BY RICK WEINBERG, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS JOURNAL
The oversized classroom on this late Southern California morning is buzzing with students coding, learning, training, obsessing and building complex web applications for their new careers as web developers and programmers.
Welcome to the fascinating world of coding and programming at LearningFuze, the top web development bootcamp and teaching facility in Southern California, where ordinary does not exist. Only intensity, grueling 12-hour work days and thought-provoking projects, with a little fun and humor mixed in to break the high-wire tension of coding, programming and mastering the complex language of the web.
Less than three years from today, there will be more than one million web development jobs that will be unfilled. That’s how huge the web development demand is. Yet LearningFuze is certainly doing its part to teach and train students to fill those positions and ease the current — and future — supply drought.
After just three years, LearningFuze has soared to the top of its ranks, churning out well-educated, highly-trained, motivated programmers and developers who turned their lives around and are now working in all kinds of programming jobs for all kinds of companies, small and big, including such behemoths as Intuit and Nike.
Just five years ago, thanks to the remarkable and massive growth of digital technology, the first coding schools or ‘bootcamps’ were founded in – where else – San Francisco. These bootcamps completely disrupted the traditional educational university establishment and are so successful that they proliferated in numbers – there are now well over 200 nationwide.
The allure of bootcamps like LearningFuze is their accelerated, high-intensity curriculum and programs, which shrinks the learning and training process of becoming an employable programmer into a penetrating 14-week period. Even the Department of Education recognizes these intensive bootcamp-style training programs as an “innovative model of education.”
“We teach coding and development very deeply with a superior staff of experienced senior developers,” says Bill Cunningham, President of LearningFuze. “We teach students how to solve problems, think like a programmer and succeed in a work environment.”
Bootcamps have become so popular that student numbers have increased nearly 100% each and every year – and the graduation rate hovers at 90% overall. LearningFuze’s graduation rate is 92%.
As Cunningham sits in his Irvine, Calif. office, not far from where dozens of students are training with the company’s experienced lead developers, he says, “This is a dream come true. For years, I wanted to do something just like this – have my own business, make an impact, and make a difference in people lives.”
Well, he is making quite a difference. Graduates and current students rave about LearningFuze despite the dizzying pace of the curriculum and the tireless hours of working, studying and programming.
Take Stan Wielga. Before enrolling at LearningFuze, he admits he was at the crossroads of his life and career. “I was all over the place – I didn’t have a direct career path,” he says.
After leaving a lab assistant’s position at Quest Diagnostics, he was working for a social media marketing company. “It was better than handling gross patient samples as a lab assistant but I still wasn’t happy and didn’t know where I was going,” he says.
Then a friend of his mentioned she was working as a web developer and the company was so flexible it allowed her to work from anywhere she wanted. She wound up traveling all over the world while still working on daily projects and communicating with her colleagues and supervisors.
“I was blown away,” Wielga says. “My first thought was, ‘Hey, that’s so cool — I want to do that too. I gotta get myself into coding school.’”
Which is exactly what he did. He quit his job, paid tuition of approximately $11,000 and launched his new life and career.
Even though Wielga wasn’t experienced in coding, he proved he was intelligent, computer savvy and committed enough to pass through LearningFuze’s requirements.
“We’re not about student statistics,” Cunningham says. “We won’t accept just anyone. They have to demonstrate that they are committed. They have to demonstrate they can handle the intensity.”
During the first two weeks of The LearningFuze Experience, Wielga worked from home. That prepared him for the next phase – the intense and advanced 12-week training bootcamp at the LearningFuze center of action.
“The first two weeks were easy – I was studying basic concepts,” he says.
Good thing it was easy “because it gets crazy later on,” he adds with a laugh. “It can make you crazy if you’re not prepared.”
Crazy is a mild term. “The ramp up is so quick it spins your around,” Wielga says. “There’s only so much information they can throw at you – and they’ve hit the top of that ceiling. There were many times I found myself saying, ‘I get it, I get it,’ then all of a sudden it’s ‘Oh no, I don’t know what’s going on here,’” he adds with a laugh.
“It was very hard work but I really enjoyed it. We did nothing but coding 12 hours a day for three months straight. It was flat-out grueling.”
One night, Wielga and his team were working as midnight approached. Suddenly, the lights went out in the building. But that didn’t stop Wielga and his team. They took their laptops outside and sat on benches wrapped in blankets to combat 50-degree temperatures and pushed on through to daybreak.
Talk about commitment.
“Hey, we were almost done with the project,” he says, “and we wanted to get a leg up on the other teams.”
Which they did.
When Wielga graduated, it only took eight days for him to get a job offer, which he quickly accepted and hasn’t been happier in his new life. The average bootcamp graduate earns 38 percent more in their new job, about a $25,000 lift, according to industry experts.
“I’d never be able to do what I’m doing today without LearningFuze,” Wielga says. “It’s invaluable. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made. With the amount of stuff you have to absorb, there’s no way you can do it anywhere else. At college, who knows how long it’ll take you and meanwhile, you’re stuck in a job you hate. Here, I was in and out in 14 weeks with a new job and career that I love.”
Erika O’Neal is equally as elated with her new life as a programmer. She was a stay-at-home mom with three children and zero coding experience. She was working as a social media manager, which included writing blogs, but she wanted something more. The inner workings of the blogs she was crafting intrigued her. There were times when she found herself looking inside at the code, trying to figure out a way to improve the look and efficiency of the blog.
“That’s what drove me to LearningFuze,” she says. “I always found coding interesting but I never learned how to do it. When I was working on those blogs, I became really interested in finding out how to manipulate it.”
She enrolled in February 2016 for LearningFuze’s whirl-wind, non-stop three-month trek, which ultimately landed her a job at Nike in Portland.
“I was a little nervous about starting something I had never done before, but when I read comments from graduates and even spoke to a few of them, it was a no brainer,” she says. “I had to jump in.”
When asked about the challenging pace of LearningFuze, O’Neal laughs.
“It was exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically,” she says. “Many times every day, I’d run into a problem I didn’t understand. The pace is unreal fast. I was learning something new every 15-30 minutes. But it was a great learning experience in a great learning environment. I felt like I was already working as a developer at a company – that’s how hands-on it is. It was so real to the real world.”
LearningFuze’s tight relationships with companies in the community were a big factor for O’Neal too.
“Getting to know people and companies in the industry while learning how to code was a big deal to me,” she says. “I felt like the staff and the entire program were invested in me and my job search.”
O’Neal can place a clear value on her experience and education by saying, “I wasn’t marketable before LearningFuze,” she says. “That’s how much of a value I can put on them. I have a great, well-paying job today at Nike because of them. I also have a great career path that I can grow into with many different roles available to me as a developer. I wouldn’t have those opportunities otherwise. If I had to do it all over, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
9080 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine, Calif. 92618