S3E17: Starting an In-Person Coding Bootcamp with Matt Lane

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In today’s episode of the Learn to Code With Me podcast, I talk with Matt Lane. Matt is the co-founder and lead instructor at Rithm School – an online learning community for people who want to learn to code.

Matt graduated with a degree in math and did a PhD program for six years before realizing academia wasn’t for him. After that, he worked as a content developer, writing lessons for students, and then he taught web development. This gave him the perfect experience to set up Rithm School.

Matt shares with us his journey from working with startups to creating one himself. He gives us some great advice for handling nerves in interviews and reminds us how important it is to have a mentor.

This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.

Laurence Bradford 0:06
Hey, you're currently listening to Season 3 of the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford and this season I chat with a range of individuals who work in tech.

Laurence Bradford 0:18
Flatiron school's online web developer program focuses on community actual development tools and features a curriculum that will teach you the skills you need to land a career as a software engineer. Get $500 off your first month by visiting flatironbootcampprep.com.

Laurence Bradford 0:34
Looking for a coding boot camp? Boston and Philadelphia based Launch Academy has helped over 500 students launch coding career since 2013. With curriculum that's updated every quarter based on hiring managers feedback and lifetime post grad support. Find out more at launchacademy.com.

Laurence Bradford 0:53
Hey listeners! Welcome to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host Laurence Bradford in today's episode I talk with Matt Lane. Matt is the CEO and lead instructor at Rithm School, a coding boot camp in San Francisco. Before starting rhythm, Matt worked at math delicious as a Content Developer. As his role became more technical, he began to teach himself how to code. He then taught web development for about a year at galvanize, before leaving to set up rhythm school. In our conversation, Matt shares with us the importance of having a mentor some of the best resources he used to learn to code, great interview tips, and much more. If you want to learn about the importance of mentorship, or how to transition into tech from another field, this episode is for you. Remember, you can get Show Notes for this episode, plus much more information about Matt at learntocodewith.me/podcast. Enjoy the episode.

Laurence Bradford 1:52
Hey, Matt, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Laurence Bradford 1:54
Hey, Laurence, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Laurence Bradford 1:56
Yeah, I'm excited to talk to you. Could you introduce yourself to the audience?

Matt Lane 2:00
Yeah, absolutely. My name is Matt Lane. I'm right now a co founder and a lead instructor at Rithm School, which is a web development immersive program in San Francisco. And before that, I worked with a couple startups. And before that I was in grad school for mathematics. And I got my PhD in math from UCLA in 2012.

Laurence Bradford 2:20
Yes, I was looking at your LinkedIn before this and saw that you studied math in undergraduate masters and then you had got a PhD as well.

Matt Lane 2:28
Yeah, a lot of math. A lot of time in a library.

Laurence Bradford 2:31
Well, I'm sure it must come in handy now. But I want to ask, how did you end up going from being like, you know, in academia and studying math into programming and coding?

Matt Lane 2:41
Yeah, absolutely. I would say I was in a Ph. D. program for six years. And probably about midway through I realized that a career in academia wasn't for me, I I didn't really I enjoyed research, but it wasn't my my real passion and you know, There's this sort of publish or perish mentality where you have to be sort of aggressively pursuing research all the time. And I just couldn't. I couldn't get that into it. I like teaching a lot more. But there weren't a lot of schools where great teaching was really prioritized if you have really great research you can get by with mediocre teaching, but the opposite isn't really true. And so I decided I wanted to finish up the PhD. But after that, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. And I wound up working at this small company called math delicious. And they write lessons. They write math lessons for middle and high school math teachers. And so I was originally hired not in a technical role, but as a Content Developer just to help writing lessons, which was a lot of fun. But the team was very small. There were only five of us when I started and so technical needs sort of came up and we all had to wear a lot of hats. So over time, I sort of the role developed into something more technical, and I was really lucky. I was working with another guy who was also writing curriculum with me and we sort of work together to teach ourselves how to become better programmers. And so I learned on the job there for about three years.

