Transcript for Episode 202. International bootcamps, learning programming, etc. with Alex Oh
[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast. Living large in New York. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host to day.
[0:00:08.3] DA: Dave Anderson.
[0:00:10.0] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about international bootcamps.
[0:00:13.3] DA: How exotic. I mean, you got to get that jab, you get your vaccine and then you run away from wherever you are and you learn coding.
[0:00:22.9] MN: There you go, you learn coding, you run away, you learn coding, I think the safest place right now is probably South Korea, they got it down packed on its COVID thing for some time and we have a special guest from South Korea, we have Alex Oh. in the building, how’s it going, Alex?
[0:00:36.9] AO: Pretty good, pretty good. Yeah, come on down to South Korea, learn some coding, go back home, make lots of money, what can go wrong?
[0:00:44.0] MN: What could go wrong?
[0:00:44.1] DA: Yeah, spring break you all.
[0:00:49.4] MN: Alex, tell us a little bit about yourself?
[0:00:52.3] AO: Okay, well I mean, I run a bootcamp here in Korea, a little bit on my background, I’ve been programming as a kid so I didn’t actually go through the whole bootcamp experience but I’ve gone through teaching, through large companies right after college and for a couple of years. It gave my first exposure to the mechanics of the classroom and how to teach in all that and then I did consulting for almost 15, 20 years and then started this bootcamp here, put everything together, everything I learned in the past both experience in the workplace as well as my previous experience teaching.
This is my kind of way of trying to foster and give back to the programming community, especially here in Korea and knock out some awesome programmers.
[0:01:38.4] DA: Awesome, sounds like the world was your bootcamp, Alex.
[0:01:43.1] AO: That’s very well said, yeah, that’s very good because I mean, I’ve worked actually in the US as well as Europe and so it’s given me some interesting exposures the way that different companies, with new programmers as well as programming in general.
[0:01:57.2] DA: Yeah, it’s interesting listening to your story, just thinking about how many different paths there are to learning coding. You said, you started with teaching yourself to code. Just be the – it was a passion. I imagine you also went to college for programming like Mike here as well.
[0:02:17.9] AO: Actually, I did not. My graduate degree was in oil painting so it’s a little bit odd I guess I would say.
[0:02:26.8] MN: That –
[0:02:29.4] AO: But growing up, computers has always been something that I’ve been interested in.
[0:02:33.1] DA: I mean, I absolutely love that though, I love all of the people that I work with that have non-traditional backgrounds and I love working with Mike as well.
[0:02:42.5] MN: Yeah, I have a question about the oil painting. Did you draw a semicolon and was like, “This is it, I need to learn how to do the ways of the semicolon and started programming that way.” How did that transfer from that of a different study to programming like what made you click there to do that professionally?
Because you said you did it as a kid, right? You had some interest in it, went to school for – is it modern art in oil painting like what’s the term for that but then, how did you go back into programming from there?
[0:03:13.0] AO: Yeah, starting out as a kid, I tend to be a pretty logical kid. I grew up in a typical “Asian family” where my parents are pushing me to be either a lawyer or a doctor or more likely a doctor since my father was a doctor. Stem was really something that was kind of drilled into me early on, I mean this is going to be your future.
[0:03:32.5] DA: Right, it’s just like permeating.
[0:03:34.5] AO: Yeah, you can’t escape it. At the same time, there was parts of the extended family who were into the arts as well and so I was kind of trapped between the two of them and –
[0:03:45.9] DA: Some tension.
[0:03:46.5] AO: What made me go towards art as education was kind of a more of a product of the circumstance while I was in college. I have that ability to actually escape from my supposed destiny as a physician but the fact that I was completely bored and hated studying biology day in and day out and actually finally had a conversation with my dad to ascertain this. This is my future, I mean, this is worth it, tell me, am I doing the right thing?
