I've had a huge response to my previous retrospective on my time at The Iron Yard. I've had a large number of students, and even some instructors, reach out with their reactions and questions. It's kind of funny for me - I don't consider myself much of a writer, and I like to make myself open, but when people start really using me as a resource it's difficult to not second-guess myself.

One topic I've gotten a lot feedback on was my curriculum exposition. I copied the sample "roadmap" for the Front End course from The Iron Yard's site and compared/contrasted it with my own experience. The response has been strong - some people are glad to see a real breakdown of topics covered, others are concerned about the gaps in coverage. I'd like to expound a little bit about the program.

Here's a confession: I was obsessed with curriculum when I first considered TIY. I can point you to a handful of people I reached out to, Iron Yard instructors included, to beg and plead for a breakdown of exactly what was covered each day. I was critical from the start, and my biggest concern was that we wouldn't cover "enough" material. I annoyed multiple partners at TIY asking about course coverage. I drove 3+ hours to Atlanta and met every single Ruby grad in person, just so I could ask about course coverage. I interrupted John freaking Saddington just so I could ask him about course coverage (personal low there, sorry @saddington). My one concern from Day 1 was "What EXACTLY will we cover?"

Now, here's a fact: The Iron Yard is not about the curriculum. It's about the process. That's a hard pill to swallow - I was weeks into the program before I started coming around to that way of thinking. The reality is that "education" and "topics of discussion" are two entirely different domains. What we covered in class wasn't nearly as important as how we did it. Throughout my reflections I dropped breadcrumbs along my path of reasoning. Things like our first "standup" meeting, where I had my mind changed about Jake's live-coding exercises, helped me break out of my fear regarding "not learning enough" and settle into a comfortable pattern of "never knowing enough".

I just finished my first month as a fulltime software developer (many stories, for another day). Here's a crazy thing: my first day, after 3 months of intensive prep for exactly this role, I had to Google a problem. I was embarassed, but I choked through it and got my solution. My second day? Same thing. I'm growing increasingly comfortable spending more time in documentation and sample code than I spend in my editor. The reality of quality engineering is that very few, if any, people actually have any language/framework/tech stack memorized. What they have memorized are patterns and simple structures. And what good engineers know is the right questions to ask. The Iron Yard taught me that I don't need to know the ECMAScript spec by heart. I just need to know how to find what I need from it. That innate navigational skill, that ability to inquire efficiently, is the most important tool in my belt. It's that skill that TIY focuses on, and it's that focus that lets them have more of a bespoke approach to coursework. The same page I drew the curriculum sample from also includes this line:

...just knowing JavaScript doesn’t make you great at building apps; that’s the easy part of front end development. The emphasis in all of our classes is on helping you think like an engineer.

That's key. KEY. KEY. I can't make it big enough. My greatest struggle as a developer has been letting go of the need to know everything and being comfortable with being familiar. The Iron Yard helped me get to that point, and now I have a job that makes me feel like a conman every day - I still don't believe someone is paying me (rather handsomely) to do the same stuff I've spent years doing for free in my spare time. Imagine if someone walked up to you while playing your favorite video game and just handed you $50 for that last level you beat. That's how I have felt every day of the week for four weeks. I am more fortunate than I can express.

The point is that topics don't matter. Curriculum & coverage & relevance of frameworks are all erroneous. Could our class have soldiered through and covered every topic on the list? Sure we could have! But we would have done so at the cost of our core goal - learning to think like engineers. You can't flourish in the garden of your mind if you're constantly shoveling new data in. So we made the trade-off: a deeper understanding for fewer topics. If you had told me that was a risk before I started, I might honestly not have gone to The Iron Yard. Knowing what I know now, that would have been a mistake on my part - that fluid, variable environment is the Iron Yard's strength. Schools that fight to "check off all the boxes" have an entirely different challenge, one that can result in students being asked to leave when they struggle.

Finally, here's the rub: The Iron Yard isn't for everybody. And that's okay. Coding schools, and schools in general, each approach their students and education from a different angle so as to cover the largest portion of the demographic they are targetting. I'll liken it to getting lunch:

  • Some people want something pre-fab. They want to know exactly what they're getting and are pissed off if the pickle's missing or the fries aren't fresh enough. They know exactly what they want. They go to Burger King and get a combo, and that's okay!

  • Some people want a custom experience with common elements. They want a familiar flavor but tailored to their needs. They want some freedom to express themselves (within reason). They get a meal deal at Subway, and that's okay!

  • Some people want the personal touch at any cost. They pick up fresh-baked bread, hand-sliced deli meats & artisanal cheeses. They work with others to build the perfect creation to suit their pallate. They shop exclusively at Whole Foods, and that's okay!

See the common denominator here? Everyone gets what they want because there are more than enough providers for each taste. The Iron Yard is the "common but custom" experience. Every class is different, but each student can tailor their experience to fit their needs. There are common experiences I'll share with every TIY grad across the country, and there are personal experieriences I enjoyed that are uniquely mine. That worked best for me, and makes me happier every day I chose the Iron Yard. If the stories I've shared appeal to you, I'd recommend TIY with gusto. But if that's not your bag, that's okay! - Here are some suggestions in other veins:

Pre-fab: If you're a stickler for curriculum, take a look at online programs like Bloc.io or Tealeaf Academy. These programs are exclusively online, provide a set structure of topics to cover, and allow you to work at your own pace. They also often offer interaction with a live tutor from time to time to help you get over particular challenges. They're somewhat cheaper than most in-person courses, but you're basically on your own to learn the material. I've heard both stellar and terrible reviews on both these programs, but I seriously considered them both before signing on at TIY. If you need the interaction of a fulltime course but also the structure of a syllabus, consider signing up at a technical college or for night classes at your nearest University. It's a longer path but you'll get both the structure and social activity you crave.

Custom: Need more of a helping hand than a 1-to~15 ratio can give you? There are lots of individual tutoring options out there. Thoughtbot offers one-on-one coaching sessions from their talented development team. Airpair lets you hire a developer for individual training on-demand. And there are always smaller bites - many companies offer small-group training in specific programming topics from time to time. A nearby group for programming coursework delivered in this format is Big Nerd Ranch in Georgia. You'll get a more personalized experience with any of these approaches - but be warned, you will PAY for that experience.

The reality is that I'm not a Ruby enthuiast or a Javascript enthusiast or a PHP enthusiast - I'm a PROGRAMMING enthusiast. I want to learn more, and share more, about the process and joys of development in any language. I crave that constant growth (?) that comes from opening myself to opportunities down any path. The people I'm interacting with in the tech space share this attitude, and it gives us a common ground to work from. I'm really starting to see how much time I wasted thinking I needed to know one language inside and out before pursuing development professionally.

I owe that transformation of attitude to The Iron Yard, because they worked for me.

But that's me. It's important for you to do research, practice on your own, and determine what works best for you before committing to a career / life change of any sort. I have heard from people who were unhappy with experiences at various code schools, but there's a common thread amongst those people - they're all unhappy because of their expectations going in. I sincerely hope sharing my experiences has helped even just one person clarify their own expectations. And however you choose to move forward, make sure it's the right fit for you. If it's not, correct it or move on. There's never any shame in taking control of your own growth.

I obviously have a lot to say on this. There's not a webhost in the world with enough storage space to contain my thoughts and I'm certain this won't be my last post as I transition further from "student" to "professional learner". I share what I feel is most relevant here, but I'd love to offer advice to people with specific questions or who want more details. As always, you can reach out to me on twitter at @ADotMartin or via email. I haven't let a question slip by yet, but please do be patient - I'm busy being awesome right now. :)