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Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 3)

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Key insights from Caitlin Davey, Manager of Learning Experience Design at
General Assembly

We’ve reached the last segment of our three-part blog series on managing remote teams. We hope our experts’ advice has been useful for team leaders who are transitioning to working from home and adjusting to this new normal in the world of work.

For our final installment, we sat down with General Assembly’s very own Caitlin Davey, Manager of Learning Experience Design. Caitlin has managed a remote team for 2 years and has deep experience designing remote learning experiences in data for GA’s enterprise partners around the world. 

Read on to hear Caitlin’s insights on:

  1. Leading remote meetings.
  2. Encouraging team participation while remote.
  3. Being supportive of your team during a remote transition. 

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part one and part two.

GA: Thanks so much for the time today, Caitlin. In your role, you’ve participated in many conversations with our partners who are shifting to remote work. What are some of the top tips you share on leading remote meetings?

Caitlin: First and foremost, set a clear agenda with time chunks. If minutes tend not to work for you, then try to estimate time based on the percentage of the meeting you want to spend covering a given topic. Also, keep meeting times manageable and allow for stretch breaks every 30 minutes to allow participants to physically stretch and refocus their attention. As a team leader, you need to model active engagement and bring strong energy to amp up the energy of participants. 

Second, if there are key decisions that need to be made or input that is required, consider sending a pre-read of materials along with your agenda so participants can come to the meeting prepared. When your meeting comes to a close, name owners of action items and send follow-ups with the highlights of the meeting, and a video recording if available. Follow-ups ensure that everyone is clear on the next steps and can review what was discussed.

GA: Staying organized seems to be key! On the flip side, what are some of the top mistakes you see people make when leading remote meetings?

Caitlin: When leading remote meetings, try to prevent the “No, you go ahead” loop as I like to call it. As a leader, you need to own facilitation and direct the conversation. This can look like nominating the next person to speak, asking for the opinion of a team member by calling on them, or determining the order of who will speak in advance. This keeps the meeting moving and increases the comfort of team members because expectations are clear. It also prevents lags where no one is responding to broad questions. Then again, get comfortable with some silence. The fidelity of remote meetings can mean that participants need time to think and respond. Don’t rush to fill the silence as participants may just need some time to formulate their thoughts before chiming in. 

Pauses in conversation can feel less natural in remote meetings and people often fail to leave time for ideation or questions — it’s important to build this in. Name ways participants can contribute, whether that’s asking people to come off mute and speak, inviting comments through the chat, or using the raise hand feature if your conference platform is Zoom. If you have challenges leading the meeting while following the chat, nominate someone to raise any critical questions, and make sure that you build in time to pause and answer instead of interrupting yourself to address comments. 

GA: I’ve definitely experienced those “No, you go ahead” loops before, and love the tips to address it! Switching gears a little bit, what are some norms you like to use to engage a remote team?

Caitlin: Team bonding and preventing feelings of isolation are especially important for teams that are working remotely. Plan to connect through icebreaker introductions or get remote coffee. These may sound corny, but leaning into the corniness can actually unlock a greater sense of connection and make calls feel less like a checklist. One of my favorite icebreakers is to ask participants to quickly hold up something nearby that shows their personality. For example, my pack of stamps is always handy because I love sending mail to friends and family. 

Teams should also collectively decide on remote working agreements. These can go beyond sharing preferences for communication channels and even include mindsets to adopt as you work together. One example of a working agreement we hold at GA is “Be present,” which means we all agree to minimize multitasking during meetings and practice active engagement. Another example is “Take space, make space,” meaning that as we take time to talk, we also intend to make time for others to speak. 

GA: Oftentimes, we hear that it’s hard to encourage participation in a remote meeting in the same way you would in a conference room. How do you encourage your team to speak up?

Caitlin: Inherently, whoever called a remote meeting feels like the owner, leader, and facilitator of that meeting. To allow individual contributors to feel ownership think about nominating leaders for various meetings and give them a chance to step into a leadership role. Breakout groups can also be a great way to divide large teams into more manageable groups to connect. Zoom has a breakout group feature, but you could also consider smaller sub-groups for projects. 

Beyond structure, when you’re looking for participants to speak in a given meeting, call on participants by name to share input. You can also message participants ahead of time to preview the specific question and see if they’re comfortable sharing. Knowing your team’s working styles is key, as some people prefer to think through a question on their own rather than respond on the fly.

GA: All the insights today have been great so far. One final question for you, Caitlin: What advice can you share around supporting your team during this difficult transition?

Caitlin: It’s important to know the channels of communication that work best for your team. For example, if you’ve decided that not everything needs to be a call, think twice before scheduling a call rather than sending an email. Or, if you decided not to email after hours, don’t break your own rule.

Also, ask what your employees need. You should check in with your team more frequently than normal to make sure that they feel supported and remain engaged. I’d stress that you should be checking on their goals and if they need support rather than to monitor attendance. 

A real benefit I see to remote meetings is the many ways for participants to share. Features like a meeting chat can allow more perspectives to surface than in an in-person setting. As we’re all transitioning to more virtual connections, there’s an opportunity to take time to set new norms, make employees feel supported, have fun as a team, and realize that in remote settings, we can still connect.


We’re so grateful to Caitlin for sitting down with us to discuss top tips for leading and supporting teams remotely. This post concludes our Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts series — we hope you gained some helpful insights! For more perspectives from GA, follow us on LinkedIn, where we’ll always share the latest.

Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 2)

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Key insights from Adi Hanash, VP of Product at Tempest, and Original Remote Program Product Owner at General Assembly.

