The journey toward unlocking a new tech career may look different, depending on who you ask. Not everyone pursues the same route; some may choose to get a four-year college degree, while others may find what they’re looking for in a fast-tracked alternative.
According to V School, a seven-year-old coding bootcamp based in Utah but offering nation-wide access online, what ultimately matters is the skills you have in your toolbox instead of the time it takes to get from Point A to Point B.
With a mission to help tech aspirants get the skills needed for getting the jobs they want, V School has introduced a revolutionary learning model that swaps out time-based objectives for mastery-based goals—a model that sets the bootcamp apart from the rest.
According to Co-Founder Mo Reeder, time is “a terrible indication of someone’s mastery”, and as such, the school ensures that its offerings are responsive in nature. Instead of establishing fixed hours for students, V School encourages them to gain an in-depth understanding of a topic before moving on to the next.
“Move through the program by demonstrating knowledge and skill, not by completing a certain number of hours in class. Take additional time on difficult lessons so you graduate job-ready and you’re able to prove it,” the school said on its website.
Human-Centered Education at V School
You may wonder, “But, how does it work?” Well, it’s fairly simple. At V School, students will go through three phases which are skill acquisition, on-the-job experience, and career training. This ensures that students are equipped with the practical and other relevant knowledge to kickstart a career in tech.
The first phase is conducted in a hybrid manner, featuring a mix of asynchronous lessons, in-time mentorships, and live standups to cater to all learning styles. To ensure students are able to tackle the technical concepts better, the classes are kept small with an average of 7:1 student-to-instructor ratio.
“Our responsive program allows a student to work and plan their coursework around their personal schedule, no matter the schedule. Students work through the asynchronous curriculum on their own time. This curriculum includes lessons, exercises, assignments, and projects,” Mr. Reeder explained.
“While students are working on their own time, they have access to instructors, teaching assistants, and other students by being logged-in and active on our V School Student workspace on Slack. This way you don’t have to stay stuck when you get stuck, you always have the resources you need.”
The curriculum is divided into seven modules, six of which are focused on skills-building. The final module is where students begin their experience-building phase.
According to V School’s Director of Education Bob Ziroll, Module 7 consists of “anything that helps you gain real-world experience in the development world” in the likes of an internship or a real client project from the local community.
“Since you’re essentially a V School student until you get a job in the tech field, it’s possible to have multiple runs through Module 7. For example, you might first work on a client project from the community, and then get an internship at a local company.
“Since neither of them are technically full-time jobs, we want to make sure we keep you on our radar so we can help you do everything you can to convert those experiences into full-time employment,” he said.
The results of this modus operandi thus far are promising. V School has garnered impressive ratings on review sites: 4.9/5 on Facebook and 4.6/5 on Career Karma.
What Does A Typical Day at V School Look Like?
According to Mr. Reeder, a day in the life of a student at V School looks different depending on the time commitment they’re able to put towards the program. However, the day always starts with a daily kickoff meeting.
“Every single day starts with a daily kickoff meeting at 9:00 am MST to help get you in the learning zone and start your day. You will also meet with your standup group for a short standup meeting every day to report on your progress through the curriculum and to provide an opportunity to get help on anything that you may be stuck on,” he said.
The stand-ups, similar to the stand-up meetings practiced in modern workplaces, are between 10-15 minutes long. Students are expected to answer several questions that would summarize their progress and short-term goals, keeping them accountable for their own learning.
Throughout the day, students are encouraged to join a live Zoom call that is kept open to allow direct communication with the staff, if needed. V School instructors can also create a separate breakout room or pull students in for one-on-ones without disrupting the main call.
Students are free to either work on the pre-recorded lessons, do some exercises, or complete their assignments. After lunch breaks, students can participate in the career prep workshop, which typically takes place at 2:00 PM MST. These sessions will provide insights into networking, job searches, interviews, and other career-related information.
Before wrapping up their days, students are welcomed to join a design lecture or a talk featuring a guest speaker in the evening. Round-the-clock support on Slack is also available for all students.
Although V School does without the conventional ‘time’ element, it understands the importance and value of experiential learning. Therefore, it constantly strives to offer a slew of in-person learning opportunities, on top of the asynchronous curriculum.
Students can find the rest of the in-person opportunities such as workshops, topic reviews, critiques, and guest lectures on V School’s shared student calendar. These sessions are recorded and posted online to ensure that no one is missing out—not even those with the busiest schedules.
How Students Benefit From Mastery-Based Learning
To gain a clearer understanding of how V School’s mastery-based model come into play and how it can benefit those looking to break into tech, let’s hear what three students have to say:
“I found mastery-based learning effective and helpful” – Larissa Brown
Former teacher Larissa Brown, 50, said the unconventional learning model was what drove her to sign up for the Web Development program at V School.
“Before Covid, I wanted to do an in-person course because the style fits my personality better but after talking to V School and learning about how they do things, it’s an immediate yes for me,” she said in an interview with Career Karma.
