An Inside Look at Flatiron School’s Online Campus With Student Sarah Lichter

This was originally published on Course Report. Sarah was working as a grants manager for a nonprofit, when she got inspired by browsing beautiful websites to pursue coding. She wanted to find a way to study coding without quitting her job, so she chose to attend the Web Developer course on Flatiron School’s online campus, It meant […]

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This was originally published on Course Report.

Sarah was working as a grants manager for a nonprofit, when she got inspired by browsing beautiful websites to pursue coding. She wanted to find a way to study coding without quitting her job, so she chose to attend the Web Developer course on Flatiron School’s online campus, It meant she was able to study with an established NYC-based school, while living in Des Moines, Iowa. Sarah told Course Report about what and how she has been learning, and gave us a video demonstration of the platform.

If you’re considering learning to code online or want to get a peek into what being a Flatiron School student is like… read on!

Tell us about your background and what you were doing before Flatiron.

I majored in marketing and writing at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. After college, I worked at a local nonprofit and did a year of Americorps. After that year, I got hired full time as their grant writer, writing and managing grants.

I’ve always enjoyed design and I started to get inspiration from web design; eventually, I realized that I could figure out how to make those sites work, so I started learning HTML and CSS through books, tutorials, and articles. I got frustrated with CSS because it never did exactly what I wanted it to do. At that point, I realized there was a lot more to websites than just HTML and CSS, so I just kept learning.

Once you decided you wanted to move on from learning by yourself, how did you make that decision to do a bootcamp?

About six months ago, I started to get really serious about coding and decided to pursue it. I really enjoyed learning about coding and I enjoyed the fact there was always something new to learn. That’s very important to me – learning is always going to be a significant part of my life.

As I was coding on my own, I was always wondering what I should be learning next or what I should be doing. If I wanted to take this seriously I realized I needed to know what I should be learning, so a bootcamp was a really good way to do that.

How did you decide you wanted to do an online coding bootcamp rather than an in-person option?

I was actually looking pretty seriously at an in-person coding bootcamp here in the Midwest and it was going to be JavaScript-focused. It was a newer program. I was saving up my money to be able to quit my job and go do that full time. As I was about to start applying, I learned Flatiron School was doing this online program so I decided to look into it. I knew Flatiron School had a good record of getting people hired.

Is the teaching language (Ruby) at Flatiron important to you?

It definitely was. As I was learning on my own and making these decisions, I had read a lot about Ruby and about it being friendly, easy to pick up as a first language, and had a great community around it, so learning Ruby seemed like a great choice. Previously, I had built a few things in Rails, nothing super fancy or really cool but I at least had done Rails and knew how to start a new application.

Can you tell us about the application process for Flatiron School’s online campus?

You start by signing up on Flatiron‘s website for a free introductory course which goes through some basics of Ruby, data types, basic logic statements, etc.

Once you complete part of the intro course, you are invited to apply and update your LinkedIn profile, submit that, then you have a short interview with one of the co-founders or admissions directors. In the next few days, you’ll hear back whether or not you were accepted.

Did you have to quit your job to start Flatiron’s online Web Developer course?

No, I work full time and do all of my Flatiron work at nights and weekends.

Can you tell us about the learning experience on Flatiron’s online campus? What’s a typical session like and what is the teaching style like?

They have a really good learning platform set up. You start with a reading about a programming concept, they give you examples in that reading, tell you things to watch out for, show you ways you might solve this problem, and additional resources about the concept. After the reading, you’ll usually have a lab where you put what you learned into practice.

The program is broken up into different sections – HTML & CSS, Ruby, Sinatra, Rails, JavaScript, etc. On the Rails section for example, you’ll go through the different parts of MVC framework –  the model, how to build associations, what a controller does and how controllers interact with models and views, etc.

Then you do a lab for each section. Everything just keeps building on each lesson. Flatiron is really good at making sure you know the foundation of a concept before you get the quick fix for it.

So you always feel like you understand a concept before you move on?

Yes. The other nice part of it is everything is stored on Github so if I forget about how something worked, I can go back a few labs and look at what that was, then reference it or put it back into practice in whatever I’m working on.

How often do you interact with other students taking the course?

They encourage pair programming at different times during the course. When you finish each major section there are a couple projects – one that you’ll pair program and the other that will be your assessment. For the project, you’re encouraged to pair with someone else who is at a similar pace as you. There’s a Slack channel for the course that’s helpful for reaching out to other students and finding someone to pair with.

They explain a few different ways you could pair program (work linearly together, one person does one requirement and the other does the next, or both work on different parts at the same time and meet in the middle).

You’re encouraged to pair in each of these ways throughout the course so you have experiences working collaboratively.

What sort of pace have you been learning at so far? How many hours per week have you been spending on

It’s definitely varied. On a weeknight, I try to make sure I spend at least one or two hours. Obviously, that varies depending on what else I have going on. But then a lot of my weekend is also devoted to, so I would say ten hours every weekend (Saturday and Sunday).

I started at the beginning of November and I’m more than halfway done. I expect to be done in  April.

What are your instructors like? How often do you interact with them?

I usually interact with instructors if I have a question, if I’m a bit confused about something, or if I run into a problem. They have a nice ‘ask a question’ feature on the platform where I could ask about anything and get an answer. We also have a Slack channel and there’s always an instructor online who can answer questions. That also helps with getting to know everybody else in Flatiron School’s online community.