Last week we kicked off our three-part series on managing remote teams. As many companies transition to working from home for the first time to help curb the spread of COVID-19, we wanted to offer some advice to help our community navigate this adjustment. GA has deep experience working with a distributed team and has also helped thousands of learners upskill and reskill through live-online formats. With these things in mind, we’ve tapped into our network of experts to answer top questions we’ve received from our partners, and to share tips and tricks that you can use with your remote teams.

For our second segment of this series, we sat down with Adi Hanash, VP of Product at Tempest, an organization focused on building a digital support platform for people recovering from alcohol use disorder. Adi is also a former General Assembly colleague and built the remote learning experience at GA as the original live-online product owner. Adi has transitioned 10 courses to be delivered online and also has 4+ years of experience working remotely himself.

Read on to hear Adi’s insights on:

  1. Engaging your distributed teams.
  2. Getting into the work mindset from home.
  3. Motivating your team remotely.

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part one and part three.

GA: Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Adi. We’ve heard from our community that one of the biggest remote work challenges is tracking teams. What is the best way to track attendance and engagement? 

Adi: There’s a piece to attendance worth addressing that is “How do we know someone’s in the office from nine to five or for the prescribed hours?” Having worked on product teams, we start every morning with a quick check-in to set the goals for the day and then hold an end of day check-in. You need to be comfortable allowing a little bit of freedom to do the work in the middle of the day. 

Another piece to attendance is making a decision as a team about what it means to be attending a meeting. For me, the number one thing is being on camera. So, if I’m using a video platform, my expectation is everyone who’s in that meeting is on camera for that meeting. If you turn off your camera, I assume you’ve walked out of the room. Being visible also prevents someone from just listening in while doing other work; it forces them to be more present.

GA: What do you talk about during those daily check-in meetings?

Adi: My product team has a ritual called “stand” that we practice every day. It can be held over a chat platform or in live sessions, but every morning, the team will go around and talk about what they did yesterday, what’s on deck for today, and any blockers or external constraints. At the end of the day, we check-in again and cover what was done that day, any blockers that still exist, and what’s queued up for tomorrow. It’s a really quick check-in that should take 10 to 15 minutes total.

The key is to focus not on the meetings or activities a person will have during the day, but the deliverables for the day. That’s where, as the team leader, you can be very clear on what your expectations are for the work that needs to get done. Or, if you are an individual who is now working remotely, you’re aligned with the rest of the team on what your workday entails. It’s a really helpful way to get everyone on the same page and to make sure that you are setting expectations around deliverables — even in this remote environment.

GA: How do you get into the work mindset before that “stand” check-in at the start of your day? It’s definitely a little different starting your day from home versus going into the office.

Adi: Establish what your rituals are for starting and ending work in your remote environment. This may sound silly, since I know one of the benefits of working from home is being able to be in pajamas all day, but my ritual was that I very consciously decided that when I started work, I put on a collared shirt. I was still in shorts, and that was fine, but the act of putting on the shirt meant I was at work, and the act of taking that shirt off meant I was no longer at work. I’m not saying that’s the right one for you, but I would just encourage everyone to establish rituals.

GA: You also mentioned giving the team a little bit of freedom to do the work in the middle of the day. What do you think about flexible work hours when working from home?

Adi: The most important thing is to not conflate remote working with flexible working  — you have to address them independently of each other. Remote working is the ability to do the work that you have to do from home or in various locations. Flexible work hours mean that you allow a person to set their own schedule for when they are working and when they aren’t. The question of flexible work schedules needs to be addressed in its own way.

When I worked remotely, I was working eight hours, but my mistake was spreading those eight hours over 14 hours, which made me feel like I was working the entire day even when I wasn’t. So when you work remotely, you should be very clear on what is okay to do with your schedule in your day (for example, leaving for lunch) and what is not (for example, cleaning). Do not make the mistake of spreading eight hours of work over too long of a period. The way I’ve managed this is to be very clear on my calendar about my scheduled time. You have to create  boundaries for yourself and for your team to make this work successfully.

GA: What about when you have team members who treat everything as an emergency? How do you deal with that if it falls within an unavailable slot in your schedule? 

Adi: This can be especially challenging for remote workers. I think the number one thing is defining the levels of emergencies with your teams. There should be some version at the top, which is that the business cannot move forward unless the emergency is solved. If it is a company-wide blocker, then everyone has to stop what they’re doing and help solve the problem. Then down at the bottom, there are things like a typo on the website. At that level, you need to ask, “Is it preventing us from doing anything? How many people have reported it?”

Once you get to an understanding of the emergency spectrum, you’d be surprised by how many actually have to be addressed in real-time. So that’s the number one thing I would encourage you to do.

GA: What tips do you have for managing and running large format meetings?

Adi: The most important thing with any meeting, especially larger ones, is to remind people of the opportunity cost of a meeting, and make it clear that there has to be true value driven by the people in the room. So for example, if you have 15 people in the meeting for 30 minutes, you’re not taking 30 minutes, you’re taking seven and a half hours. And if you start to think about it in terms of time as accumulation, you start to become a lot more judicious as a leader around what type of meetings you want to be calling and who’s going to be involved.

Then, if you do decide to proceed with a large format meeting, the number one thing is to have super-clear agendas. You have to be explicit as to what the deliverables for the meeting are. If you cannot define clear deliverables, there are probably better ways to do the meeting than to actually have a meeting. For example, if you need a decision on X, then the meeting attendees have to be defined by who’s responsible for making that decision. So that at the end of the meeting, you’re able to say great, our decision is X.