Laurence Bradford 4:15
Yeah, I definitely know where you're coming from outside of the learn to code any podcasts and blog I work at a start up so I definitely know what it's like to wear many hats. I think that's really cool that so you start at math Alicia's kind of as like a curriculum creator or or instructional designer or whatever phrase you want to use.

Matt Lane 4:32
Sure. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Laurence Bradford 4:34
Yeah. Well, I'm sure that must come in handy though with what you're doing today at Rithm because of course, that's, you know, coding boot camp and you guys must have curriculum. So having a background in that must be helpful.

Matt Lane 4:44
Yeah, absolutely. It's really helps in terms of the curriculum, you know, thinking about how to how to structure a larger curriculum, but also you know, in the day to day structuring a lesson and and helping students understand the why behind. What we're doing is that was definitely a valuable experience.

Laurence Bradford 5:02
Yeah, yeah, I could definitely see that. So you were working at math delicious. And you began, you're wearing many hats began dabbling in programming and getting your toes wet there. What sort of happened next then?

Matt Lane 5:14
Um, so like I said, I was at math delicious for about three years. And at the time, math was just relocated to Austin, Texas, sort of midway through my time there. And so my wife and I went out to Texas. But then, for various reasons, we decided to move back to the Bay Area. And so I didn't really want to work remotely and so I was looking for other other things to do. And I, I realized that I missed sort of being in a classroom and math lectures was great in terms of the curriculum development and writing really fun and engaging lessons. But I was far removed from the actual implementation of these lessons, so I didn't actually get to see you know, teachers Teaching them very often. And I certainly didn't ever get to teach them to students. And I taught a lot in grad school and really enjoyed working with students and helping people learn. And so I found out about an opportunity at galvanize, which is another coding school. And so, yeah, I was working with a recruiter and applied there and had a bunch of really great conversations and, and eventually was hired in an instructional role at Galvanized. And so yeah, one thing led to another from there.

Laurence Bradford 6:31
Yeah. Wow. So you were teaching then? Well, yeah. What were you teaching? Exactly?

Matt Lane 6:36
Yeah, sorry.

Laurence Bradford 6:37
Oh, no, no, it's fine.

Matt Lane 6:39
Yeah. So galvanized has a web development program and a data science program, but I was teaching web development. So I started teaching web development galvanized in August of 2015. And it was there for about a year before leaving to start Rithm in August of 2016 basically.

Laurence Bradford 6:55
God it's a start your own your own kibou game in August 2016. Okay. Cool, cool. So, yeah, I was going to Yeah, I was gonna ask what kind of made you want to go off and create your own boot camp and not even just like create your own boot camp, but kind of decision to start your own business in general, because that's definitely a scary thing to do is to, you know, going to go off on your own from a full time job, you know, where you have a paycheck coming in regularly and to do your own thing. So what what led to that?

Matt Lane 7:25
Yeah, it's definitely scary. Honestly, I think for me, it was really helpful because one of our other co founders had a connection at a VC firm in the area. And so he was able to secure a little bit of funding for us to help us float through the first couple classes. So it was sort of it was less of a risk than it might be generally, which certainly helped. And I think in general, in terms of, you know, why, why I wanted to do it. I just, I think all of us, all of us who started rhythm we really wanted to build a school. where the focus is on delivering a really high quality educational experience for our students. A lot of I mean, you know, this industry is still growing very quickly. And there are a lot of technical needs. And so I think a lot of schools are really focused on scaling their product really rapidly. And there's a trade off there sometimes between quality and quantity. And we really just wanted to not focus so much on on scaling school to a bunch of different campuses and a bunch of different offerings, but really focus in on just having a really high quality educational experience for our students. And so that was really exciting for me.

Laurence Bradford 8:35
Yeah, so what do you guys teach at Rithm?