I believe they’re all based in New York but they have a great online presence and online community using a lot of different tools. It’s been good.

Logistically, I would hit the ‘ask a question’ button and type a question. They’ll either help you or refer you to another instructor. We also have a Slack channel so the other way I might get someone’s attention is by writing a question in there.

What’s your plan once you finish Flatiron School’s online Web Developer course?

Another thing that made this program exciting for me was the job placement guarantee. I’m definitely looking to switch careers and be a full time developer, whether that’s a junior developer  or another programming role.

How is the Flatiron team going to prepare you for job placement?

One really great thing about the course is that it teaches you to be comfortable using professional developer tools – i.e. the command line, GitHub, text editors, etc. Having the entire course on GitHub has been useful in the fact that it builds up a portfolio of projects that I’ve worked on. I recently went to a Ruby meetup for the first time. I was talking to some of the regulars and they asked if they could see my Github profile. We were able to look through it together, and he liked to be able to see what I was learning and to be able to get into the code. I think that’s helped a lot.

I know when I start looking for a job, I’ll have support from Flatiron. Someone will be checking in with me, helping me keep motivated to work on my code, and encouraging me to network.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering an online bootcamp? How can they stay motivated while learning online?

It’s been really important for me to have a goal at the end – that I want to get a job. So I have something to look forward to when things get a little difficult for me to grasp or figure out. I know I need to keep going and it eventually will pay off.

I would really encourage people to just dive into the material and to make sure they’re proactively learning new things on their own, too. So do your research, try to figure it out and really try to digest what you can and keep going.

Watch the video below to see Sarah’s demo of the platform:

Can you tell us about the platform and how it works?

The first page is my profile page. It shows what my Streak is, and every activity I’ve done. Right now I’m on a four-day streak, last week I was on a 21-day streak.

You can also see the lessons I’ve completed, including all the different sections I’ve gotten through. It shows I am on this Rails section right now, and all of the different readings, lessons for that section. Then it shows exactly which lesson I’m on within the Rails section.

Do you actually build projects through

To open up a particular lab I could hit the ‘open’ button and there’s a Learn gem you would install at the beginning of the program. Usually, I open Terminal, then I would input ‘Learn open.’ That will open up my current lesson as well as Sublime text for what I’m working on.

You were mentioning before how Github is integrated with this platform. Could you explain how you use Github?

All of the labs are on Github so I can open Github through the platform. When I do “Learn open” in the Terminal, the files from the lab on Github get forked into my local machine.

Then just like a normal developer, I would work on all of the tests. For example if I run an R-spec, it will show me all of my tests that are not passing right now. And if I did have all of them passing, I would run a Learn command which basically is going to be R-spec right now. But if I was passing everything then the button would turn green saying everything’s passed and I’m okay to submit a pull request to Github. Once I did that, I would hit ‘Learn submit’. That’s basically how you use Github with this.

Once you’ve passed the local tests, does that allow you to move on to the next lesson?

Yes. Then after I’ve passed the test, I can go to Github and look at the test solution which may be a different than how I got everything to pass. I think it’s really great you can see different ways to do things and maybe that will help you see ways you can refactor your code.

So once I’ve submitted everything I’ll hit ‘next lesson’ and go to a reading for this next lesson. If I wanted to hit ‘next lesson’ before I finished all the tests, it’s not going to let me go forward.

How does this platform compare with other free online training websites like Codecademy?

I’d say this is a lot more comprehensive than Codecademy. It’s going to tell you ways you should do things and why that might be the best option. Another thing that’s different from Codecademy is I can see the tests on whatever lab I’m working on. I can interact with them and get a better feel for what I’m supposed to be doing. Whereas with Codecademy, it might tell you exactly which code to write, but I don’t always know why. On the Learn platform, I have full control over the code. I should not be changing any of the tests but I always get to look at them, see what they are, and what I’m working towards.

Have there been any parts on this platform you’ve found challenging or a steep learning curve?

The program is really good because everything builds on the last lesson. Once you get through some of the foundational concepts, you see a lot of patterns or ideas repeating themselves. There’s always going to be something that’s a bit further than what you’ve already learned, so those are the points at which it’s really helpful to go and Google things on your own, and try figure out what that concept is. Everything is eventually going to be explained.

Is there a feedback channel through this platform?

If I ran into a bug, I could report it through the platform. Otherwise, if I was to go into a pull request, I’ve definitely seen people say “check out this test” or “this seems funny” and things like that. That’s also the place where I would go to ask a question and if something seemed weird to me, I might ask it there.

Or I could also email one of my instructors to give broader feedback about the course.

What do you like best about using this platform?

I like that I have a clear path for learning. I can easily see after I finish Sessions, I’m going to learn Authentication. I trust that Flatiron instructors know what they’re talking about and they have a really good track record of getting people jobs and teaching people to code.

I like that they lay out that path for you and make it available so I don’t have to spend my time questioning what I should be learning or is this the right way to learn it.

I’d say it’s a great program, it’s definitely worth the time. I know a lot of people have put a lot of work into building it and maintaining its community – so I would definitely consider it!

Interested in exploring an online coding bootcamp or want to try out You can get started for free on our Intro To Programming track. Just click blow!

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of March 11, 2016. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

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