Why a 10-day coding retreat isn’t bullshit

Tina May
Tina May
May 16, 2016 · 7 min read

On Sunday morning we woke up to discover a delightful blog post slamming our startup, The Institute of Code calling it ‘The Institute of Unrealistic Expectations’ and arguing that the whole concept of a 10-day coding retreat was utter bullshit.

Our Campus: A luxury pool villa in Bali

I wrote a short response on their blog, but as since my comment was not approved, I thought I would share it here as I think their argument is underpinned by a number of myths that need debunking.

Myth #1 — If you aren’t going to become a computer programmer, don’t bother learning to code.

The crux of their argument is that we are purposely misleading people because it’s impossible to become a computer programmer in 10 days — that there are lots of important skills beyond basic coding that you need to learn to become a kickass developer:

Being a great developer is about much more than knowing the basics of coding. You need top communication skills…project management skills…strong knowledge of development methodologies like Scrum and Agile… (from the blog post)

Of course you aren’t going to become a full-fledged developer in 10 days. That would be ludicrous, and for the record not something we’ve ever suggested we could accomplish. What Institute of Code is looking to do is teach some tangible digital skills to help people accelerate their career.

The subtle message behind this argument though, is a common misconception that the only people who should be learning to code are people who aspire to become programmers.

Tech Crunch author, Cahlan Sharp describes the phenomenon as growing elitism within the development world:

Elitists don’t like feeling threatened. When they see novices, unworthy newcomers to their field, they scoff. How could these newcomers ever attain the level of domain expertise that the elitists have? Even more maddeningly, these novices have access to tools and shortcuts that the elitist never had; therefore, novices are unworthy of following the path simply because they didn’t blaze the trail. (TechCrunch)

We don’t teach people maths so that they can become a mathematician, we teach it because it’s a life skill that is woven through a variety of different industries. Understanding coding fundamentals can, be an extra tool in the ‘toolbelt’ of anyone who is interacting with the digital world.

Ninety percent of the students who attend our 10-day coding bootcamp aren’t aiming to become full-time developers — they just understand that digital skills are in high demand and can help boost your job prospects and productivity in lots of different roles.

We attract graphic designers wanting to code their own designs or better communicate with the developers they work with, by better understanding the development workflow. We attract marketers who need to work with HTML and CSS when creating email marketing campaigns, or working with the digital team on their company’s website. We’ve had entrepreneurs who don’t want to be reliant on developers who build a startup website during the retreat and then feel more confident in managing the development of an app later on. We’ve had project managers and CEOs who wanted to understand the basics of front-end development, so that they could optimise their processes and confidently hire a strong team.

While we don’t believe everyone needs to become a developer, you can’t dispute that the future is digital and every professionals will either be working with developers or around digital products. A basic understanding of computational thinking, programming fundamentals and front-end languages like HTML & CSS can help anyone to “talk-the-talk” with developers, deliver more effective and targeted support requests and do their job with an understanding of the implications their decisions will have on the development team. It will else help then avoid getting screwed by unscrupulous or incompetent developers.

Coding isn’t some elusive skill just for the software engineers — it’s accessible, practical and hugely valuable for just about anyone working in a digital world.

Myth #2 — Enjoyment and Real Learning are mutually exclusive.

It might sound like being set in luxury pool villa in Bali, with all meals included by an in-house chef and daily yoga and meditation, are just unnecessary fluff distracting from the ‘hard work’. When you think about it that way, that comment isn’t surprising:

This is complete and utter nonsense. If you want to learn new skills and prepare yourself for a job in the current workforce, sun tanning in Bali with a Macbook is going to add nothing to your resume…that requires a purposeful environment without luxurious distractions (from the blog)

It’s an idea that’s pretty ingrained it our society that assumes misery and discomfort must be more effective than anything fun. We glorify people who work 100 hours per week, and assume that hard work and enjoyment are mutually exclusive — we work hard now so that we can have fun later, when we retire.

We think it’s crazy to see enjoyment and learning as mutually exclusive.

We’ve built our program from the ground up not by looking at the way things have always been done, but by digging deep into educational psychology, motivation and high performance. We tried to forget everything we knew about what a school was and reimagine what a school could be.

Our 30 second Promo — learn to code in paradise.

We know that when people are in their ‘flow’ state — when they are inspired, motivated, supported and eager to learn, they can accomplish so much more than they would in a normal day. So we set out to create an environment that helped get people into a state of mind that fosters accelerated learning.

Students at The Institute of Code engaged in a small-group exercise

Our program doesn’t have chef prepared meals, daily yoga and meditation, and beautiful surroundings just for the sake of ‘infuriating’ people, or because it makes for an incredible experience (although that’s definitely a perk). We do it because when you remove people from the distractions of everyday life, keep them nourished with high quality food, movement and meditation, and when you give them a beautiful natural environment to surround themselves with while they learn, something amazing happens…

People learn very fast.

It just makes sense when you think about it. We take away all of the mental distractions (cooking, cleaning, commuting, miscellaneous chores) so that people can focus on just one thing — learning to code, surrounded by other professionals, entrepreneurs and creatives in an environment that inspires them.

Getting our code on after class @InstituteofCode.

In 10 days, we take students with zero prior technical experience and have them coding responsive websites from scratch (without the help of a Content Management System or theme).

Sure, a beautiful environment alone isn’t enough to help people build digital skills fast. You also need to have a comprehensive course, that is grounded in practical code challenges not just memorising syntax; experienced mentors who are engaged with their students and love their job (and when they are living in a luxury pool villa with all the above mentioned perks, that part comes pretty easy) and who are willing to support and nurture people’s skills long after the course has ended. But once you’ve done all those things, these little extras really take things to the next level.

To thrive in this digital world we’re going to need to work hard, learn new skills, and adapt to change… why not do it in an environment that’s backed by science and blissfully enjoyable.

The final thing that this structure creates is an environment that is inclusive to everyone. We’re trying to tackle head on the gender and diversity gap in tech, through a variety of specific initiatives like providing partial scholarships for women and anyone who has faced personal hardship, as well as the culture at our company. There’s a lot to be gained from spreading tech skills and knowledge beyond the exclusive (and predominately white male) group who’s holding on so tight to it now. We’re proud of the fact that 80% of our students so far have been female, and when you compare that against the broader statistics we know we’re doing something right.

Thanks for the feedback, but we think the 5 star reviews we’ve consistently attracted and the experience of our students speaks for itself — maybe a coding retreat isn’t that crazy after all.

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P.S. Want to come along to one of our all-inclusive code retreats and try this new model of education for yourself? Use the code ‘PARADISE’ and we’ll give you $100 off any June / July session.

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