Matt Lane 8:37
Um, so you know, it's under the general umbrella of web development, but our curriculum is JavaScript and Python. So we do Python on the back end. And then we also teach react for for a JavaScript framework. So that's sort of the core of our curriculum, but we also have students spend about the last month with us working on Company projects. So we partner with different organizations in the Bay Area that have some technical need. And then we help our students build products and tools for those organizations so that they have some real world experience when they're out, you know, on the job hunt.

Laurence Bradford 9:17
Yeah, that's definitely very important having that real world experience.

Matt Lane 9:21
For sure.

Laurence Bradford 9:22
Yeah. So how long is the Rithm program in total?

Matt Lane 9:26
So our setup is a little bit unique students are with us for 13 weeks full time. And we've also partnered with an organization called Out CO, which is a five week part time program, which is really focused on job preparation. So alcohol will take bootcamp grads, but they'll also take people who have had technical roles in the industry and are looking to just sort of, you know, level up their skills, and they focus on soft skills like resume workshops and things like that, but they also really give people a lot of practice with whiteboard interviews. So students who decide to do both programs will be sort of part of our ecosystem for about 18 weeks. But students can also optionally opt in to just come into rhythm. And then it's a 13 week program. But we, we encourage people to do that as well.

Laurence Bradford 10:17
Oh, that's so interesting. I've actually never heard of OutCo before. But I just went over to the website. And it's just like, strictly interview, prep is kind of okay, but maybe I'm wrong. I'm just on the homepage. To me, it looks almost like a coding boot camp or like a menu when he says four weeks or five weeks long. I think you said. Yeah. And it's just focused on the software interview component.

Matt Lane 10:35
Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's, it's a hard role to fill. And, you know, I, like I said, I've worked at other schools, the other co founders have worked at other schools. And we found that that outcomes portion of the student experience is really hard to get right. And we're a small team, and we really just don't have the bandwidth to do it in a way that we are confident that we will be really successful. And so we found out about Just as we were starting up, and it seems like a great opportunity to work together.

Laurence Bradford 11:03
Yeah, that's really cool. Yeah, out co.io for the listeners, that's the that's the URL for that. So all right, awesome. So yeah, you mentioned that you guys use JavaScript and Python on the back end to teach react as a framework. So that's 13 weeks. Okay, full time. And you got is just located in San Francisco. Right. So it's like an in person program.

Matt Lane 11:25
Yeah, we have. We have a bunch of free resources online. So if you go to our website, you can see we've got sort of online courses for JavaScript and Python fundamentals and a little bit of react. So you know, people are welcome to check out that curriculum no matter where you are, but our in person programs are, yeah, in San Francisco.

Laurence Bradford 11:45
Got it. Nice. So all right. So people, let's just imagine their students and they do the 13 week full time program and then they're doing the outcome. Whoa. The alko component which is five weeks, what happens then does OutCo help place people in full time jobs? Or is that something that you do? Or how does that work?

Matt Lane 12:06
That's a good question. Yeah, it's a little bit of both. I mean, we we have a network of companies that we are partnering with mostly the same network. From the firm that invested in us, they have about, you know, 100 or so startups that they've invested in. So we have worked with some of those companies, both for company projects and for helping to sort of connect our graduates with with them. And Alcoa also has a really strong network of hiring partners that they worked with. So that's one of the other benefits. I think for students who come to Rithm and also do Outco is you get you get the upside of not only our network, but also our coast network.

Laurence Bradford 12:43
Yeah, yeah, that's, that's definitely super, super important. Yeah, having the network and whatnot to land a job after. So as far as the application process goes for rhythm, is it competitive? Like what do you guys look for? How did how does that work?

