28 Questions with Cahlan Sharp, Founder of DevMountain

Ever wonder who started DevMountain and what it’s all about? Well, we recently ran into Cahlan Sharp, founder of DevMountain, at our Provo, UT campus and asked him 28 questions about how DevMountain got started and what it’s like to attend. Take a look!

Prefer to read his responses? See below!

#1 What is your job right now?

Cahlan Sharp: I’m not sure what my job is anymore. I was a software developer for about 10 years plus. I still do some coding but I’m probably not a hardcore engineer anymore.

#2 Do you teach? 

CS: Yeah. I still teach a little.

#3 Why did you decide to start DevMountain

CS: I decided to start because I love teaching and I love technology. I had some opportunities to teach people and the opportunities arose to teach night and weekend classes and it sort of grew from there.

#4 Can someone really learn how to code well in 13 weeks? 

CS: Absolutely. Yep.

#5 Let me ask again. Is it really as simple as showing up to class and then I can code in 13 weeks? 

CS: We’re looking for certain types of people that are motivated and passionate and talented—all of those things. Lots of different kinds of people have learned how to code in 12-13 weeks. Obviously there’s varying levels of how successful they are, but we’ve tried to identify people that are going to be the most successful and then teach them what they need to know to be successful during the class. And it is hard work. It’s not easy. 

#6 Is there something that DevMountain does that is different about teaching than what we might have seen at other places? 

CS: First of all, the pacing of what we do, how quickly we do it, how much we do, the format in the way that we feed it to you, and how we help you learn is really important. We also utilize a lot of different teaching styles that don’t just include somebody at the front of the classroom but also have a lot of peer-to-peer and mentor-based learning that’s really important. There’s a lot of project and problem based stuff that’s really important. So that all plays a big part, too.

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#7 So do you teach all the classes? What kind of instructors are around here? 

CS: So there’s different kinds of instructors. It depends on what you want to call an instructor. If you’re thinking of a traditional professor, there aren’t a ton of those. I will play that role sometimes where I come in front of the classroom and talk about a certain subject and call on people in those sort of traditional classroom settings. But a lot of what happens at DevMountain is students have their hands on the keyboard working through things, and mentors are there. The mentors are the really important part of what we do. The mentors are there with the students one on one.

#8 So you’d say it’s not really a traditional teaching environment? 

CS: I’d say it’s different than a lot of classrooms you’ve seen, yes.

#9 Can you take us around to see more of the campus? 

CS: Sure. Let’s go.

#10 So how long have you guys been here? 

CS: We’ve been here for five years in this building.

#11 Do you like this building? 

CS: Yeah it’s an awesome building. It used to be a candy factory so there’s a lot of character. It’s a cool place to hang out. A good place to learn.

#12 How often are students here? 

CS: They are here all the time. There are students here now. We’re pushing six o’clock and they’re still here. They’re expected to be here at least 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM but they’ll sometimes be here nights, weekends, you know, whatever it takes.

Quick cut to Nolan Berry, head of admissions at DevMountain.

#13 So what do you do at DevMountain

Nolan Berry: I’m head of admissions.

#14 What does admissions at DevMountain look like? 

NB: We have an online application, we do a phone interview, and we do a challenge which are just basic exercises related to whatever class you want to take.

#15 Do you like working at DevMountain

NB: I love it.

#16 What’s your favorite thing? 

NB: Just meeting all the different kinds of people who want to learn to code or other technical skills.

#17 Do you get lots of different kinds of people? 

NB: Oh, every kind of person has applied to DevMountain.

Cut back to Cahlan Sharp.

#18 Where are we right now? 

Cahlan Sharp: So this is kind of a student common area, or a lobby type area. Students will hang out here, they’ll play foosball, they’ll play ping pong, they’ll eat lunch, they’ll socialize, you know. It’s a general purpose area here.

#19 So we were talking about learning to code and whether or not people can learn how to code in a short amount of time. Would you say it’s difficult to learn to code quickly? 

CS: Yeah.

#20 Would you say it’s difficult to learn to code at all? 

CS: Yeah. For sure.

#21 What do you think makes it difficult to learn? 

CS: I think it’s a lot like learning any new language. You only have your own context and your own language structure to go off of and if it’s radically different than the language you’re learning then it’s going to take you a while to ramp up into a new vocabulary, new terminology, and new structures. It’s the same thing with learning how to code in that way where the subject matter, the vocabulary, everything is going to be a little bit foreign for you to start off with. The structures that we use we try to relate to things in the real world, but sometimes it just takes a while for your brain to accept those structures and those data types and things and then understand how they can be used.

#22 So a lot of people when they’re learning new languages don’t like it because it makes them feel stupid. Does learning to code make you feel stupid? 

CS: It can, yes. It can at first. I always tell students that your brain is kind of in a crockpot for a few weeks while we’re just throwing a bunch of information in there and really ramping up the heat. But, overtime, it’s just going to cure and you’re going to start understanding things and pick up on things. Your learning accelerates at that point.

#23 Do you cover a lot of vocabulary or things like that in your courses? 

CS: Yes but I think the important thing is that it’s always in context. We’re never just learning an isolated principle. We’re always trying to apply it to a broader context or a broader problem or project. So it’s not just learning what a nail is and what a hammer is. You’re learning why we use those things inside of building a house, for example.

#24 How long do you think a student can expect to be learning how to code before they’re done? 

CS: I think it’s important to understand that you’re not just learning for 12 to 13 weeks. You’re going to continue that journey of learning throughout the rest of your career as a developer. So, in that sense, you never really stop. You just continue learning. And we always tell students that one of the most important things that they do while they’re here is learn how to learn and how to learn quickly.

#25 Are you still learning? 

CS: Yeah. All the time.

#26 What kind of stuff do you study where you’re at right now? 

CS: There’s always changing stuff in the coding education space. There’s changing stuff in technology, there’s new languages, there’s new frameworks, there’s new form factors, there’s blockchain, there’s new stuff all the time.

#27 How do you keep yourself motivated to keep learning?

CS: For me, I just naturally have an interest in the space which is important. I think you have to want to know what’s going on. But also for me, an important motivator is if there’s a problem to solve or if there’s something I can build, that’s how I best learn things. It’s when I have some sort of thing to apply it to. If I can build a project using a new language, or using a new framework, then I am going to be much more successful in learning than if I’m just learning it academically.

#28 If you could leave one sentence of advice for an incoming student, what would it be? 

CS: Work hard and stay positive. I’ve seen people from all different backgrounds and all different self-defined, “I’m smart” or “I’m dumb” or “I have a math background” or “I don’t,” but far in a way the people that are most successful are the people that are positive and just work really hard.

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