GA: How can you motivate your team members when everyone is remote?

Adi: For those of you who are in a leadership position, you need to think about what recognition looks like in a distributed room. It’s very easy to say “Great job!” to an individual, but you need to find the ways to publicize their victories and their wins, and more so in this distributed environment because it’s almost a requirement for them to know that even though they’re on the other end of the computer, their work is having an impact and is being recognized.

Chances are, you have some sort of chat platform that you can use. At Tempest we use Slack, and so we have to be creative about how to use it for this purpose. For example, one thing that I love to do with our team is to create a shout-outs time. Every week there’s a certain time where we get onto Slack and just shout out all the victories and wins for the week. Those small ceremonies and rituals help establish the connection, especially with remote employees, that the work they’re doing isn’t being lost to the ether, and that you’re actually seeing it and recognizing it.

A huge thanks to Adi for these amazing tips on rituals and leading a remote team. We’re always here for questions, email cheers@ga.co if you’ve got any!

Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 1)

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Top tips from Matt Brems, Managing Partner at BetaVector, and Global Lead Data Science Instructor at General Assembly

There has been an unprecedented shift to remote working as companies and individuals do their part to curb the spread of COVID-19. We’ve heard from our global partners that this shift has been a difficult adjustment and that teams could use some tips and tricks to cultivate connections with their remote employees and maintain productivity during this uncertain time. General Assembly (GA) has deep remote work experience and has also delivered live online learning to over 5,000 students and remote workers around the world. With that in mind, we’re sitting down with our experts to get answers to your most pressing questions and the right tools on managing remote teams and adjusting to remote work from home. 

For our first segment of this three-part blog series, we sat down with Matt Brems, Managing Partner at BetaVector and Global Lead Data Science Instructor at General Assembly. Matt has taught 1,000+ students since 2016 and has been working and teaching remotely for the last two and a half years.  

Read on to hear Matt’s insights on:

  1. Identifying blind spots in the shift to remote.
  2. Building company culture and employee engagement in remote teams.
  3. Juggling work and life when they coexist more than ever before.

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part two and part three.

GA: Matt, thanks so much for being here with us today. To kick things off, what were some of the concerns you had when you started to teach online, and how might these concerns apply to people transitioning to remote work?

Matt: Glad to be here! One of the challenges in shifting to an online classroom was that I just didn’t know what the blind spots were going to be. I knew the content I was supposed to teach, but the blind spot was how could I ensure my students’ success when everybody was now connecting remotely. Part of it just took some experience, but really, it was about listening to my students. 

As a manager, you know the business objectives that you’ve always had. However, you have an additional blind spot: how do you get your team to succeed with the uncertainty of everyone working from home? Within these unique challenges, you have to create space for your team to share what they need and what isn’t working. Then you have to listen to what your entire team is telling you and act on it. Finally, you need to accept that there will probably be a period where it feels weird and uncomfortable. 

GA: It sounds like it all worked out! We’ve heard a common blind spot is not knowing how to collaborate with teams remotely. Do you have any tips or collaboration tools you’d recommend for managing collaborative work?

Matt: When collaborating with others remotely, it’s important to be as explicit as possible. When I started teaching remotely, I would ask vague questions like, “What’s wrong with this?” or “What do you think about that?” Since my questions were vague, my students’ answers were all over the place. That wasn’t a failure on their part, it was a failure on my part. So when it comes to working collaboratively, I have a couple of recommendations. 

First, break the task down into smaller chunks and make the tasks as specific as possible to your remote employees. Let’s say you need your team to write a report by the end of the day. Instead of just putting the task out there, work with the entire team to divide it up. I’m not trying to encourage micromanagement, but it’s much easier for communication to break down remotely. People jump into their next meetings, people make assumptions about who does what. 

Second, be explicit. Instead of using terms like “end of day,” specify what “end of day” is. Does it mean 5 p.m. or midnight? If you’re managing remote employees in different time zones, which time zone? Being explicit, wherever possible, is a really helpful tool for effective communication.

GA: Really great tips. Another blind spot we’ve been hearing frequently is around cultivating a sense of community while remote — how do you manage to keep your entire team connected?

Matt: When it comes to developing that sense of connectedness in the programs that we teach, we start every lesson with an icebreaker. For example, earlier today, my colleague asked, “If you were forced to be part of a talent show, what would your talent be?” This gets the whole team engaged in social interaction that’s a fun way to share things about themselves that you wouldn’t otherwise know, a promising tactic for building trust. Think about the “water cooler” talk where people share things that aren’t directly connected to work. We can still do that; we just have to be a bit more creative and intentional about creating that sense of a dependable company culture and community.

As another example, General Assembly develops community by doing daily trivia. Katie, our “trivia guru,” announces a time for trivia, comes up with five trivia questions and then asks them in the trivia Slack channel. People compete to be the first to correctly answer the question. It’s a lot of fun because so many people get really into it. Everybody laughs because some people are right on the money and some people are sharing weird, off-the-beaten-path answers. We’re leaning into everything that we would do in-person to build that community; we just have to be more intentional about it when we’re remote.

GA: To expand on company culture even further, what advice do you have for creating norms for your remote teams?

Matt: To come up with norms, start with a shared blank document and let the whole team contribute their thoughts about what’s important. Then transition to discussing these thoughts in a virtual meeting and have people come to a consensus on norms for the group. Specifically, you want to provide a safe space for people to share what they need out of your team environment, and you want to make space for people who have different experiences than you might have. 

