Academy Pittsburgh Review
August 14, 2016 by Leslie Anderson
A little over four months ago I started developer boot camp at Academy Pittsburgh. Dave took my first day of school photo and I hopped in the car and drove to Allentown an hour earlier than necessary, a list of worries as long as my arm swirling in my head. What if the cost—free—belied that there was something wrong with the program? What if I didn’t like my classmates, or worse, what if they didn’t like me? What if my tangential history with programming wasn’t enough, and the course sped along, leaving me in the dust? What if the course ended up being a three-month waste of time, and I left without the ability to get a job?
To be honest, I barely remember the first day. There were bagels, to be sure, and I nervously ate three of them before I decided I shouldn’t go back for a fourth. Yet even from the beginning, I remember the classroom as warm and inviting.
Which is to say, all of my concerns couldn’t have been more wrong.
The caliber of the program is beyond reproach. I learned so much. Even more than that, I enjoyed learning it. I’d come home from class, intending to take a break by my favorite means—video games—and instead I’d get sucked into trying to solve a problem in my program. And even though I knew it meant there’d be no time for games, I didn’t mind. Programming was more fun.
My buckshot history with programming didn’t matter. About half the class never touched a line of code before, and the first six weeks (where we focused on the fundamental logic of programming more than anything else) moved quick, but not so quick as to leave people in the dust. The instructor was careful to balance the wants of people who moved fast with the needs of those who didn’t.
My classmates were (and continue to be) amazing. I was incredibly lucky to get to spend three months among such friendly, funny, and driven people. I made lasting friendships, and seeing photos from my Academy Pittsburgh session makes me surprisingly sentimental. We all changed our lives together and that fosters a camaraderie that’s hard to beat.
And my job prospects? Tomorrow, I start at my dream company as a junior software engineer. My classmates are also falling into work, and even outside of our day jobs, we’re talking life-goals and side projects and all the things we want to build now that we have an idea of how to build them.
The heart and soul of Academy Pittsburgh rests in the hands of John Lange and Josh Lucas, the amazing co-founders of the program. Their careful planning and guidance ensured that everything came together perfectly.
John, the instructor, is as brilliant as he is patient. He’s also kind, in the most humble, sincere way imaginable. On top of that, he’s funny and witty and just fun to be around. If I tried to custom-build the perfect instructor, I suspect I’d end up with a pale imitation of John Lange. Whether he was carrying a sleepy baby so her mother could work or answering the same question for the hundredth time, John was always happy to do whatever he could to help us make the most of our time with Academy Pittsburgh.
Josh, the administrator, is fun, funny and inspiringly enthusiastic. From day one I felt like he genuinely believed that we could take the tech world by storm, and when you have the full force of Josh’s enthusiasm behind you, it’s hard not to want to live up to that. He wasn’t a constant in the classroom—he was more likely to be doing the things that kept the lights on and the fridge stocked with energy drinks—but every time he showed up, it was like a positivity tornado blowing through, and I’d find myself with renewed energy and determination.
Though the program itself is designed for people brand-new to programming, it’ll certainly resonate with some more than others. In my class, I found three different things that made people light up, and I think having one (or more) of the qualities will make the class more satisfying.
#1. Finding joy in solving logic problems.
If you grew up spending your hard-earned allowance money on logic puzzle books from the discount racks at Barnes and Noble, you’re going to love most of the course. Logic drives development, it’s as simple as that.
#2. Finding joy in building beautiful things.
One of our in-class assignments was to build an app style calculator. I jumped right into the logic of it. By the time I was done, it worked rather well, but it looked straight out of 1995—no one would have wanted to use it.
I looked at my neighbor’s calculator, and it looked like it had been lifted from a Mac product. It was sleek and beautiful and eye-catching—but it didn’t work at all.
Development is both sides of that coin, and often times, the people who make the product beautiful are different from the people who make the product work. Both are equally important. My classmate didn’t love the logic portion of the class, but found a ton of value there anyway, because she was passionate about design.
#3. Finding joy in bringing things to life.
If I’m the sort of person who would get absorbed in the joy of making the logic flawless, and my classmate in the previous example is the sort of person who would get absorbed in the joy of making the design breathtaking, then who would ever push for finishing a product? Everything about software development could be better. The code could be cleaner, the design more polished. Part of being a successful developer is wanting to see all the elements of a program come together and become a product.
Another classmate neither loved the logic nor the design, but when she was introduced to frameworks that could take you from nothing to a decent template of a website in less than a day, her enthusiasm was palpable. She just loved creating.
Part of the program is fostering the love (or at least begrudging respect) of all three elements, but walking in the door, if one of these three things thrills you to the bone, you’ll find yourself at an advantage.
Another part of this class is that you get out of it what you put into it. There was almost no homework. John never grades your programs. Your passion drives your own success, and John is both mentor and cheerleader on your journey, but at no point is he going to push you—specifically you—to be as good as you can be. You have to want that for yourself. If you do, you’ll learn more than you think possible.
It goes without saying, but I adored the program. 10/10, would attend again. Beyond that, I’m honored to have been among the 17 of us who made up the first class of Academy Pittsburgh, and hope that with my growing experience that I can help give back to the program that gave so much to me. Attending Academy Pittsburgh has done more for my professional life than anything else I’ve done—graduating from a good university included.
If you’re serious about getting into development, reach out to John Lange or Josh Lucas, ask to sit in on a class, talk to previous graduates (including me!), and just keep learning. You can find them on Twitter (@academypgh), Facebook, or academypgh.com.
The future is bright.