Big Nerd Ranch is chock-full of incredibly talented people. Today, we’re starting a series, Tell Our BNR Story, where folks within our industry share how the Ranch has impacted their careers.
Kicking off our inaugural interview is Ramon C., a Senior Mobile Engineer here at Big Nerd Ranch. He was first introduced to the Ranch when he attended an Android bootcamp six years ago. Here’s his take on what makes for great dev training, what’s important when building a brand new team, and how BNR set him up for success in his career.
How did you find out about Big Nerd Ranch?
When I first discovered BNR, I was doing a rotational program where you try out a few positions and get to pick one at the end. I was in the middle of a rotation on Android development. It had been quite a while since I’d taken any Android classes. The last time I had done any extensive learning on this topic, I’d been in college.
I asked myself: “What’s the difference between what I needed in college versus what I need professionally?”
I quickly figured out that they’re two different worlds. I realized to do the job properly, I needed to do some additional training. I started by Googling but didn’t find anything that stood out to me.
Then my boss at the time said, “Hey, I heard about this program called Big Nerd Ranch, you should take a look.”
I read through the program, and I thought, “Oh, this rules.”
I essentially put in the proposal with my company, got approved, and in the spring or summer of 2016, I went to Atlanta for the Advanced Android bootcamp training course. It was a really awesome experience. When I got back to my job, I couldn’t shut up about the BNR training I had just done. They literally could not get me to stop talking about it.
One of the things I did immediately after that training was to buy the BNR Android Programming Guide—I think it was the second or third version—and that’s been my bible for Android development ever since. Right after my bootcamp, I even gave a 20-minute presentation on why, if we ever got more developers, everyone should go through the BNR training that I did.
What made BNR stand out to you?
I don’t remember any of the other companies I researched, which I suppose says it all! I remember the enthusiastic Google reviews helped, too.
I think the biggest thing that I noticed—and I still remember this—is that it was very clear what you were going to learn in each class. At the time, I was still trying to figure out what the important technologies were. The BNR program listed out exactly the technologies that were going to be used and taught.
It was clear, it was easy to find, and it was easy to choose the level that I needed to be at. It was easy to justify saying, “Hey, this is exactly where we want to take our app, this is exactly what they’re going to teach us, and these are the skills I can take back with me.”
With some of the other training programs, it felt almost intentionally vague. It was difficult to discern exactly what knowledge and techniques we would be learning.
What did you initially want to get out of the BNR training? How did that match up with what you learned?
So obviously there was the technical stuff I wanted to take back, but one of the things that I was still trying to learn at the time was how to speak the language of Android as a new-ish Android developer. School doesn’t really teach you how to talk to other developers about the platforms you’re using.
I was one of two developers at the time at my company, so there weren’t a lot of opportunities to learn how to speak that language. Being in the bootcamp with other developers, all of us doing Android at the same time—it was a really good opportunity to train those skills.
How do developers talk to each other about the platform? How can I bring the right skills and knowledge back to the company? There were important questions to answer because we were going to start building a new team of developers and we had to set a baseline of how we were going to interact with each other.
What was the training experience like? What about it stood out to you?
Intense is definitely the number one way I would describe the BNR training experience. I was there for five days, and you’re essentially doing a full work week of training: eight hours a day with a lunch break.
What I really liked about the training—and again, this goes back to what I just said about learning the language of Android—was learning how to talk to other developers. Like, “Hey I’m stuck on this, I don’t really understand what’s going on here.” Being able to ask those technical questions to another developer, you know?
Those are the kind of soft skills that every developer should have. This was a prime opportunity to grow those skills outside of the workplace.
In a classroom setting like BNR’s, when you ask a trivial question, it can be a learning opportunity for the whole class. At work, you never know how a question might come off. BNR offered a risk-free environment where there were no bad questions, and I could freely talk with other devs. I really believe this was instrumental to me at the beginning of my career.
What were the results of the training? What impact did it have on you?
You take all this training material back with you, and you go, “All right, now I have to discern what we’re going to extract and use in our own apps. How do I make sure we’re building our apps in the most up-to-date way with the technology I was just taught?”
I ended up having to do a pretty big proof of concept for the company I was working for, explaining the technologies and giving an overall rating for our needs. At the time, we were a brand new dev team, so we had to ask more questions: for example, how much effort is it going to take to have a brand new team learn these technologies? We ended up not using the most cutting-edge standards to start with because, you know, it’s a brand new team; you have to make some concessions for the sake of efficiency.
Without the BNR overview, it might’ve taken us a lot longer to figure that out. Plus, we were able to pick and choose some of the up-and-coming technologies at the time—RxJava was on its way up, Retrofit 2 was on its way up—and we were able to have those conversations about tech stack, helping the team to start learning these new platforms and get familiar with them for future projects, all that jazz.
I ended up having a pretty big influence on these conversations. Being able to say, “These are the things I think we should use,” “This might be a faster way to solve this problem,” things like that. I became the go-to guy on a lot of this after just one course, which was kind of a weird experience for me: to go from feeling like I was on the outside looking in to being the resident expert consulted on a lot of those high-stakes decisions.
What do you think helped you to feel more comfortable stepping into that kind of role?
I would thank the literature—just having that information handy. When you’re reading something in a classroom setting, not everything sticks or resonates immediately.
But when you’re able to say, “I have this material right here, just take a look at this example. This is what I think we can get to, this is our end state, and this is how I think we should build things.” Having that reference gave me the confidence to share my opinion because I was talking with evidence to back up what I was saying.
The other resource that was great was the online portal BNR gave us access to, which had all the sample projects and everything we had done throughout the bootcamp, from start to finish. Being able to go back to that after the bootcamp was over was huge. Sometimes, parts of those projects would just pop into my head, and I could go back to check, “Oh, there’s a bug here that reminds me of one from the BNR training, let me go look that up.”
The BNR training gave me a bunch of different tools, both coding and non-coding-related, to make these big impactful statements at work and be confident in backing them up.
You mentioned that you were able to convince your team to give BNR a try as a group. Can you share a little more about that?
So I finished the rotational work program and, at that point, I had been talking for eight months about the BNR training, going, “This is the one, this is it!”
And, well, BNR isn’t the cheapest option out there. We ended up going with a more affordable option for our first training, and it was just… awful. One of the worst bootcamps I have ever done in my life. The developer got up there and just didn’t have a plan: there was nothing prepared. We got nothing from it—we were basically following Android community forum documents at that point, and I was thinking, “I could’ve done this on my own.”
By comparison, after we finally invested in the BNR training, I don’t think a single person left that room going, “This wasn’t worth the time that we put into this,” because we as a company had learned how to talk to each other as developers. We also learned language skills: we had completely new people alongside more tenured developers who had been working on projects since the release of the platform, but we were able to get everyone on the same page about the platform we were going to use.
There were also questions about modernization that we had to start asking, but we didn’t really know where to start. BNR gave us the starting line to have that modernization conversation and pointed us to the most modern solutions they were using. That pushed us to the next stage: “Are our apps even in a position to get this modern? What’s the best compromise between our team’s capabilities and the technology available to us?”
We got to talk about which direction we wanted to go and then set up a plan: even if we didn’t use the most advanced tools now, we could work our way up to them.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I really do believe in our training. It has helped me in my career in ways that I can’t really put into words. I’ve been able to take the skills that I learned almost six years ago, both technical and non-technical, and apply them in the work that I do every day. Not to get too sappy, but I cannot thank Big Nerd Ranch enough for getting me to where I am—not just with those Android platforms but in my career as a whole.