I want to be abundantly clear about this: Once the team agrees on a norm, the whole team needs to follow it. And that includes the team leader. There is sometimes this tendency for people in leadership to say, “Hey, we established the team norms, but that’s for everybody else. Because I’m the team leader, I don’t necessarily have to abide by that.” That can be the quickest way for norms to deteriorate and works against building trust. Being clear and making sure everybody adheres to the norms is huge.

GA: A lot of people have children or parents to take care of in addition to working from home – what are your thoughts on flex hours as part of those team norms? 

Matt: I think that’s really important right now. Everybody needs to come together and be flexible and empathetic because this is a difficult time for a lot of people. Recognize that maybe somebody will be able to do good work from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before their kids get up, and then there are times during the day when they need to take breaks to play with their kids, and then they’ll be ready to hop back on later in the evening.

This ties directly into setting team norms. Norms can include being explicit about the hours that people are available, as opposed to assuming that everybody is still going to be on the nine to five office schedule while at home. In my opinion, assuming that what you did in the office will simply work at home is one of the quickest ways to set yourself up for failure.

GA: On the flip side, how do you set boundaries with family while you’re working, given remote work and home life coexist in the same place? 

Matt: With my fiancé, we had to have very direct conversations about what worked for us and what didn’t. For example, I said “If you come home and my headphones are in, just wave at me but go into the other room. If I’m able to talk to you, I will take my headphones out and come talk to you.”

Some people recommend even having a little sign, like a yes/no sign. If it says yes, you can come up and tap them on the shoulder, but if they flip it and it says no, don’t bother them at that moment. That can be really important. 

GA: One final question. We know that working from home can be stressful, especially when juggling family obligations and health concerns. What advice do you have for people who are having those feelings right now?

Matt: It is very common and normal for people to feel stressed, to feel isolated, or to feel upset about what’s going on. I read on Twitter recently that this isn’t a normal working from home scenario…we’re working from home during a crisis. I have worked from home for almost 2.5 years, and I still feel like something is fundamentally different, given all that’s going on in the news. One of the things that I personally believe is that community is really, really important. And it’s possible to have community with one another, even if you’re not physically in the same room. 

With my fiancé, we sat down with his parents and did a virtual drink. For the first three minutes, it felt bizarre to talk with people on a computer screen, but after a few minutes, you don’t even notice that they’re not in the room. Virtual connections can happen with family, friends, colleagues and co-workers to the extent that you want. Leaning into my community has been really cathartic for me, and I hope that it is for many of you too.

A huge thanks to Matt for taking the time to sit down with us to share his remote work tips and tricks. As we adjust our everyday lives to our ever-changing world, it’s helpful to know that our sense of work, community, and work/life balance does not have to be compromised. 

Do you have questions about managing remote teams that you’d like to ask our experts? Email us at cheers@ga.co.

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Free Fridays by General Assembly: Our Favorite Online Workshops

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At General Assembly, we’ve been thinking a lot about the current and future state of career development and the skills that will build resiliency. Despite this age of uncertainty, we believe that learning has no limits. Whether you’re looking for a new job or wanting to diversify your skill set to become more employable, our community of experts is still here for you, online.

While our Free Fridays promotion of our most popular paid workshops concluded at the end of June, we always have free intro classes and events coming up. From coding to data, marketing, and career development, explore the tech skills that will keep you in demand and in the know.

Browse Free Workshops

Keeping Our Learners on Track During COVID-19

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First, thank you for being a part of the General Assembly community. We want you to know that, as a community member, your health and well-being is our top priority. 

In light of COVID-19 developments, we have put in place precautionary measures to keep our community safe. As we all make sense of the evolving situation, General Assembly is guided by two priorities: ensuring safety and health while minimizing disruption to our learners.

Right now, like many education providers, we’re in the process of offering all of our workshops and courses remotely. The good news is, we’ve done this for thousands of people across all of our programs and know how to do it well. Our instructors and teams are laser-focused on maintaining a high-quality experience for our students. 

To learn more about our approach to online learning and best practices for remote classrooms, check out this video

Starting Monday, March 16, we will be moving all in-person programming online and temporarily closing our campus facilities. From here, we will continue to monitor the situation and update you on an ongoing basis. 

GA’s Singapore campus will remain open, and we have implemented safety measures in line with the guidance from Singapore’s Ministry of Health. We will be following updates closely, and will move to remote programming should the situation escalate.

We’ve sent specific instruction and guidance to all of our students and employer partners and leveraged the talents of our online instructional team to ensure a seamless transition to a remote learning environment. 

We’ll marshal all of our resources to ensure our community can continue learning and maintain a sense of structure and connection in the midst of an unprecedented situation.  We’re taking our cues from public health experts in all of the countries in which we operate and closely following recommendations from federal, state, and local government authorities.

We have instructed all of our employees to work remotely if they can and are moving quickly to coordinate a successful shift for learning deliveries on our campuses and at employer offices. 

For real time updates, please refer to comprehensive resources prepared by the World Health Organization and your national health authorities:

  • U.S.: Centers for Disease Control
  • Canada: Public Health Agency
  • Australia: Department of Health
  • U.K. Department of Health and Social Care
  • Singapore: Ministry of Health

We’ll continue to provide updates as this develops and encourage all of you to take care of yourselves and stay safe. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via email to hello@generalassemb.ly.

What It’s Really Like to Change Your Career Online

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Going to work used to mean physically traveling to a workplace. Whether by foot, public transit, or car — a job was a specific location to which you commuted. But with the advent of the gig economy and advances in technology, telecommuting has become more and more prevalent. In fact, according to a 2018 study, approximately 70% of workers worldwide spend at least one day a week working from home.

