Last week, we announced internally and to a select few people our next Academy which we will start on December 9. In addition to the applications we've already received, we will be taking more applications through October 18. We will be screening applicants throughout the next 5 weeks or so and plan to choose the 4 candidates whom we think are most likely to successfully complete it on or before November 1.

We've modified our plan slightly based on what we've seen in the past couple of years. The biggest visible change, however is the financial model. We believe it is much more attractive to our target audience and, reviewing our goals for the academy, is consistent with our goals. It is going to be much smaller, and, if everything goes as planned, we probably won't offer another one for at least 9 months and, very possibly 18 months.

If you don't want to know all of our reasons, but rather just want to get to the bottom line, just go to our updated About and Apply pages. If you want to know more about our reasons for the change, read on.

Hacker School Confusion

So, we realized there is a lot of confusion out there about "Hacker Schools". (For the record, I didn't coin the term, don't like the term, and don't want the academy to be called a "Hacker School"… but, we've been lumped in with a bunch of other programs by some. Some resemble what we do more than others).

When we announced our Academy in 2011, it was the first of its kind… well kind of. The Starter League in Chicago had already had its first session. (It was called "Code Academy" at that time). The founders had a different target audience and different claims. I met them, and they were clear that our academy had a completely different scope and focus.

But over the last couple of years, there have been a plethora of others. The marketing ranges from grandiose claims of getting high-paying jobs in 6-12 weeks, to bootstrapping your own tech company, to becoming a "Sr. Developer" in 3 months, to getting an entry level job. The programs range from a little instruction after hours to 12 hours of instruction per week, to watching videos and working on your own. Pre-requisites range from "passionate people" to "previous professional programming experience".

We've gotten lots of questions about how we compare to these other programs. (We don't know, we haven't attended them). We've been tempted to "learn from their marketing" as it appears they've gotten a lot more interest. We've wondered why some of them seem to be able to charge a lot of money for what we are confident is not as good an outcome as we think we can get, and why some of them pay the people who come through their program.

We've talked to some of the folks involved with the other programs. Some things about them overlapped with our experience. Some things clearly have different purposes and approaches. We think some are naive in their expectations, while others are more reasonable. Some sound better than others. And, no, we are not going to attempt to do a critique here.

At the end of the day, we've just had to come back to "Why are we doing this?" and "What does our experience tell us to do?"

Why are we doing this?

It's simple. We believe it is the best way to begin to produce software craftsmen.

We have found that the value of the education we provide is huge, but most people don't have a mental model that would provoke them to pay for it. They'll pay tens of thousands of dollars and four years of their life for a college degree that may or may not result in a good pay off. Statistically, the results for people we've mentored far exceeds the results attained by the typical college graduate who move into the software field. We don't think there is any way that a college can begin to compete with the education/training we offer. We also don't think that most college campuses are healthy places for young people to spend very critical years of their lives.

Although we stand by these claims, and will be happy to explain why we think it will always be true, we are not doing this to take the university system on in both outcomes or incomes.

At the end of the day, we strive to be the best software craftsmanship shop measured by the value we provide for our customers and the integrity with which we walk. That is our calling.

We'd like one or more solid, well-trained, Jr. Developers to join the RoleModel team in the next year plus to help us meet our goals. We realize that the best way to get people who are good RoleModel team members is to be selective about who we take and train them well. We also realize that every person we train may not be a good fit for RoleModel for a wide variety of reasons. It could be timing (we don't have enough work to justify keeping them on). It could be focus (there are lots of noble software development goals that happen somewhere besides RoleModel). We are not omniscient. We don't have a formula that guarantees that every detail of the outcome we desire will be met. We do have a clue about how to do something that has been very fruitful.

What does our experience tell us to do?

Having "mentored apprentices" since the 90s, Ken has seen first hand results of having a hand in producing some great software craftsmen, and the gap in skills between the folks he's mentored in the first months, years, and longer term than most other developers out there. The two 2012 academy graduates that have ended up as Jr. Developers at RoleModel are doing very well. Caleb Woods had an very successful apprenticeship program he helped run at CollegePlus. We compared notes and decided to merge our experience with the focus of producing solid Jr. Developers on the track to becoming successful Software Craftsmen.

We've had several applicants express interest in entering the Academy before the end of the year. Some are experienced professionals looking to make a career change. Others are young people looking for a way to enter a career that seems attractive to them. Our experience tells us that the same training is needed for each, though the potential paths after training is complete (or even part way through the training) could be very different.

So, now we have one program with two different financial models. There are clear evaluation points through which the program will continue or discontinue or a referral might happen when we think one of the participants are doing well but, for whatever reasons one or both parties thinks it might be best for them to continue their journey elsewhere.

We're excited about it.

If you are excited about it, too, and are either someone who wants to participate, or knows someone who might benefit from participating, we are taking applications.