Hiring Week at Bitmaker Labs

Jan 13 – 17, 2014 was Hiring Week for the 4th cohort of students at Bitmaker Labs. What’s Hiring Week all about? I’m glad you asked.

As you may have guessed, Hiring Week is when students have the opportunity to interview with a number of different organizations, most of which are Toronto-based tech companies. In total, 16 organizations participated (including 3 talent agencies and one individual representing a handful of startups):

The Bitmaker staff had put together an online Hiring Board, where each student created a profile, highlighting our social media presence and uploading our resumes, and each organization posted some information about what they do and what types of positions they were hiring for. In some cases, companies had specific job postings they were looking to fill, while others were scoping out talent to keep in mind for the next time they hire.

Each organization indicated which morning or afternoon they would be coming to Bitmaker. Then, students could request interviews with whichever companies interested them, and the companies could also send requests to students whose profiles had caught their eye. Some organizations were more selective than others when deciding how many interview requests to accept, but most were happy to talk to as many interested students as possible. Finally, Lidia (Director of Community & Student Experience at Bitmaker) went through all the accepted requests and fit them into 20-minute time slots.

Naturally, 20 minutes is not very long for a job interview, so most of the conversations focused on how well the students would fit the company’s work culture, and what non-coding skills we would bring. Some organizations asked a few technical questions, but in most cases they saved those for a second round of interviews.

As you can imagine, it was an intense week (I had 13 interviews), and the hiring process isn’t over yet. Like many of my classmates, I’m still scheduling follow up interviews with some employers and waiting to hear back from others. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

I’m finished Bitmaker Labs – well, sort of

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope you didn’t lose power after the ice storm (as I did), and if you did, I hope you had family or friends nearby who would take you in (as I did – thanks, Mom & Dad!).

So I’ve completed the program at Bitmaker Labs. Sort of. On Friday, Dec 20th, I presented my final project with my two teammates. The lectures are over. The assignments are over. I’ve survived all 9 weeks of the 9 week boot camp. This might seem like a natural point to do a final write up of my experience, and my self proclaimed “fans” have suggested as much.

However, I don’t feel I’m really *finished* just yet because I’m now preparing for Hiring Week, which I consider to be an important part of the Bitmaker program. The week of January 13th, my classmates and I will have the opportunity to interview with a whole bunch of companies looking to hire junior developers. In previous cohorts, Hiring Week was the week immediately following the last week of classes, so I feel fortunate to have a few weeks to fine tune my resume, tidy up my projects on Github, and have a quick refresher of the things I learned in the early weeks of the program (so I’ll feel confident when talking about them in an interview).

I will write a more detailed post when I have a job (hopefully in a few weeks), but in the meantime I will say that I believe I’ve learned much more at Bitmaker than I ever could have through 9 weeks of a traditional university program or self paced learning. Being surrounded all day, every day by the instructors and students kept me motivated and focused, and I’ve certainly never enjoyed myself so much while learning.

If you’re curious, you can check out what I’ve posted on the Bitmaker Labs blog, including this interview:

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.

Only 2 more days until I start at Bitmaker Labs

It’s been more than 2 months since I went down to Bitmaker Labs for my interview, and finally I’m about to start the program. I’ve been working hard at my prep work – we need to be up to speed on the basics of HTML, CSS, Ruby, Git and GitHub before we start, so we can hit the ground running. I’ve already met 8 of my 39 classmates, at coffee shops and at the Labs to hear talks, and I’ll meet the rest on Monday.

I can’t wait to write about my experience. Stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s a picture of me and my classmates working away at Second Cup.

Prepping for Bitmaker Labs