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Jeff Casimir – Giving education a run for its money with Turing School of Software & Design

Antoine Meunier's profile picture Antoine Meunier on

This post is part of our Customer Interviews series. Every now and then, I dig deep into the confines of our database to find the most interesting projects, products and companies built on top of DNSimple by our customers.

This week, I got in touch with Jeff Casimir, co-founder of Turing School of Software & Design who shared with me his interesting take on education starting with how Turing is shaping a new generation of developers.

To shuffle things around a little bit – and to acknowledge Jeff's epic answers written while riding shotgun with his wife on the drive up north from Denver – I chose to keep the Q&A format. I've edited for length but kept all of it's anthenticty and flavour – mostly f-bombs – for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

The Genesis

Antoine » Your're the Executive Director of a school. How did that happen!?

Jeff » I was doing corporate training as Ruby was really gaining traction in the enterprise. I was getting paid well but the work was not fulfilling.

I missed watching the growth that happens over the course of months or years so I conspired with Chad Fowler at LivingSocial to create Hungry Academy, one of the first developer training programs. After its was successful we came out to Denver to start a more sustainable tuition-based model.

Now Turing is rolling with four cohorts of students at a time, about 80 students total. We'll graduate about 160 developers this year. Put simply, Turing exists to open the world of programming to more people. We're excited to help create a more diverse, creative, socially-minded tech community.

Playing ball with the law

A » Of all industries, entering education must come with its fair share of legal affairs. Was it a struggle?

J » I know some other training programs have engaged in battles with their local regulators. Having grown up in DC with parents working in the government their whole careers, I have a lot of experience with red tape.

When we started Turing we found the appropriate regulatory bodies, got in compliance with their rules, and were awarded state accreditation.

It wasn't easy, but I like that we're "legit".

Destroying shallow dreams

A » Who is Turing's main competitor: Universities, bootcamps, incubators… Chuck Norris?

J » If Chuck Norris is coming for us then I could be in trouble.

Our main competitor is really shallow dreams – folks stuck in jobs they don't like and don't realize that they can do more.

If we duke it out with other bootcamps we're focusing on the 0.01% of people who've even heard of this concept. Universities are generally solving a different problem. I think we're actually a really good complement to Universities – go study Greek Mythology or whatever you're interested in, then come to us to get job skills.

About 95% of students are changing careers. The majority of those are in the 25-35 age group and attended college or have a degree. They worked in a job for years and realized they wanted to do something more engaging and fulfilling.

In the end, I want to get Turing and the concepts of programming in front of that other 99.99%.

… With a promise

A » Guaranteeing a $65k job to all students within three months of graduation isn't a small promise. It's almost seems too good to be true. Has it ever come to turned itself against you?

J » We've never had anyone "activate" the guarantee. We've had a few students' job hunts drag on for one reason or another. In many of those cases we made their tuition payments for them until they found a job. The guarantee makes people, even people on the team, nervous.

I see it as a promise — part of the foundation of what we're doing.

"If we say you're good, everyone else will too." If that's not true, then you deserve your money back and a big apology. Our students are putting a tremendous amount of faith in us and our work. I want them to know that we swear by it.

A » How are they doing in the real world so far?

J » No bullshit, they're all success stories. We've got three who are off running their own companies. Some are now "Engineering Managers" and working their way up the food chain.

There's the warehouse manager who tripled his salary. The single mom who guys out long hours to do something transformative for her daughter. The kid who dropped out of college to start a more aggressive path.

Probably my favorite stories are our student "chains" — we've had a sister through the program, then her brother in the next class. A wife in one, then her husband a year later. We even have some folks referring their exes, hah!

Knocking doors open one by one

A » As Elon Musk puts it "Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death". So, what sucks?

J » Everything kinda sucks… but we try to make it suck less everyday.

The student job hunt, for one, is frustrating. There are a lot of people hunting for jobs out there and it is sometime difficult for the average hiring manager to differentiate our student with another kid who learnt on the fly – in a typical bootcamp or something. Most companies are scared when a candidateas doesn't have the "5-year experience" in the field.

At this point we have to convice the companies to take the "risk" on one person. We just want them to give our graduates a shot because we know they are prepared and up for the job.

It makes it much easier for us to help them find a gig since we're not deceiving anybody but it's a slow process. We're kicking doors open on by one.

And it's working. It's now a recurring theme where the same company that hired a graduate will come back 6 or 12 months out for two or three more.

I've never had to - and never will - go on to a friend "Come on, man! Do me a favour, hire this graduate and keep him for a couple months, you can dump him after that. Ok. Thanks."

Cultural mixology

A » With over 200 graduates from both Hungry Academy and Turing are you seeing trends that help you identify great prospects?

J » When you intereview somebody it's easy to make the link and understand their trajectory. Obviously there is no ONE profile of success.

When it comes to culture fit, most people see it as a mold that one must fit it. I see it as a puzzle.

We need students with various strengths, weaknesses, grooves and edges to fit with each others. That's something we look for in the interview process. Apart from their actual problem solving skills, culture fit is probably our top priority.

Actually, the whole review process of candidates application got much easier, thanks to DNSimple and your killer API!

A » Thanks, our API is pretty strong indeed! How are you using it?

J » Initially, candidates would submit IP addresses of their projects and it would turn out to be a mess.

We grew tired of it and gave a shot at your API.

So we built and used GitHub to authenticate the applicants apps with Turing. Then the app hooks up with DNSimple through the API and creates the proper records for the each project on the fly making it a breeze for us to review.

A » That's awesome! Okay, let's go back to the interview before this turns into a lovefest

J » Right! You probably don't want me to elaborate too much on my impulsive domain purchasing habits. Seriously, it's too easy. I'd be in bed at night with a random domain name ideas, I'd log in on DNSimple and *poof* next thing you know, I've registered two or three more hilarious domain names.

Looking back

A » In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

J » When we came out to Colorado we partnered with some business people. I did it because I was scared of the financials. I'd never run an operation of this size. I didn't know if it'd work. Hungry Academy was a safe space — LivingSocial gave us TREMENDOUS support that all but ensured success.

But flipping to the tuition model — would people sign up? Would they actually pay money when it was due? Could I pay the staff's paychecks? Could I cover my own?

As a business or businessperson I think fear pushes you into compromise.

And compromise — fuck that. I wish I had believed in myself and the people around me enough to just do things on our own. It's my biggest regret in life.

Now that we're out on our own there are no constraints. We are free to do anything we want. We're trying to build an institution that lasts 100 years.

Fuck VC. Fuck acquisitions. Fuck IPOs. This is isn't something we're trying to flip and retire from. This is my life's work.

A » What keeps you up at night?

J » I worry… I worry about my staff. I worry about my students. Am I doing everything I can to help them be their best selves? Am I pushing them too hard? Am I not pushing them hard enough? Am I dreaming big enough? Am I getting too comfortable? Am I living up to the mission and the belief? What if we're missing the big idea that changes everything?

But, truth be told, I get up at 5AM, work as hard as I can, parent the best I can, and pass out about 11pm. A teething toddler is about the only thing that ever successfully keeps me awake.

A » Thanks Jeff!

J » Cheers! I'm going to snatch up some more domains, now.

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Antoine Meunier

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