Tech Bootcamp gives students an essential developers’ skill

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Derek Gritz and Eric Nylund learn programming at the new Tech Bootcamp. (Photo by Ria Roberts)

As a student at the Yale School of Art, Eric Nylund has been involved in numerous interactive design projects in his classes, but until recently, he had little opportunity to do any computer programming.

After participating in Tech Bootcamp, a new program run by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) and Information Technology Services’ Student Technology Collaborative (STC), Nylund and a team of fellow participants presented a web application, called “Drawing IO,” a real-time collaborative drawing program modeled on the interactive concept of Chatroulette. Users can choose a tool — hued, gradient, or dotted — and draw lines or figures. Other drawers connected to the canvas can add their own designs. As soon as someone feels the piece is finished, he or she can click “publish” and no one will be allowed to add to it.

Nyland participated in Tech Bootcamp, he says, because he “wanted to have control of what’s behind the scenes.”

His interest in building an application from scratch — and understanding the language of coding — is a common theme across Yale, and one of the main reasons YEI wanted to offer this program to students. YEI Program Director Alena Gribskov says many Yale students who come to her with great startup ideas lack the programming knowledge to implement them.

“There was a real disconnect,” Gribskov says. “Startups today always have a programming component, whether it’s a database analytics company or a fashion line. But many students didn’t know where to begin when it came to coding — and there was a shortage of qualified students they could turn to.”

Gribskov spoke with Adam Bray, an applications systems specialist for the STC, and the two put together Tech Bootcamp in just two months last spring. They received about 30 applications for 15 positions and made selections based on level of interest and the ability to self-teach. “A lot of software development you have to be able to teach yourself because technology is always changing,” says Bray, who served as an instructor for Tech Bootcamp.

The 10-week program was held in Yale’s state-of-the-art TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) Classroom, which is equipped with circular tables embedded with connected wires, 10 LCD wall-mounted monitors, and five overhead projectors. The participants, who were given a $1,500 stipend, learned HTML and CSS as well as dynamic programming skills like Ruby and Javascript. They developed their own applications as part of their training. Tech Bootcampers — divided into five student teams — unveiled their programming projects on July 26 during a private Demo Day for YEI staff and Summer Fellows.

“I’ve never had so much fun and been so impressed with a group of students,” says Bray. “Most students came with no background in programming, and they were able to build such incredible things. It’s a testament to how hard they worked and how brilliant they are.”

Applications useful to college students were a theme for the Tech Bootcamp teams. Yale College student David Cruz showcased pNut (as in “the peanut gallery”), an interactive tool that would allow students to log in and ask anonymous questions of professors during lectures. A “Don’t Panic!” button is available for students who are simply falling behind — if enough students hit the button, the professor’s screen turns red, indicating that he or she needs to go back.

Andrew Goldstein’13 presented LunchtYme, which would allow students to easily schedule available lunch slots with Facebook friends on campus. Jacob Williams ’15 presented Tastii, an app that  would allow students—and non-students—to easily locate the perfect restaurant based on their mood, financial situation or craving. Moods include “breakfast at midnight,” “hungover” and “post workout.”

Aaron Gertler’15, Gabe Rissman’16 and David Gritz’16 presented Lifestor, an online journal for capturing life events that makes use of geo-tagging and photos and sends a daily email that asks users about their day as way to generate journal entries. “Imagine if you came back to your reunion,” explained Gertler, “and you remember all these old locations and what you did there?”

Emma Tipton’16 says that beyond the fun of designing new applications, the programming knowledge she gained is a necessary career skill. “When I was applying for jobs and internships, a lot of employers wanted programming knowledge,” she says.

YEI plans to expand Tech Bootcamp over the next several years. YEI Managing Director Jim Boyle says that in the future, “everyone at Yale who wants to read and write code will be have that ability.”

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