What it really takes to get into - and graduate from - gSchool

by Carlin Sack
December 4, 2013

For gSchool students, tech is the easy part. The tough part for students of the 24-week programming course is putting in the time, patience, drive and emotion needed to turn themselves into developers, lead instructor Mike Gehard said.

“Developers aren’t born, they are created; they create themselves,” Gehard said. “They have to be willing to go through adversity. When you don’t get something, there is no throwing your hands up and walking away. I can guarantee you that I can teach you this. It is a teachable skill; it’s not magic.”

It does seem pretty magical though that some gSchool students enter the program, which just started this year, with no computer science background and emerge ready for a full-time developer role. When interviewing prospective students like these, Managing Director Kirsten Kahn said that the team tries to determine if the student has high aptitude for learning languages and creative problem-solving by giving them a series of logic problems similar to ones found on the LSAT.


                                                   Mike Gehard at gSchool's open house this year

But Kahn said it’s also surprising when graduates of a four-year computer science program apply for gSchool; this happens quite often, Kahn said, because graduates don’t know what to do with their skills on a day-to-day basis.

“It’s shocking to retrain people coming out of school, but what we try to do at gSchool is focus on ‘this is what we do every day’ skills,” Kahn said.

gSchool’s curriculum, which spans HTML, CSS5, Javascript, Ruby, Rails and SQL, gives aspiring programmers the option to take an alternate path to becoming a trained professional, so that when students graduate they can get their “foot in the door” at a company and continue learning from there. Pivotal Labs, for example, hired two graduates from the first gSchool class: one had a previous computer science degree, while the other had no formal tech background before gSchool.

Since gSchool operates out of Galvanize, students are not only able to get a foot in the door with prospective employers, but also are able to observe what developers really do every day.

But sometimes students get a look into what work lies ahead and decide that gSchool isn’t for them: the workload and even the emotional strain of learning to code can be too much. Gehard’s advice for prospective students is to “look really long and hard” into their own professional, and even personal, lives.

“Can you convince your spouse and or children that you are going to be spending 60 or 70 hours a week doing this?” Gehard said. “If you can’t, you might want to reevaluate.”

But if students do decide gSchool is a fit, Kahn said she is working on ways to make sure that, if accepted, students can attend the program no matter their financial situations. Right now, Kahn said she is talking with local companies and foundations to provide scholarships; but in the meantime, gSchool allows students to defer up to half of their tuition until after graduation.

This is all to ensure that right students, the ones who show the promise and drive needed to become good developers, will not only be able to join the gSchool community, but also will be welcomed into Galvanize.

“It’s like a family: 24 to 26 students working together for six months and they are going through this learning process together,” Kahn said. “The relationships they are developing are going to be for life and also the relationship with the larger Galvanize community is going to be really valuable for them as they launch their professional career.”

Stay tuned for more insights from gSchoolers and the road to becoming a developer.

gSchool is currently accepting applications for its next program in 2014. Apply here by January 5.


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