My first week at Bitmaker Labs

It’s been a whirlwind of a first week for the 40 of us in the October 2013 cohort of Bitmaker Labs! Allow me to record the highlights here before I forget:

Day 1

We were told to arrive around 9:30 to start our day at 10, and when I entered the room at the suggested time it was already nearly full and buzzing with excitement.  We each stood up to give a brief introduction, and I was impressed by the variety of different backgrounds the other students come from. Although the group predictably skews young and male, there are at least a few students over 40 and a total of 6 women. Some of my classmates are entrepreneurs looking for the technical skills to take their businesses to the next level, while others are recent university grads looking to start a career for the first time, and at least a couple are former Apple Store employees. They’ve come from across Canada and overseas, and quite a number aren’t sure what country they’re “from,” after living in so many different places.

Next, the Bitmaker team introduced themselves and told us about the work they’ve done and how they’ve ended up here. They’re a fascinating group, and they all share an enthusiasm both for technology and for raising the next generation of coders.

After lunch we jumped into the first lesson, on Git, GitHub, and using the Terminal, followed by our first two assignments. Although it was review from the prep work we were expected to have completed in the weeks leading up to this point, the assignments were useful in terms of practicing what we’d learned. It was also my first opportunity to work on a project with others through GitHub (it’s not much fun to use the “git pull” command all by yourself!). Around 7:00, having completed our assignments, most of us headed to a pub across the street to continue getting to know each other.

Day 2

On the second day we jumped straight into Ruby, which was also review of the prep work. We also learned some best practices for coding in general, such as DRY: Don’t Repeat Yourself, and I was relieved to discover that developers generally dislike using a mouse or trackpad as much as I do. It’s tough keeping track of all the keyboard shortcuts, but they save a ton of time, and there are tools to help remember them, such as CheatSheet.

Our assignments focused on the basic Ruby concepts, from strings and variables to loops, if statements, and more. One of them involved building a Bitmaker version of the classic fizz buzz program.

Day 3

On Wednesday we continued our tour of Ruby basics, moving on to methods, arrays, and hashes. Our assignments involved manipulating and changing an array of grocery items and a hash of student cohorts with the number of students in each group. At this point I was finding the assignments to be a bit too simple, considering they were similar to what we’d already done in the prep work, but I changed my tune when I looked ahead to Thursday’s sales tax assignment and had no idea where to start. I wisely put that one aside for the next day.

In the evening, a group of us headed to the Distillery District to see Jack Dorsey, founder of Square and co-founder of Twitter, moderate a panel discussion on operating a small business in Toronto. We were a bit disappointed that Jack didn’t do much talking, but I did pick up a free Square reader. I have no idea what I’ll do with it, seeing as I don’t have any need to receive credit card payments from anyone, but it’s a super cool gadget.

Day 4

The next day things went a bit more theoretical and conceptual, as we discussed object oriented programming. We’d learned about classes and objects in the prep work, but now we were diving into the deep end, and I found it fascinating. Fortunately our teacher also got us started on the sales tax problem, and it turned out to be much less scary than I’d found it at first.

Day 5

On Friday we started on a lighter note, by learning about Aaron Patterson, aka tenderlove, a wacky guy who is super important in the Ruby community. He is responsible for the #FridayHug trend, which involves people posting photos of themselves giving an air hug, so of course we had to participate.

In terms of the actual material we learned, we discussed getter and setter methods and tackled our most difficult assignment yet: creating a Customer Relationship Application (basically an electronic rolodex).

I’ve learned a lot, and I’m enjoying myself quite a bit; this kind of work is definitely something I can see doing as a fulfilling career. And speaking of careers, this week was Hiring Week for the cohort that finished just before we started, and I had the opportunity to chat with a number of the students, since they were hanging around Bitmaker for their interviews. As far as I can tell, each student who was interested had multiple job interviews with local tech companies each day this week, and there was a feeling of optimism that they would all end up being offered positions that they found interesting. I can’t wait to hear from them once they’ve actually been hired!

If you have any questions about the program, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. I’ll post again when I have another chance to catch my breath.

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5 Responses to “My first week at Bitmaker Labs”

  1. Emily P. Says:

    Hey Graham, great post! Glad to see you’re liking it. I’m really interested in the employability of the last cohort too – keep the updates coming! :D

    • Graham Lavender Says:

      Thanks! Things seem to be looking good for the last cohort – many of the ones I’ve spoken to have second interviews this week. In fact, a few of them are still hanging out here, working on code challenges for companies they’re interviewing with.

      • Emily P. Says:

        Awesome! That’s so neat. Have you come across anyone that’s written/talked about finding personal loans for this type of thing? Since it’s not accredited the government is out, and the banks don’t seem to have a provision in place for it either :(

  2. Graham Lavender Says:

    That’s a good question. I haven’t really discussed it with any of my classmates. Bitmaker has a standard, up-front tuition model, but there are some bootcamps in the US where you don’t pay until you get a job:

    http://www.wired.com/business/2013/03/free-learn-to-code-boot-camp/

    I think as this education model becomes more popular, there will be more funding options available. Here’s another interesting option:

    http://www.geekwire.com/2013/hey-lady-hackers-10k-scholarship-fund-womenonly-bootcamp/


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