#15: Kush Patel – Founder of App Academy
Kush Patel is the Founder of App Academy, which is considered to be of one the top coding bootcamps. Prior to starting App Academy, Kush worked at a hedge fund until he realized the importance of knowing how to code and how that could be a useful tool for any entrepreneur. That's when he heard about a pilot that Dev Bootcamp was launching to teach people how to code in 12 weeks. Seeing the huge gap between the number of computer science graduates and the number of software engineering jobs in the U.S., Kush and his co-founder Ned Ruggeri, decided to start their own coding program that would become known as App Academy.
|Years in Tech||5|
|Grew Up||Fremont, CA|
- Mastery of concept and passion - these are the two cornerstones of a successful application to App Academy, or any top bootcamp for that matter. Make sure you understand the prep work and show them that you have what it takes and that you're not going to stop.
- When choosing between an online bootcamp course and an in-person course, consider the latter. Community drives you to achieve more and this ripples through the rest of your life.
- When picking a bootcamp, make sure you find the highest quality of information there is. Hiring managers are perhaps your best source since they’re not only impartial, but also, they have the ability to compare different bootcamps.
- Don’t settle for average and get into one of the top bootcamps. One of the best ways to prepare yourself is to join App Academy’s Bootcamp Prep program where they will help you become the best candidate when applying to top coding schools.
Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):
[1:44] Kush's dream was to become a lawyer and he started college at the University of Chicago where he majored in economics. Kush then interned at a hedge fund the summer before graduating
[3:27] Working at a Bombay-based hedge fund after college in 2009, where he was learning a lot about different industries from an international perspective and interrogating CEOs, Kush eventually left the hedge fund and Bombay and decided to enroll in the first class of Dev Bootcamp
[5:12] Kush's motivation to learn how to code: Kush decided to automate some data analysis during his internship at Merrill Lynch so he forced himself to learn how to code to be more effective and it wasn't easy
[9:01] Dev Bootcamp sprung out of a software's goal to teach his friend how to code and help him find a job in software engineering, and at the same teach it to a few people to see if he could make a small business out of it.
[11:08] People who also attended with him at Dev Bootcamp:
Hack Reactor's Founders Anthony Phillips (Shawn Drost, Doug Calhoun, and Marcus Phillips did guest lectures)
HackBright's CEO David Phillips (His Co-Founder, Christian Fernandez, was the first instructor at Dev Bootcamp)
[12:18] Kush and his co-founder capitalize on the opportunity - They saw an endless opportunity in the bootcamp space at that time considering the huge gap between the supply and demand of software engineers in the Silicon Valley and throughout the US
Check out these stats:
- 2012 - 50,000 CS grads a year and 150,000 job openings for software engineers every year
- 2011 - 0 bootcamp grad
- 2016 - 25,000 bootcamp grads (half the number of CS grads coming out every year)
[13:33] App Academy's structure and tuition model:
- Their desire is to have the best students and give them the best curriculum and creating the “next VPs in software engineering.”
- They don't charge tuition upfront. Instead, they ask for a small deposit between $2,000 and $5,000 to make sure students are taking it seriously.
- Tuition comes at the end, only if they find jobs as software engineers
- Their philosophy is to train the best people and identify folks, not necessarily with CS degree, but who have the most potential.
[15:55] The interview process: Online application + coding prep work
Part I: non technical interview (background)
Part II: technical interview
[16:49] How to be successful in App Academy's application process:
- Make sure you understand the prep work and have mastery of the fundamental programing concepts.
- Let your passion show - that you have what it takes and you're not going to stop
[17:55] Online course versus in-person course: An in-person course is better since community drives you to achieve much more
[19:04] The day-to-day structure at App Academy;
- In class hours: Mon-Fri 9am-6pm (45 hours)
- Morning lecture (video lectures during the night and shorter Q&A in the morning)
- Shorter sessions so they can get to the most important part - Lab Work
[20:34] Week-to week structure: Weekly assessments + Daily quizzes. App Academy will try to do everything they can to save the student but if it doesn't really work out, they would ask them to leave.
[22:09] What to look for when choosing bootcamps:
- Find the highest quality information you can. Talk to people. The hiring managers are the best people to talk to because they're impartial and they've talked to grads from different bootcamps so they have the ability to compare different bootcamps.
- Don't restrict it to a certain city. If you're going to MIT, you go to MIT. You don't find the best college that you can in your neighborhood. The same goes for bootcamps.
- Ignore the language and just pick the best bootcamp you can get into.Programming tests of companies are designed to be language agnostic.
[25:48] App Academy's Bootcamp Prep program - App Academy has an acceptance rate of 2-3%. The Bootcamp Prep program is a 4-week class to help students get into all of the top bootcamps with a list of 9 schools where they are guaranteed acceptance or they'll get all their money back. Price range: $2000-$3000
[27:38] Graduating from the Bootcamp Prep won't guarantee you a spot at App Academy as you still have to go through the interview process.
[28:11] High success rate of people coming out of the Bootcamp Prep at 20%-30% while acceptance rate in App Academy is 2-3%.
[28:58] Job Placement Stats - App Academy has about 1,500 graduates and they've been able to place 98%-99% of them (Average salary of $105K in San Francisco and $90K in New York)
[29:37] Job support provided to students: 12-week course where the last 3 weeks are dedicated towards job search but App Academy will continue to help you find a job
[30:16] App Academy’s financial model: Over the first year, grads will pay 18% of the gross salary over the first 6 months
[30:59] Kush's view on the "saturation" of the software engineering market - From an industry point of view: Kush is not worried but he is not as excited as he was 2-3 years ago. There are 25,000 bootcamp grads a year and this number is growing year after year. However, for an average student, there might not be enough jobs or that salary might be slower.
