Week 19 at an Unbootcamp

Learners Guild, an alternative to coding bootcamps, is working to make itself more participatory, although most of us Learners have our plates full trying to absorb ever more techniques of software development. We not only produce software, but also consume it as tools of production, and we face the same problems of inscrutability and dysfunctionality as the world does with consumer software.

Come let us reinvent together

The new curriculum at Learners Guild in Oakland, an alternative to the traditional coding bootcamp, has elicited much debate among the Learners, and the Guild has responded by slowing its adoption so that Learners have enough time and information to intervene in the adoption (or modification) process.

On 15 September, as my 19th week there ended, the Guild set up new communication channels to help organize Learner engagement in what appears to be the ongoing redesign of our institution. Learners were informed that efforts are under way to disclose to Learners more of the Guild’s business information—it’s a one-year-old B corporation, with a profitmaking purpose and a social mission—so Learner participation can be based on realistic estimates of constraints.

Learners’ recommendations on the principles of their engagement have been wildly diverse, ranging from electoral representation with mediation of nonconsensual issues to subsidiarity. One might colloquially simplify the endpoints of this range as “Gimme a vote” and “Gimme something to do”.

Extensive Learner participation in the gradual redesign of the Guild seems to be advocated by almost all parties, in principle, but it does face obstacles. Learners’ job 1 is to learn software development, and the Guild reminds them of this every few weeks by subjecting each Learner to a 2.5-day exam and a technical interview for progress assessment. Whether insufficient progress will bring a Learner’s membership to an end remains to be decided as the redesign process continues. But assessment anxiety is in the air. In fact, few Learners regularly try to influence the process; most keep their heads down and code away.

Transition time again

Speaking of periodic assessments, mine is now due. I have been in Phase 3 for 5 weeks, and at week’s end I received the Guild’s routine exhortation to get myself evaluated during the following week. I responded compliantly, so on Monday morning my exam will begin, and by the end of the week I’ll know whether I’m considered to be proficient enough to move into Phase 4. In that phase, Learners work on real software that is in use by real people.

Meanwhile, the week’s project required my teammate and me to test a web application that others had developed. We spent most of the week trying to figure out whether some software libraries, with names like Phantom and Zombie, which allegedly make such testing easy, really do so, or instead make it impossible. Vaporware and miserably documented (but still popular!) software libraries are plentiful, so one must adopt defensively. I obviously have yet to acquire the skill of detecting such libraries quickly. This skill, it seems, is of extraordinary value to developers who are responsible for choosing their own tools. Maybe I’ll suggest a training module on that very topic for inclusion in the Guild’s curriculum. But, realistically, the way to get something into the curriculum is to create it, not just suggest it, and how can I create it if I myself need it? If you have the answer, please comment below.


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