Prism Shift, powered by Launch Academy, is an 18-week immersive women-only coding bootcamp opening this fall in Washington, D.C. Students first spend eight weeks leveling up their skills by working through an online pre-learning curriculum part time. The next 10 weeks are spent learning on campus full time in a simulated work environment. At graduation, Prism Shifters will be prepared to embark on new careers as junior web developers.
We sat down with Jesse Norris, Prism Shift Experience Manager, to learn more about the program.
Can you tell us about the story behind Prism Shift?
The Launch Academy leadership team was passionate about delivering a women-only program. As the city that leads the nation, DC was the obvious frontrunner for a program designed around the idea of changing the future for women in tech. We also realized that, surprisingly, DC doesn’t have a women-only coding bootcamp. We spoke to local hiring partners, determined what the actual market of available jobs looked like, ran additional testing—and we’re slated to have our first cohort arrive on campus in early December.
Prism Shift curriculum builds off Launch Academy’s immersive, intensive 10-week bootcamp model. Can you discuss which elements of Prism Shift will be the same, and which will differ?
Our technical curriculum has been developed over the course of 20 cohorts (17 in Boston, 3 in Philadelphia), and gets updated regularly based on new learnings. It’s in a really solid place, and we’re not looking to mess with something that’s not broken—beyond the typical tweaks between cohorts (based on student and market feedback). Students will still have access to Career Services, and that curriculum will be no different from what’s available in Boston and Philly. We’ll also have a Career Services staff member dedicated to our Prism Shift location in DC, so all Prism Shift students will have a go-to point person.
In addition, at Prism Shift, we’ll be offering non-technical professional enrichment curriculum—still in development—and that’s going to be offered on an opt-in basis in addition to the technical curriculum. While exact topics aren’t yet finalized, we’ll be covering areas that have proven to be barriers to women entering the tech space, and how we can support women developers in accomplishing their goals and making it through those barriers. We’re basing all professional enrichment curriculum off research, general industry information, partnerships with groups such as She Geeks Out, and both staff and student experiences.
Across both core and professional enrichment curricula, we’re also going to rely on, pretty heavily, on what the students and DC market tell us, especially during and after the first cohort. We’re
going to be looking for a lot of feedback on how to evolve the program to best serve the students and community.
What can you tell us about the Prism Shift campus?
We’re currently working with our partner, Cove [a coworking space], on what the campus is going to look like. We learned a lot from Philly and our campus at Benjamin’s Desk [coworking space]: Folks need sunlight, natural lighting, little things like coat hooks, having enough whiteboard space, all those small details that really impact the day-to-day student experience. We’re taking all of these learnings from Philly and integrating those into our Prism Shift campus plans, which will be built out at the new Cove location in Dupont Circle. In planning with the Cove team—and seeing the other Cove spaces—it’s going to be beautiful. There’s going to be a lot of big windows, glass walls, things of that nature, to help it have a nice community feel.
Let’s pretend we’re at the last day of the first Prism Shift cohort. What feedback do you hope to receive? Where do you hope to go with the second cohort?
In terms of what success looks like, if we help students acquire the skills and confidence for their job searches, and then have successful job searches, that’s really what it’s all about for me. I’d love to hear from students that this is a comfortable space for them to learn without restriction. And that they had fun!
That being said, I’m looking forward to getting critical feedback, too. I think the only way you grow is getting critical feedback and learning from it, as long as it comes from a place of empathy and with a goal of helping the person advance and succeed. So what can we do differently? I’m really excited to see what we can learn from our students and our hiring partners. If we have blind spots, which I’m sure we do, where are they? Where can we improve? I’m excited to be able to grow and improve with the help of that feedback
For better or worse, critics say that all-women coding bootcamps don’t emulate a “real-world” work environment. How will you prepare your students for their first jobs, where sexism and gender imbalance may be all too real?
You’re right: Prism Shift does not look like the real world at all. We are intentionally creating something that isn't real-world to elevate women to broaden their ability of what they can imagine for themselves. Removing those barriers in the education stage will help women more effectively learn and prepare for when they enter their real-life work environments.
Representation matters. With a program that’s by women for women, representation has a big influence on a student’s confidence level and the ability to succeed—and even just their ability to imagine themselves in a career that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have been considered without first seeing a woman in that position.
Returning to the professional enrichment curriculum—we’re going to address some of those more sensitive issues in a comfortable space, where students won’t have to weigh potential risks of retribution for what their thoughts might be. They’re going to have a forum where they can discuss their fears and their experiences with peers and mentors who can identify with where they’re coming from better than the industry as a whole might.
Although we’re going to have women and women-identifying people in the roles of mentors and instructors, that does not mean we are never going to have men in the space. Launch Academy has this great program called LEAP, that’s sort of like an instructor exchange program for our different locations. We might have folks coming from Boston or Philly who identify as men, who come down, help out, and give a facilitation for a day. We’re also going to have a speaker series that’s part of our career services curriculum, and we’re planning to have people representative of the DC community, which will likely include men. We’ll build our students’ skills and awareness to identify and build relationships with allies.
Our goal for Prism Shift is inclusion. Our goal for Prism Shift students is removing barriers to make the tech space a more inclusive space. While we are doing that primarily through this goal of creating more gender diversity within the tech community by offering Prism Shift to women only, we are very aware that Washington, D.C. is a truly diverse area and we want to support intersectionality and other types of inclusion as much as we can—while still maintaining that this is a space primarily for women in order to allow them to overcome those barriers.