Matt Lane 13:00
That's a great question i. So for us, we're, we're less interested in having people who are already really strong with JavaScript, we have a fair amount of pre work. So once we accept people, there's a lot of expectations around the amount of JavaScript you'll do before the first day in class. But in terms of the application process itself, what we're much more interested in is sort of how people approach problem solving. So you know, if we're whiteboarding on a problem with someone and they make some syntax errors, that's less of an issue for us then, just seeing how they approach problems do they? Do they ask questions about the problem before they get started? How do they respond when they get stuck? You know, a lot of people tend to sort of clam up, which is a natural response. I mean, it's, it's stressful, certainly, any sort of technical interview but, you know, we try to make it as conversational as possible. We really just want to have a comment. with students and talk about solving problems together in a way that hopefully feels collaborative. And so because of that, yeah, we're just more interested in people's sort of approach to solving problems, how they think about problems, and less concerned with sort of a, you know, how familiar they are with the syntax and the methods of whatever language they're, they're using.

Laurence Bradford 14:22
Sit tight podcast listeners, we're taking a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors.

Laurence Bradford 14:28
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Laurence Bradford 16:33
Yeah, hundred percent. So switching switching gears a little bit because you did mention that you were self taught at least as far as programming goes at your role and Math Math delicious. Were there any resources or courses or books or anything you did to help you learn?

Matt Lane 16:49
Yeah, I mean, I I did a lot of the things that I think people typically go to so I went to code CAD me I did some stuff at Code School. I read through Michael harder wills, a Ruby on Rails tutorial. And you know, probably read a bunch of various JavaScript tutorials, but those are the big three that that come to mind. I think even more than that, what was really helpful, like I said earlier, it was just like having someone else who was learning with me. And I was really privileged that we were able to do that in a work environment. So I didn't have to take a huge chunk of time outside of my normal work schedule, because it was part of work, learning these technologies, which I'm really grateful for.

Laurence Bradford 17:38
Yeah, that's something I always tell people to do as well, if they can't, is try to find a job and start and startups are great for that. I'm also I think, different kinds of like freelancing opportunities or even volunteer work, but obviously, it's ideal to get paid to learn by finding opportunities where you can essentially get paid to sharpen some of your skills. So yeah, that's really It's really unfortunate that you were that you were in a situation like that. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And that you had a co worker who was able to kind of help you learn along the way. Because of course, mentorship is really important when you're learning how to code. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, on that note, is there anything that you guys do add rhythm to kind of promote that sort of mentorship and learning from one another?

Matt Lane 18:24
Well, we certainly have students pair a lot, which I think is really helpful just in in getting students getting people to, you know, communicate through their code. So they're not just sort of silently typing at a keyboard. They get stuck. They've got someone right there. And we also, because we're so focused on making it as high quality of an experience as possible, we keep the Student Instructor ratio relatively low. So all of our classes are capped at 16 students. And we have three full time instructors. So we're always close. Close by if one of us is up in front of a class, giving a lecture or something like that the other two of us are right there. So if students get stuck, they can just raise their hand. And we're very hands on in that way. So if people do fall behind, or if people get stuck, they usually can't hide it very long.

Laurence Bradford 19:17
Yeah, yeah, that's great that you keep the class small and do a lot of individualized attention and all that stuff. So the However, there's a lot of listeners to the show that maybe don't live in a city like San Francisco or New York, or New York, where I'm based or even Austin or something with a lot of like in person meetups and coding boot camp options and workshops and so forth. Is there any advice you could give to someone who is in that situation where they're maybe not living in an area with as many, like in person coding resources?

Matt Lane 19:50
Yeah, that's a great question. You know that. I mean, there are certainly large networks that aren't sort of restricted by geography, right. So people could do something like that. Free Code Camp. There's certainly lots of free online resources that can help you learn. I think the hardest thing about doing that on your own, it's just, it's nice when you're learning with other people, because then there's a sense of community and a sense of accountability. When you're trying to learn something with people are also trying to learn the same thing. So that's the hardest thing to sort of replace, I would say. So if you can find it, maybe not an in person, but certainly an online community of people who you're actually engaging with, rather than just sort of like reading a tutorial here and reading a tutorial there. But if you can sort of build that community yourself, even if it's not with people who are living in your area, I think that can be really a good motivator to make sure that you're sort of on pace and making progress and sort of not getting sidetracked or stuck on things too long.