From an App Academy point of view: Kush is not worried. In 2015, they graduated the same number of CS grads as Berkeley did and they placed a greater number of folks at Google than Berkeley did. So they will always have jobs. That's why it's important to get into one of the top bootcamps.
[33:41] The Lightning Round
1. Imagine if you were someone who moved to a new city and you try to break into startups but let's assume that you're trying to become an engineer and you only have $100, what would you do to educate yourself and break in and get that first job?
- Kush would try to get into the best company and just try to learn everything from them whether it's engineering or not because the most effective engineer is one who understands the product and why the company is doing what it's doing and understands that software is not just a hammer that you try to hit every nail with.
2. What are the characteristics that differentiate people who become successful and maybe find jobs sooner versus people who either don't, drop out, or people who take much longer to find a job?
- It's all about motivation. It's all just how much you want it. It's not how intelligent you are. It's not how much experience you've had before. None of this really matters. It's really just motivation. Are you willing to put in the work and make it happen? All the resources are here. We provided the path to success. You just have to put in the time. It's really that simple.
3. Was there any piece of music or a movie that you watched that motivated you to break through that challenge to get over what you're building or even while you were teaching yourself how to code and you might have gotten frustrated trying to learn. Was there anything that you did to get over that frustration?
- Kush gets over his frustration through talking to his mentors and people around him especially his father and his VP friend whom he worked with at the hedge fund.
4. What is one thing that you fundamentally believed in going through this process that you changed your mind on now having gone through multiple different experiences?
- Kush focused on the numbers making sure that the numbers worked out but he later realized that when you run the company, you need to pay as much, if not more, attention to the culture, the values, the mission, etc.
5. What do you see is the longer term vision for App Academy and the community you're trying to build?
- They’re experimenting on a lot of things with the goal of continuing to increase the impact they have on folks and help a lot of people get to where they want to be while figuring out what's going to resonate with people and what will people need the most.
Intro: Growing up we're told that in order to be successful, you have to be a banker, a doctor, or a lawyer. That's what the gatekeepers want us to think. But we're a part of something bigger. We're part of a technological revolution. Either you're at the table or on the table. Getting eaten. 10X.
Yo, yo, yo, this is Ruben here so I'm here with the homies Artur and Timur Meyster and this is the Breaking Into Startups Podcast. Timur, can you please tell the people what we're doing today?
Artur: Yeah, today we're at App Academy. There are students right now, whiteboarding problems outside our room. There's also lectures going on of people that are alumni that are giving advice on how to break into tech. And today, we're here with a super special guest. Timur, please tell us who we're doing today.
Timur: So today, we have on our podcast Kush Patel. You might have heard about him as the Founder of App Academy. App Academy is considered to be the MIT of coding bootcamps. So I think a lot our listeners are going to find this super interesting. An interesting fact that before launching and bootstrapping App Academy, Kush actually went to school and majored in Economics at the University of Chicago. He also worked in hedge funds and at some point, he actually decided to attend the coding bootcamp himself so he can learn more about the ones and zeros of programming.
When I first met Kush, I applied to App Academy and he conducted my first coding interview. So we wanted to bring Kush on our podcast so he can give our listeners a glance into the coding bootcamp's landscape and tell us more about App Academy. Kush, before we start talking about bootcamps, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself. What were you interested in high school and maybe a little bit about your family and what your passions were?
Kush: Sure, yeah. I'll give you the condensed life story so as not to bore you. I grew up in Fremont, pretty close to San Francisco until the 6th grade, moved over to New Hampshire, went to high school there. I was interested in a bunch of stuffs, but mostly, I wanted to be a lawyer. Thankfully, God disabuses that notion pretty quickly but I wanted to be a lawyer until about the first year or so of college. I wanted to go in and I wanted to get a classics major so I applied and gone to University of Chicago which is really kind of known for its strong core and it was a great school for somebody who wants to be a lawyer. Also, fortunately, it turned out it's a great school if you want to study economics, which is another interest of mine. So I was also interested in investing from a young age. I think once I started school there at Chicago, somebody told me that, "Hey, you should major in economics because this is what the school is best known for. They produce something like 40 Nobel laureates or something in economics and you're interested in a whole bunch of things, You should major in economics." And that made a lot of sense to me and I was interested in it.
So I decided to pursue that but also, the great thing about Chicago is that it lets you take a lot of different courses so I took courses in the business school. I took courses in stats department, just a whole bunch of different things and different grad schools and whatnot and got a pretty broad base of knowledge. But studied economics there, I interned at a hedge fund the summer before graduating and really loved it. I really loved the fact that you could analyze companies and just learn about how these businesses operated and the CEOs of large, multi billion dollar companies would actually talk to you so I enjoyed that.
Then I decided after college to go and work at a hedge fund. It was based in Bombay actually so I was never been to Bombay, not speaking the language. It was kind of a big jump but it was 2009 and I think it was a good time to take that risk where people are kind of battening down that hatches. It was a good time to jump in. So I decided to work at the hedge fund for a couple of years and really just learned a ton. I talked to so many people. I was originally a financials analyst and took over the real estate, investing technology, media, telecom, consumer staples. I was covering 70% of their portfolio or something by the time I left. I got to learn deeply about every one of those industry so that was awesome from an international perspective. So that was very interesting.
