This is Learning to Code in the Coolest Way Possible

How Institute of Code is changing the way you learn to code.

July 15, 2016

PB and J. Spaghetti and meatballs. Coding and the beach?

Twelve months ago Tina May created what could possibly be one of the most interesting combos we’ve ever heard of: a coding bootcamp on the beach. Called the Institute of Code, May is the founder of a 10-day bootcamp that promises to teach students the basics of building websites, all while hanging on the beach in Bali or Mexico.

When we first heard about Institute of Code we thought it sounded like something straight out of the show Silicon Valley. One part luxury, another part outrageous, and two parts amazing. Unsure of how it worked, we decided to ask the founder a few questions on how Institute of Code came to be. You be the judge…

Tell us a little about Institute of Code and the idea behind the course.

We run immersive coding bootcamps, hosted in beautiful locations around the world. We take small groups of students from all over the globe and over the course of 10 days demystify common tech terminology to empower them to talk-the-talk with developers, and teach them how to build responsive websites from scratch using HTML, CSS and Javascript.

It’s an intensive program with 100+ hours of coursework and our students walk away with a resume-boosting portfolio of 2 – 3 responsive websites by the end.

If you took a coding bootcamp and mixed in the best elements of a yoga retreat with an adventure tour, then you’d pretty much have Institute of Code.

Sounds awesome, what was the motivation behind taking this approach to learning? 

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.

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.

The chef prepared meals, daily yoga and meditation sessions, and beautiful surroundings aren’t included just because it makes for an indulgent experience (although that’s definitely a perk). They’re key elements in our program, 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 and natural environment to surround themselves with while they learn, something amazing happens… People learn very fast.

“Coding retreat in Mexico” probably isn’t something people are Googling. How did you attract your first customers?

Believe it or not, we actually got our first student by hacking Tinder. As a bootstrapped startup we were looking for channels where we could reach our target market — typically college students and young professionals — without spending a fortune, and I stumbled across an article about how everyone under 35 was on Tinder.

So I set up an account, set my bio as something generic that mentioned IOC and that I was just there to ‘network and meet cool people’. Then I set my preferences to men and women within the largest radius possible and started swiping right. This was back when Tinder had ‘moments’ which for the uninitiated was an unfiltered feed of everyone you matched with.

Within about a week I had maybe 900 matches, and I would post moments that didn’t look like ads but would have some subtle product placement — a photo of me sitting at a cafe on my laptop with the IOC website on the screen, a picture of the beach in Bali with the caption ‘Can’t wait to get back here for our upcoming code retreat!’.

People were intrigued (or maybe just bored and thinking they were going to get laid) and would message me asking about the business. One girl I chatted with was actually really interested and booked a few days later!

We abandoned that strategy pretty quickly because I got sick of making small talk and turning down threesome requests, but I do love that that’s how we got our very first student — I think it reflects our attitude of thinking outside the box.

Since then we’ve used a mix of social media, content marketing, influencer marketing, networking, free in-person workshops and a whole heap more methods to get the word out. It’s part of the fun as a startup that there’s no red tape to cut through — you come up with an idea, you test it and you move on.

So you’re teaching people to code in 10 days, but surely you can’t become a developer in such a short timeframe? Are you being realistic?

It’s a common argument that if you aren’t going to become a fully fledged computer programmer then you shouldn’t bother learning to code.

We don’t teach people math 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.

Eighty percent of the students who attend our 10-day coding bootcamp aren’t aiming to ever 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.

Being an entrepreneur in a bootstrapped startup is hard work. What drives you and the IOC team to keep going?

We’re driven by a burning desire to try to make the most of every single minute of every single day of our lives. I know that sounds cliche, but I look at the hundred or so years that we get on this earth and then look at everything I want to be, see, do and accomplish in that time and it never feels like quite enough.

When we decided to create the Institute of Code we knew that we needed to be consistent with this driving value. We needed to make the most of our lives by doing something that we loved, and we wanted to empower others to have the freedom to live a life that they are passionate about. Coding is an incredible vehicle for that, because it just opens up so many opportunities for people. But beyond that, we wanted to show people that hard work and an inspiring life aren’t mutually exclusive — they are made for each other.

When students come to us months after the course has finished and tell us that since attending our program their mindset has changed — they believe in themselves, they are chasing new opportunities and they are using their skills to escape jobs that they hated — well that makes all the late nights and early mornings worth it.

What does a day in the life of an Institute of Code student look like?

At IOC, you’ll wake up in a beautiful pool villa and wander outside for a quick sunrise yoga session or walk on the beach.

At 7am, 15 entrepreneurs and creatives, your experienced mentors and the IOC team will gather for breakfast prepared by the in-house chef — think acai smoothie bowls, or poached eggs with smashed avocado.

At 8am we’ll gather in our ‘classroom’ by the pool and dig in to practical coding challenges. We believe in learning by doing, so over 90% of the course time will be spent building real web projects with the help of mentors who are actively working in the industry. When you need a quick break, we’ll take a dip in the pool or sip a fruit smoothie in the sun.

After a delicious lunch, we’ll take some time to consolidate what we’ve learned, often sitting in small groups under the shade of a palm tree discussing key concepts and testing each other’s knowledge. Back to class for another 2-3 hours of project-based coursework, and then we’ll finish up class by 3pm.

From 3 – 6 it’s up to you whether you join the group to head out and explore — surfing, hiking, paddle-boarding are all included — relax by the pool, or stay with one of the mentors for more one-on-one help.

One of the things students love most about their experience at IOC is the connections that they form with the other students and staff from all over the world — from entrepreneurs, to creatives, to aspiring digital nomads or current college students. Over dinner we’ll sit and have a cocktail, watch the sunset and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

What’s next for IOC?

At the moment our core program is a ‘zero to hero’ course in web development, so we take people with little to no previous technical experience and we teach them how to build responsive websites from scratch in HTML, CSS and Javascript in Bali or Sayulita.

We’re working on developing a range of modular courses that will allow students to take just one or two when they need them, or the whole set in sequence. Next year we’ll be running at least 3 courses, likely one in Javascript + Angular, and an app development course.

Eventually we’ll be running dozens of modular courses in beautiful locations all over the world.


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