So, why should education be any different? Learning from the comfort of home saves you the time and money you would’ve spent commuting, allows you to spend more time with loved ones, and encourages a much more comfortable, casual work environment.

That’s why we’re now offering all of our career-changing Immersives online. We’ve transformed over 11K+ careers — so whether you’re interested in becoming a software engineer, data scientist, or UX designer, you can trust our proven curriculum, elite instructors, and dedicated career coaches to set you up for professional success.

We sat down with three experts on GA’s Immersive Remote programs to better understand how they work — and more importantly — how they compare to the on-campus experience.

Breaking Barriers

GA Education Product Manager Lee Almegard explained the reasoning behind the move: “At GA, the ability to pay tuition, commute to class, or coordinate childcare shouldn’t be a barrier to launching a new career, she said. “Our new 100% remote Immersive programs are designed to ease these barriers.”

Obviously, saving yourself a trip to campus is appealing on many levels, but some interested students expressed concern that they wouldn’t receive enough personalized attention studying online as opposed to IRL. Instructor Matt Huntington reassures them, saying “Our lectures are highly interactive, and there is ample time to ask questions — not only of the teacher but also of other students.” 

Staying Focused

It’s not always easy to stay focused in a traditional classroom, but when your fellow students have been replaced by a curious toddler or Netflix is only a click away, distraction is a real concern. 

GA graduate Alex Merced shared these worries when he began his Software Engineering Immersive Remote program, but they quickly disappeared. “The clever use of Slack and Zoom really made the class engaging. It leverages the best features of both platforms, such as polls, private channels, and breakout rooms,” he said. “This kept the class kinetic, social, and engaging, versus traditional online training that usually consists of fairly non-interactive lectures over PowerPoint.”

If you’re concerned about staying focused, you can use these simple, impactful tips to stay motivated and on track to meet your goals:

  • Plan ahead. Conquer homework by blocking off time on your calendar each week during the hours in which you focus best.
  • Limit distractions. Find a quiet place to study, put your device on “Do Not Disturb” mode, or find a productivity app like Freedom to block time-consuming sites when studying or working independently.
  • Listen to music. You might find that music helps you concentrate on homework. Some of our favorite Spotify playlists to listen to are Deep Focus, Cinematic Chillout, and Dreamy Vibes.
  • Take breaks. Go for a short walk at lunch and change up the scenery, or grab a latte to power through an assignment.
  • Ask for help. We’re here for you! Our instructional team is available for guidance, feedback, technical assistance, and more during frequent one-on-one check-ins and office hours.

Most importantly, listen to yourself. Everyone learns differently, so take stock of what works best for you. Find the strategies that fit your learning style, and you’ll be well on your way to new skills and new heights. 

Getting Connected and Getting Hired

Another key component of learning is the camaraderie that comes from meeting and studying with like-minded students. How does that translate to a virtual classroom?

GA Career Coach Ruby Sycamore-Smith explains that both students and faculty can have meaningful, productive relationships without ever meeting in person. We’re a lot more intentional online,” she says. “You’re not able to just bump into each other in the corridor as you would on campus, but that means you’re able to be a lot more purposeful with your time when you do connect — way beyond a simple smile and a wave. Merced agrees. “Breakout sessions allowed me to assist and be assisted by my classmates, with whom I’ve forged valuable relationships. Now I have friends all over the world.” And as Huntington pointed out, “There is no back of the classroom when you’re online.” When you learn remotely, every seat is right next to all of your peers.

When we piloted the Software Engineering Remote bootcamp, we took extra care to make sure that our virtual classrooms felt exactly like the on-campus ones, with group labs and even special projects to ensure students are constantly working with each other,” Huntington explained. “A lot of our students form after-hours homework groups, and nighttime TAs create study hall video conferences so everyone can see and talk to each other.” 

And with students from all over the country, you’re going to connect with people you never would’ve met within the confines of a classroom. These peers could even be the very contacts who help you get you hired.

By recruiting industry professionals who are also gifted instructors to lead courses, students are taught how to translate their knowledge into in-demand skill sets that employers need. Sycamore-Smith explains that the involvement of GA’s career coaches doesn’t end after graduation; they’re invested in their students’ long-term success.

She says, “Career preparation sessions are very discussion-based and collaborative, as all of our students have varied backgrounds. Some are recent college graduates, others may have had successful careers and experienced a number of job hunts previously. Everyone has unique ideas and insights to share, so we use these sessions to really connect and learn from one another.” 

Merced is enthusiastic about his GA experience and quickly landed a great job as a developer. “Finding work was probably the area I was most insecure about going into the class,” he confessed. “But the prep sessions really made the execution and expectations of a job search much clearer and I was able to land firmly on my feet.

Conclusion? Make Yourself at Home

After years of teaching in front of a brick-and-mortar classroom, Huntington was a little wary about his move to digital instructor, but his misgivings quickly gave way. 

I was surprised to feel just as close to my virtual students as I did to my on-campus students, he said. “Closing down our virtual classrooms and saying goodbye on the last day of class is so much more heart-wrenching online than it ever was for me when I taught on campus.” 

Huntington’s advice to a student wondering if online learning is right for them: “Go for it! It’s just like in person, but there’s no commute and it’s socially acceptable to wear pajamas!”

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How to Make a Career Change

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YOUR UNTAPPED PROFESSIONAL POTENTIAL

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by Ashley Rudolph and Tom Ogletree

How GA’s new income-share agreement program is removing barriers to education and career change.

