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2016 November 7 - 10:38 am

Boosting Stem by Welcoming Outsiders In

Bellevue College Partners with Coding Dojo on Bootcamps

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a million more computing jobs than computer science graduates by 2020. That’s an incredible talent shortage and our country’s four-year computer science programs aren’t producing anywhere close to enough graduates to fill it. In the race to bring more science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM) educated people to the workforce, it’s clear more needs to be done.

Another problem for the tech industry specifically is that many fouryear computer science programs focus on computer science theory more than on hands-on programming. Coding languages and tools also change very quickly and many computer science programs can’t keep up. This means many computer science students find themselves unprepared for entry-level technology work after graduation That’s why it’s essential that we take a new approach to higher education by having coding specialists teach and develop curriculum for higher education institutions. These people live and breathe the coding languages that are in such high demand, and can change their curriculum on a dime.

Bootcamps and Colleges: Better Together

The company I work for, coding bootcamp Coding Dojo, recently introduced this new approach by integrating our curriculum and teachers with an institute of higher education. We partnered with Bellevue College, the third-largest higher education institute in Washington State, and began offering training for in-demand programming languages for its 32,000 students.

Coding Dojo offers an intensive training program that teaches students the skills they need to get a job as an entry-level developer or computer programmer. Our normal program is 14 weeks long and covers three software stacks (a “stack” is a set of programming tools and languages that work together to make up a complete web application or piece of software). We had our first class in 2013 and now have six campuses in Seattle, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Chicago, Dallas and Washington D.C. plus a growing online program. But our goal has always been to help as many students as possible improve their lives through learning to program. So when we had the opportunity to work with Bellevue College to teach coding to their students, we jumped at the chance to offer our expertise.

Bellevue College is a communitybased, primarily associate degreegranting public institution of higher learning located in Bellevue, Wash., just outside of Seattle. Computer science classes are in high demand at Bellevue because of the many tech companies headquartered and with large developer offices in the area such as Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft and T-Mobile.

While Bellevue College wanted to offer more programming classes, finding qualified instructors and developing the curriculum was a significant challenge. Mark Veljkov, one of the product managers from the college, explained to us that the high cost and difficulty of finding instructors and writing new curriculum was keeping Bellevue from offering as many classes as they would like. With local tech companies offering high salaries for developers, qualified instructors were few and far between. Even worse, a good curriculum could be out of date six months later since the industry changes so quickly.

So Bellevue College supplied the students and Coding Dojo supplied the curriculum and the instructors.

A Tech Industry Perspective

Many of Coding Dojo’s instructors are former developers from places like Microsoft, so they have a deep understanding of what it’s like to work as a programmer. We keep in touch with local tech companies to ensure that our materials cover what the industry demands of its entry-level employees. So in our partnership we provide the “tech industry’s perspective” on coding education and Bellevue College does not need to develop any new class materials or hunt for qualified teachers.

From the beginning, Bellevue College wanted to be sure that they were teaching students relevant coding skills that would help them find work after class ended. They worked with an IT staffing firm to determine the most in-demand programming skills in the region and ended up deciding on two web development courses; one on the Ruby on Rails development stack and one on the Javascript/MEAN web development stack. Without partners who have one foot in the tech industry, Bellevue College wouldn’t be able to offer this kind of practical programming education to their students.

The Ruby on Rails course started in September and lasts until January 2017, and the JavaScript/MEAN course will run from November 2016 to February 2017. Classroom sessions take place on BC’s campus on nights and weekends and are taught by Coding Dojo instructors. Students have access to Coding Dojo’s online platform for homework and additional study materials. Classes are taught using a flipped classroom approach, so students will review new material ahead of time using the online platform, then attend a classroom session with an instructor and then work on projects using the new material.

These classes are part of Bellevue College’s Continuing Education program and are aimed at working professionals who either want to change careers or move to a more technical position at their current employer. For example, we’ve seen many students who are software testers or project managers at tech companies come to our classes to learn to become a developer.

Bellevue College is not the only higher education institution to call on outside groups for coding and STEM education expertise. A U.S. Department of Education program called Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships, or EQUIP, launched in 2015 will offer federal aid for select partnerships between colleges and nontraditional providers.

The first round of the program included partnerships between eight universities and partners like coding bootcamps, General Electric and online video learning companies. And as the demand for computer science and STEM courses continues to explode, I’m sure we’ll see more partnerships like these in the next several years.

With the Ruby on Rails class in full swing and the JavaScript/MEAN course starting in November, Bellevue College is confident about the future of our program — so much so that they’ve already asked about adding a third class for the LAMP/PHP programing language.

There’s been plenty of discussions about the best way to bring technology into the classroom to improve STEM education. But let’s not forget about bringing technology people into the classroom too. If we want to close the talent gap and power the next generation of innovation in technology, we’re going to need to look beyond traditional academia for coding and STEM education.

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