Laurence Bradford 20:51
Yeah, that's really, that's really awesome advice. And I know there's a ton of listeners that are big Free Code Camp fans, and I had Quincy the founder on the I heard that one. Yeah. And Season Season Two, episode eight for, for the people listening. And yeah, of course, he's an awesome guy really big in the really big in the learn to code space online larger code space and now with his publication, the Free Code Camp like medium publication I think it's like one of the most read media publications if I'm not mistaken. So there's definitely a huge community. I freako camp and I know they have meetup groups or the Facebook groups across the world and hundreds of cities I believe so. Yeah, probably. Yeah, there's probably one relatively close to people who are people who are listening. Yeah. So yeah, all good stuff. And then kind of going back to job advice. And I know that, you know, you kind of do send students off to outcome Are you getting the choice of doing that which solely focuses on prepping for an interview? But of course, tons of listeners have questions and are worried about the software engineering interview. Is there any kind of general advice you could give to someone who's working prepping for that?

Matt Lane 22:01
Yeah, I mean, you know, those interviewers, I guess sort of unnecessary evil it is it is really stressful. And there's a lot of anxiety around it. And it's sort of similar. I mean, you know, I, I saw similar things in my background, studying math for a decade. Something about just those technical types of screenings and exams, they're very, they're very much anxiety producing. I think one thing that certainly helped me when I was in grad school, and afterwards is to sort of lean into that anxiety a little bit and, and try to move through it rather than just like sitting in it. I remember many times in grad school when I was sitting in a math exam and thinking, just staring at the questions and thinking, Oh, man, I have no idea how to solve any of these problems. And just being really anxious about it for I don't know, five or 10 minutes. But allowing myself to feel that anxiety and and after that five or 10 minutes, I could sort of move past it and then think, Okay, well, with this problem here, maybe I don't know how to solve it. But I remembered this other problem that was sort of similar and maybe I could adapt it and then with this problem here, so I would just sort of find avenues to eventually get to solutions of problems that I didn't think I knew how to solve at the outset.

Matt Lane 23:25
In a technical interview, you probably don't have five or 10 minutes. But I think to the extent that you can admit that it's okay to feel some anxiety at the outset, and, and then sort of try to latch on to maybe one piece of the problem that you understand and work from there that can be really helpful. And if you don't understand anything, I would say it's really important to ask questions. Ask questions about, you know, maybe specific examples. If you're trying to implement a function that does something, give specific examples of what you think the output should be and just verify that you do understand what the Problem is, or maybe try to find a simpler problem that you do know how to solve and start from there. But I think that the sooner you can stop the anxiety from being totally overwhelming, the better off you'll be.

Laurence Bradford 24:14
Yeah, I really like that I really like about the the piece about, like, latching on to one specific piece of the problem and then working from there. And of course, asking questions, and then giving specific examples is really important. I think even if you're, you know, a bit off track, it's, it's better to take an approach like that than to just, you know, stand there silently nervous and not not talking at least talking your way kind of through the problem and showing like, the the progression of your thoughts. Absolutely. Yeah, it's really it's really important. So, okay, so you started rhythm pretty recently, back in August 2016. How many cohorts Have you had so far? And I'm also curious, like, what your plans for the future are looking like?

Matt Lane 24:58
Yeah, so we just start our third class at the end of April. And since our classes run 13 weeks at rhythm, and then we have a week in between cohorts, so we're basically starting a new class every 14 weeks. And for now, what we're really focused on is just just making sure that we get a lot of really great candidates in our interview pool for for future classes, we're not looking necessarily to like add more classes or more campuses in the immediate future. Like I said, right now, we're really focused on delivering a really high quality experience for students. So down the road, maybe we'll be interested in running a couple classes concurrently to sort of provide more opportunities for mentorship between students. But right now, like I said, we're really just looking to find as many people in the Bay Area who are serious about learning code as possible. and invite them to come hang out and hopefully learn with us.

