Davis Roots offers hands-on introductory programming classes

Introductory programming courses at UC Davis tend to be big, filling up the largest lecture halls with students who are oftentimes fulfilling a requirement for their major. The general manager of Davis Roots, Alex Rossbach, pointed out that there is a lack of options for people simply looking to learn introductory programming.

Davis Roots has begun offering such an option: classes meant to service anyone who is interested in learning the material, for any reason.

“The classes are open to anyone that just wants to learn how to program,” Rossbach said.

He did, however, state that the class size is limited to around 15 students, to allow for a more practical, hands-on experience.

“It isn’t like a lecture hall class where we’re just gonna make you take notes and sit there for a couple hours,” Rossbach said. “It’s maybe 15 to 20 minutes of lecturing at each class and two hours of hands-on building. The instructors will walk you through everything you need to know. They’ll answer any questions you might have.”

Davis Roots has already held a programming class, “Intro to Programming,” and this summer a different course will be offered: “Intro to Web Development.”

Davis Roots is a startup business accelerator located in downtown Davis near Mishka’s Café.

“We bring in three to five startups every nine months and we incubate them, help them raise money, pair them with mentors who can help them take their products that they’ve made, either in their undergrad career or as a Ph.D. student, and scale them and build a company around them,” Rossbach said.

The idea to add introductory programming classes to the services they offer came as a result of multiple factors. First of all, Rossbach pointed out that people asked for it. Secondly, Davis Roots needed people with programming skills.

“There’s obviously a huge demand for this skillset, and there’s a huge population that want to work for these startups, but they don’t have the skills that we need, so we’re trying to help them bridge that gap,” Rossbach said.

He mentioned that many startups require a team of people with experience in programming and noted a lack of such people available close by.

“What we found was that there aren’t enough engineers in Davis or in Sacramento who can work and help build these products, so we decided to start offering really affordable programming classes,” Rossbach said.

The classes take place over six weeks and cost between $150 and $175, which Rossbach says is competitive with similar classes offered elsewhere.

“We just want to be able to offer another service for UC Davis students, for high school students, anybody who wants to learn,” Rossbach said. “We don’t feel like money should be an issue if you want to learn how to program, or how to better yourself and get a better job.”

He explained that the classes are not necessarily taught for the sake of building teams for their startups, but have been utilized by people simply trying to increase their skillset, possibly for future jobs.

“We actually had several students from UC Davis that signed up for the programming classes that aren’t really interested in startups,” Rossbach said. “But they do want that programming experience so they can get those jobs in San Francisco, in Berkeley, in Oakland, working for Pandora and Facebook, and stuff like that.”

Davis Roots has seen a diverse group of UC Davis students in their classes so far.

“For that class we saw a mix of students from UC Davis who were science students, like biology or chemistry students who needed to learn Python in order to do all their data analysis that they need to do for homework and research that they’re interested in,” Rossbach said.

As intended, however, the scope of people that have signed up for their classes is not limited to science students, or even UC Davis students. Mikel Mcdaniel is a UC Davis graduate who is currently working at Google and commuted to Davis to teach the intro to programming class at Davis Roots, which introduced students to Python.

“The class was for anyone interested in learning the fundamentals of programming and/or Python,” Mcdaniel said. The range of ages, 14 to beyond 40, and interests — business, game design, English, etc. — of the students is a testament to that.“

Rossbach said Davis Roots was fortunate to find graduates and graduate students from UC Davis who were interested in teaching, and Mcdaniel said he hopes to teach more in the future and that he enjoyed his experience in the programming class.

“Some students had already written programs and some struggled a lot, requiring a lot of one-on-one attention,” Mcdaniel said. “In each case though, it was very rewarding to see a student understand a new concept and say ‘Ooooooh.’”

Judy Fong is another UC Davis graduate who is teaching the “Intro to Web Development” at Davis Roots this summer.

“It’ll cover the basics of JavaScript and hopefully students will leave feeling confident in their JavaScript code,” Fong said.

Continuing the goal of keeping things practical, Fong is setting up her class to be a similarly hands-on experience.

“The plan is to have a curriculum which will build upon itself each week until the students have a final product on the very last class,” Fong said.

Students can sign up now for “Intro to Web Development,” which begins June 30, by visiting the Davis Roots website. UC Davis students can get a 10 percent discount by using the promo code “ucdstudent.”

NICK FREDERICI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

 

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