN THE WORKPLACE?

A lot of employers hire our grads because they have a hunger for learning, but also because they can work on any team. They are people who can have conversations and understand things and know how to deal with conflict. They will be effective on any team because they wonít sit and struggle and not ask questions. I think that exists quite often. There are some companies where you can work an 8-hour day and not really do anything and get away with it. That's not something weíre okay with. As humans, we want to be better and we want to learn things and contribute.

People are here until midnight every night working because they want to get better. Not because someone is telling them to but because they have sense for themselves. And not to be better than someone else. Not to learn more than the person sitting next to them. For themselves. Itís amazing.

Thatís what makes it so special.
Photography by Giedre Krulikas
Photography by Giedre Krulikas
Photography by Giedre Krulikas
Photography by Giedre Krulikas
Photography by Giedre Krulikas
Photography by Giedre Krulikas
2014-11-05