iOS Code School Review: Mobile Makers Academy In Chicago

I can’t believe it’s already been 9 weeks since I first started Mobile Makers, an intense 8-week program in Chicago for learning iPhone development. I learned more than I could have imagined and the time went by very fast. I remember on the last day of class my brain was so stuffed with information, I couldn’t process what my friend was telling me at lunch!

Now that I’ve been back in San Francisco for a week and had a chance to get semi caught up with my real life, I’d like to share my thoughts about the Mobile Makers experience for those of you considering making the jump. Let me know if you have any more questions for me in the comments!

The Schedule

One of my favorite parts of Mobile Makers was the four day week. And by that, I mean the official instruction happens from Monday through Thursday. Unofficially, there’s more than enough to do Friday through Sunday to keep you from getting much sleep. However, having a more open weekend for catch-up learning and practice was very nice.

Monday through Thursday, class starts at 9am and officially ends at 5pm. Before lunch, one of the instructors teaches (there were two instructors who switched off on different days). The teaching is more like live coding. There is a student “driver” who types out the code as the instructor explains what the code does and a “scribe” who takes notes on a white board for everyone.

Students are supposed to have their full attention on the lecture and the code being written, so we were not really supposed to code along. However, once there is a substantial amount of code written, the instructors gave us time to catch up and process what was learned during the coding interval. This was a very effective technique for learning, since you didn’t miss much of what the teacher was saying and, by having to code it from scratch during the catch-up break, you really had to process what you learned.

After lunch, we broke out into groups of 3-4 and did the afternoon challenge, which was usually practice of what we learned earlier that day and, of course, what we learned before in different days / week of the course. The instructors were available to help out as each group needed.

Each night, there was an Evening Hack, where we made a simple app to further re-enforce the concepts we learned earlier.

During the weekend, there was always a Weekend Hack, a more complicated app that kept us practicing, re-enforcing everything we learned. One of the most challenging evening hacks was making a Memory Game. Another one was building an App.net client to practice working with external APIs.

The last two weeks of Mobile Makers we split up into groups, and worked on an app full time, so there was no additional lecture. However, the instructors were there providing help and checking in with each group as necessary.

The Learning Experience

Thanks to Mobile Maker’s former Chief Learning Architect Adam Lupu, the Mobile Makers teaching approach was phenomenal. I can’t believe how much and how fast I learned! The great lectures combined with constant practice of the concepts building on each other was very effective.

Both instructors, Don Bora, the founder of Mobile Makers and EightBitStudios, and Keith Alperin, founder of Helium Foot Software, have years of experience and were phenomenal teachers with an incredible amount of patience explaining what must be very basic concepts to them!

Also, since there were only 16 students at Mobile Makers (although two dropped out toward the end), it felt like you got a lot of personal attention when you had questions and needed something explained.

However, this stuff is really really hard and you only have 8 weeks at Mobile Makers. So, as I’ve said before with Dev Bootcamp and similar Code Schools, don’t come unprepared with 0 coding experience. If you’re struggling to get the basics, you won’t get as much out of the course.

It’s definitely impressive what my peers with no previous coding experience have accomplished, but, again, they had the hardest time and seemed discouraged when they were falling behind. If you know at least some coding basics, you will do really well in the course. I recommend taking at least Stanford’s CS106A and knowing the Big Nerd Ranch Objective-C book INSIDE and OUT!!!

The Location

Mobile Makers is conveniently located off the Brown / Purple line in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. I heard some locals call the area “Silicon Rail”, since it’s along that part of the Brown line where many of the Chicago’s startups are located. The Silicon Rail ends at Merchandise Mart, where 1871, the incredible startup co-working space, is located. I highly recommend checking it out!

There are also great startup and coding events to go to, including CocoaHeads, an iOS developer meetup hosted in a secret top room in the Michigan Avenue Apple Store. If you’re looking for a job during the program, I highly recommend attending a lot of these meetups.

The only downside of the River North area is that it’s very expensive to live in, so many of the out-of-towners, including me, lived in Lincoln Park or LakeView, only a few train stops to Mobile Makers, but a really fun area with lots of restaurants.

Getting a Job

While I was not looking for a job after Mobile Makers, since my company sponsored me to come back to them as an iOS developer, most everyone in my Mobile Makers class was looking for a job. Unfortunately, Mobile Makers seemed to really have dropped the ball in that department.

While some companies did come by during the last two weeks to talk to students, it wasn’t a lot of them, and they seemed to be smaller 1-2 person startups with not much of a budget and some didn’t even know what Mobile Makers was about. Some students I talked to at the end of the program said they felt misled, since Mobile Makers lists a pretty big list of “hiring & supporting companies” on their website.

