Should You Join the Starter League?

by Stella Fayman on September 21, 2012

There’s a reason why Starter League chose two words to represent its brand: passion and persistence. It’s those qualities they look for in applicants, and it’s those qualities that determine how successful the program is for students.

Now that I’m almost done with SL, people are always asking me whether they should apply. Although I think everyone should learn the basics of coding, SL is definitely not for everyone.  Here are some things to think about when you’re determining whether the Starter League development program is good for you. Keep in mind this just one data point, and it’s for development only (not HTML/CSS or UX).

Is learning to code a priority?

If this just something “nice you’d like to have in your toolbelt?” Do you want to dabble in technology? SL is a rigorous program that involves many hours of classroom instruction, and many more hours of work outside the classroom on your own. If learning to code is not a priority in your life, it is likely that you won’t utilize the myriad of resources SL provides.

Are you working full time?

If you are working full time, you will not have the full enrichment of experience that people who can devote all of their time experience. Consider: SL can be a full time job. Between class, pairing opportunities, workshops, panels, learning lab, book club, etc etc…there are a lot of opportunities to learn. And obviously, those who devote the most time learn the most. In my class, the people who worked full time had to miss class sometimes (a HUGE no-no and surefire way to fall behind quickly) and definitely had a harder time keeping up. I’m not saying it’s not doable, but it’s definitely something to consider before you spend so much money on such an intensive program.

Do you love programming?

Before applying to SL, have you tried to learn programming on your own? Can you explain why you want to learn Ruby on Rails over other languages? If you have put 0 effort into learning this skillset before coming to class (pointing to self here) , you will not get the most out of it. There are plenty of resources, many free (I’ll list some at the end of this post), available to those who want to learn Ruby on Rails. If you plan on applying to SL, do yourself a favor and make sure you actually enjoy programming. Do you love ploughing through error messages and digging through the minutia of missing quotation marks? Software engineering is probably one of the most glamorized fields right now…are you going into it for the right reasons?

Do you plan to use Starter League as a springboard for a lifetime of learning in software development?

SL can be one of the best ways to get your foot in the door to a vibrant community of developers who are passionate about helping each other. They promote each others’ skillsets and help each other get jobs. If you are planning on coming into SL to “be your own technical cofounder” and then peace out, here is a reality check: SL will give you the basics and tools necessary for a lifetime of learning. You will learn how to build the very very basics of a site…nothing too glamorous here: you can build a database backed web application from the skills learned in class but for features above and beyond, you better be willing to put in the time and effort to learn outside. I’ve come across enough people who think that doing SL will be like a magic “get technical!” pill that requires little effort and produces crazy awesome benefits. Here’s the truth: just like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it.

Do you want to be your own technical cofounder?

I want to expand on the point mentioned above: If you want to be your own technical cofounder, get ready to spend a lot of time developing the expertise necessary to build something of value. For a long time, you won’t.  You have to keep your expectations in check: it’s like wanting to be fluent in Spanish after taking Spanish 101. To develop a degree of fluency (or expertise) in any subject requires exactly the qualities that SL espouses: passion and persistence. The difference is that being passionate and persistent over an extensive period of time breeds results. Three months is a good start, but it’s just that…a start. After SL, you’ll understand the technology and depth behind what it takes to build the idea you have in mind. If you’re exceptionally good and devoted to the craft, you may even develop an impressive MVP. However, for the entrepreneurs who are great at multi tasking, have extensive business skills, and are big picture people (pointing to self again here!) it’s great to understand the technical side, it’s most likely unrealistic that you’ll be a rock star developer. Of course there are exceptions, but it seems to me that the qualities of someone who is great at business, are not in line with the qualities of someone who is a great developer. And they shouldn’t be! That’s why founding teams MUST be comprised of people with complementary skillsets, working towards a common goal.

Right now, SL is more geared towards helping Ruby on Rails developers get their start…rather than helping entrepreneurs be their own technical cofounders.

My experience in SL was amazing. It came at a transient period in my life when I could devote a huge chunk of time to the program: FeeFighters (my startup) had just been acquired, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing next. Will I continue writing code after next week? Maybe…hopefully…probably not. Why? I’m not inherently good at it, and I get frustrated very quickly by incessant error messages (insert expletive here). I’ve learned a TON and feel like if I wanted to, I could build anything I want.  At the same time, I’ve come to respect developers much more as I’ve learned to understand their vantage point. I got exactly what I wanted out of SL: a deeper understanding of developing web applications.

Could I have done this without SL? Absolutely…if I had the well, passion and persistence to pursue it on my own. However, I’m not one to pick up skills like this outside of the classroom. There are amazing opportunities to learn Ruby on Rails online, some free and the rest fairly inexpensive. If you have the will to learn Ruby…there is always a way.

Learn Rails on your own for free:

  • TryRuby- A short tutorial explaining the basics of the programming language Ruby. A great starting point.
  • Hartl Tutorial- An intensive tutorial where the product is a copy of Twitter. If you can go through this tutorial, you can go through anything.
  • TreeHouse- Gamification of web development and design.
  • Codecademy- Another online school for learning to code.
  • CodeSchool-Ditto.
  • Quora- Q&A on Rails

 Tl;Dr?

If you’re not seriously sure you want to learn software development for the long term, Starter League is probably not for you. If you’re dedicated to learning, have the tenacity and understanding that it’s a long process, and just need a foot in the door…SL will be a great option.

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