Q+A: Tim Campbell & May Cheung, Flatiron School

Flatiron School is a coding bootcamp whose mission is "to enable the pursuit of a better life through education." They recently opened their third campus, Access Labs, a new deferred tuition program, at WeWork Dumbo Heights. We sat down with Lead Web Development Instructor Tim Campbell and Senior Manager May Cheung to learn more about this latest addition to the DUMBO tech scene!

Tell us about yourselves!

I'm Tim Campbell. I'm a Lead Instructor here at the school. I've been with Flatiron for almost a year now teaching, doing some teacher support, and helping to start up this campus with May and our team.

My name is May Cheung. I am Senior Manager of Access Labs, so I manage the whole team here— the instructors, Community Lead— and I've been with Flatiron School for a little more than two years now and started my role with Access Labs a couple of months ago. We're really excited to be in DUMBO! I think it'll be a really interesting change of scene from the Financial District which is where we were before.

Tell us about Flatiron School and Access Labs!

May: Flatiron School is an accelerated bootcamp for learning web development, so most of our students are transitioning careers or have found that post-secondary education isn't the right fit for them, and they want to learn more about web development and very quickly become web developers. Our program allows for a student to take the course full-time for the immersive program for 15 weeks, 9-6, Monday through Friday, and then post-graduation we support students to get a job within six months. So that's a junior web developer job at the end of those six months. Our program here at Access Labs is a little bit different from our Flatiron School immersive program because we have a deferred tuition model, so it's no upfront tuition. The population that we're serving is people who are making less than $35,000 per year. It allows for students who would otherwise not be able to access this web development education to do so and then pay after they've gotten a job; a percentage of their income will come back as tuition repayment only after they've become employed.

What's the typical demographic of your students?

Tim: I feel like it varies a ton. Age-wise I would say normally we have students who are in their 20s to mid-40s. We've had students on either side of that range. Here I think it's pretty much in that range, but I couldn't tell you exactly. And then gender-wise we're always striving for gender parity. Right now it's about 35% or 40% women to men.

How do you find prospective students, and what's the application process like?

Tim: We have a marketing team that reaches out through a couple venues online and through social media. We also have our website with our landing page, and students apply to our program by filling out an initial form. Our admissions team is really, really great, so they'll get back to them and  explain what the school is like and what the application process is like. What it takes to get into the program is to fill out the application, do a cultural interview— so that's just making sure this person wants to be here, that they have good reasoning, and that they can work well with others— and then we do a technical interview, which just assesses— after they've done some work that we've given them— how they've approached that work and whether or not they're ready to start the program.

We have a really collaborative model in the way that we teach and the way that students work. They are working on a lot of projects together.

May Cheung, Senior Manager, Access Labs

Could you tell us about the curriculum?

Tim: Yeah, for sure. We teach Ruby and Javascript as the programming languages. After they're admitted, students have a set of pre-work to do in Ruby fundamentals. On Day 1 we cover that material and then we start moving forward. We talk about Ruby just in the context of programming, and then in the second three weeks we talk about Ruby in the context of backend web development: building an actual website, writing HTML, writing a little bit of CSS. Then the next three-week period we get into Javascript. So it's a little bit like going back to Day 1, just in a different language. So we're practicing that skill of picking up a new language and then applying what we know in Javascript to our Ruby projects. On top of Ruby and Javascript, we're learning frameworks on top of those languages, so you have more experience working with frameworks and working with tools that are already built to help make development easier. For Ruby, we learn Ruby on Rails; for Javascript, we learn in React, and those are kind of "in" frameworks right now.

May: I think something that really sets Flatiron School apart from a lot of other coding bootcamps is that we have a really collaborative model in the way that we teach and the way that students work. They are working on a lot of projects together— they pair together. Pair programming is a big part of our curriculum. We really believe that if students are able to engage in the material, not just through lectures and through working on code alone, but also by working with others and hearing other ways of reaching a solution, they're then able to learn more quickly and to also think about coding in varied ways.

Tim: Our students work on individual projects for the last three weeks of the program, and then we have an event called Science Fair where they present them. We would love if people from the community would come and see our students' projects and see how they developed over time and just get to know our students!

May: That'll happen the last week of July/first week of August, and we'll put more information about that on our website.

What kind of jobs do Flatiron School graduates typically go into after graduation?