Embarking on a career change is a major investment. To say it’s a tough endeavor is an understatement, as it usually requires time, money, and effort to bridge skills gaps and make inroads in a new field or profession.

At General Assembly, we’ve helped over 13,000 individuals with finding a job and launching new careers through our full-time Immersive programs in coding, data, and UX design. GA courses aren’t cheap, but they have a high return on investment and are specifically designed to prepare students to be successful and secure high-wage, high-potential roles as web developers, data scientists, and UX designers.

However, many students can’t financially afford this education out of pocket. About 40% of our full-time students use third-party funding sources — including loans, scholarships, GI Bill® benefits, and government programs — to attend GA. There are more seeking who would like to do the same, but half of those who apply for loans get turned down, and our pool of scholarship funding is not big enough to meet demand.

The fact of the matter is that many of our students already have debt from past education or credit cards that affects their ability to secure new financing. Today, the typical college student borrower graduates with an average of $22,000 in debt. A recent study revealed that over 30% of recent student borrowers are facing serious struggles with repaying debt loads. The combination of existing repayment obligations and the looming risk of default leaves many adults with extremely limited funds to devote to continuing education. It’s a frustrating cycle — individuals are stuck in low-paying jobs they don’t love, but they can’t afford the education that will fast-track them into a new line of work.

At GA, we never want a student’s financial struggles to stand in the way of their motivation to break into a new profession. In order to create more access to our rewarding programs, we sought out new ways for career-changers to financially fund their education.

One concept that caught our attention was income share agreements (ISAs), a model of income-based repayment that’s gaining traction among education and training providers. After nearly two years designing this program, we’re excited to launch Catalyst, GA’s ISA program. Since many people are curious about ISAs, we wanted to share some insight around why they’re a viable option for many students pursuing this program, regardless of their income, credit history, or background.

You can read about how and why we created the Catalyst program in more detail in our white paper, Untapped Potential.

How GA’s Catalyst ISA Program Works

The gist of the Catalyst program is this: Students can accomplish taking a full-time GA Immersive course in web development, data science, or UX design at no upfront cost. After they graduate and land a job earning at least $40,000 annually, they’ll start paying back 10% of their income over 48 monthly payments.

We chose this income share amount because it’s comparable to what students might pay for a loan, based on our typical starting salaries. According to PayScale, average starting salaries for web developers are $54,365 nationally, and data from Climb Credit, one of our loan partners, shows that GA graduates report median starting salaries of $60,000 after taking an Immersive course.

Payments are maxed out at 1.5 times the initial cost of tuition (currently about $15,000), meaning that higher earners may end up paying as much as $22,425 total, while lower earners will pay less. We’re working with Vemo Education, the largest provider of ISAs in the United States, to manage the program’s day-to-day operations and administration.

We think these terms benefit career-changers for several reasons:

  • Approval based on future potential. Many loan applicants get rejected because of low credit scores or other debt. Acceptance to Catalyst instead depends on students’ drive and readiness to thrive in the course and on the job.
  • Employment first, payments later. Students can devote their time and energy to excelling in class and job searching — without the looming stress of upcoming payments.
  • Career focus. ISAs and career support go hand in hand. GA’s Career Services team is dedicated to making sure students land a job in their field of study through one-on-one coaching, exclusive hiring events, networking opportunities, and more.
  • Flexible career pathways. The $40,000 minimum salary allows students to accept a lower-paying job they’re passionate about, cultivate a freelance business, or even start their own company without the pressure of loan repayments.
  • Life happens? Payments stop. Students can pause payments at any time if they stop working, whether due to unemployment or personal, family, or health-related reasons.

Our Approach to ISAs

We took a student-centric, research-based approach in deciding whether to introduce ISAs. It was essential to develop a model that does not put the burden only on the student, but also ensures that GA is incentivized to help participants meet their career goals. First and foremost, we wanted to introduce an option that would be attractive to all individuals, regardless of income, credit history, or background.

Data from the ISA industry at large informed our approach to designing the Catalyst program, but our own unique experience serving thousands of students defined our terms. Here are some of the considerations we made while exploring ISAs as a payment option:

  • Student feedback. We reached out to alumni to understand whether or not an ISA-type structure would be appealing to them. We learned what features resonated with our community and built them into our program. More than anything else, students valued not having to make payments while in school and during their job search.
  • Current payment performance data and trends. After analyzing data from past GA applicants and students, we knew that affordability was still a frequent barrier. Loans, government funding, and scholarships are increasingly popular options for our community, but we couldn’t meet demand due to obstacles like a small scholarship pool and applicants’ inability to secure loans.
  • A strong focus on career outcomes. It’s incredible what GA students can achieve after taking one of our full-time programs, regardless of their educational and professional backgrounds. We strongly believe that ISAs can’t work without outcomes-based programming, and GA’s Career Services team is solely focused on ensuring that students in our full-time courses have the tools and skill sets they need to land a job after they graduate. We track student progress, have a Big Four accounting firm audit our job-placement data, and share our outcomes reports publicly every year.
  • Likelihood of students’ success. Students’ actions prior to enrollment reliably indicate how they’ll perform in their course and job search. To ensure Catalyst participants are prepared, applicants must complete our admissions requirements, course pre-work, and a readiness assessment. Our data shows that good performance on the assessment is the best predictor of success in the program and the job search.
  • Commitment to transparency. ISAs are new and we know there’s still a lot to learn about the model, but we’re optimistic. Because of this, we’re pledging to define key success metrics and make them publicly available.