He could tell just by me asking that maybe this is not the right thing for you. At the same time, he’s gone through some struggles in the industry itself as an application dealing with things like the insurance companies and dealing with the administration of the hospital and he’s like –
[0:04:31.0] DA: I definitely heard it said that if it is not your first choice, then you should not be a doctor because it’s like, such a big investment.
[0:04:39.6] AO: Right.
[0:04:40.6] DA: I’m also listening to your story and hearing an echo of my own story where my father was a computer scientist and I rebelled against computer science and being like, “No, I’m not going to be a computer engineer, I’m going to be a mechanical engineer.” I studied that and then I loved it and then I like – the whole time I really loved computers secretly so then I found my way back to computers, it’s very kind off circuitous.
[0:05:08.3] AO: Your father said, I told you so?
[0:05:11.2] MN: My dad ran a tires and rims. He sold rims and tires that was his business and I was like, “I like computers, punching keys is what I want to get paid to do,” that’s why I went to college for that.
[0:05:25.8] DA: My son, the rims.
[0:05:27.2] MN: Yeah. He’s like, “You do the computers, you’re a smart guy, you go into the computers, I’ll sell the rims and tires around here, you be better.” I mean, I wouldn’t say, selling is an artform in itself and my dad can definitely sell to a slug, he can sell ice to an Alaskan, he is amazing at his craft of selling but I went to school for programming, traditional college, you know, your computer science class and your complicated calculus and your big O notation theories and stuff like that. It’s very different from bootcamps that may take a different approach to things.
[0:06:08.2] DA: I mean, even when you finish college, you may find yourself being, “Well, I don’t know how to pair program, I don’t know how to deliver value or identify what the most important thing is to work on,” and I think there’s like a lot of value. I’ve heard stories of people like, doing college and then also a bootcamp and I kind of did that. The thing I do was like not so much a bootcamp but very similar in the same vein like I did a recurse center for a couple of months and studied programming along with other people who are passionate about it.
[0:06:46.8] AO: Okay, yeah. You know, I think, while I was at college, I mean, I’m old, well, maybe relatively but I was in college in the early 90s and at that point, the college that I went to, they focused a little bit more on the theoretical side of programming so there was a lot of mathematical matrices, a lot of – just more a number crunching but almost acting as a support team for the physics department or the math department where we’re just taking what they give us and then applying what they had given us, which isn’t what I really wanted to do at that point.
I knew that there’s this new thing coming along, I was playing with gopher, I was playing with – there’s a lot of Unix tools for chatting and for communicating with other people around the world, this is before the web and I felt like, “Yeah, this is the stuff I want to be doing, this is really cool.”
Sitting around, trying to figure out how to dot product thousands by thousand metrices wasn’t really something I wanted to do.
[0:07:50.5] DA: It’s just a bunch of nerd shit.
[0:07:52.6] AO: Right.
[0:07:53.3] MN: All that nerd stuff.
[0:07:54.6] DA: They’re like, I got to do my batch reports for the payroll like using a matrix but I mean, I think that’s interesting because it’s something that computer science are like software engineering or building software has evolved a bit from then where now it’s like it’s much about the people when you’re doing it right as it is about the matrices, which are very rarely showcased in my React code or in my API’s.
[0:08:27.3] AO: Yeah, I’m really happy that a lot of the curriculums have kind of caught up I guess with the professional world. Of course, I don’t – I don’t think anybody should expect education to necessarily or academia to equal the professional world. I mean, they still need to be couched in fundamentals but at the same time, when you graduate with the CS degree, you expect to be relevant and hope that it can find you a job and that’s kind of what the gap that the bootcamps try to fill. Try to get some of your skills and to include them if you haven’t gone through the computer science education background but to find that gap between what you can learn either on your own or through the CS degree about the professional world is really looking for.
[0:09:12.6] DA: Totally.
[0:09:13.3] MN: Alex, you’ve been in the space for some time, what has changed within the past five, 10 years in that of the bootcamps and your bootcamp in particular, what have you seen and then had to make these changes so that your students are successful in getting a job after they complete the bootcamp.
