This interview was originally posted on the Course Report blog.
Andy Flack is a classic zero-to-sixty student…with a twist. When Andy started at Iron Yard in 2013, he was a retired coffee mule (you read that correctly) with absolutely no technical experience.
Within two months of graduation, he had a full-time job as a Front-End Developer at ChartSpan, and he’s not looking back. We talk with Andy about how Iron Yard helped him succeed and his transformation into a rockstar developer.
What were you doing before Iron Yard?
I’m from Greenville. I went straight to university after high school, and very quickly found that it wasn’t for me. So I did odd-jobs for a few years until 2013- I worked in every aspect of coffee. From roasting, to being a barista, to carting coffee across borders. I was a coffee mule! I found out about Iron Yard through a family friend and decided to give it a shot.
What was your technical background before applying?
I had never taken CS courses and I never had a ton of interest in it. The most exposure I had to web development was GeoCities.
Did you only apply to Iron Yard?
Yep. I applied to the front-end engineering course.
Do you think about taking the other courses at Iron Yard?
I’ve messed around with Ruby in my free time since I graduated, and I really love it. I would consider going through the Ruby course, but I’m working right now so I don’t know if I have the time to do that again.
What was the application process like for you?
I put in an application, which asked a lot of atypical questions. Only one was about programming- the rest were trying to feel people out for a specific personality type. Mason Stewart, the instructor at the Greenville campus, had a Skype call with me- it was a very enlightening conversation. He invited me to come up to Greenville and check out the space. I ended up visiting twice and had another interview with Mason and Eric Dodds.
Were there any technical questions?
They did ask questions, but there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the technical side. They got the idea quickly that I didn’t have a technical background.
What was the pre-work like, once you were accepted to Iron Yard?
There was no pre-course work, but I went through a bunch of online tutorials. We had access to Treehouse, so I did those courses over the summer.
How many students were in your cohort?
There were 13 of us. There was one instructor and a TA who had gone through the first class. They had office hours, and Eric Dodds was also there to help out. Even some of the companies in the coworking space were really helpful.
What kind of students were in your cohort? Did you find diversity of the group?
It was very diverse. We had people working in automation, music, marketing, even an illustrator at a church’s nursery department. There were a couple guys who were familiar with basic development, but nobody was a wizard yet.
Did any students find that the program wasn’t for them and choose not to finish?
There was a guy who gave up two days in, but I don’t know why. They offered to let him stay in the course until the first payment, but he didn’t come back. There was nobody in the class who was dedicated and felt they had to leave.
Tell us about the curriculum and teaching style.
Our typical day started at 9am and we had a lecture until noon. The lecture is led by Mason Stewart, a super brilliant guy, filling our heads with code and taking as many questions as he could manage. It was very hands-on, and if there was anything we didn’t understand, he had no problem extending class to go in-depth. Lunch was usually part of our education as well, because we would get lunch with companies who worked in the coworking space. The rest of the day was lab, where Mason was available to help us with our homework. Every day, we had at least one homework assignment. Some days we would also have a group assignment. A lot of days, I ended up staying until 8 or 9pm.
We went on field trips to MailChimp in Atlanta, which was really cool. We had Skype calls with people like Tom Dale (creator of Embr). We got to talk to some cool, opinionated innovators. And we got to do freelance work and talk to people who were doing agency work. We had a lot of exposure to everything front-end.
Did you complete a capstone project towards the end of your course?
Yes, we all had two weeks to work on a final project that had to be a functional web app that had to use an API. I rebuilt Instagram’s search function- if you’ve used Instagram, you know they have a “discovery” tab. That search function isn’t really accurate, so I built a user-specific Instagram search.
Describe your experience after Iron Yard. Did you feel fully prepared to interview?
A lot of us did mock interviews with Peter Barth- the CEO of Iron Yard- who asked us some tough questions. We did technical and personal interviews. We also had a job placement agency come in and do interviews. We filmed those and then were able to watch them to see our strengths and weaknesses. They prepared us really well.
Every week after the course ended, Eric Dodds would meet with us individually to discuss job placement. He did a really great job hooking us up with people and getting us in touch with the right people for what we specifically wanted to do. His process was catered to what we wanted to do, which was awesome.
How long did it take for you to get a job?
It took me two months, but within those two months, I had 3 offers from some pretty great companies. I ended up taking one of those in Greenville. I actually ended up taking a job with a company, ChartSpan, that went through the Iron Yard accelerator. I’m working alongside some brilliant marketing guys and one of the most brilliant programmers I’ve ever met. I’m a full-fledged front-end engineer here.
Did you get a partial tuition refund once you got a job?
I didn’t get a refund, although there is a money-back guarantee that if you don’t find a job within 6 months, Iron Yard will give you a full refund.
Is there a community of graduates/alumni? How have you seen that manifest?
What kind of person would you recommend attend Iron Yard? What kind of person won’t succeed?
I think anybody can do it as long as they’re dedicated. If you find yourself giving up a lot, then you’ll want to work on that before you learn to code. I hesitate to say this, but I went in to the program for the money, but I’ve found that this is a great community, especially in Greenville.