Can You Learn to Develop iOS Apps in Only 8 Weeks? (Interview with Mobile Makers Academy)

What if I told you that you could learn to develop iOS apps in less than eight weeks, with no previous experience in coding? You would probably think I was either crazy or incredibly optimistic. The founders of Mobile Makers Academy have created a full-immersion iOS-bootcamp where they promise to take you from novice to entry-level iOS developer in only eight weeks. The cost of the program is about $9,000, which is a good deal considering you'll essentially be ready to get hired in a new hot field. Mobile Makers Academy also offers some limited scholarships that are worth checking out. I got a chance to interview the founder of Mobile Makers Academy, and I asked them about their background, how long they've been at it, and what kinds of job offers people are getting after going through their program.

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Interview Transcript

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Alex: Hi there everybody my name is Alex Cequea. I'm the editor of iPhone Life magazine and Android Life magazine. This is our mobile interview series where we interview the movers and shakers in the mobile space. My guests today are Brandon and Don. They are the founders of Mobile Makers Academy which is an intensive eight week iOS boot camp for learning how to develop apps for the iPhone and Ipad. Check this out, previous experience in programming and development is not required. Thank you guys for being here. So my first question to you guys is, where are you guys based out of? Brandon: So we're based in, obviously, the fantastic city of Chicago. Alex: Nice. The windy city. Brandon: Yes. Alex: And what is your background specifically? Don: I'm a developer and I been developing for almost 30 years professionally. Most of my development career has been in Chicago with a few stints in the surrounding area. I spent most of my career working in various domains like healthcare and medical devices and banking. So I've been around for a long time doing this a long time. I'm old. Brandon: And I haven't been doing it as long as Don. But I'm a self taught developer. I, actually,formally went to school for graphic design. When I was in high school, I started teaching myself HTML, CSS. PHP was the next thing on the radar. When I was in college, Ruby on Rails became popular so I switched to Ruby on Rails. And then when the iPhone came out, I got obsessed. So I taught myself iPhone development and really started freelancing, taking on projects and ended building a pretty good size development company where I was the CTO of the company and we grew to about 50 people and have some really cool clients. Alex: Very cool. So you guys have background and programming. You guys have you foot in that field. What was your motivation for starting an iOS boot camp like this? Don: Sure. So, Brandon and I actually have the same exact problem. We couldn't find mobile developers. I started my career into technology that's used an iOS right now back in the early '90s. And that was largely a platform that's used in the banking industry. So I could tap that a little bit when iOS came out, but it was a very limited pool of developers that I could tap. So I just started trying to teach people coding on my own so that we could use them in my Dev shop. And Brandon and I started talking and we realized we had the exact same problem. Brandon: Yes, same with me. We had a Dev shop and I was responsible for hiring developers. And we were really looking for iOS developers. And I assumed that I could go to colleges and look at Computer Science graduates both on their Masters, their Bachelors, and assume that could get right into it and start coding. And what I started find was a lot of the colleges weren't really teaching the real- world skills. They did a fantastic job of theory and the basics of getting started when it came down to actually doing development. So I started an apprenticeship program at my Dev shop about two years ago when Don was doing the same thing at his Dev shop. And we would just take on developers who graduated and we'd put them on a team and really let them learn based on getting hands-on experience. And the experienced developers on projects would help them when they needed help, and we put a loose curriculum around it. And when Don and I started talking, we started talking through the patterns that we both used and started founding out that, hey this really worked to get people to learn through giving them actual projects and giving them actual stuff to work on. And as they run into problems or run into issues, we were there to be able to help them get over those hurdles. Alex: Very cool. So what you were doing with the apprenticeship served as a blue print for what you're doing now. So how was the transition turning into its own stand- alone boot camp? And how long have you been at it? Brandon: So it was a year and it was October 2012. It was the summer when Don and I started working on it. But we got a handful of people, we stared a pilot program really just to test the model and make sure that what we were doing made sense. And being able to take our learning that we learned through the apprenticeship program put it on a larger scale. So we had a pilot of five really passionate people from all over the country which was pretty cool. They came to Chicago and we set them up in a room and started really validating what we thought made sense. And it worked really well. We ended up having someone who had background of Learning Sciences come in as well after we were done with that pilot program just to make sure that what we were doing actually followed along with how people learn and how they approach their learning. And we got all the checks that they were doing things right. So we turned it into bringing 20 people on at a time. And we've been doing that now for over a year. Alex: Very cool. And tell me a