That said, at the end of two and a half years, I was getting tired of Bombay. I wanted to make a move so I was thinking maybe go to Hong Kong, New York City, Singapore, etc. or maybe just try sitting on the other side of the table and try to start something of my own. Having interviewed CEOs, not interviewed them, but really, I guess interrogate them might be the better word. But interrogating the CEOs for so long at that, 90% of these guys are geniuses and I can never do their job but the 10%, I could be one of those guys. Part of me wanted to... because of that, I left the hedge fund and left Bombay also. So I enrolled in the first course of Dev Bootcamp.
Artur: Let me interrupt you for a second. Before we talk about the bootcamp, what was your rationale for even learning how to code because it sounds like you have a pretty good career in finance and you're in the hedge fund world. What was your motivation for wanting to learn how to code?
Kush: At the beginning, it was just to make my life easier. I can remember some of the tasks that led me learning how to code. One of them was I was interning at Merrill Lynch this was two summers before I graduated and they had a sheet where they just had to manually update all these process and I decided to just automate it and learn the little bit of programming cord to hook it up to Bloomberg and just get the prices downloaded immediately. And that was a task that would have taken an hour or two out my day as an intern and now it was done automatically. And I loved that. The power that you get from doing that was awesome. So after that, I was hooked. My journey in finance at the hedge fund kind of forced me to come teach myself how to program just to be more effective. It's this great lever that magnifies the amount of impact that you can have because you can just analyze data much better than other people can because you can do a program automatically.
Artur: As a follow up question. In the pre interview, you mentioned that you tried to teach yourself how to code. Did you run into any obstacles when you were trying to learn how to code?
Kush: It was really hard because you don't know what you should be learning. You don't know what language you should learn. You don't know what book you should read. You don't know, should I sign up for this online class? Is that better than the other one? It's terrible. It's a terrible experience learning how to code by yourself. It's very hard and I have a ton of respect for the people that learn themselves and then actually find jobs as software engineers. So difficulty after difficulty. It was so much harder than it...and I wished the programs like these bootcamps existed before when I could have taken it as a teenager or something, even during the summer because it's a three-month program.
Ruben: So before you did the Dev Bootcamp or you even heard about the Dev Bootcamp, did you follow any online resources or how did you eventually hear about Dev Bootcamp?
Kush: I can't remember exactly which books. A few VBA books I think there's standard ones in the industry that people used. The Head First Series, I read some of those. Hartl Tutorial. Just random stuff on the internet., mishmash, just random stuff.
Ruben: And in the pre interview, you said you then ran into this Hacker News post that...
Kush: Fortunately also, I had a friend who turned me onto Hacker News and that was great. That made a big difference in my life really. I'm one of these guys that when I try to enter a new thing, I will read everything I can get my hands on. Hacker News was great for that and it's like an endless supply of not only articles, but then the more interesting, the comments on those articles by people who are often experts in that topic and maybe be even more experts than the article itself. So it's kind of this conversation that you get to jump into. And these conversations are about everything that was interesting to me, so engineering, startups, design, just everything around that whole Silicon Valley ecosystem. And then I discovered obviously program essays and just love those and everything around that ecosystem. But that was where I found that post announcing Dev Bootcamp. That's the kind of place Hacker News is where you can announce something like that and then build a 20, 30, 40-million dollar company on it, just based off a little posting and that happens all the time. That happened with Dropbox.
Timur: So this was a post about Dev Bootcamp's first class right? So they didn't have any tracker yet what about it caught your eye and what were your expectations and did you have any reservations that hey, it almost sounds too good to be true, like three months program and then you find a job?
Kush: At that point, it was a two-month program actually. Fortunately also, the price was 6,000 so it was much lower than programs these days. It also just offered much less than programs do these days even Dev Bootcamp. So what was intriguing was that the software engineer was trying to teach his friend how to code and that he was doing Dev Bootcamp ostensibly to just teach this friend how to code and find him a job in software engineering and he said, "Hey, at the same time, why don't I teach 6, 8, 10, etc. of other people at the same time or earn some money, make a small business, see if there's anything there." So that was kind of the 9:24 of the post so i thought $6,000, not that much to pay to have some expert teach me this thing that I really love and really want to learn over a matter of two months. And I was fortunately part of the family that always viewed education as an investment so they didn't even blink twice. So I had to give my dad, both my parents a lot of props for just saying, "Yeah, sure. You want to learn it, yeah."
Ruben: Shout out to mom and dad. So tell us a little bit more about that initial Dev Bootcamp cohort and what the interview is like and what the days look like in the curriculum and everything after.
Kush: The interview was really short. It was just a bunch of get to know you questions, a short brain teaser and then it was a "Hey you're in." I think it was run very different than even Dev Bootcamp runs the interview process now. But I think he managed to find some interesting folks with some interesting background so that was one thing that made the class a lot of fun was that there's just folks from all different kinds of backgrounds but they were all self-serves and they're all taking a big risk. So for everybody except for maybe one or two, myself included, they wanted to find a job as a software engineer after. So for them, this was their chance to break into software engineering. So they were taking it seriously and they were pouring their heart to do it. And there was something kind of special that was there in that first class. And I think you see that with the co-founders of multiple companies including Hack Reactor and HackBright and of course App Academy and some other funded startups that came out of that first class of 18 people.