[0:09:31.3] AO: That’s an interesting question because I think there’s the business side of things that we’ve changed just based on the competition with other bootcamps and the bootcamp area in general and then there is the stuff that we’ve changed in our curriculum for the students to make it more relevant for the job market.
Speaking on those two, I think for the – one of the largest changes, I think for the industry itself, of course, COVID had a huge impact especially with a bootcamp like ours, which is offline where we try to get people to work in teams and then also for – there is a lot of consolidation I’ve noticed, especially in the US where bootcamps where a lot of the larger bootcamps had started buying up and swallowing some of the smaller ones and consolidate in their curriculum so it’s very much, it feels a lot more cookie-cutter than it needs to be.
Now, on the job end or on the actual curriculum end of things where the students are exposed to, I think one of the things that I didn’t like as much in the beginnings of the bootcamp idea and I understand why it was the way but it was but it’s still not like it, it was just the way that they would follow fads and unfortunately, fads, as quickly as they change, doesn’t make for a really good job seeking material. A lot of really good steady and stable jobs.
[0:10:49.3] DA: Yeah, you got to get that React Redux on the resume and then they come out with hooks and then you’ll – “No, can’t get a job now, I’m done, finished.”
[0:11:01.7] AO: And then people teaching things like handlebars and where is that now and –
[0:11:06.3] DA: Yeah.
[0:11:06.6] MN: The mustache JS.
[0:11:08.5] AO: People teaching jQuery and where is that now?
[0:11:12.4] DA: jQuery is still there, it’s right behind you Alex, it’s waiting in the shadows.
[0:11:16.9] AO: It never goes away, right? It’s that creepy guy who keeps following you.
[0:11:21.9] MN: Go away jQuery.
[0:11:23.6] AO: Go away.
[0:11:24.5] DA: Yeah, exactly. You know you can’t escape jQuery, it’s still there. I was just reading a blogpost about accessibility in the web and that the key code examples were in jQuery, I was like, “There you are”.
[0:11:40.1] MN: That’s where you are.
[0:11:41.8] AO: That’s right. Still a part of a lot of framework. Every time you think you’ve gotten away, it just sucks you right back in man.
[0:11:51.0] DA: Right.
[0:11:50.8] AO: Every time you think you’ve gotten rid of it, all of a sudden a dollar sign pops up in your Java Script code and like “Oh no, that can’t be”.
[0:11:58.2] MN: It has nothing to do with money, that’s the worst part, it’s like –
[0:12:02.8] DA: You will not get paid for that dollar sign.
[0:12:05.0] MN: You do not get paid, there’s no money involved, there’s just jQuery being creepy, go away. I know this happens in the United States, it’s like, a lot of employers do what I guess is called like gatekeeping where in their job description, they may ask specifically for a CS or some kind of college degree.
I’m curious if you have any advice for employers who are considering recruits from bootcamps or is there anything you would like to say to individuals who believe in this kind of gatekeeping tactic to ensure that they get those college degree individuals.
Are employers missing out because they’re having this gatekeeping in place and do you have anything you want to say to them, I’m just curious, what are your thoughts? As someone who runs a bootcamp, I want to know your thoughts on that particular topic.
[0:12:59.2] AO: Towards the employers, I would say, it’s good to dream but keep it real man, because a lot of these stuff they put on their wanted list, it’s a dream and they’ll tell me like, “Oh we want someone with 10 years of React experience.” Man, that’s not been around for that long, so I don’t know what you're talking about. I mean, I can kind of understand where they’re coming from, I mean, they’re written by people who probably don’t have a tech background. If they are from a large company, they’re probably written by the HR departments, someone who is just like, hopefully you got some guidance as to what to put on the sheet of paper by whatever team they’re going to be working with but sometimes they don’t.
