What makes The Flatiron School different than college

Before coming to the Flatiron School, I wondered what it would be like since it wasn’t a traditional “school.” My points of reference are my two years at each the University of Wisconsin and Drew University for my undergraduate, as well as one year of my MBA at Carnegie Mellon.

The Environment

The environment at Flatiron is super “hip” and it feels more like you’re part of a startup than at school. The “classrooms” have graffiti and quotes on the walls, and the columns have code snippets and jokes scribbled on them. It’s definitely a place where you’d want to hang out. There’s bean bag chairs, a ping pong table, even kegs of beer.

The Students

The students at Flatiron are obviously smart, and while many went to prestigious universities, no one really cares where you went to school or what you did before coming to the program. The students have varying degrees of programming experience, and within my iOS class there are students with computer science degrees, and people like me who have only done a few programming tutorials online. The one common trait everyone shares is that we’re all here because we want to be here, no one’s parents forced them to go, and it’s not a dumb required class you have to take to graduate. This seemingly subtle distinction may have the largest impact on the quality of the Flatiron experience. While most students are looking to get jobs as iOS developers, money isn’t what’s driving them. Everyone you encounter has a deep desire to work creatively to solve problems. This shared desire creates a unique culture where students are happy to help each other whenever needed — no one hesitates to ask the person next to them why they’re getting an error message in Xcode or what the syntax is for some method.

The Work

The program is designed to give you more work than you can handle, but there are no grades and tests. This contributes greatly to the culture among students that I described above, where everyone is willing to help each other and it doesn’t feel like a competition. Since you get more work than you can do, you get to choose what you want to work on, skipping over something you already feel comfortable with and spending more time where you feel it’s needed. You do what you can and instructors will never say anything if you don’t finish a lab. The work is challenging in a way that most school work isn’t — it really forces you to think and problem solve in a way that I can’t remember doing in a long time. This makes it very frustrating at times, which is why they’ll teach you to embrace and enjoy the struggle, because at the end of that struggle comes a much more profound understanding of something. College often makes things so easy, that your brain can just coast along, taking notes and reciting them on exams. For anyone that likes solving brain puzzles, you’ll enjoy your time at Flatiron.

The Instructors

Last but not least, the instructors at Flatiron are awesome and it’s clear that they love what they do. They’re industry professionals with a ridiculous amount of knowledge, and recent former students serve kind of as “TAs.” They don’t feel like your college professors, a dorky old man in a sport coat with elbow patches, but instead more like peers. They hang out at desks among the students, working on their own projects (usually related to the lessons and labs) and you can just grab one of them if you have a question. There are always plenty of helping hands, our iOS class has 5 instructors for just 20 students. Between fellow students and instructors, you feel a strong support system that encourages you to challenge yourself and try new things, and if you struggle, help is a couple feet away.