Kush: There was Anthony Phillips, CEO of Hack Reactor was in that class, his Co-Founder Shawn, and Marcus taught, did guest lectures. Doug Calhoun was also in my class. From the HackBright side, David Phillips, the CEO was in that class. Christian his Co-Founder was the first instructor at Dev Bootcamp. And then from App Academy, just me. And then that was kind of guest lecture there also.
Artur: It sounds like you guys had your own mafia that started out from that first pilot at Dev Bootcamp, which is quite impressive.
Kush: I think we have a pretty collegial kind of working relationship so we're all friends and I think that's probably helped us succeed. We compete and we all want to win but I think we have that underlying bond of that first class.
Ruben: That's awesome and typically at the end of these programs, people are usually focused on getting jobs but during the pre interview you mentioned, probably the reason why you did this was because you wanted to be a non technical founder. You realized that you knew that to get east coast to at least be able to build an MVP and so instead of looking to find a job, you did what?
Kush: After those couple of months at Dev Bootcamp, I was trying to figure out what was next. So I was thinking about very sass businesses that I could potentially look at but I was also talking to my now Co-Founder who's on Google's search index team and had been a good friend since first year of college. I'm talking to him about maybe making something in the bootcamp space because it seemed like just endless opportunity at that time. And a huge gap between the quantity of software engineers at Silicon Valley and the U.S. needed and what was being produced by CS schools.
Timur: What year was that?
Kush: That was early 2012. At that time, there were 50,000 CS grads a year and 150,000 job openings for software engineers every year so new incremental ones and only 50,000 were filled. To give you a sense of the size and how quickly the bootcamp space has grown. In 2011, there were zero bootcamp grads. In 2016, there will be 25,000. About half the number of CS grads that are coming out every year.
Ruben: And so, you and your Co-Founder wanted to start another one of these bootcamps, what made you feel like you guys can do something different and how did you think about building your program?
Kush: We just had a very different philosophy from the founder of Dev Bootcamp. To us, it seemed like he was interested in traditional for profit education in that he wanted that anybody who wants to learn how to code can learn how to code and he'll take their money and he'll try to build a large educational business that way. There's nothing wrong with that. I think giving everybody the chance to learn how to code, that's awesome and I have a lot of respect for that. But we really wanted to build the MIT of bootcamps. We really wanted the best students and we wanted to give them the best curriculum and really, if those students weren't senior software engineers or VP of engineering in 5, 10, 15 years, we had failed. So it wasn't just about, "Hey did you get that first job?" It's "do you succeed over the span of a career in this?" And that's kind of the bar that we were holding ourselves to. And a lot of that was height up in the tuition model where we don't charge tuition upfront. We ask for a small deposit but really, the tuition comes on the backend. And it's only if you find a job as a software engineer that we charge tuition. So in doing that, we expanded the applicant pool significantly. I was probably in order of magnitude.
Ruben: How big is the deposit?
Kush: The deposit varies, depends on how much you can put down. So it varies between $2,000 and $5000. We're trying to have some flexibility there. You do need to put something down so we know you're taking that seriously. In building a very large applicant pool, we then gave ourselves the ability to choose the very best people and that was getting into this philosophy of just training the best people, identifying those folks, and really identifying them not in terms of how much software engineering do they have? How much dev experience do they have coming into this? But, who has the most potential. who is going to be the VP of Engineering. And we found that it's not with a CS degree or it's not necessarily the person with a CS degree. It's not the person with software engineering experience. It's the person who has a lot of potential and that can look like different things. It's "Hey, I was a famous chef before this" or "I was a professional poker player and one of the best poker players in the world." So it's those kinds of folks that are going to succeed and really succeed in Silicon Valley.
Artur: Can you also tell us more specifics about the interview process. What are the kind of questions do you ask? How many interviews do you have? And what is the best way for listeners to prepare for that?
Kush: The way our application process works is that somebody submits an online application then they're given some prep work. We give them some coding prep work for their application process. So basically, our application process has 2 major components to it. We look at somebody's background. We do a non technical interview but the we place a lot of emphasis on the technical interview part. So we have a coding test that you submit online but we also have a technical interview. We put a lot of emphasis on that. And all you need to succeed on that, it's all in that code, in that prep work that we hand out. And that's maybe 5, 10 hours worth of work. So we try to make it so that somebody who has a lot of potential, who doesn't have a CS career or something will succeed over something who has a CS degree but really doesn't have the potential that we're looking for. And we found that to be the case for some time.
So I think at least that part of the process is successful but in terms of what somebody might want to do to be successful in the App Academy application process, it's two major things. One is really making sure that they understand that prep work right and really just have tried all these different problems and really have a mastery of those few concepts that we focus on. The second piece is, and this is less pumping that you can prepare for, but for that non technical interview, just letting their passion show and showing that they're not going to stop. They're going to do whatever it takes and they're going to be the last person out of the school and they're going to find the best jobs and getting that across.
Timur: Just from my personal experience since I did go through the process and then when I first came to App Academy on the first day when I looked around, I can definitely tell the caliber of students around me and I kind of felt like I was on the dumber side definitely below the average in terms of the type of kids that did get into App Academy. So I think it's also super important as you're learning for the next 12 weeks, how to become an engineer to surround yourself with people who are go-getters and who are not going to stop because that's just going push you a lot harder.
