Before applying to Makers Academy I'd spent loads of time researching the course, beginning long before the remote offering was even announced. I read articles from Makers Academy as well as reviews left by its students, but while this informed me of what to expect from the course, it didn't tell me much about the application process. With that in mind I've put this post together to describe my experience of the application process, focused on the parts that I would have wanted to know before applying. Hopefully this post will be of some assistance to future applicants, although I do have the impression that the process can differ depending on several variables, not least which member of the Makers Academy team is conducting each stage of the process with you.
Click the apply button
My first step was to apply through the Makers Academy website. This immediately prompted me with two questions that required long and well considered answers. I'd advise clicking the apply button well ahead of time, as this will offer a zero commitment opportunity to view those questions, and the chance to back out of the application to spend some time crafting your responses. I've gained the impression that in these question-and-answer scenarios Makers Academy is more concerned with learning what kind of person you are than what level of experience you have, and as such these questions were heavily focused on you as an applicant, your history and your motivations. How you come across in your answers to these initial questions will likely govern whether you're even invited to the interview stage, so take your time.
Book the interview
After submitting my application and waiting a short while I was informed by email that I'd passed the initial stage, and was being invited to interview. I was provided with instructions on how to set up my laptop ready for coding, told to sign up to a screen sharing platform called Screenhero, and pointed toward some online tutorials (all teaching the Ruby programming language which the course focuses on) to complete before attending the interview. It was left to me to pick an interview time and date from a calendar (each interview is allocated 45 minutes), and I chose a day that was the recommended two weeks into the future, giving me enough time to complete the required tutorials beforehand.
A surprise phone call
A couple of days later I was surprised to receive a phone call from Evgeny, one of the founders of Makers Academy. This was a very friendly and informal chat, with Evgeny checking that I was satisfied with how the application process was progressing. Of course I'm sure this was also a vetting process for Makers Academy to make sure that I seemed like the right kind of person for their course. I was genuinely thrilled to be chatting with Evgeny, and I made sure to ask a couple of prudent questions in order to appear keen.
Remote taster day
I was informed from the start of the process that my chance of passing the interview would be ‘greatly improved' by attending one of Makers Academy's new remote taster days, because it would offer me some experience of pair coding, which would be used during the interview. Unfortunately all taster days before my interview were already fully booked, and I was concerned that delaying my interview until after the next available taster day would allow the cohort to fill up. At the suggestion of Nikesh, Makers Academy's gatekeeper, I opted to book a taster day after the interview, which was a little unorthodox but better than missing out entirely.
I spent the next two weeks following the interview preparation I'd been given. I was pleasantly surprised at how much can be learned in such a short space of time, and I felt that I had a fairly good beginner level grasp of Ruby by the end of the two weeks.
The night before the interview I was sent a last-minute questionnaire to complete immediately. This questionnaire was pretty comprehensive, it took me a couple of hours to complete, taking up the time I'd set aside for some last minute revision. Not ideal, but I guess if I didn't know anything by then a couple of hours of extra cramming probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway.
The interview started at precisely 11:30am when Jordan from Makers Academy called me via Screenhero. I was quickly put at ease by Jordan's informal interview style. Proceedings began with a round of questions about my background, to which Jordan seemed to be taking notes while I gave my answers. Then we came to the pair coding part of the interview.
Using Screenhero I shared my desktop, and fired up Sublime Text and Terminal (once you've followed the required tutorials this software pairing will probably be familiar to you). Screenhero enabled Jordan to actually take control of my computer, and the process followed that he would begin by typing some unfinished code, and informing me of what he wanted the code to do. I'd then have to fill in the missing parts of the code to make it work as intended. This progressed with increasingly difficult challenges, with Jordan entering less code each time until finally I was coding the entire solutions myself, still based upon Jordan telling me what he wanted the code to do. Thankfully I managed to solve every problem, and while they were getting quite tricky toward the end they were in no way as difficult as the most advanced tutorial material we'd been given to follow.
I was surprised at just how ad hoc the interview felt. I'd anticipated a structured, predetermined set of problems to solve, so it was interesting that Jordan appeared to be thinking up challenges for me on the spot. I believe that this freestyle structure keeps the interview dynamic, with the interviewer able to adjust the flow as they see fit.
After I'd coded each solution and proven that it worked, it was useful that Jordan would then show me how he'd go about solving that same problem himself. Almost every time Jordan would take my large code block and simplify it to one or two elegant lines, shedding needless variables and clearly demonstrating the difference between a beginner and someone who knows what they're doing. While it was clear that my attempts were poor in comparison, Jordan assured me that if I'd coded as well as he did during the interview then there would probably be no need for me to even take the course, and that at this stage as long as my solutions worked then it didn't matter how verbose they were.
During one of the later problems I spotted an opportunity to use a technique that Jordan had shown me in a previous problem. This displayed that I was actually taking note of what I was being told and using it to my advantage, and I'm pretty sure it won me some brownie points.
Once we'd completed the pair coding challenges the interview was over, and Jordan told me that I'd learn whether I'd passed or not within three days. I'd resigned myself to a long wait, when I received an email only twenty minutes after the interview had ended titled “Welcome to Makers Academy”, I was in! The final steps were to confirm which cohort I wanted to attend, and then to pay the deposit to hold my place. Done and done, and now I'm all set for January 2016.
I now have a lot of learning to do before the course even begins. Around a month before the start date Makers Academy will begin to send me regular pre-course work which is estimated to take a minimum of 15-20 hours per week to complete, but even before then I'll be spending every free moment I can studying. It seems that Makers Academy wants its students to be at a reasonably high level of competence before the course even begins, so that they can focus on teaching the more advanced concepts rather than the basics that can be picked up with a little effort.
I want to mention that I thought long and hard before publishing this post, because I knew it could be argued that by describing the process I might be handing future applicants an easy ride. However from the research I've done it appears that the process can and does progress quite differently for each applicant. Also Makers Academy state that they monitor the feedback from each cohort to help them tailor the next, so changes can be, and often are made to the process every 6 weeks. With that in mind I feel that my post will be useful to potential applicants, without giving too much away. I've also withheld a few key pieces of information to avoid spoiling all of the surprises!