Thanks to funding from the investment firm Kennedy Lewis, we’re able to serve 5,000 students through the Catalyst program in the coming years. We chose to work with the company because of its alignment with our mission and the goals of the program. “The positive social impacts of ISAs are extensive because they align the quality of the education with the cost,” said David Chene, co-founder and managing partner at Kennedy Lewis. “ISAs avoid the debt trap associated with student loan debt as a student will never be asked to pay more than they can afford.”

We’ll learn a lot along the way and are committed to maintaining transparency with our students, our partners, and others interested in the future of ISAs for accelerated career training and work experience. We’ll share updates regularly as we learn, iterate, and improve so we can continue to create greater access to GA’s programs and empower students to pursue professions they love.

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Ashley Rudolph is GA’s Director of Consumer Operations and Financing, overseeing global campus operations, as well as General Assembly’s loan and income share agreement programs.

Tom Ogletree is Senior Director of Social Impact and External Affairs and manages GA’s communications, public affairs, and social impact initiatives.

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Since 2011, General Assembly has trained individuals and teams online and on campus through experiential education in the fields of coding, data, design, and business. We believe everyone should have access to leading-edge education that will transform their careers — and their lives. Learn more about our Catalyst ISA program and other financing options, and find out what we’re doing to break down barriers to employment, diversify the workforce, and close the skills gap.

Put Your Career Front and Center: Meet Our Upgraded UX Design Immersive

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We’ve evolved our career-changing bootcamp to help get you hired in 2020.

Now more than ever, companies are recognizing the value of user-centered design. According to InVision, 92% of the mature design organizations can draw a straight line from the efforts of their design team to their company’s revenue. 

That’s why we’ve given our User Experience Design Immersive program a full revamp, evolving our tried-and-true curriculum to meet 2020 hiring priorities.

Keeping our programs tightly linked to market demand is at the core of our mission. It’s part of our commitment to ensuring our graduates can secure great jobs using their new skills — and it’s why more than 16,000 Immersive grads in six countries have trusted us to help them launch high-growth careers.

To stay ahead of rapidly changing industry needs, we do our research, working closely with employers, practitioners, and students to make impactful updates that help grads launch new careers. We dive into questions including: 

  • What roles are employers looking to hire? 
  • What skills and tools are required on the job?? 
  • What are broader trends across the industry? 
  • And, most importantly, how can we synthesize all of this to ensure our students have the most relevant, in-demand skills they need to succeed? 

Armed with this knowledge, we invested in expanding this full-time, three-month program in a few significant ways — including the introduction of a new Remote format.

What’s New

1. Two additional weeks of expert-led instruction.

Developed with guidance from our User Experience Design Standards Board — a group of design executives from companies like Tigerspike and WarnerMedia — our upgraded UX bootcamp curriculum is primed for industry relevance.

The now 12-week course now dedicates a full week to user interface and visual design topics, enabling students to build high-fidelity prototypes by Week 4. In addition to touching on hot topics like service design, design operations, and design leadership, we’ve also curated the best material from our global network to provide an expanded library of elective lessons.

2. Sharpened focus on real-world collaboration. 

You can take a crash course in UX to learn the foundations, but what makes new designers employable is how they work with developers, product managers, and business stakeholders to drive impact with design. 

Our upgraded UXDI program offers more opportunities to experience on-the-job realities, including UX/UI handoffs, team presentations, and design critiques. Prepare to work cross-functionally by learning Agile methodologies. Then put them into practice, teaming up with classmates to research and prototype a professional client project in a three-week sprint.

3. A sixth passion project.

Throughout this Immersive, students gain hands-on experience with each step in the UX process, compiling a portfolio that showcases fluency in research synthesis, information architecture, user flows, wireframes, and more.  

For their final solo piece, they have the opportunity to distinguish themselves as designers (and job candidates) by choosing one skill area within the UX discipline to hone — for example user research, visual design, or interaction design. Start in the classroom with expert guidance and polish it post-course to demonstrate continuing growth.

4. Online and in-person Immersive options.

For career-changers who don’t live near a GA campus, have a busy travel schedule, or just want to skip the commute, we’re expanding access to UXDI with a new Remote format.

Offered throughout the United States,* the Remote learning experience mirrors GA’s on-campus offerings but allows you to learn from the comfort of home. Connect with expert instructors, guest speakers, and classmates in our interactive classroom setup, powered by 

Zoom and Slack.

You’ll still get access to the expert instruction, learning resources, and support network that GA is known for. Work individually with your career coach to understand your local job market, find opportunities, and connect with the local UX community.

* Remote courses are not available to non-U.S. or New York state residents at this time.

What Hasn’t Changed

Our proven approach to developing industry-relevant curriculum remains the same: We partner with top employers and practitioners in the field to ensure our offerings are tailored to meet today’s needs. A-list companies like Apple, Google, and Fitbit have all hired UXDI grads.

As with all Immersive course participants, UXDI students receive dedicated support from expert career coaches from their first day of class to their first day on the job. Diving deep into personal brand building, design interview prep, exclusive networking events, portfolio development, job search roadmaps, and more, we’re there at every step of the job hunt with guidance to keep grads motivated and accountable.
Read all about UXDI and its new features and dive deeper by checking out the syllabus here. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us at admissions@ga.co.

Learn More

Preparing for an Immersive Coding Program? Don’t Stop at the Pre-Work.

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Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the onboarding experience for students entering our Software Engineering Immersive (SEI) program. SEI is a 12-week, full-time program that gives people the foundation and skills needed to become full-stack web developer.