Kush: Yeah, exactly. I think that's something that people don't understand that much when they try to compare an online course to an in-person course is that community, it just drives you to achieve much more and if you can figure it out, it's worth it to move to San Francisco or New York City or one of these big cities that does have these top schools, I would recommend it because it just pushes you to achieve a lot more and that just ripples through the rest of your life. So that's the network that you look to, those are your friends, that's your core circle when you decide to start a company through the years down the line, those are the folks you look to or maybe higher. So that network of who you're tied to or bonded to, very important.
Ruben: Yeah, and a lot of people talk about getting into a bootcamp and how hard it is and a lot of people feel a huge sigh of relief once they pass the interview process but in the pre chat, you said that that's just the beginning. That's when you have to brace yourself and actually start climbing. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the program is structured on a day to day and what people have to expect, the number of hours, the number of days per week, and you have some assessments that people have to do every week and people even get kicked out.
Kush: Sure. The program is Monday through Friday, 9 through 6 in terms of in class hours. So that's about 45 hours in class. We ask about a similar amount of work out of class. We are targeting about that 90-hour a week run rate which is not singable for a long period of time but for 12 weeks, folks can do it and just fill it in terms of evenings and weekends. So the space is open 24/7 so students can come in at any time. But getting back to the point about what does that day-to-day look like, we do lecture in the morning . We try to keep it a short lecture. We're even experimenting with video lectures during the night and then doing even a shorter Q&A during the morning so that we can just get to the most important part which is the lab work.
So where you're really proving that you actually understand, actually can do what you learned the night before, which is the most important thing by far. I mean I remember when I was learning how to code, this was one of the things that I did not understand until 100 hours in or something, which is that you can read a book on coding and you would not be a better coder at all if you hadn't opened up your text editor. So it doesn't mean anything to read a coding book and not not code. It's when you're playing around in the rappel or you're really engaging with programming that the learning actually happens. So that's what the structure of the day looks like which is really just very straightforward, We have breaks and lunch and whatnot, but really it's just coding as much as possible, really trying to get the students to code as much as we can.
But in terms of the what the week-to-week looks like, we do have assessments, roughly weekly and we have quizzes even daily. The quizzes, there's no grades but just to let you know this is where you're at. This is what we expect you to know. It's also just a very clear way of saying this is what we want you to know. We try to make it very clear, we lay it out. This is what you need to know. So on the weekly assessment, this is what you're expected to know. And on the weekly assessments, we do sometimes have to ask students to leave if they fail multiple ones. We do try to reach them very early and try to help and try to prevent the students failing out as much as we can because we lose a ton of money there also. So it's not only that we care about the student from an instructional point of view but we also lose money.
So it's even more than another school where the other school will keep the tuition that you've paid so far. Go and find another school that doesn't do that. But they'll keep it right if you drop out of college, they don't give you the money back in the first two years or something. So App Academy does because we don't charge you tuition upfront. So it's like you've just gone all that for free. So for us, it's not only kind of the teacher in us that wants to save the student but it's also the financial side of things. We try to do everything we can to save the student but sometimes it doesn't work out and we have to ask folks to leave but we try to avoid that as much as possible.
Artur: Nice. I think one of the bigger questions that I wanted to know when I was applying to bootcamps was there's a lot of bootcamps out there. I think there's probably over 200 in the whole country. What advice do you have for our listeners who are looking at bootcamps? What should they be looking for? And if you had to go through the process of picking out a program, what would you specifically pay attention to?
Kush: I would approach it the way I approached information gathering when I was at the hedge fund that I was at. Find the highest quality information that I can. And for bootcamps, it's a very young industry so there aren't in as great industry reports, there's no US News for "Hey, here are the top bootcamps, we just ranked them." So you have to talk to people. That's where it is. And who has the best information there, I think it's really the hiring managers, the people that, first, are impartial. And then second, have talked to bootcamp graduates from different bootcamps and have the ability to compare against different bootcamps. So that's how I'd approach that problem. That's what I'd recommend to anybody thinking about making that decision.
Timur: Would you focus on the city that you eventually want to find your job at and then identify a few companies that you might see that there are bootcamp grads there? And then reach out, cold email them, ask to chat with them for 15 minutes and then basically ask them in their opinion what bootcamps in that area or in that state that they typically see successful students from. Is that your advice?
Kush: I think that makes sense. I wouldn't restrict it just to a certain city but I'm a little bit bias this way. I think that if you're going to MIT, you go to MIT. You don't find the best college that you can in your neighborhood. But I take a long view and a career view on this where the difference between a top bootcamp and a kind of average bootcamp, we're talking about $40,000 a year in salary in your first year. And that over the span of a career, half a million dollars. With compound interest, we're talking millions of dollars. So think about the decision where you think, "Okay, I'm going to save a little bit of money because I'm not going to live in San Francisco or New York City for this time and I'm going to save and the cost of living is different," over to spend a career that's millions of dollars that you're leaving on the table. I think that's something that I think sometimes applicants don't look at in exactly the right way.
Ruben: That's very interesting. I remember when Timur was going through this process, a lot of things that you're talking about were things that he also experienced. But since then, there's a lot of new things that you've introduced based off the things that you've learned, so we'd love to hear a little bit more about the bootcamp program that you have and then why you decided to start that and what the outcomes have been in that regard?