Tim: For the most part, our students are moving into junior developer jobs, so that could mean they're doing a variety of things; they may be doing backend work, so server site work; they may be doing frontend work, so actually the look and feel of the website. Other students go into jobs doing software testing. Some students have found jobs doing more product-side work, so managing the product and those type of things.

May: I think that with the skillset that you learn from Flatiron School or from Access Labs, you can go into a lot of entry- or junior-level developer roles, and I think that the reason why is because we're really teaching students how to learn. So you're able to start with Ruby and Javascript, which is what we teach here, but by the time you leave you're able to pick up new langauges, so even though you might be going to a job that is Python-based and you don't have that, you have the tools to be able to learn that very quickly.

How many Flatiron School campuses are there around the country and the world?

May: That's a good question! We have Manhattan, DUMBO, and DC; we are opening a campus in London in June and a Houston campus in July, so there will be five by the summer, but currently there are three up and running.

Why did you choose to locate in DUMBO?

May: I think that DUMBO is a really dynamic and exciting neighborhood. I know that there's been a lot of energy put into DUMBO and developing this neighborhood and the economy here, and I think there are a lot of amazing tech startups and a lot of really great companies that have started to relocate to DUMBO. We wanted to be a part of that team of people coming to the neighborhood, making sure that more people discover DUMBO as a place to be. And I think that the WeWork here that's located in DUMBO was really excited to have us, too. They really wanted us to bring our energy to DUMBO, and we couldn't help but return that excitement! I think our students are really excited to be undertaking a new challenge and transitioning to this new workforce.

Tell us about your partnership with WeWork.

May: WeWork acquired Flatiron School last November, and they've been incredibly supportive of our mission at Flatiron School, which is to help people access education and really ensure that people who would otherwise not be able to become web developers or go into web development have that opportunity. So that's why they were very supportive of Access Labs, specifically, here in DUMBO. Our partnership allows Flatiron School to do more of what we do and to do it faster and better, so they've been incredibly proactive about having us expand across the country and globally. They want more people to hear about us and to be able to access our education.

It seems like a good network to be a part of as well!

May: Yes, yes, and their spaces are beautiful! So we're really excited to be in this building!

How many students do you have?

Tim: Right now, we have 19 students and then staff-wise three instructors and then May, the Senior Program Manager, and Michelle, who is a Community Lead.

May: Right now I think our number is 27 people on-site; we're gonna grow to 116 by July. It'll be 20 students per cohort, and eventually we'll have 16 staff members on-site. Every three weeks we get 20 students; May 14th is our next cohort so we'll have 20 more students join, and then June 6th is our next start date so we'll have another 20. We'll soon have a class start and another graduate within days of each other!

What's your vision for the future of Flatiron School and Access Labs?

May: For me, and I think for Flatiron School and for Access Labs, specifically, it's about providing more educational opportunity. I think that what is wrong with education is that there are not enough different ways that people can access education or different opportunities for people to have when it comes to education. Maybe a four-year model isn't the right thing for you. Maybe instead it's learning a skill that is really marketable and really profitable, and that's the way that you want to continue into your future. I think that being able to make that accessible to as many people as possible is a really important thing for us here at Flatiron School, and that's why Access Labs is so incredible. A lot of folks may not be able to pay that tuition upfront but have incredible abilities and skills that they want to be able to showcase, and Access Labs is a place where they can develop that and be able to be really successful.

I think the more ways that we can show students that there are many paths into this industry, the more students will be able to see themselves being able to become developers.

May Cheung, Senior Manager, Access Labs

Do you envision having partnerships with other people in the neighborhood?

Tim: Definitely! I think we all want to see partnerships in the future. I know Michelle has already started laying the groundwork for that.

May: One of our partners here in DUMBO is 2U, and they're supporting our scholarships and are providing apprenticeships for our students. We would love to find more partners in the community who want to give that level of support, but also just coming to visit our school and talking to our students about what it means to be a developer and about their journey into code and into the tech world. I think the more ways that we can show students that there are many paths into this industry, the more students will be able to see themselves being able to become developers.

We know you haven't been here long, but we have to ask— what's your favorite place in DUMBO?

Tim: The other day I went to the top of Brooklyn Bridge Park right by the rocks and it was really nice. It's beautiful!

May: I came to DUMBO the other weekend for the Flea, and it was really cool walking under the bridge— The Archway was really awesome. Our students haven't had an opportunity to explore, but we're hoping to take a tour soon!

Mentioned in this article

WeWork DUMBO Brooklyn Bridge Park - 99 Plymouth Street The Dumbo Archway