From 9 am to 9 pm on weekdays, and all day Saturdays and Sundays, students are immersed in code. Because the program is so intense and the learning curve so steep, we, along with other coding immersives (also known as “bootcamps”), advise students to start preparing before they arrive on day one.

Pretty standard is the concept of “pre-work”: 50-100 hours of readings, tutorials, and exercises designed to give everyone a foundation in basic web development concepts, as well as level set the class. At GA, students cover Git, HTML, CSS, and Ruby before starting SEI.

Continue reading

Introducing On Demand Learning Paths: First-Class Skill Building Anytime, Anywhere

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With an online community of over 20,000 and growing, we’re helping you take control of when and where you acquire the skills that boost job performance and accelerate your career. 

Introducing our On Demand learning paths — self-led, online programs that enable individuals to easily access bite-sized lessons, downloadable study guides, expert feedback, industry-backed assessments, and much more. With On Demand, learners build in-demand skills in digital marketing, data analysis, user experience (UX) design, and digital mindsets, while learning at their own pace on GA’s device-friendly platform. 

On Demand was designed based on valuable student feedback, and combines the best features from our former Circuit courses — including 1:1 mentor sessions and foundational concepts that drive today’s most influential industries — with skill-building benefits that set learners up for success. We also worked with leading companies and experts to identify the most practical skills needed for highly coveted roles, while providing a seamless online experience for the modern-day learner.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s included in On Demand, and what you can expect when exploring the programs’ dynamic learning paths.

GROW YOUR SKILL SET IN TOP FIELDS ON THE GO 

  1. Accessible on any device, 24/7.
    With On Demand, dive into refreshed content updated with the latest industry research and available on our interactive myGA learning platform. From informative expert-led videos to interactive flashcards to knowledge checks that reinforce key concepts, myGA is user-intuitive and accessible across desktop computers and mobile devices.

  2. Completely self-paced with 12-month access to online content. Build tech skills when you want, where you want over the course of an entire year. Whether you’re a busy professional or lifelong learner who’s constantly on the move, On Demand allows you to access lessons on any device at any time based on your unique schedule. Moreover, you can complete the program within two to three months of starting your learning path, or take as much time as you need to revisit content throughout your access period.

  3. Five 1:1 sessions with expert mentors.
    You don’t have to go it alone. GA’s expert mentors can provide personalized guidance to help you tackle challenging lessons, gather feedback, and keep track of learning goals. For example, meet with industry practitioners to talk through tough concepts, help refine an idea for your portfolio-ready project, or get advice about industry-related topics and trends. Schedule 30-minute private video sessions with an expert mentor at any point throughout the program and at a time that’s most convenient for you.

  4. Free industry-backed skills assessment.
    Developed in partnership with GA’s Standards Boards, the skills assessments included in our On Demand programs enable you to evaluate your skills in the key areas that are required to succeed in fast-growing industries. Discover how your scores stack up against other test takers, identify areas for improvement, and pinpoint proficiencies in core areas.

  5. Full tuition credit toward a part-time or Immersive course.
    On Demand is designed to give you foundational skills in high-growth fields. If you’re looking to take your skill set to the next level, pave the path to a promotion, or prepare for a career change, you can apply the full cost of your On Demand program toward one of GA’s transformative Immersive or flexible part time courses in an equivalent topic.

  6. Team management capabilities for employers.
    Companies looking to train their teams with our On Demand learning path get access to the platform’s unique team management dashboard. Within team management, managers can allocate or reassign licenses to team members, and monitor employee progress in the program. Additional functionality, including the ability to view team members’ assessment scores and learning path progress, is planned for release at the end of 2019.  

BUILD SKILLS IN TODAY’S TOP FIELDS

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Data Analysis On Demand
Make data-driven decisions by applying core techniques like Excel, SQL, and data visualization on the job. Gain skills — including cleaning data, framing questions, visualizing data, and communicating insights — that help solve real business problems.

Digital Marketing On Demand
Craft and launch comprehensive multi-channel brand, acquisition, and retention campaigns that drive effective marketing for the digital age. Explore marketing fundamentals, including segmentation, customer insight, CRM, analytics, and automation. 

User Experience Design On Demand
Create digital products that solve user problems and address business demands. Dive into UX design fundamentals, including user research, prototyping, personas, affinity mapping, and wireframing.

Digital Foundations On Demand
Digital Foundations focuses on increasing digital literacy and advancing teams across organizations. Become well-versed in key topics that drive today’s digital economy, including Agile methodology, customer centricity, growth activation, and data-driven decision-making.

Coming Soon: HTML & CSS On Demand
Build professional, responsive websites using modern HTML and CSS. Advance your skills with forms and responsive email templates, while applying UX design best practices.

Coming Soon: JavaScript On Demand
Create rich, interactive websites with the world’s most popular programming language. Learn new JavaScript ES6 features, code more efficiently with jQuery, and pull data from APIs.

HOW DO I KNOW IF ON DEMAND IS FOR ME?

Looking to learn and apply your new skills quickly, or equip your teams with foundational tools that have an immediate impact on the job? On Demand’s premium, self-led content, accessible and mobile-friendly platform, dedicated mentor support, and industry-leading skills assessments are available to help you get up to speed, and meet your career and business goals without making a huge financial or time commitment. There are no prerequisites — all you need is a thirst for learning! Also, look out for HTML & CSS On Demand and JavaScript On Demand, which are scheduled for release in early 2020. 

Request a program guide to get started. For upskilling teams, request a demo to explore our full suite of corporate training programs. Prefer to speak to someone directly? Contact our Admissions team at onlineadmissions@generalassemb.ly.