I’ve worked in large consulting companies and what not so I’ve seen these companies just struggle with hiring but yeah, to keep it real, try to get, try to couch your expectations in reality and not this like dream person, this unicorn that doesn’t actually exist.
For the job seekers, I would say, keep that in mind is that when you have a dating profile and you’re like, “Oh I want a woman that walks along the beach and guy’s got to be tall, dark hair,” and all of these great stuff and you’re like –
[0:14:03.8] DA: Pina coladas.
[0:14:06.2] AO: Yeah, pina coladas but then you’ll come along with something that’s maybe a little bit more [inaudible 0:14:10.3] maybe you’re not tall but you’re funny and you’ll get the date and so –
[0:14:16.4] DA: And you love margaritas.
[0:14:18.6] AO: Yeah, I love margaritas. What is not to like? Yeah, that’s beachy enough.
[0:14:23.5] MN: Exactly.
[0:14:24.2] AO: But keep your options open. It’s like a dating profile in terms of what they’re looking for, so if you could fit maybe 60 or 70% of what they’re looking for in a meaningful way, apply. Absolutely apply. I think especially when I am doing hiring and I’ve done hiring in the past two decades, it’s been more about the personality of the person and the ability of the person to learn that is more important than what can we do right now and so, we have a lot of really smart, really talented, really ambitious people looking for jobs who are selling themselves short.
[0:14:57.4] DA: Do you like have any advice for like any listeners who are considering bootcamps to break into the industry?
[0:15:04.4] AO: Yeah, I think I mean it is hard for me to maybe say specifically without going into our own like sphere to look like, “Wow, well this is why WCoding is awesome,” but I think you have to go in because it is so expensive no matter really where you go. You have to go in with a goal in mind and it is going to be again, kind of a realistic goal. Not necessarily you can’t go in thinking at the end of this someone is going to hand me a job even though there is bootcamps that promise you 98%, 99% placement rate.
You got wonder where exactly are they placing you at that kind of rate and do you actually have a chance.
[0:15:44.8] DA: Right or I also know places that I’ve heard of with such high placing rates where they will exclude you from the program and from the statistics if you do not like imply to certain very direct engagement metrics where like you really got to work at it in order to stay in that net that gets placed, which is a pro and a con.
[0:16:11.5] AO: Yeah, absolutely and then if you think of the traditional institutions like Harvard or Yale, I mean there’s a reason why those graduates do so well and it’s not because of what they learned at Yale. It’s probably because they came in as really smart students and they were very selective in terms of what kind of students they would pick and so yeah, you’re going to do well and I think a lot of the bootcamps or some of the bootcamps kind of follow that same idea of, “Oh, in order for me to get this 99% placement rate, I have to make sure that the people that we bring into the bootcamp are going to get hired.”
They’ll end up hiring people who may not have actually needed the bootcamp I would say who may have been able to be self-taught and into the work force versus those people who really needed the education, really needed a hand, they needed help but are secluded because they can’t pass that pre-test and have a risk of not finding a job at the end and tarnishing their 99%.
[0:17:06.5] MN: Let’s dive in really quick to WCoding right? That’s the name of the coding bootcamp that you run. Why did you start WCoding, what was the calling that made you want to go and teach everyone how to do the coding?
[0:17:20.9] AO: Oh yeah, it’s actually I was in Korea for not really this purpose. I actually came here because I had the opportunity to stay here for a while with housing that was given, provided for me. It actually ended up not turning out but that started that whole process of me coming to Korea and I came anyway. Had some fun, ran an unsuccessful restaurant for about a year for my uncle, that was an interesting experience in terms of business and failures but I learned a lot from it, so I mean I would be grateful but during that time, I also got to look at the market and see what was like here for programmers.
One of the things that I wanted to do was like, I could probably stay here in Korea, let’s start an independent consultancy here just like I had done in the States and so I was then the process of, well, can I find really good skilled workers, you know really good skilled employees here and that proved actually to be difficult to find. One challenges of course is my language but the other challenge was that the education and the way they teach programming in Korea is still kind of like 80s and 90s when I was growing up.
