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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