What Makes The Flatiron School Special?

Flatiron School / 3 May 2013

The answer below was originally posted in response to a question on Quora about what distinguishes us from other programs.

Hey, I’m Avi, Dean of the Flatiron School

I haven’t gone through any other programs (though I did create the syllabus for the original GA Intro to Web Development), so I can’t tell you what the differences are between them, but I can try to explain some of the things that we think make us unique. First though, I think it’s important to point out that I think you’re asking the wrong question. If you’re looking for a credential, then brand matters.  But in this world, nobody cares from which of these programs you graduated. All anyone cares about is whether you can do the work. 

We believe that teaching is a craft. Having a practitioner give a one-hour lecture is one thing. But if you want to master a subject, having an incredible teacher is invaluable. The reason kids like math in 7th grade, history in 8th, and bio in 9th, is that great teachers inspire people to connect to topics on higher levels. No matter how much you love a topic, if you don’t have a great teacher, you won’t learn nearly as much. To that end, all of our teachers are employed full time. They do not lead semesters without TA’ing at least one first, and we take 4-6 weeks off between semesters to focus on teacher training and curriculum development. We could be way more profitable if we didn’t do that, but we believe it’s the only way to ensure quality. 

I love teaching. I’ve been doing it full time for years (here are some skillshare reviews). Our syllabus has been developed over years of trial and error. Some other folks like Dave Hoover and Shereef Bishay at Dev Bootcamp and Jeff Casimir at gSchool have the same motivations and I really respect the work they do. Lots of other programs seem to be started by people who can barely code or have never taught. 

Ultimately, whichever program you’re considering, find out who will be teaching you. How long has that person been teaching? What’s his/her philosophy? Do you connect with that person? Sit in on a class. Speak to students who learned with that teacher. Find out what those students are doing today. Find the person with whom you connect the most, who inspires you the most, and choose that teacher.

I can drone on about this but if you want to learn more about my philosophy, I was recently interviewed for a podcast where I get into it in some detail (you can also feel free to reach out and come by the school any time to talk to me/students/alumni.

As far as the program itself goes, here are some things I think make the Flatiron School unique.

1. Logistics – This is the easy stuff. Our program is 12 weeks long, on campus, full time. Before starting the program, students go through about 100 hours of pre-work ( Flatiron School Prework ). Additionally, after the 12 weeks, we work with students one-on-one to help them with job placement. So the 12 weeks are entirely focused on learning but in all we’re working with students for anything from 14-20 weeks. Last semester we ended up with 100% job placement within 5 weeks of graduation.

2. Culture – We currently have a 10% acceptance rate into the program. This allows us to not only have a class that’s incredibly smart and passionate, but also extremely diverse. Our current class is 40% female. Former student backgrounds have ranged from pro-poker players and Major League Baseball ScoutstoWall Street TradersLawyers and even Customer Service reps.  We could probably pack an entire class with bankers, and they’d be great, but this makes for a lot more fun.  (check out our instragram for some more on that).

Also, while there are a lot of great reasons to learn how to code (start a company, execute an idea, get a job, etc…), those are not the reasons people come to the flatiron school. Our students see programming as a lifelong craft that they want to continue to improve, not as a means to an end. They’d rather be developers at boring companies than do anything else at sexy startups.

3. Focus – We Don’t have fancy offices and millions of dollars in venture capital. We’re also not opening locations all around the country or the world and don’t offer tons of classes. This is definitely detrimental if you’re interested in things like UX Design or Marketing while you’re in our program. We also don’t have strong employer networks outside of New York (though our students who looked for development jobs in SF, DC, etc… all got jobs). The advantage to this though, is that we have a maniacal focus on creating the absolute best developers in NYC. No other locations. No pressure from VC’s to scale. Just great people building great things together.

4. Learning Philosophy – All of these programs will teach you how to code (I hope so, at least). We think that’s the bare minimum though – the lowest common denominator. There’s so much more to being a developer than knowing how to define a method. 

First, there’s a rich history and culture to this craft. We spend some time every morning learning about how these technologies were invented and who these great programmers are, so we can connect to the craft in a more meaningful way. 

Second, all of our students maintain active technical blogs (google around – you’ll find a bunch), and present at technical meetups. This helps our students get deeply embedded into the developer community in NY (it works – they’ve won hackathons, volunteered at places like CoderDojo, and one alum is even speaking at GORUCO, the premier Ruby conference in NYC) More importantly though, we believe that the best thing we can teach our students is “how to learn.” As a developer, you’ll spend the rest of your life learning new things, and we want to help you get great at that, whether by forcing you to distill your thoughts by blogging and presenting, or by getting used to being outside your comfort zone by taking dance classes and learning to make balloon animals (yup, we’ve brought in teachers for things like that). Whether you’ve been programming for 12 weeks or 12 years, you won’t know everything. But if you continually push yourself to learn new things, you will master this craft. We want to teach you how to do that.

5. Teaching Philosophy – When I first started teaching I got inspired but his quote by Antoine de Saint-Exuprey (the guy who wrote The Little Prince).

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

The only way to truly connect with a craft is to fall in love with it. That’s how most developers who are self-taught were able to endure endless nights alone, coding in their parents’ basements. They fell in love with it. This is the guiding force behind everything we do, from teaching the history of code, to bringing in guest speakers, to building real-world applications. If we can get you to fall in love with this craft, the way I and the other teachers here have, you’ll never give up. You’ll continue to push the boundaries of your own knowledge and continue to get better. (I know this sounds kinda touchy-feely, but I get that way sometimes- just ask some alumni 🙂

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me any time . 

Wherever you end up, enjoy the ride. Your life is about to change in a big way :0


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