Kush: Bootcamp Prep class came out of this desire to help more of our applicants than we were before. Our acceptance rate is somewhere around 2% or 3% and what that means is that out of every hundred people coming, knocking on our door, asking to learn how to code, we have to turn away 98 of them. They want to learn how to code, they're willing to kind of put in the time they wanted, but we don't have the product or service that helps them or we didn't. Now, Bootcamp Prep, we designed as a way to help people meet their goals and maybe get into another top bootcamp even if App Academy is not the right fit for various reasons, there are other good bootcamps out there and we want to help students reach their goals. That's how we thought about bootcamp prep. Bootcamp Prep, four-week class where we teach you. This is again something that makes it pretty different from other coding schools is that the goal of this program is to get you into all of the top bootcamps. What that means is not only that we teach you programming, but that we teach you the other things that are required. So we teach you how to put together your resume.We teach you how to speak well during that interview that's going to happen. We try to take holistic approach to helping you get into the top schools. And it's worked really well so far.
So far, we have not had the issue of a single refund. We do give refunds if a student does not get into one of the guaranteed schools We have a guaranteed school list of 9 schools They're guaranteed acceptance in any one of these 9 schools or they get all their money back. We've graduated hundreds of students through that program and we haven't had given anybody their money back.
Ruben: Got it. And speaking of refunds, how much is the cost?
Kush: It varies from location to location but between $2000 and $3000.
Timur: For App Academy, if you're going through the prep work and you complete the four weeks, does that guarantee you a place at App Academy or you still have to go through the interview process with App Academy to get in?
Kush: You still have to go through the interview process. We want to make sure that this is not us diluting our brand or bringing the bar down. The bar is going to be the same place and there's not going to be any world where you can buy your way into App Academy. That would destroy a lot of value and a lot of credibility that we've spent years building it. It's just not an option. It doesn't make sense for us.
Timur: I think you mentioned that a nice perk is that if you do end up getting into App Academy then you could apply the cost of the prep program towards your deposit.
Kush: Yeah, exactly. That said, we also have a high success rate of people coming out of the Bootcamp Prep program going into App Academy or these other top schools. We're talking somewhere like 20% or 30% for these acceptance rate into these top schools. The acceptance rate in the App Academy is roughly 25% from the students who take the Bootcamp Prep class. We do believe that again, the proof is in the pudding there where it has proven to be effective.
Ruben: So 25% of the 98 tend to get into App Academy?
Ruben: Got it. And so speaking of finishing these programs. If someone finishes this Bootcamp Prep gets into App Academy, finishes the program, can you talk a little bit more about the success that you've had at placing these graduates. How many people have you graduated and then what's the financial model that you guys follow in order for the graduates to pay you back after they put the deposit down?
Kush: We've had roughly 1,500 hundred graduates and we've been able to place the vast majority. So 98%, a little bit 98-99% of those folks always floating up and down. But with good salaries too. With $105,000 you average in San Francisco and about $89,000, recent cohorts have been above $90,000 but around that.
Artur: $90,000 in the rest of the country or New York.
Kush: In New York City location. That's how we track it is San Francisco location, New York location.
Timur: And outside of the program, so once you finish the 12 weeks, what type of job search support do you provide to your students?
Kush: Our thought or our philosophy around this is that we continue with helping you find a job until you find one. The course is 12 weeks and the last 3 weeks are dedicated towards the job search but we're going to continue helping you until you find a job. . And that's not just because we believe it's the right thing to do. Again, we have a financial incentive. So we lose a ton of money if you don't find a job. And which is good for you.
Timur: So your financial incentives are aligned with the students in the sense of both parties are interested in placing that candidate...
Ruben: So the way it works is when they're placed into a job, and then a portion of their salary goes...
Kush: Yes, exactly. Over the first year, they'll pay 18% of the gross salary over the first 6 months. First year of gross over the first 6 months.
Ruben: Okay, it makes sense.
Artur: I have this other question that actually didn't come from me. It came from someone who reached out to me and they're actually going to be graduating this upcoming May and they're a chemical engineer student and they're considering doing App Academy and the question that they're asking was with a lot of news about the tech bubble and a lot of bootcamps just graduating like hundreds, if not thousands of bootcamp graduates per month or per cohort, do you think this industry is getting saturated with junior engineers? And what is your take on that?
Kush: Great question. I think about this in two separate ways. One is I think about it from an industry point of view where what did the comparative dynamics looks like for the industry? What does it look like for the customer in this industry? On that side, I wouldn't say I'm worried. I'm not worried. But I'm not as excited as I was 2 years ago or 3 years ago because there are 25,000 bootcamp grads a year and that number is growing very quickly. It's going like 100% year over year or so. At some point, something's got to give. And that what gives is salaries and jobs.
Timur: And the customer you acknowledge is the companies hiring the grads, right?
Kush: Sorry. The customer being the actual student. Sorry. For the student, at some point, there might not be enough jobs out there or the salaries might be lower than what they're expecting. So that's for the average bootcamp grad. And that's why I think again, because the next part of this which is that the other way that I think about this is from the App Academy point of view. What does the future look like for App Academy grads and for the next five years or so. And from that side, I'm not worried. I think this is an interesting stat for some folks which is that in 2015, we graduated the same number of CS grads as Berkeley did so roughly, 350. And we placed a greater number of folks at Google than Berkeley did out of their CS program. And they are top 5 CS program, maybe even the top CS program. So those are who are our graduates are competing with, the top 5, top 10 CS school grads. I think that will be where they continue to compete and hopefully, even better. One day, my hope is that they're considered a class apart. But my thought is that those folks will always have jobs. Maybe it takes a little bit longer, who knows. But those folks will always have jobs. They're fantastic engineers. I think that's how I think about the issue. And also why I think it's important when you're considering a bootcamp to try as hard as you can to get into one of the top ones.
