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The Art of Iteration: How We Shape Our Curriculum for the Needs of the Industry

By Elizabeth Scutchfield

At Code Fellows, we’re always looking for ways to grow and to support both the local tech community and our students.

In early 2018, five years after running our first class, we realized it was an optimal time to leverage our robust community of alumni and hiring partners for an in-depth look at our methods of connecting high-potential software developers with the companies that need them. Our goal was to ensure we were on the right course to achieve our mission, and identify areas of growth where we can better support the graduates, companies, and communities we’re here to serve.

In 2017, we connected with the team at Artemis Connection through Diversity & Inclusion in the PNW, a community of professionals in various roles within their organizations who want to create more equality in the workplace. We recognized our shared vision for the impact that immersive tech education (especially one focused on career changers) can have on creating a more diverse, empathetic, and customer-centric tech industry.

We collaborated with Artemis to define and conduct a thorough analysis of our curriculum and outcomes, with input from both tech industry leaders and our alumni. Our goal was to better understand the top challenges that industry leaders were facing, and what they see as the main gaps — both technical and non-technical — in the skill set of their software engineering teams. We wanted to know what we could have done to better prepare our alumni for the technical and non-technical aspects of their career. Over 53 industry leaders and 206 alumni shared their experience with us, and with Artemis’s summary of the feedback, we implemented three key initiatives to enrich our program.

1: Improve Interview Preparation & Increase Emphasis on Data Structures & Algorithms

Our data structures and algorithm instruction now includes daily code challenges in every Code 401 course. No matter which specialization students pursue in their training, they get the same consistent practice at the whiteboard and preparation for technical interviews. Students learn arrays and sorting algorithms, and canonical data structures like linked lists, stacks, queues, trees, graphs and hash tables. Students graduate with the skills to do the job, and the skills to get the job — and we continue to advocate within the industry for better alignment between the two. We also continue to offer our Code 501-level Data Structures & Algorithms curriculum to support both our alumni and graduates of other immersive programs who want to deepen their understanding of these topics.

2: Increase Our Emphasis on the Soft Skills Necessary to be Successful in Tech

We need to ensure our students are equipped with the soft skills to be successful in the tech industry. The feedback from our alumni and industry partners revealed that growth mindset, communications, teamwork, and professionalism were crucial qualities for us to continue to integrate into our curriculum. We enlisted some of our key industry partners, including Microsoft, Concur, Avvo, and Tableau, to share the competencies they reference when evaluating junior-level talent. With this insight, we formed our own comprehensive set of professional competencies, now included in all Career Coachingprovided in Code 201 through Code 401. These competencies help students identify and define their strengths and weaknesses, build a compelling narrative to best capture the value they can contribute to a team, and leverage that narrative in behavioral interviews.

As a final step after graduation and before starting their job search, we encourage students to schedule a qualifying interview with our Campus Director. This interview mirrors the experience they’ll get in a behavioral interview, much like their final whiteboard exams mirror technical interviews. This experience puts the final polish on each student’s professional presentation of their background and career goals, so that we have full confidence in the candidates we are putting in front of our industry partners. Additional mock interviews are also now included in our Career Accelerator Program, designed to help grads seamlessly transition into the market and make industry connections to start their careers. With these changes, we are confident that we are preparing every grad to be a successful team member in their first job and become leaders in their field through their career in tech.

3: Provide More Ways for Employers to Be Involved in our Community

This led to the launch of our Employer Services, a customizable way for industry partners to connect with our students. We wanted to make our community more accessible to the industry — and vice versa — by inviting current software developers to give back and stand alongside us as mentors, speakers, or mock interviewers; welcoming recruiters to expand their diversity pipelines through tapping into our talent portal; offering hiring managers to test new product ideas through prototyping demos with our grads; and more.

With this approach, we have established relationships with over 60 industry partners who are actively engaged in our community. These include the larger players, such as Amazon and Microsoft, and mid-sized companies such as Zonar, Avalara, Limeade, or Textio. These relationships have led to over 23 great teams hiring our graduates. We also created the Alumni & Partner Advisory Group, a community-focused, ongoing feedback loop from those who want to continue to be involved in our work in the community.

We are so grateful for the opportunity for growth provided by this partnership with Artemis, and are delighted to share the success we experienced as we implemented their business insights. We are committed to customer collaboration, with both students and industry partners, as we continue to shape our offerings to meet the complex challenges they each face.

A huge thank you to Artemis for contributing their brilliance to this project, and to the many industry partners and alumni who gave us valuable feedback and helped us shape our program to better serve students and companies in the future.

If you have interests in leveraging the expertise of the Artemis team to help your organization reach its full potential, reach out to Christy Johnson at christy@artemisconnection.com.

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