Mercedes Bent is the General Manager of General Assembly’s University Partnership and Programs division. These programs focus on providing undergrads and high-school gap year students opportunities to learn digital skillsets while they are still in college.
Over the past 3.5 years I’ve worked at General Assembly, I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been asked whether or not we offer an internship program. Students want to dive into the working world before committing to a permanent role for a variety of reasons—from experiencing the day-to-day work environment of a particular role to exploring company culture to beefing up the implied credentials on their resume, to building tangible skills, to making money, to simply understanding what an office environment is like. Internships are often seen as a safe space to make mistakes. The actual definition of an internship is “a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment.”
Across the country, universities are feeling a pinch. The cost of operating a university is rising, and increases in tuition can’t keep up. Across the country, students are also feeling a pinch. Tuition is rising, and the long-promised value of a higher degree is becoming more dubious for some as student debt, unemployment and under-employment rates soar.To combat these issues, universities and third party companies have placed higher education under the microscope—questioning, analyzing, and experimenting with new models.
While the reform in vogue changes year-to-year, the largest changes of the past decade have centered around online learning. From 2U enabling universities to put their own degree programs online, to the MOOCs offering university courses to the world for free, to the emergence of the Minerva Project, the most prominent trends have been spurred by the digital age. These initiatives largely take the same structural approach to teaching but have moved the medium of instructional delivery online. Many see online learning as a potential catalyst for the unbundling of universities as students choose to pick-and-choose which elements of a higher education experience they need.
Mercedes Bent is the Global Director of New Ventures at General Assembly
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on diversity in the tech world, primarily on the need to bridge the gender gap by making tech a more available and welcoming industry for women and men of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
As a Black woman working at a tech education startup, I’m thrilled that these conversations are happening. Reading through statements by companies promising to make diversity a top agenda item, I’ve seen the appalling statistics: Only 24% of engineers graduating from undergrad are female, only 1% of all startup founders are Black, and so on. Great organizations have sprung up to address the dearth of underrepresented groups in tech including: Girl Develop It, Code2040, AllStarsCode, Black Girls Code, and Railsbridge, to name a few.
I moderated a panel a recently called “The Corporate Escape” in which four panelists and I discussed how we made the transition from traditional corporate jobs at Fortune 500 companies to small tech startups. General Assembly is hosting this panel again on Thursday, October 9th.
Something I hear from a lot of students when they first enter the Web Development Immersive program at GA is they feel as though their particular background does not lend to success in this environment they’ve found themselves in.
The past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the onboarding experience for students entering General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) program. WDI 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 WDI.