Artur: Yeah. and especially with your case, since you're not charging the student beforehand, if there was this shift, where there's a tech bubble and people are not hiring graduates, you guys would be the ones losing the money, not the student.
Artur: Are you even more sensitive to this shift than the students themselves who'd go to App Academy.
Kush: Sure, And you know that if you got into App Academy. At least you know if such a shift happens and maybe salaries go down or something, you'll have to pay less because the tuition automatically adjusts what the salary is. And you know that we'll be fighting as hard as we can to keep those salaries up for you because that's how we get paid.
Ruben: And so, Timur is going to walk you into The Lightning Round and explain a little bit more about what that is.
Timur: So the next portion of the podcast, it's The Lightning Round and that's when Artur, Ruben, and I will ask you a series of questions that are specifically focused on resources, strategies, any tactics that either you've used to learn how to code and maybe something that you've seen your students do that was very successful in their careers. So with that said, Artur, can you please take it away?
Artur: Yeah, for sure, this is the question that takes you back to the basics. Imagine if you were someone who moved to a new city and you try to break into startups but let's assume that you're trying to become an engineer and you only have $100, what would you do to educate yourself and break in and get that first job?
Kush: Yeah, that's a great question. Just to make sure I understand your question, you're trying to break into technology by becoming a software engineer?
Artur: Yeah, let's say you're trying to break into startups. Let's assume your food and housing expenses are taken cared of. But you have limited resources, assuming that it's $100 and you're trying to get yourself to a level where you could break in. What would be the steps that you'd take?
Kush: There's a lot to be said for just getting into a startup. So I think that's probably the tech that I would take where I would just try to get any job at a startup and just say, "I'll do anything and I'll work as hard as you need me to work." And the only thing I ask is that you guys let me ask you questions and learn and I may not even say that last part because that's how I learned and they may be less excited about it if I had to tell them my plan. But that's how I learned at the hedge fund that I was at before where there's no training class or anything. I just bothered to shit on my VP. So just every two minutes, I'd be asking what about this, why is this coming to doing that. So she got no work done for the time that I was there but I learned so much. So to the extent that the hedge fund became better because they invested in employees and things worked out. But that's how I'd break in is just get into a startup and try to learn from the best folks that I can. So especially if food and housing is paid for, I'd just try to get into the best company that I can with people that I really respect and just try to learn everything from them whether it's engineering or not because I think the most effective engineer is one who understands the product and why the company is doing what it's doing and understands that software is not just a hammer that you try to hit every nail with. If you have a real world problem, software is just one tool in your tool kit. So maybe software is the right thing to use as a solution for that by maybe it's not, maybe you should use something else. Maybe there's an off the shelf solution but who knows. Maybe there's an underlying problem that needs to be fixed and that will just cancel out the problem so it doesn't exist in the future.
Ruben: And to drift on that question a little bit, for someone that has not completed like the App Academy program is trying to get that initial $2000 or $3000 to get into Bootcamp Prep, have you seen any people that have gone through your program that had limited resources like $100 or a perceived advantage or disadvantage that was able to raise funds and took a creative route to that?
Kush: There have been homeless people who have taken a class. The people that have taken this class were just very scrappy. And they'll sleep whenever. Unfortunately, we used to provide housing, we don't do that anymore because of regulatory reasons but we actually provided housing for free to people and they could just live in the office. And there were a lot of people do the program that weren't able to otherwise. But if you have a good friend in the city that let you crash on their floor or whatever, that happens all the time.
Ruben: I remember when Timur came in town and we walked in, looked at the place to sleep at App Academy.
Timur: Yeah, it kind of looked like the sleep away camp. And in the last blog that Ruben wrote, he mentioned the cot and the reason we have that cot is actually spent probably 2 weeks crashing at App Academy while I was going through the cohort and it took a little getting used to but you would literally just wake up and go to a class and go to sleep at midnight and wake up again and do it again. So the other question that just to build on what you just said, the other question that we want to ask is seeing all the students go through the program, what would you say are those characteristics that differentiate people who become successful and maybe find jobs sooner versus people who either don't, drop out, or people who take much longer to find a job.
Kush: Sure. That's an easy one. It's all motivation. It's all just how much you want it. It's not how intelligent you are. It's not how much experience you've had before. None of this really matters. It's really just motivation. Are you willing to put in the work and make it happen? All the resources are here. We provided the path to success. You just have to put in the time. It's really that simple.
Ruben: Yeah, and a lot of people as Timur mentioned earlier as App Academy as this MIT of bootcamps and it sounds amazing. Any success story sounds amazing but were there any challenges that you went through and whenever you hit those challenges or frustrations, was there any piece of music or a movie that you watched that motivated you to break through that challenge to get over what you're building or even while you were teaching yourself how to code and you might have gotten frustrated trying to learn, was there anything that you did to get over that frustration?
Kush: For me, it was usually just talking to my mentors and folks that were around me. It wasn't necessarily specific piece of music or something but that VP that I bothered a shit of, she's a very close friend of mine and kind of continues to be a sounding board for a lot of my problems and successes when they happened really. Her, my father, and other people around me that are few steps ahead or many steps ahead and have seen everything and have that perspective. And it's often just that, it's not necessarily even, you don't need to find somebody who's seen it all or done it all. It's just you talk it out with somebody and they can give you that perspective that things are going to change.