Keep in mind that I might be a bit biased, since I have Dev Bootcamp to compare against, where there was a big interview day at the end and so many people got jobs just through that process in only a few weeks. Also, Mobile Makers is in Chicago, not San Francisco (where the market seems to be a lot more desperate for iOS developers).

Now, Mobile Makers does a great job with teaching, so if you keep making apps, keep blogging, and keep going to meetups in your community, you will find opportunities. I have not doubt about that. However, you might want to add a few months of buffer time after Mobile Makers to get a job. Many of the students from the Mobile Makers class before us were just starting their new jobs as we were finishing Mobile Makers, so allow at least 3 months for job hunting after Mobile Makers, and be prepared to do a lot of that networking yourself!

I’m going to say it again. Mobile Makers and any other code school is a big risk, especially if you’re relying on it to get a job. The more prepared you are in your personal learning and personal branding and networking, the more likely you’ll get a job.

Overall Experience

Since I didn’t have the pressure of having to get a job during Mobile Makers, I really LOVED the program. I learned so much, and had soooooo much fun building. When I got back to work last Monday, I was able to dive right into the iOS code and contribute to the team right away.

I was also surprised by how much I fell in love with iOS programming. During the last two weeks of Mobile Makers, I worked with a partner to submit our first app to the app store called ShopLater, which made it easy to shop and track prices for products you want (I was making it for my cousin). I loved building the app, and don’t regret a single thing even though the app got rejected by Apple this week (we filed an appeal, and hopefully it will be approved).

This week, I built and submitted my second app, a Russian Alphabet app for my cousin, and hopefully that will be approved soon. I have an idea of my next app, and can’t wait to build it!

When I first tried learning iOS development on my own over a year ago, it was so hard, I gave up and decided to learn ruby instead. I can’t be more excited that I finally followed through, learned something that hard, and am able to actually build any app I can imagine! Thank you Mobile Makers for helping me get here.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make the most out of a bootcamp experience, read more in my book:  How To… Learn To Code. Get Your Dream Job. Change Your Life.

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  • Chuck

    Great post Natasha! Very true about the wonderful teaching style, but post class job hunting and assistance they definitely dropped the ball.
    Going into the class they offered a $3000 reimbursement fee to anyone who got a job with one of their ‘preferred partners’, however that perk is since taken down, and I’d really like to know how many, (if any) students got to take advantage of it.
    I agree, the list of partner companies for potential employment is absolutely misleading, and the fact that Adam Lupu , and Adam Haun are still featured on the website even though they aren’t part of the program any longer is misleading. (How many of the students that just began the July 8 were counting on this too?….. lots of $$ for this perception)
    The final weeks of potential employers meeting with us was very hap-hazard.
    Great learning experience, not so great with post graduation employment.

    Anyhow, it was great being in class with you, Congrats on Shop Later!
    Take Care, Chuck

    • Thanks for sharing Chuck! Since I wasn’t part of the job hunt, I have a bit of a skewed view toward how it’s working out for people. It’s really sad that it’s not going that well.

      Really enjoyed having you in my class 🙂

    • Thom

      Natasha, thanks for your posts about going through Mobile Makers. We’re psyched that Shop Later made it to the App Store!

      I wanted to give a quick reply to Chuck’s comments. As we learn how our program description is interpreted and applied, we have revised some of the language on the Mobile Makers site to better explain the job-search process.

      For instance, we learned that companies preferred to hire Makers directly without paying us a finder’s fee, so we removed that point to maximize opportunities for Makers to connect with employers.

      We list “Hiring and Supporting” companies on our site that represent the kinds of places where junior iOS developers can make professional connections. Of course we can’t guarantee they’ll always be ready to hire new coders the day our Makers graduate, but they remain partners because many provide other kinds of support to our Makers, making connections and offering guidance, even when they aren’t actively hiring.

      We’ve also added emphasis about the need for participants to do the pre-work so they can get the most out of the program, to go above and beyond during their eight weeks in-house, and to be prepared to conduct an intensive job search when they’re done. Some Makers have lined up jobs before they’ve even completed the program, but most will need to allow time for networking and interviewing to pay off. Some of Natasha and Chuck’s classmates have received job offers within weeks of graduating, but as with any career search, that process can take a few weeks or a few months. We are confident in our Makers’ abilities to do get jobs and to do great work, and we continue to support our graduates as long as they need help — with coding advice, networking and mock interviews.

      Readers: Feel free to shoot us an email at hello@mobilemakers.co if you have more questions.

      Thanks, Natasha, for giving us this forum to tell people what a great learning experience this is!

