12-weeks can be a long time to step away from a paycheck, job, and other commitments. That’s why we’re always asking for feedback and determining if our program offerings are the best fit for our students. Meggie Mahnken, Senior Director of Education at Hackbright Academy, sat down with Course Report, a top online resource for intensive bootcamp programs, to explain how and why we decided to launch our Part-Time Software Engineering Program.
As the Senior Director of Education, what are you up to at Hackbright Academy?
I primarily work with the education team to maintain the Hackbright curriculum and make sure our instructors and TAs have what they need in the classroom. I was originally an instructor at Hackbright so I still do some lecturing and hang out in the labs while students are pair programming to see them in action. I help students build projects, and give advice on some of their bigger technical questions. I also work with all the teams at Hackbright to ensure we accept the right people into our programs, and that we’re finding more women who are interested in tech.
Overall, I contribute to the long term strategy for Hackbright Academy by figuring out how we can more efficiently educate women, creating a curriculum that stays up-to-date and marketable and offering our alumnae more resources for their job search.
Why did Hackbright Academy decide to offer this Part-Time Program? Did you see a demand from women who needed a part-time option?
We ask for and get, an immense amount of feedback from our prospective students, current students, and alumnae – it’s at the heart of the education team’s work. We noticed that people were explicitly asking, “Is there any way that this program can be less disruptive to my life?”
We try to maintain a boundary between 10am to 6pm so that women can still try to have a life. But people would continue to comment that the course takes over your life as you juggle your schedule and responsibilities outside of work. You have to quit your job, and put everything on pause.
We’ve had this part-time idea for a long time – a notion of creating something similar to the executive MBA where people continue with their job, and maybe their employer is even an advocate for them to attend the course and will pay for it.
How is the Part-Time curriculum different from the immersive Full-Time Software Engineering Program?
We know that the dynamics of the nights and weekends course will be different from the intensive, immersive program. A 24-week course might be an advantage because students can study more; on the other hand, because students have more time between lectures, it could take longer to get back into that headspace.
The only aspect of the curriculum that is changing is the career services portion at the end. Currently, the last two weeks of the Full-Time Program are career-oriented if you want to start a full-time job search. We recognize that for people continuing with their full-time job and doing a part-time course, the topics might need to shift towards advocating for oneself in the workplace to get a promotion or move into a technical role. We’re rethinking some of the career training to tailor it to the actual goals and career plans of each student.
Do Part-Time students need unique types of support from the Hackbright team?
There are a couple of mechanical ways that we’re going to tailor this course for people who have a lot of other things going on in their lives. First off, we’ve created the schedule for this course so that it honors three-day weekends when there is a public holiday. The course runs Tuesday, Thursday, and then most Saturdays. There are no classes on Saturdays that fall on a holiday weekend so that students can plan a longer break for themselves.
We’re also adding remote advising appointments so students won’t have to be in person at the Hackbright campus to do their regular 30-minute advising meetings. We can schedule meetings during a student’s normal day – during lunch or on a Saturday afternoon.
Overall we have an eye towards students’ other obligations throughout the course. We’ll be creating a deadline for assessments, and assigning homework in a way that doesn’t expect that you’re going to drop everything in your life to get a project finished in one night – that will be baked into the various deadlines.
What’s the ideal student for the Part-Time Program?
The part-time student is likely already in a professional job – maybe she works in publishing, maybe she’s a lawyer, or maybe she works at a tech company in a nontechnical role. This course is for someone who wants to take a different financial approach to skilling up. With the Part-Time Program, you can continue to earn your regular living while also contributing some of that towards your education.
Like the Full-Time Program, we’re looking for applicants who like coding and have tried coding enough to know they like it. And we’re still looking for people who want to become software engineers, but they might be looking for a longer path into that role, or someone who has the wonderful opportunity to possibly shift roles within the same company.
Is the admissions process for the Part-Time Program different?
The admissions process is exactly the same as the Full-Time Program. It’s basically two interviews – one qualitative interview with our admissions team, and then there’s the technical interview. The technical interview is remote, over the phone, using a collaborative coding tool in a web browser where you work on a problem with me or another member of the education team.
How does Hackbright assess student progress and support part-time students who might fall behind?
First, we try to put in the hard work during admissions – the technical interview assesses if a student has the fundamental core skills to fully take advantage of Hackbright. We want to make sure that students’ time, energy, and money isn’t wasted because they weren’t completely ready. A lot of the problems with “falling behind” can be mitigated if you really find and encourage all prospective students to be ready to hit the ground running on day one.
This course is incredibly challenging, and every student comes in with less experience/readiness in certain areas than others. For each student, there will be tougher days and easier days. We’ve designed lectures and exercises that clearly outline the required content, but provide “further study” opportunities. There are also regular 30-minute one-on-one advising meetings which can include tutoring. When someone starts to fall behind, those meetings can shift to 100% tutoring so that students better understand a topic. You can’t repeat a segment at Hackbright, so we make sure to provide regular assessments so that it’s easy to identify what a student needs to work on versus what they understood.
Is there a big lesson that your team learned throughout the time of operating the Full-Time immersive course that you applied to the Part-Time Program?
We’ve been operating for five years and we have a lot of skilled people on our education team that help us replicate results and build our wisdom over time. One of the lessons we’ve learned is about the Independent Project, and we’ll bring that to the Part-Time course. The major goal of the Independent Project is to learn, not to create a project that you’ll take to market when you graduate. The Independent Project is designed to solidify the core agile web development skills presented in the first half of the program, in a way that honors student interests and passions.
We’ll also keep an eye on work-life balance, which is especially important. We want to know students’ external stressors and keep a constant dialogue going to make sure the entire class is happy and learning. We already have to battle imposter syndrome – everyone does, whether you’re in an all-women’s bootcamp or not. When you work with women who are changing careers through a bootcamp, you have to provide a really positive and encouraging influence on regular basis. Plus we’ll always take feedback – there’s always something that we can improve. The Hackbright Academy team listens and is thoughtful about what people are asking for.
What is your advice for students embarking on a part-time program? Any tips to get the most out of a Hackbright’s Part-Time Program?
Have a routine and a strategic plan to fall into throughout this six-month experience. Ask yourself, “What do I need when I get stressed out? How can I keep myself accountable?” Don’t get to the point where you’re losing out on your normal life (remember to eat)!
Even more important advice – interview software engineers. When you are about to make a career change, even if you’re unsure what role you want, interviewing people already in those roles could help you with imposter syndrome, and debunk any myths. Find someone via LinkedIn, someone in your network, or a Hackbright alumna and ask, “Hour by hour, what did you spend your time on today?” Sometimes that can help with your confidence. Just by hearing what their job is like, it can inspire you and help propel you forward. Then when you feel stressed out or overwhelmed, you can think back to these insightful conversations.
This post was originally published on Course Report, it has been abridged for Hackbright Academy. Find the full article, more bootcamp news, and read Hackbright Academy reviews on Course Report’s website.
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