Roshan Choxi was surprised that he learned more about software development during a 2010 summer internship at an early-stage web startup than during the four years he spent at a top-five engineering school.
“Even at a high-caliber engineering program like that, what you learn is so divorced from anything pragmatic or related to the type of skills you need to know in the industry,” Choxi says. “I felt like there was a way to do it better.”
Teaming up with fellow engineer Dave Paola in 2011, he founded Bloc, a San Francisco-based company that offers online boot camps in web development, mobile development and software design. Led by seasoned developers and designers, Bloc’s courses employ a hands-on apprenticeship model in which students work one-on-one with a mentor to build software products.
More than 1,000 students have enrolled in the boot camps, with revenue increasing 400 percent year over year, says Choxi, who serves as Bloc’s CEO. He adds that the courses have a 75 percent completion rate, and many students refer their friends.
In 2013, Bloc picked up $2.5 million in investments from Harrison Metal, Baseline Ventures, Learn Capital and First Round Capital. Last November, the company announced a $6 million Series A round led by Silicon Valley early-stage firm Shasta Ventures, which also funded the edutech companies Socratic and ClassDojo.
Bloc attendees can choose from 12-, 18- or 36-week programs, depending on the desired pace (a 12-week course requires a weekly commitment of 40 hours, whereas a 36- week course takes just 10 to 15 hours per week to complete). Because the courses—which cost $5,000 apiece—are entirely online, students can set their own schedules. Students work with their mentors, often in video chats, while attendees who wish to collaborate have the option of participating in so-called “hacker groups.”
The goal is for students to leave the program with several completed software products, such as web services or mobile apps, which they can use to entice hiring managers. “Bloc is basically you building the first three to five projects in your portfolio,” Choxi explains.
As a bonus, each boot camp features a job-prep training module, with tips for everything from creating an online presence to nailing interview questions.
Sean Flynn, managing director of Shasta Ventures, was attracted to these quantifiable benefits. “We think of it as ROI learning,” says Flynn, who sits on Bloc’s board. “You put in $5,000, but you come out on the other side ready to be hired as a software developer.” In addition to immediately gaining access to career opportunities, program graduates who are already employed stand to see a big salary bump.
Bloc has been using the $6 million raised last year to create additional design and development courses. Choxi expects to expand from five training programs to more than a dozen by year’s end, a move he predicts will catapult Bloc’s roster of 100 mentors to 500. Also in development: a nationwide placement network of employer partners looking to hire Bloc graduates. The 52-employee startup has already enlisted employment agency Randstad as its first large-scale partner.
Choxi also plans to expand further into the corporate sector. About 15 percent of Bloc’s students have been sponsored by their employers, but Choxi believes that number could be considerably higher, given that product management and marketing roles are becoming increasingly technical.
“Every company that’s not a technology company will become one in the next 10 years,” he says. “It makes a lot of sense for these corporations to start investing in the education of their employees to help them learn these increasingly valuable skills.”