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There’s a class for that: Mobile Makers Academy Teaches iOS app development

In 2008, I took iO’s summer intensive (formerly improv Olympic). Five weeks of improv from 11- 5 PM every Monday through Friday and attending shows to watch the pros at night. It was one of the best experiences/investments of my life and continues to influence me today, both personally and professionally. Like many people, I’m a big proponent of "teach me how to swim by throwing me in the deep end of the pool."

That’s why I was so intrigued by the brainchild of Brandon Passley, managing partner (Chief Maker) and co-founder of Mobile Makers Academy and CTO of mobile application design and engineering company Vokal Interactive.

Where did the idea for Mobile Makers Academy come from?

About a year ago, I started an apprenticeship program at Vokal Interactive. We took college graduates who learned the basics of computer science, but didn’t know what development was and didn’t quite have the real world skills yet. They tinkered with iOS, but didn’t have project work under their belt. We took two apprentices and worked with them for six months. The goal was to prepare them and get them hired. We did hands on development and put them on projects and learn from observing. The program was going very very well, so I wondered if I could take it to the next level and turn this one piece into its own company.



I used my experience for who I would hire and applied it to the academy to prepare them for getting jobs, working on teams and understanding the specifics of the code they’d be working on.

Why iOS?

There are other programming academies, but there was nothing focused on iOS and it’s one of the hottest tech needs. It’s been four years or so since it came out and, at the beginning, a lot of companies were waiting to see what happened. They weren’t going to invest good money into making an app and they weren’t sure, in some cases, what the app would even look like if they did build one. They didn’t know if it was going to be a cog in their website. Some companies were spending money on developing apps, but it was a small part of their R&D budget and time wasn’t really dedicated to developing on the platform.

Today, companies have budget and they’re putting money toward it. They have staff to support development, including mobile product managers and VPs of mobile development.



Why today?

I’ve been in the market for a while and it’s still very much the wild wild west Demand is high, supply is low.

From a development/technical side, skills are still catching up, so many web developers and maybe developers who aren’t as strong, for a while now, have been raising their hands saying, “I’m an iOS developer” and lot of companies out there that have web developers are switching them over to iOS and saying we’re an iOS shop now. As a result, what we’re finding is that companies are not having a good experience going into the development world.

A lot of big companies are starting to understand it and know it’s not going anywhere, so if they’re big enough, they’re hiring their own talent. Any large company that has infrastructure to train or hire on iOS developer, they’re hiring developers, which is increasing the job market.

With Vokal, a lot of our clients are well recognized brands that already have an internal iOS development team, but they don’t have enough bandwidth or are looking for support to help out while they’re building out their iOS team.

Some companies are outsourcing development, but if they go with a reputable development shop, they can definitely learn a lot because those companies are 100 percent focused on building apps. For example, Vokal is focused on both iOS and Android and each has their own team and product people. Companies will look to a shop like Vokal for knowledge transfer – figure out where to start, help them along the way, and learn from working on the project with them.

Do you have to know how to code?

You don’t have to be an experienced coder, but it helps. The people that benefit most from the academy have already tried their hand at coding or have tinkered around with it or have taken some minor development rouses. Or know one language and want to switch over. They’re passionate about it. There are those that want a career change though. We had an accountant with no coding experience who is now a confident coder.

If one were to get into the program, what should they expect?

It’s very structured. It’s an eight-week immersive and you’re working 9-5 Monday – Thursday, but most people put in 20-30 hours outside of class, so it’s full time.

Before students come in the first day, we send them curated videos, curated content, and ask questions so they can reflect on the answers. The goal is to make sure everyone is on the same page on day one and we also encourage people to self teach so that they can explain what they’re doing to someone else and take them through the steps. We find that provides a nice balance, but also encourages a better understanding of the entire process.

You will learn the tools, the architecture, teamwork and collaboration, and managing code.

Every evening we’re giving a nightly challenge and every weekend we’re giving a weekend challenge. Those challenges might involve providing code and having the person complete it or giving them funky code and having them fix it. We do everything in bite size pieces that pile up to create something bigger.

We find that most people stay late into the evening. It’s a very intense session. We definitely push people, but the environment is supportive and safe. We have high expectations and a short amount of time to get a lot of material out. That said, it’s really cool to see how everyone works together so closely and how groups of people work together to solve a big problem.



What should one expect after finishing the Academy?

Ultimately, our goal is to place everyone that goes through the Academy with a job. As we go through, we’re introducing them to companies, especially here in Chicago, and taking field trips to learn how to be a developer here.

We host a job fair at the end where future employers talk to the students and the goal is to get them hired. We give the students $3,000 back (tuition currently is $7,000) if they get hired and we get a placement fee from the company that hires them. That gives them more incentive to work hard and the companies know that we’re giving back a “signing bonus.”

What’s next?

We’re looking at classes around developing for Android and mobile gaming.

We’re still adjusting and adapting the program until we find the perfect thing. Our last immersive program is getting rave reviews from companies talking to our graduates, which is very cool, so we plan to keep going down this path and see how we can continue to make it better.

What keeps you up at night?

For Mobile Makers Academy, a lot of people have devoted a lot of time to what we’ve built. It’s really high quality and what we promise is no different than a college. We are building trust and changing people’s lives and that’s a big weight on our shoulders. We need to follow through.



Any questions for the advisor community?

How do we scale this to get more students while maintaining a high level quality output?

The other consideration is we host classes in the same location because we work so closely together, which requires infrastructure, so if we grow, how do we maintain personal instruction in a potentially different space to still deliver a high quality output?

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