Bootcamp Profile: Metis Instructor, Josh Steiner

We recently had the pleasure of asking full-time instructor Josh Steiner about Metis and his work there. Metis is a 12-week Ruby on Rails bootcamp taught by thoughtbot with locations in Boston and NYC.

How did you learn your programming skills? What lead you to teach at Metis and how long have been teaching for them?

I studied computer science at RPI where I learned the foundations of programming. During that time, I taught myself how to program web applications with Python & Django, and later Ruby & Rails.

Previous to Metis, I ran a workshop for Learn, thoughtbot’s educational venture aimed towards intermediate Rails developers. Myself and the other instructor, Matt Mongeau, discussed a bootcamp as a natural progression of what we were then offering as part of Learn. We wanted an opportunity to impact students earlier in the process, that did not necessarily have prior programming experience.

We pitched it to our CEO, Chad, and he told us that Kaplan had just approached thoughtbot with the same idea. So thoughtbot and Kaplan came together at the same time, wanting to do the same thing. Matt and I were put on the project to architect the Metis curriculum and teach these first classes.

What is your teaching philosophy/strategy?

We use the Socratic method often. We don’t want to give students answers. I want them to figure it out for themselves. When they do that, they have a much deeper understanding of what was taught.

We also try to give feedback as quickly as possible. The shorter the feedback loop the more impactful the learning will be, which isn’t to say that we don’t let our students struggle. Spending a lot of time programming and struggling is the best way to learn, but there’s a fine line between learning the concepts and being ready to give up. We try to stay just shy of that line.

Lastly, we believe in working and learning at a sustainable pace, which is why our classes run from about 9-6. The brain is like a muscle, and as with all muscles, it needs time to recover. We encourage all of our students to get full nights sleep and spend time relaxing so that each hour in class is spent effectively. We don’t want people burning out and hating programming by the time the class ends.

What kind of learning environment do you strive to have at Metis?

Our class is rigorous, but fun. After working together for 12 weeks, the students become incredibly close. We really think of the class as a team and try to have them work together as such. Everybody should feel comfortable asking for help and willing to give it.

What characteristics have you seen in your most successful students?

Even before the class starts, we have a good idea of who is going to be successful. The traits we have found to be good hints of that are effective communication skills, grit, and drive. Learning to program in 12 weeks is ambitious. If you want to be successful, you can’t be afraid of struggling a bit along the way.

On top of that, our strongest students have an aspiration to learn, and not just what we have built into the curriculum. They want to get their hands on vim and tmux from the beginning of the class. More recently they’ve been having us help them out with Ember on the side. It’s as if they’re always unsatiated and want to get as much knowledge out of us in 12 weeks that they can.

Did you play a role in building the current curriculum? If so how was your current curriculum developed? Is it set in stone or does it evolve with each cohort?

I designed the current curriculum with the other instructor, Matt Mongeau. Before the class started we had 3 months together solely devoted to working on the curriculum and class structure.

We designed it with the philosophy that it is a living, breathing, document. We use it as an outline for what we are going to teach each week, but we may deviate depending on how the students respond to what we have taught.

While we believe the current curriculum did a great job, we’ve got some new ideas that we think will make the next cohort even better. Our students are great and give us a lot of solid feedback on what is working well, and what we can tweak.

The nice thing about Metis, is that it is taught by thoughtbot instructors. When we aren’t teaching the bootcamp, we’re building real products. By having a flexible curriculum, we can take that real industry experience and adapt our curriculum accordingly.

How do you track a student’s progress?

We interact very closely through the entirety of the class. During lectures, we have small breakout sessions where students work on their own, but come to us with questions. It’s pretty easy to gauge where a student is at by the types of questions they are asking.

We also send surveys out regularly to ask for feedback on how they think the class is going. We get information about everything, from pacing to very specific things they liked about what we might have taught that day.

Once the students start working on their team and solo projects, all of their code gets reviewed by the teachers. This is a great way for us to evaluate where they are at, and they get instant feedback on all of the code they write.

Do you have any advice for potential applicants?

We want to work with thoughtful people, so spend some time on your application.

Don’t rush through it.

Also, do your research on programming. We want to be sure this is something you are interested in doing long term. A lot of our students try out free online Ruby classes Ruby class before applying. It is a good way to get a taste of what you will learn at Metis and if it’s something you want in a career.

Are you currently doing any other work? Are you working on any fun personal projects?

I’ve been working on a product for thoughtbot in my spare time that came about after struggling with services we were using to launch thisismetis.com.

I don’t want to reveal the product just yet, but compared to existing products, we think we’ve come up with a more elegant solution to the problem. We’re getting close to a minimum viable product, but we’ve got another couple months of testing before we can do that.

Tell me about a particular impactful experience you had teaching at the bootcamp?

This may sound cheesy, but every day has been special. When you see things click in your students’ heads, it’s such a satisfying feeling. About half way through the class they’ve covered most of what you can do in Rails, and you can see the them formulating ideas for and beginning to implement all sorts of apps on their own. It’s pretty powerful; in just a couple months you can go from nothing, to building your dreams.

Check out Thinkful’s bootcamp finder page on Metis to learn more and follow Josh Steiner on twitter @josh_steiner.

Metis’ upcoming cohorts

New York: Bootcamp: June 16 - September 5 

Boston: Bootcamps: June 2 - August 22 / September 15 - December 12

* Application deadline is in place to ensure students that are new to programming have sufficient time to complete pre-work.