      -Thom Duncan, Director of Engagement, Mobile Makers Academy

  • Jim

    Really interesting review Natasha. I was wondering if the admission is competitive like DBC or if they accept anyone. Also, is it open to Canadians? I’m living in Toronto, are you aware of any similar academy in Canada?
    Cheers!

    • Hi Jim,

      There was someone from Toronto in my class. Feel free to email me at natasha at natashatherobot.com and I can send an intro. The class is open to Canadians, but of course you’ll need a visa to stay and work, which could complicate the job hunt for you. The student from Toronto in our class went back to Canada to look for a job there after the class.

      It is also not yet as competitive as DBC, so you have a better chance of getting in.

      • Julio Rodriguez

        I would suggest just doing the free tutorials as this program is a waste of money! Every session there are always those that quit because they don’t deliver what they promised! You will see for yourself!

  • Al

    Hi Natasha,
    I follow your blog and enjoy it. Thank you!

    I wanted to ask you. I’m a complete newbie to programming/ coding. I have never coded before. I don’t even know the basics. I am starting from scratch. I want to learn iOS development.

    What’s your advice on what kind of books I should read? I know you’re a big fan of the Big Nerd Ranch Objective C. I’m reading that at the moment. Are there any other books?

    Is the Stanford CS106 course important for me to do? Can I skip it for iOS development? I really want to dive straight into developing iOS apps. So, do I really have to do the CS106 A and B courses?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Al,

      I highly recommend doing CS106A, CS106B, and CS193P as a start. This stuff is hard, and there are no shortcuts. Of course you don’t have to do these, and maybe you’re a genius and will naturally understand everything. I’m not sure what your background is. Try it out and see how it goes.

  • Jonathan Young

    Hi Natasha,

    Thank you for writing this blog! It’s been enlightening reading it. I have offers from both Dev Bootcamp and Mobile Makers and do not have a background in programming other than preparing for the interviews. Which one would you suggest? I will be paying out of pocket and don’t know what the market needs more of: web developers or iOS app developers. Any advice/input would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

    – Jon

    • Hi Jon,

      Happy to discuss over email, since that’ll be easier – natasha at natashatherobot.com.

      • Naomi

        I also would like to know which you recommend.

        • Depends on many factors, including your personal circumstances. Happy to discuss via email – natasha at natashatherobot.com. Hint: There is no right answer.

  • Wade Sellers

    Good morning Ms. Robot,

    I loved reading your posting. You delivered great, honest information and a straight forward attitude. I have been building up the courage to take the leap from my current career path into what I am passionately interested in, mobile development. Last night I finally took said leap and applied to Mobile Makers Academy and hope to be accepted and start in Septemeber.

    I’m telling everyone that will listen about how excited I am to get rolling and be surrounded by fellow people that share these similar passions. I’ve struggled with learning by myself with various online tutorials and always seemed to give up before I got far enough to really tickle my neurons enough to push on. Not anymore, I have stoked that consist fire enough to finally realize that my current path is not giving me the excited I desperately want. So here we go… About 6 months till it’s game time (if I get in that is, fingers crossed).

    I have both the Nerd Ranch Obj-C book and have messed with Stanford’s online courses in the past. Now that I have a deadline to meet and goals of accomplishing the above tasks, I have a new lease on life and am ready to put in the work.

    Thanks again for your posting. You’ve only reassured me that my choice to take this leap has foundation for excellence. Good luck in your current and future endeavors!

    Very Respectfully,
    -Wa-de´

    • Wade, I’m really excited for you!!!! Hope you get in to Mobile Makers, so sending good thoughts your way 🙂 Happy Learning!

      • Thanks! Fingers Crossed. If you have any info on the acceptance process or tips along that lines, that would be a bonus.

      • Btw.. I got in, I knocked it out of the park and am now developing on a daily basis. Working for a startup in Denver right now developing an app for them. SUPER AWESOME!!!

  • Joseph

    As a total beginner, how much do you think their pre-course would suffice in preparation for the challenges of the actual course?

    • Hi Joseph,

      Their pre-work is pretty short – only 40 hours and about half students didn’t even complete it! This might have changed in the new cohorts, but take your time to understand coding basics before you start!

  • Nels

    By far, a very comprehensive review on a boot camp. You struck all the right notes on what to consider and what to expect reg a boot camp. Thank you Natasha 🙂

  • This is really good review. But there is some improvement since then. Recently codeschool is acquired by pluralsight which a game changer. I am hoping there will be more amazing course codeschool will produce. In the mean time check out codeschool trial offer: http://webuilddesign.com/enroll-in-code-school-at-9-dollars/