“I was in a graduate program that was competency-based before and I just found it really helpful for learning. It also fits my philosophies as a teacher well. Not only I can go at my own pace but I can ease in and out of understanding things as I need to. I really like that.”
She said the learning style prepares her for what awaits in the tech industry as you’re constantly having to mull over and tackle technical concepts—both strange and familiar.
“My experience has been good. There are challenges at the end but it is mirroring what I’ll find in the real world, where I’d need to reach out to colleagues, ask questions, and recognize that there aren’t always answers. The experience is very real-world,” she added.
Mrs. Brown, who is on her final phase of the course, said the warm and welcoming people at V School remains one of her favorite things about the coding bootcamp.
“Coming in as a middle-aged woman who hasn’t been doing anything related to this, I never felt like I was sidelined. I’m just as valid a programmer as the next person in my class. The instructors are very competent and respectful. I’d even say that it felt like the instructors treated us like colleagues. That’s a nice feeling.
“You can tell that students’ success is something that matters to the school. They care about the students and how the students are getting through the courses,” she said.
With her newly-gained skill sets, Mrs. Brown said she is truly excited about what the future has in store for her.
“There’s a lot of opportunities out there. I’m hoping to maybe get into ed-tech. I’d also love to do full-stack because it’s interesting. Another part of me is excited to explore the UI side of things as it’d bring out my artsy side, which is a huge part of my life,” she said.`
“There’s no pressure to grind through the courses” – Mia Straud
Mia Straud, 25, is a former lab technician who majored in science and biology. When she was looking to leave the field, she turned to another career option that would still keep her brain teased with complex challenges; coding.
Upon learning that V School accepts GI Bill, she utilizes her father’s benefits and enrolled in the Web Development program in June 2020. Ms. Straud said she’s grateful to have tackled the course via a competency-based model.
“Mastery-based learning was a good experience for me because they do assessments to know if you’re grasping and understanding the topics well. You can really take your time with it. If I don’t feel ready, I’ll watch the videos again until I can get through them. The school did not put any pressure on you to hurry up. I feel cared about as a person,” she said.
Ms. Straud added that she was able to work through her shyness better, thanks to the practices she had with her online daily standups.
“Covid hit right before I was going to V School. At first, I was devastated because I couldn’t do it in person. But now I think it turned out pretty well. I’m really shy so doing things online kind of work for me because, for some reason, I wasn’t as shy through Zoom,” she said.
“It still has this community feel, with the meetups and assemblies. I felt like I mattered, which personally is the biggest point for me. Usually, I’m so shy but the standup meetings are done in small groups regularly so I warmed up to it and got comfortable. It shows me what to expect in an actual job too, so I’m glad.”
Ms. Straud, who is now holding a junior post at VelocityOps, said she recommends V School for anyone looking into a bootcamp education, simply because the school offers extensive support that would prepare them for all stages of launching a career.
“The career support team would post all kinds of jobs and opportunities on Slack. I got lucky with my current job but before this, I was meeting with my career advisor every week, getting tips on a portfolio, LinkedIn, and interviews. They offer so much support.
“I also like how there are Slack channels for whichever level you are on, where students can ask questions and others who are on a higher level or graduates like myself can go back and help them go through it. It’s a cool setup, very community-based.”
“You can take your time to understand things better” – Seth Powelson
After leaving Goldman Sachs, Seth Powelson was ready for a career pivot. He was looking for a new job that offers flexibility, a good salary, and security, all of which point to a career in tech. Based on a recommendation by a friend, the 27-year-old then decided to take up coding at V School.
“Right now I’m using a different stack for work but the door would not have been opened if not for V School. The course gave me some technical experience to build upon,” he said.
Mr. Powelson, who is now working for a startup in Utah, has a lot of positive things to say about V School’s learning model. He said although time is no longer in the equation, the school performs check-ins throughout a course period to gauge students’ progress.
“If you didn’t understand a concept you can just rewatch a video a hundred times. If the lessons are done in-person, you can’t get the teacher to repeat the same things without disrupting the class. It’s better this way. You can take time to understand things better,” he said.
“We had weekly standup meetings where your instructors can set a goal with you, check-in every other day to see how you’re doing. If you don’t reach your milestone, they’ll hop on a call to see what is blocking you. It’s nice knowing you have people there with you to help you with anything.”
He also complimented V School’s instructors, describing them as “some of the best and well-versed” in their fields.
“If you want to learn to code and get to the job market quick, V School is a good place to start,” he added.
You Belong in Tech Scholarship
To help improve the accessibility of tech education, V School is offering a full-ride diversity scholarship called You Belong In Tech. It is open for all people of color, women, LGBTQ+, refugees, veterans, and those facing financial hardships. Applications will be closed on March 26, 2021, and the recipients will be announced on April 2, 2021. For information on other financial assistance available, visit V School’s Scholarships page.
Get Started Today!
V School is striving to groom more top-tier tech professionals by replacing conventional time-based education with competency-based goals. According to the school, this paradigm shift will allow students to move through the curriculum at a pace that makes sense to them.
Head on over to V School’s website for more information or click here to start your admissions process.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.