It was a bunch of gray beards in front of blackboards, literal blackboards writing out C code trying to get these guys interested in programming and you know, this is not the way, right?
[0:18:42.7] DA: Oh my god, I took one of those classes. I like sat in a college classroom and typed up C code that was printed out into me. It was like pretty awful, I think that may one of the things that turned me off to programming.
[0:18:59.5] AO: Yeah and so, you know they promise like, “Oh you get this laptop and it’s going to be flashy and you get to work on websites and make a difference,” and all of these new open source and startup communities but then you got this old guy just scrawling on this blackboard and that’s unfortunately the way it’s been taught for a large part here and so the people who actually end up going through their program driven partner there probably by the money end up being that kind of programmer and unfortunately that’s not the kind of programmers that I tend to like to work with.
The other idea was to all right, let’s build the supply chain, start building the programmers that I want to use and so I guess you could say WCoding started out as a software dev shop that had to fall back into a bootcamp in order to operate as they wanted to.
[0:19:51.0] DA: Interesting. I feel like that’s always kind of a tension here as well in the US where you’re looking for people to be into programming but the field would benefit so much more from a broader involvement of people. It really does take some investment in the human beings in order to like pull more people in so I think that is pretty exciting that you took that chance.
[0:20:17.8] AO: Yeah, we’re trying to pull in people from various backgrounds, those who’ve gone through, like I said programming in the past and those who are extremely new to programming. That in itself, there is a bit of a gulf I guess to accommodate but I think practical programming and more specifically practical programming as a group, as a team that is something that is still not necessarily addressed and neither by the academics or by the self-taught tutorials and whatnot.
What happens as a team when you work on a codebase and the dynamics that happen not only on a personality level but also on the code itself, merge conflicts happen socially as well as technically.
[0:21:01.2] DA: That’s a really interesting thing like when you’re working on like a college project by our self or like a really small team like you may just firehose stuff in there and you don’t learn the team dynamic thing. That’s kind of awesome to have some training wheels on kind of experience with that kind of dynamic.
[0:21:21.3] AO: Yeah and I think it is a lot more real for the students as well and I think in academic environment not to discount it at all but I think if you’re doing for a grade and a grade is basically for the most part a very small audience. It is usually a professor and maybe the TA’s are going to end up grading you as did you do a good job or not whereas in the broader sense, once you enter the job market I think your audience is a little bit bigger.
It is not only your boss but also the customers or your product and so it ends up being for some people a little bit more stressful, a little bit more maybe even amorphous in terms of like what it is that you’re trying to build and the problems that you are trying to solve but then your team is also larger and your team doesn’t necessarily have that same background necessarily as you. They’re not all with CS backgrounds with math and whatnot they have.
You know a lot of various backgrounds that they come to begin with and it makes it a beautiful thing but it also has its own challenges.
[0:22:16.9] DA: Totally but that can be pretty fun. What would you say is like doing a bootcamp in Seoul? Do you have people travelling from far away in order to be there or is it mainly people who are local?
[0:22:30.6] AO: Oh yeah, all the time. In fact, that is part of our ability to operate as a business is to make sure that we can bring new people to Korea to take our course. The foreign market here is large but obviously not as large as this globally but I think I would say about half of the batches that we have are from abroad and so we pull people from – we’ve had students from Australia, from the UK, Sweden, Germany, we had a lot of students in the US, Canada so primarily English speaking countries I would say because we teach our programming material in English.
If you are looking to travel, Seoul is a great place. It’s beautiful, we’re still in quarantine so expect a two-week quarantine period but an awesome place to be but if you like K-Pop.
[0:23:23.6] MN: Oh yeah.
[0:23:24.6] AO: Hey man, this is home.
[0:23:27.0] MN: Yeah, the K-Pop, no William has told us stories. William has shared a lot of stories with us about his two-week quarantine when he travelled from India to South Korea and boy that was an epic – that was an odyssey from what I remember.
