I took a free, entry-level coding course…and now I’m running it
Meet Kieran Raine, Software Engineer at Sidetrade, based in Birmingham (UK).
Kieran first joined Sidetrade after completing Sidetrade’s entry-level coding course, Sidetrade Code Academy in 2018.
Congratulations on running your first Sidetrade Code Academy! You’ve been at Sidetrade now since 2018 after going through the Sidetrade Code Academy yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about your role now and how it’s evolved since you graduated?
Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it.
I started as a graduate with little to no experience in programming; at Sidetrade I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a helpful and friendly team who were able to guide me through the first years of my tech career. We have a positive graduate scheme that encourages buddying, pair programming, and free learning time to ensure our graduates have access to the support they need.
Over the last four years I have had the pleasure of working on a range of interesting projects that have allowed me to develop my skills across the entire stack, working with different technologies — old and new. So, I’m currently working as a full-stack developer on a brand-new product that will launch this year, which is exciting!
So, tell us, what was it like running the programme having gone through it yourself as a course participant?
It’s fascinating — a wonderful experience. I was able to contribute to the course last year in a smaller capacity, so I already had some exposure; but this time, being front and centre, I was able to go through that whole journey from start to finish. Seeing the remarkable progress that the candidates make in such a short time is extremely rewarding.
I do think that the experience of having been a candidate myself was helpful. I could understand and sympathise with the amount of work involved, and, when writing content and trying to explain technical concepts, it also helps to be able to remember what it feels like to know nothing!
Can you give a brief summary of what the course covered off this year and the projects that participants worked on?
We try to cover a whole tech stack over the course of the four weeks, with the end goal of being able to showcase a full-stack web application that they will have progressively developed throughout the course.
Over the course of the day, we introduce a lot of new concepts that are then explored in more detail throughout the week with a set of tasks that ask them to consider how they might add certain features or how they could change the layouts and style of their application.
Finally, in the third week, we introduce databases and SQL — a language for querying data. We cover the basics of creating tables and relationships between them, how to query data, and then finally how to use a database client to connect their database to their own application.
After all this, candidates have all the knowledge they need to finish off the project! They have a week to plan and prioritise what tasks they want to achieve, work on their project, and then finally present back what they have accomplished with a short retrospective.
How does one even go about planning for a course like this? What sort of prep was involved?
It’s a huge team effort! We have multiple people at Sidetrade across different departments all working together to make this happen, from HR & recruitment working on the advertisement, screening and managing applications, to several of my friends and colleagues working hard on creating amazing content.
Fortunately, we do tend to revise and refine content each year, so we are not starting from scratch.
We used a new course platform this year, Replit, so for me personally I spent most of my time organising and updating all the content on the new platform and making sure everything was clear and easy to follow.
This year’s course saw a record number of applications — where do you even start when going through these and choosing who to invite on to the course? What sort of qualities do you look for in a candidate?
Diversity is at the forefront of our selection process. This year, we received a record number of applications and we were thrilled to see such a diverse range of skills and backgrounds. We are looking for candidates who are interested in coding, have their own laptop, and bring a positive attitude. It’s not just about technical ability, but also about character and aptitude.
After the initial screening, we usually invite 20 candidates to our office for an assessment day. It’s not as daunting as it sounds! On that day, we introduce the course content, run team-building activities, have some pizza. Finally, each attendee take a quick 10-minute interview, where we are just trying to determine character and aptitude, rather than technical ability.
We welcome people from all sorts of backgrounds, from recent graduates trying to break into the industry to those with extensive careers in different fields who are looking for a change.
What was different/similar about the 2023 course compared to the one you went through as a participant in 2018?
A lot has changed in the four previous iterations of the Sidetrade Code Academy; we are always trying to refine and improve what we can offer, and I think this year’s was definitely the best one yet!
When I participated in the course, it was focused more on SQL and data analysis. Some of the core concepts were the same, but it leaned more towards writing database functions and procedures than building applications on the web.
This changed the following year, when we went full-stack — and since then, we have tried each year to take away more and more of the complexity around programming and focus on making core elements easier to understand and follow.
This was taken to the next level this year by using Replit, which allowed us to create structured exercises that candidates can run in their browser — with no local set up.
And finally, what did you enjoy most about running this year’s programme, and is there anything you’d do differently next year?
Learning to code is a rollercoaster ride — challenging, but incredibly fulfilling. There are moments when you might feel like giving up (or even worse — it’s working but you’ve no idea how!), but when everything finally clicks, the feeling of satisfaction is unbeatable! The most enjoyable moment for me is seeing the satisfaction on someone’s face when what they are struggling with finally works. And that’s what the Sidetrade Code Academy is all about — helping our students get to that point of accomplishment.
This year’s cohort was phenomenal. We had great candidates and each of them should be proud of what they have achieved during their time with us; hopefully they are able to take what they have learned and continue their journey into a tech career. We’re thrilled to have been a part of their coding journey and can’t wait to see where it takes them next.
At Sidetrade, we’re committed to constantly improving the Sidetrade Code Academy experience. We’ll be reviewing what worked well, what didn’t, and brainstorming ways to make it even better next time. Stay tuned for updates — we’ve got some exciting ideas in the pipeline! Give us a follow to keep up with what we’re up to at Sidetrade’s Tech Hub!