little bit about the costs involved. For someone who's listening right now thinking, "This sounds interesting." Brandon: So the cost compared to going and getting a four year degree, it's much cheaper. But the cost right now is $9,000 for eight weeks. What you get is extreme immersion in having hands-on experts there all the time. So not only do we have Don, we have a few other facilitators to who have amazing backgrounds in technology. We have a mentorship program. So for the value, it ends up being mind blowing what the output has been. Alex: That's cool. So you don't just lock people in a room and let them battle it out. Don: We tried that. It doesn't work. Alex: You come out when you can code. Brandon: Yes. Exactly. Alex: So, I have to tell you eight weeks seems like a really short time to be able to master a skill. What do you say to people that say, "Wait a minute. This can't possibly be right. Eight weeks?" Don: And that's a valid point. We spent a long time figuring out what the sequence of events is to getting them to a certain level of proficiency. So what we do is we spend the first four weeks on core iOS principles and skills. And every single thing we learn in class, we build upon it and use it for the next four and five weeks. So we keep everything we use, we build on it. So once we introduce a topic, we're learning that and using that for the next three to four weeks. Once they get to a certain point, then we pretty much open the flood gates and turn it into a mini hackathon. I'll let Brandon talk about some of our pre-course material and hackathon as well. Brandon: Yes. The first four weeks we focus a lot more on the hard skills and the last four weeks of being able to apply those skills. So it ends up being a really cool experience to allow people to come up with their own app ideas and be able to work through it. And it really starts being a really cool Dev shop. We have a lot of tech leads in helping support our architecture. We get into actual development, what's a user storie, backlogs, we'll do demos, so it ends up being a really cool environment. It's always hopping and the energy's really high. And two, it is definitely the eight weeks, but we do have pre-course material that we want to go in and cover before they come in. And we really have that focused on being able to have, especially complete beginners, being able to get the basics down. So what's conditionals, what's an if statement, what are loops and how does data work? So it gets them familiar with opening X code, making some simple apps, following along with tutorials, and it really primes them for when they come in on day one - we hit the ground running. So we cover a lot in eight weeks. There's no questions, it's very intense. Alex: No. That sounds great. What is the time commitment in those eight weeks? Don: So in those eight weeks, we go from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the evening. And that is required being in class time. The structured learning takes place in the morning and the afternoon is taken up by guided challenges. We encourage people to stay in the spaces as late as they want and we've had massive student involvement stay until 10, 11, 12 at night. The only rule is you can't sleep in the space. Brandon: Which is usually about 60 to 80 hours. Most people are spending about 60 to 80 hours. And the cool thing is at the end of the week, they're usually like, "Wow I don't even know where the week went." Because they're so focused and even just a few minuted ago got done with our weekly big group chat. And it felt like we just, literally, did that yesterday, but it was a week ago. Don: So right now, they finished up week four and at the end of week four, they have encountered and dealt with, and in some cases mastered most of 90 percent of what it takes an app developer to be successful. So when they go out there in the world and start developing apps, they will have had exposure to 90 percent of what they're going to see. The specialization stuff, especially in game play or specialized graphics libraries, we don't cover that so much. But what we do cover is the ability to absorb and understand that when they see it. Alex: Right. That's cool. And tell me a little bit about the background of people that participate in these programs. I know you say that no experience is required, but I would imagine that a lot of people who are familiar with development and coding take part in these. Don: We actually mean it. We get people that have never touch a code before and we get Science majors. So the last course, we had three international students that were all Computer Science majors. At the same time, we had a couple people that had never touched code before. And we're thrilled to report that there was success across the board with the people that had never touched code before are doing fantastic right now. And the people that have Computer Science degrees, love the course. And what we done is we've structured a curriculum so that we don't loose the students that have just started or just starting out, we keep them engaged and keep them interested and them supported. And at the same time, we in-challenge the Computer Science students, the people that know how to code already, who can challenge them and keep them very engaged. Alex. Okay. So you have some flexibility in terms of how much you can push each student individually. Don: We're very very careful about that. Alex: So the purpose of the program is to prepare people for a job in this field. What success have you had with that and how? Because that's also another question that I imagine you get a lot. People are like, "Wait a minute, I could go to college for fours years or I could invest in this and then get a job? That seems a little too good to be true." Brandon: So first point, we definitely approach our eight weeks and it goes back to your last question a little bit. We definitely approach the eight weeks. It's definitely a foothold