[0:23:44.4] DA: Yeah but then he got out and he just immediately started doing karaoke so that’s wonderful. I haven’t done karaoke in over a year and it makes my soul very sad.
[0:23:53.7] MN: Very, very, very sad.
[0:23:55.4] AO: Here they have something called coin, about a coin karaoke where the typical karaoke that I just had in the past before I came to Korea was like a group of like you know, five to 10 people would crowd into the smoky room with questionable vinyl seats and start belting it out in this old little microphone. They had this new thing where instead of paying like 40 bucks an hour or whatever, 30 bucks an hour, whatever the going rate is, you pay 30 cents per song but it is just a room for maybe two of you, sometimes four but it is much smaller room but it’s super cheap.
It is almost like an arcade game at that point and so that reward that comes back to you, sing any songs you like, “Oh just another 30 more cents, let’s do this.” The next thing you know, you spent three hours in there and you’re like, “Oh I just spent 10 bucks, that’s awesome.”
[0:24:47.3] MN: Jamming.
[0:24:48.5] AO: Jamming, so you know, get two or three of your friends and you can belt it out and they serve drinks in there and everything. It’s like, “Oh this is where it is man, we need more of this.”
[0:24:59.4] MN: When you had said coin karaoke I thought it would be like a quarter or 30 cents but then it randomly chooses a song for you but the fact that you get to choose the song for 30 cents a song is pretty cool too.
[0:25:13.4] DA: That’s like karaoke on hard mode, that you have a really brave impulse to just hit a random buy in.
[0:25:21.7] MN: Oh yeah.
[0:25:22.2] AO: We were actually as an internal project, we actually had a thing where we do karaoke battles. It was a small project that we had on the app but you get together with five people and all five people would enter in maybe like four or five songs each and then this little app would randomly choose one of the songs and then fire it off at the karaoke machine, so it’s kind of like whoever is next and you hit random and you know it’s the songs that somebody knows but it might not be you.
[0:25:50.6] MN: There you go.
[0:25:51.2] DA: Right, it’s like a mow bar or something.
[0:25:55.0] MN: Alex, how can people find more information about WCoding?
[0:25:59.6] AO: Come to our websites, you can go to wcoding.com, we also have wcodingcampus.com, all one word and that will take you directly to the bootcamp and you can check out all the programs that we have, come out and recreate and roll and let’s get this thing going. Let’s get you a job and get you learned.
[0:26:18.6] MN: Awesome, yeah learned, looking forward. I might take the family out there, we might go to South Korea. It seems like it’s a dream right now, you’re all able to do a lot of things. I know you mentioned COVID is still a precaution over there but people who are interested in coding should go check it out.
[0:26:33.9] AO: Yeah.
[0:26:34.5] DA: I feel like it’s worth it just to save the money on the karaoke.
[0:26:40.2] MN: I would save so much money, I think I would save actually so much with the airport cost, the airplane cost to go over there just so that I could get some cheap – so what is it, coin karaoke? I’m down, coin karaoke and coding, let’s go.
[0:26:54.7] AO: That’s awesome. Coin karaoke, coding and chicken, get all everything covered.
[0:26:59.8] MN: Oh yes, chicken, yes. No, it’s a wrap, the whole family is going over that’s it, we’re going to South Korea and baby, WCoding.
[0:27:10.4] AO: Sell the stuff, so I mean we’ve got the bootcamp, we’ve got dev side and we also if you’re trying to find a job in Korea, we could give you some advice on other pieces as well as the job situation and the layout here in Korea depending on what you want to do.
[0:27:25.4] MN: Sounds good. Find out more at wcoding.com or wcodingcampus.com for more information on WCoding. Alex, thank you so much for coming on down.
[0:27:34.3] AO: Absolutely. Thank you guys, it was awesome.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:27:36.1] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.
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