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Skilling Up: Preparing Students for the Future

Sara Dodd

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CodeClan Skills: Sara Dodds, Head of Quality

Sara Dodd, the Head of Quality at CodeClan writes for DIGIT, explaining how the academy not only keeps courses relevant for students, but future proofs their skills in the rapidly evolving digital technology sector.

Sara Dodd - Head of Quality, CodeClanThe main thought on the mind of students enrolling on our 16-week software development course is, will I get a worthwhile job at the end of it?

Whatever their background, the newcomer to the tech industry has chosen to spend their time and money investing in new skills they hope will open doors into a sector that is growing all the time and crying out for skilled staff.

For CodeClan, it is our responsibility to ensure students receive the relevant tools employers are actively recruiting for. Our relationship with businesses across the tech sphere is key in marrying the needs of the industry with those providing its lifeblood.

We are directly influenced by employer feedback and constantly engage with them in discussing what skills they need from our graduates. Almost every aspect of the curriculum has changed in the two years since we started.

Our original curriculum was based on Ruby-on-Rails development, a common curriculum delivered across many of the successful so-called ‘bootcamps’. However, it soon became apparent that this did not deliver the deep software development skills required by Scottish tech employers.  So our curriculum has evolved – we’ve intensified the JavaScript module and then doubled time spent on Java.  Most recently we’ve added full days of UX Design and have integrated Agile practices in our project work to create real life workplace experience for our students.

As well as employers, our senior instructors were all software developers in their own right and have a real depth of knowledge in what they work with. Insights from them on work being performed and where the industry is going relates to our delivery.

Curriculum Advisory Group

We have a Curriculum Advisory Group who advise on major changes to the curriculum and we are in the process of creating a technical advisory group of practicing developers who can give us advice on ways they use these tools in industry.

All this research is combined with a new Alumni survey where we request feedback on the value of their skills and their CodeClan experience. Finding out first hand the areas of the course that have proved to be particularly important is a valuable tool in assessing the success of the course components going forward.

We take a learning journey approach to the course that is outcome based. From the outset, the student knows what they are working to achieve. Learning outcomes are structured to give deep, immersive learning in a short space of time.

Languages

In terms of languages, Ruby is taught as an entry point due to its programmer-friendly, object-oriented, general purpose design. From there it moves to Java as a two-week module with an additional week of  Android development. Java provides exposure to a statically-typed language and JavaScript follows on the journey approach to learning.

Over three weeks in JavaScript students learn front-end and back-end JavaScript. The final module examines React as a JavaScript library for building user interfaces and gives learners the ability to apply deeper web and programming skills.

Weekly Schedule

Each week is finely tuned. The bulk of the teaching takes place over the first four days, this is consolidated on Friday with revision at the end of the week. We iterate on day two, it is usually a lesson and then a lab followed by a review. The student then learns more about how to put their knowledge into practice and different ways they could approach a task.

People learn by doing so we purposely employ a very practical approach. We realise you have to review as you learn new things. It is about building in incremental blocks in an iterative process of learn, practice, review. Integrating an Agile way of working, particularly for project work, ensures students are tackling tasks in a realistic way as part of a team, similar to when they are in employment.

Guest Speakers

We also have sessions exploring the differences between languages such as Java and C#, Ruby and Python, and deliver lessons on key computer science principles, as well as briefly introducing topics such as cloud architecture and micro services.

In addition, each week we welcome guest speakers from relevant businesses and organisations and this is supplemented by a speed networking session that connects students with potential employers.

CodeClan Skills

The success of the course is borne out by employers who have come back taking five or six of our graduates. They recognise the value of the training. People coming here are investing a lot and are determined to learn and do well. The employer gets a hugely motivated person.

At the end of the course we go as far as possible to support students in finding jobs. The figures for those who complete and go on to achieve a post within six months are exceptionally high, (93%).

A 16-week course that introduces a student to a new industry is intense and involves a lot of work for the student. It requires a similar level of effort and preparation from the course provider as well and, just as importantly, we have to listen and align with employers. Constantly adapting to what they need is key in ensuring our students have a worthwhile job and the beginning of a successful career at the end of their course.

Sara Dodd - Head of Quality, CodeClan

Sara Dodd

Head of Quality, CodeClan

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