in the industry. That's really what we're giving. We're helping people understand all the things that it took Don and I many years to learn. We've done a good job of cramming that into eight weeks and getting people highly, highly prepared to tackle the job market. But our success rate really been right around about 90 percent of our graduates who are looking for technical jobs are getting job offers within about two or three months after they graduate. So it's been really cool to see the success rate. Don: And we're very careful to track our feedback from potential hiring managers. So we get a certain level of feedback from hiring managers about our students. And then we fold that back into the curriculum and strengthen up certain.... Alex: Sorry, you guys cut out there for a minute. Can you hear me? Together: Yes. Alex: Okay. I heard until, "You get feedback from the employers." Don: So, basically, we keep track of the feedback we get from the hiring managers that interview our students. We take that feedback and then we can fold that back into the curriculum so if that if there are portions of the curriculum that aren't supporting our students well enough, we'll beef those up a little bit. If there are portions of the curriculum that don't seem to apply, we make scale those back a little bit. So we're constantly tuning, basically, for that job placement with careful attention to our curriculum that we're not sacrificing pieces unnecessarily. Alex: Because it's so intensive, I can see why you would need people to be there in Chicago and have the hands-on training and one-on-one feedback. What are your future plans with this type of model? It seems like it's the type of thing you could replicate, but I don't know if that's something you want to do. What are your expansion plans - you want to get more students, you want to do more of these in different cities? Brandon: Yes. We continue to look at it. At the moment, because we're hyper-focused on quality, it obviously, limits us to how many people we can get through our program. What we're experimenting with, at the moment, is, actually, our March cohort where were experimenting with just a small set of beta users to really join us online. So it definitely is not the same experience as being immersed and being full-time onsite and having a computer that everybody can work around. But what we're attempting to do is simulate as close as we can to being able to have people not have to relocate to Chicago to be able to join in and still get a very similar experience. So those are some of our plans. And as you've probably talked to a lot of other people in the lean starter mindset where it's we want to be able to test things. If it works, we keep moving forward with it. If it doesn't work, we try to pivot and change it. So the cool thing is we're trying to solve a problem that a lot of people are trying to solve and really help people in whatever way we can, whatever way makes sense to help people get an education in an industry that's just really cool. It's a really awesome booming industry right now. So we continue to experiment to figure out the best way to do that. Alex: Yes, sounds very cool. And just out of curiosity, you said people get a foothold, just an entry level thing after they come out of the boot camp. What salary ranges have you seen from people that get out and get job? Brandon: It's really been all over the map. It depends what location they're in. Obviously, west coast San Fransisco will pay very different than a small town. Even Chicago and New York, they're very different to. But, obviously, living expenses are different as well. But we've seen all the way from entry level positions from $40 to $50,000 all the way to six figures. The interesting thing about technology is that you can grow extremely fast. Many companies look a lot more portfolio and what you can do and your aptitude to be able to learn more than your credentials and what college you went to. Which a majority of the industries I feel that do that. Alex: Right. Well, as someone who's gone through the college and has a ton of student loans, I can appreciate something like this that is so focused and is in a hot market and you're really giving people the tools and skills to go out there and just start making stuff happen. Don: So when can we expect to see you in the class? Alex: Sign me up. Don: We'll do that after. Alex: No, that's great. I really love what you guys are doing. Very cool. So where can people go to find out and sign up for your classes? And also, tell me a little bit about your dates. I saw that you guys have certain entry times. What are those? Brandon: So you can go to or you can search Mobile Makers in Google. We're right up there at the top. Our dates, you'll be able to see online. So we're doing cohorts this year and they're spread throughout the year. So May, we have September, and we have our March cohort which is coming up very soon as well. Alex: Okay. Excellent. Well guys thank you so much for chatting with me and doing what you're doing. You guys take care. And I'm pretty close to Chicago so I think I'll want to come and visit you guys. Alex: Awesome. You guys take care.


This is a new series of exclusive interviews we'll be doing with the movers and shakers in the mobile space. If you have suggestions for people to interview, or ideas about making the interview series better, please shoot me an email at We'll post a new interview every Monday, in both video and text transcript form.

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Alex is marketing consultant, regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and the host of a web series called Social Good Now, where he highlights social issues through short animated videos. Formerly, he was a Marketing Exec at Cisco, and Editor in Chief of iPhone Life magazine. His projects have been featured on TEDx Houston, CNN, TIME, ABC News, CBS, Univision, Fast Company, and the Huffington Post.