Laurence Bradford 26:04
Awesome. And that made me kind of think back to your days doing curriculum development. So with the curriculum at have Rithm? Did you create it mostly yourself? Did you do it? Maybe with a few co workers? And is it something that like you're reusing for every cohort and adapt each time? or? Yeah, like, how does the curriculum work?

Matt Lane 26:22
It's a great question. Yeah. So the three of us all myself and the other two co founders, we wrote the curriculum from from scratch when we started Rithm. And every cohort, we sort of iterated on it our first class only had we finished with two students. So there was more bandwidth, in terms of our instructional resources. So we read a lot of curriculum during that class. And nowadays, it's it's less sort of writing new curriculum, but it's a lot of iterating, especially for these libraries and frameworks that are changing constantly. So even though we're teaching react, you know, every three months seems like every time I'm gonna get to the React curriculum, there's a bunch of stuff that's deprecated are there a bunch of things that you shouldn't be doing in react anymore? And there's a new way to do it. So I'm keeping up to date on that. I think it's important for students and so there's always with these, you know, new technologies. A little bit of that.

Laurence Bradford 27:15
Yeah. Oh, man. Yes, I definitely. Oh, you know, just running just like even so my blog articles I wrote. I mean, they're they're pretty outdated now to three years ago. I feel kind of bad one. Sometimes people comment on certain things, because it's just so hard to go back and update. Update everything and no, it's and things change so fast that Yeah, three months is like a pretty long time. Yeah. Especially history. Yeah. Especially with something that's wrapped. Developing so quickly changes so quickly as react and just JavaScript as a whole. Yeah, so I love to ask this question, I guess, kind of as like a nice note to leave on. So say a person has no technical experience whatsoever, but they You want a job in tech? What is one thing they can do today to take a step in the right direction?

Matt Lane 28:06
Um, I would say if you're in an area that has meetups, just find a meetup and go hang out. I mean, even if it's something that you don't know anything about, you know, you might learn a little bit, or you might sort of at least acclimate to, you know, what some of the terminology is that people are using. I mean, I remember when I was first trying to get into web development. In the Bay Area, I didn't know really anything. I knew a little bit of Ruby and a little bit of JavaScript. And I went to a meetup. And people were talking about what their stack was, and I had no idea what that meant. But you know, I sort of picked up vocabulary here and there. And then over time, I learned a lot more. So I would say just find finding a little way to sort of dip your toe into the waters, right? It doesn't have to be like, I'm going to learn JavaScript or I'm going to learn Python or you don't even have to know what the difference is between those languages. If you just sort of go to a place where people are immersed in in the industry, then that's a good way to sort of gain experience and gain a little insight about what it's like.

Laurence Bradford 29:10
Awesome. Thanks so much. I love that advice, Matt. And lastly, where can people find you online?

Matt Lane 29:15
So I'm on Twitter my Twitter handle is it's mmmaaatttttt, so it's three M's, three A's and 6 T's because Matt was taken and double mat was taken so I had to do triple mat and then I'm also you can always email me I'm just, matt, M-A-T-T@rithmschool.com so people can always reach out to me there.

Laurence Bradford 29:35
All right, awesome. Thanks again for coming on the show.

Matt Lane 29:38
Oh, thank you. It was fun.

Laurence Bradford 29:45
I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Again, the Show Notes for this episode can be found at learn to code with.me forward slash podcast. If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation and type in Matt's name. It's spelled like M-A-T-T, and his last name is L-A-N-E. If you enjoyed this episode and want to learn more strategies for teaching yourself to code, head over to my website, learntocodewith.me and enter your email address in the box at the top. I'll send you my 10 Free Tips for Teaching Yourself How to Code. Thank you so much for tuning in, and I'll see you next week.

Key takeaways:

  • Mentorship is really important when learning to code; you need someone you can bounce ideas off and talk through problems with.
  • If you’re feeling anxious about a question in an interview, ask some questions yourself. It helps to talk through the problem, and your interviewer will be able to see your working out process.
  • Going to meetups gives you the chance to get used to the terminology and meet some coding friends!

Links and mentions from the episode:

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