Artur: So you've had this very interesting journey of learning how to code, attending a bootcamp, starting your own bootcamp, what is one thing that you fundamentally believed in going through this process that you changed your mind on now having gone through multiple different experiences?
Kush: In terms of learning how to code you're saying?
Artur: Learning how to code, bootcamps, just what's one thing you fundamentally believed in that you changed your mind on?
Kush: Good question. I think in terms of, when I was a hedge fund investor, one thing I understood very little about was how important some of these softer elements are to a company. So when you're an analyst, you analyze a company through the numbers. You talk to companies and you try to get a sense of that management and I think I was actually a little bit better than than that than the average analyst in terms of using the non quantitative aspects of investment in terms of how much credibility do you give to the managing team, etc. But still, as an analyst, you just focus on the numbers. You build the model that's really what your job is going to focus around. So I took that approach when I came to startup. I was really focused on the numbers and making sure that the numbers worked out and everything but that was not the right stat to take. When you run the company, you need to pay as much, if not more, attention to the culture, the values, the mission, etc. I have employees. They're dealing with all the customers, they're dealing with all this stuff. And some of the stuff can be measured, some of it can't. I guess just realizing how important that was, I mean fortunately I learned it pretty quickly and continue learning it but that was kind of...
Timur: And I guess in that topic, what do you see is the longer term vision for App Academy and the community you're trying to build?
Kush: We just want to continue to increase the impact that we have on folks and we think about that just as how much difference are we making in people’s lives times the number of people that we're impacting. So sometimes we're going to have a small impact and sometimes we're going to have a large one but we can just think of that, some product, and think, okay that's how we're doing and we want continue to push that forward and hopefully, at a pretty ambitious growth rate. So what that looks like, we have no idea. We're experimenting with a bunch of different things. We're trying a bunch of different classes and whatnot and who knows which one of these things will be successful and will actually try to grow but we're trying a bunch of things but that's our guiding north star. In terms of we just want to help a lot of people get to where they want to be but we're not sure exactly what's going to resonate with people, what will people need the most that we're still figuring out.
Ruben: And for people that are thinking about being part of the App Academy journey and want to come, whet their appetite, are there any outstanding or stellar online resources that you suggest people to try out to just introduce themselves to this coding journey?
Kush: Codecademy is pretty good that way in terms of introducing you to what it is to code. I think it's a pretty bad way to learn how to code because just too many crutches. But as a way to figure out, "Do I like this at all? Is this something that's even interesting to me?" I think it's a great way, really easy on ramp. They've got great user experience and great onboarding in terms of you just jump in and you're coding. That's the one I recommend.
Artur: And for all of our listeners who are listening right now, what is the best way for them to apply to App Academy and the prep program and also, if they wanted to reach out to you or some of the graduates, how do they get in touch?
Kush: The best way to apply is just go on the site. First of all, try to figure out is this for me? I think in terms of going to Codecademy, you can figure that out. There's also some information on the website, what does a career path look like, etc. What does it mean to be an App Academy student? What does that day-to-day look like? And then just put an application. Just appacademy.io. Go in there and throw in an application. That will start you in your journey. We'll hold your hand along the way there.
But in terms of reaching out to us, there's contact information. We have a huge FAQ so I would first look in that FAQ but you can also just reach out [email protected] and you'll get a response pretty quickly in terms of whatever questions you might have around coding bootcamps or App Academy in general but we're happy to just answer questions about bootcamps in general.
Ruben: Twitter, Snapchat...
Kush: If Twitter is your vibe, we're there. We're not on Snapchat.
Timur: And we'll include all of the link the application page and to your Twitter in our show notes and we just wanted to say thank you again. This has been a great episode and I think there's going to be a ton of people who are going to be reaching out to you guys because you guys have built an amazing program and it's quite impressive.
Kush: Awesome. Thanks for having me. This has been great and thanks for having me on the show.
Our guests came from:
- Community Organizer / Design / Featured
#83: John Maeda – Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion at AutomatticBy Timur Meyster
- Engineering / Featured
#58: Tiger Shen – An 18-Year-Old Software Engineer Who Worked at Square and BraintreeBy Timur Meyster
- Engineering / Featured
#30: Yan Fan – How a Bootcamp Grad is teaching Syrian Refugees How to CodeBy Timur Meyster
- Featured / Founders / Veteran
#56: Mike Slagh – How a US Navy Veteran Started a Company to Help Veterans Break Into TechBy Timur Meyster
- Colleges / Featured
#93: Saif Ishoof – VP of Engagement at Florida International University (feat. Alice McLaughlin)By Timur Meyster
- Featured / Sales
#79: Ghazal Asif – VP of Worldwide Channels Sales at App DynamicsBy Timur Meyster
- Community Organizer / Featured
#33: Stevon Cook – From Public Housing to bringing Tech Training through Mission BitBy Timur Meyster
- Engineering / Featured
#100: David Harris – How an App Academy graduate became a Software Engineer at Omada HealthBy Timur Meyster
- Engineering / Featured
#99: Iris Nevins – Teacher who became a Software Engineer at MailchimpBy Timur Meyster
- Featured / Founders / Growth / Product / Uncategorized
#44: Anthony Pompliano – How an Army Sergeant became a Product Manager at FacebookBy Timur Meyster