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Since my arrival in San Francisco last summer, I’ve become aware of the new “hacker schools” popping up around the city. Their stated purpose is to take smart, motivated people who may or may not have a strong technical background and turn them into world-class junior developers in a short time.

The Starter League

The first school of this type that I ever heard of was Code Academy in Chicago (renamed as The Starter League due to name confusion after the online school Codecademy launched). Their system was pretty unique– students spend 8 to 10 hours per day for 2 months, working in pairs as they learn a stunning amount of ruby, HTML/CSS/JS and Ruby on Rails. At the end of this time, they have an interview day in which they demo their projects to various tech companies, including some of the hottest local startups. The school has only been running since 2011, but results have been excellent and even DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails, is a fan of the program.

SF Hacker Schools

With that kind of success, it wasn’t long before similar schools started popping up in the Bay Area. The demand for top notch developers is extreme here, but very few companies are willing to train and they take only a tiny fraction of their applicants. A program to quickly bring students up to speed in the technologies that local start-ups are using is the perfect solution. It’s an incredible learning experience for the students that opens doors, the companies can hire solid programmers to join their teams and schools can earn money from either or both of the former two groups. From what I understand, Dev Bootcamp‘s first class was hugely successful–Over 90 percent of the students landed jobs shortly after graduation (at nearly double the average US salary) and of those who didn’t one opened a similar school called App Academy that focused on iOS development and the other opened Hack Reactor, an even more intense school with a stronger focus on JavaScript and front-end technologies. There is also another school, which I know less about since it doesn’t accept men.

In contrast with computer science degrees at universities, these schools have less of a focus on CS theory and more of a focus on building things. Students write a lot of code, and they use newer languages and frameworks. Another feature is heavy use of cutting edge tools and various automated testing frameworks that are commonly used in bay area start-ups, but not so common yet at larger, more traditional companies. Most striking to me is the intense nature of the study. No college I’ve ever seen puts students through 8 class hours of computing classes per day.

The bay area hacker schools remind me more of high-end intense language schools! There are a number of 6 hour per day intense language learning programs in which students work in pairs or small groups, work hard, and acquire a great deal of vocabulary, speaking skills and reading skills in a short time. In my experience learning mathematics as a teenager and then later learning Japanese and Chinese in my 20s, working at something 4 hours a day isn’t just 4 times as good as 1 hour a day. It’s closer to 10 times as good.

All in all, I see a lot of positives of this type of education. So much so, that I’m considering the possibility of running a school of this type someday… possibly even in Taiwan again! Entrance is very competitive to the existing schools, so it took a lot of hustling, but I’ve gotten into Hack Reactor class. I’ll be in class from 9am to 8pm six days a week, starting tomorrow. If you’re interested in the full story, I’ve put it up on my programming blog.

I may or may not be able to continue posting phonics lessons in my Phonics Friday Youtube channel, but I’ll try!

One thing I haven’t written about recently is what I’ve been doing job-wise. There’s quite a bit to blog about, but I’ve been so busy actually working that I haven’t had the chance. I’ve also wanted to sort out my ideas mentally before putting them to print.
continue reading…

A fellow Taiwan blogger, Todd, has just finished his first semester at Shida and written about his experiences. With about 5,000 foreign students, Shida is the biggest Chinese language program in Taiwan. From what Todd has written, the school now uses standardized tests across all the classes, unlike when I was there two years ago. Most things, though, are exactly like they were before. The instruction sounds to be very mediocre, and the teachers are still rabidly pro-blue:

My instructor also spent far too much time sidetracking the class into off topic discussions conducted in English. Each morning the newspaper had a picture of President Chen Shui-bian on the front page she would remind us how much she hated him and his family. Just about everyday she would also mention how handsome she thinks Ma Ying-jiu is. She also went so far as to blame the high number of unmarried women in Taiwan on her theory that they are all waiting for a man like Ma Ying-jiu… “But unfortunately there is only one Mayor Ma.”

The Daily Bubble Tea: Studying Chinese

Still, I’m sure my Chinese would be much worse than it is if I hadn’t gone to Shida. It would also be better still if I’d stayed there a couple more semesters. For those who don’t have the money or time to go to ICLP, and don’t want to go to the mainland, Zhengda and Shida are probably the best options.

Related Post: Teaching Chinese or Nationalism?

I went back to Táibĕi yesterday. As usual, I couldn’t resist hitting at least one night-market while I had the chance.

Shilin Nightmarket

After that, I headed over to Xiao Yu’s place for Daniel‘s birthday party. He turned 28, and it was a pretty fun group. The group was split pretty much in half between his foreign friends and his English students. One of the students played a trick on me and told me she was Japanese. She was pretty shocked when I just started talking to her in Japanese, but kept her composure well enough to say she’d moved to Taiwan when she was little and that her family spoke a regional dialect anyway. I asked where, and she said Kyoto. “Great!” I said, “My old roommate was from Kyoto!” I then tried some Kyotoben dialect on her and she gave up joke. I guess it was really bad luck that she tried it on the one western guy she’d ever met who actually had friends from Kyoto. It was amusing, though. Another guest was a cool British chef guy, who cooked all kinds of tasty stuff for the party. He actually has a work visa sponsoring him to work as a chef. I’ll bet that was tough.

Daniel, Brian and I

Most interesting of all is that I got to meet Brian Mathes. He’s been studying at the language school at Zhèngdà this year, and it turns out he and one of my best friends from college, Ryuta, became good friends there. Unfortunately Ryuta’s already graduated from CU with a Chinese major, left Taiwan and gotten a job in Osaka. I really, really regret not keeping in touch with more of my Japanese friends from college. Here’s a pic of Kazuto and Ryuta hanging out in my dorm room five years ago:

Kazuto and Ryuta

It sounds like life as a language student is pretty good at Zhèngdà. Brian said that he started on the CIEE program, which charges something like $5000USD per quarter. He was put in the exact same classes as people who sign up directly through the school, and they only paid about $700USD per quarter. Being the bright guy that he is, he switched out of CIEE at his first opportunity. From what Brian and others have told me, Zhèngdà has small classes classes and offers better instruction than Shīdà or Táidà (except for ICLP).