Bitmaker Labs wants to make you a coder, but please, play nice

By Richard Nieva , written on January 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Obvious statement of the day: In technology, coding is valuable. Become an excellent coder, and you’ve got a decent set of tools to find a good job in the industry. The newest organization to try to teach it boot camp-style is Toronto, Canada-based Bitmaker Labs. The program is a nine-week intensive course that teaches newbies developer languages like Ruby on Rails and JavaScript.

There are a handful of other intensive coding programs out there, like the Starter League or Dev Bootcamp, but cofounder Tory Jarmain says the difference between this course and others is the focus on employability, as well as teaching technique. In addition to learning from developers that are a part of the Toronto tech scene, students in the course get matched with “gurus” that serve as guides over the nine weeks, meeting one on one for coffee and giving presentations to the cohort. The organization also said it had surveyed several employers, asking what they looked for in entry-level developers, and created the curriculum based on their answers. After week nine, Bitmaker hosts a career fair-type Hiring Day.

The program takes 20 members per class – the inaugural course begins in March – and the boot camp generally targets people with little or no coding experience, from a stay-at-home dad or mom to a lawyer wanting to change careers. But Jarmain says Bitmaker is also open to accepting computer science students who just can’t code – he says he’s heard only about one in 15 can.

So in a class of 20, one student might be a CS grad literate in every aspect of the discipline besides coding, and another might be a bank teller excited to embark on a new career. I ask Jarmain and Matt Gray, another cofounder, if this might create an intimidating experience for the neophyte. Yes, it might, they admit. While they can’t help the disparity in previous experience, they do think they have the solution for creating a calmer environment: “We won’t take anyone we think is an asshole,” says Jarmain. “If they’ll ruin the experience for others, we won’t take them.”

The idea came to Jarmain after he took the Startup League program in Chicago (then still called Code Academy, not to be confused with the free online service). The Bitmaker folks wanted to make their course more intensive – 40 hours a week for nine weeks for $7,000. The Starter League’s program is 11 weeks for $8,000.

While Bitmaker hasn’t taken any students straight out of high school yet, Jarmain and Gray say the longer-term goal is to allow this to be an alternative to four-year colleges for aspiring developers. That’s ambitious, and they have a long way to get there; accepting younger students often means getting accreditation.

The focus on employability is smart, but many of the gurus, instructors and contacts are from the Toronto ecosystem – all of the instructors are University of Toronto CS grads. This may or may not limit the most direct and immediate opportunities to just that small part of the world. Of course, that has no bearing on your education in code – and it may well be stellar – but as the program grows, so should the in-house networking opportunities.

[Image courtesy someToast]