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Getting Apps Done

Learning About Learners

July 11, 2019

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I’m joined by community member, Tiffany Peña as my guest co-host and we talk to Mansour Sharha from Capella University about online learning, bootcamps vs universities and what the distinction is between students and learners!
Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

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  • 00:01 Joshua

    Welcome to getting apps done. A mostly non technical podcast with the goal of helping you deliver software with your host, Joshua Graham and Kel Piffner.

  • 00:15 Joshua

    Correct me if I get this wrong, it's Mansour Sharha.

  • 00:17 Mansour

    That is correct. Thank you.

  • 00:19 Joshua

    Alright. Sometimes I do get them right.

  • 00:23 Mansour

    I'm sure you do!

  • 00:24 Joshua

    It doesn't always go that well!

  • 00:26 Joshua

    So you are a faculty member at Capella University.

  • 00:31 Mansour

    That is correct.

  • 00:31 Joshua

    And you are working in the itIT section. Would you give us a little bit of information about who you are and what you do there?

  • 00:38 Mansour

    Sure. Like I said, I'm a core faculty at Capella University within the school of technology. I am the specialization program lead for network technology and also I assist closely with other specialization leads within the information assurance and security and also the app development programs within Capella. Beside my teaching I also develop courses. I work closely with the course curriculum committee. I do also work closely with, other departments to assist them to, provide a great service to our learners and that's enrollment, advising and um, other functional team within Capella.

  • 01:21 Joshua

    Okay. So you are kind of all over the place supporting a lot of different things going on there.

  • 01:25 Mansour


  • 01:26 Joshua

    Alright. And I believe you said that you actually are an app developer yourself and you have got a lot of passion for particularly the security aspect of software development.

  • 01:36 Mansour

    Um, true. So in the past, back in the day when I was in college, I had some app development experience. I in fact took Java, C, C++, um, in fact Cobol and, um, other old languages. So, um, I grew up that passion then shifted to, uh, networking and that works security. Then I came back to really continue with the security aspects of the app development. Um, I did lots of consulting roles, um, and depending on what the project had, sometimes we do have app development within the project itself as part of that consulting role. So I kept myself engaged.

  • 02:14 Joshua

    Okay. Now you mentioned Java, Tiffany, you went to Capella University and you studied Java there.

  • 02:20 Tiffany


  • 02:21 Joshua

    And from a student's point of view, how did that go for you? Was it a... Obviously you learned a lot, but do you feel like after you've gone through that, that you're at, in fact, you told me you've got an interview tomorrow. Do you feel like you're ready for that now that you've been through university?

  • 02:37 Tiffany

    Yeah, definitely. Um, Java was one of those, um, languages that really kind of drove me crazy. And in the beginning I struggled a lot. And, um, I reached out, um, within a couple of communities and, and got quite a bit of help, which was nice. And, um, and I remember one of, uh, these people that were helping me, they told me, they said, you know, the language that, um, you struggle with in the beginning usually ends up being the one you are most most passionate about. And I have found that in Java, like Java just, it challenges me. And, um, yeah. And I have, I've taken the advanced Java class and um, some software, um, construction type classes now and it's all been Java, um, related. And I've, I've built, um, kind of a thermostat, a smart home app with Java and I just love it.

  • 03:43 Joshua

    Okay. You mentioned something there that I, uh, I was actually very curious about, we've spoken to a couple of different bootcamps and the concept of community comes up a lot when you're building your courses. Uh, is that something that you really focus on is not only the content of the course itself, but also how to engage the students and get them to work together as a community?

  • 04:04 Mansour

    Definitely. So the, I would say practical approach that happens in the communities is something that we look at as SMEs, subject matter experts, that get assigned to a specific course to develop. That's one venue. The second venue that we look at also as the end of course evaluation. We look at what the learners at Capella, we call them learners in instead of students. So you will hear me keep repeating the word learners. Yeah. So, uh, we do take a look at the feedback provided by our, um, learners that took the course and we take that to heart. So we evaluate those feedback and depending on what the feedback was, we move forward with upgrading the course, improving the services that they, um, asked. And we also look at the trend. So if at least, um, two to three learners provided the same feedback. That's a valuable data we take a look at.

  • 05:05 Joshua

    You said you call them learners, not students. Is there a particular reason behind that?

  • 05:09 Mansour

    Um, yes, there is a, or there are few differences. Um, I particularly struggled with this term when I first joined Capella back in 2007. In fact, um, I come from a traditional environment. Um, so because there isn't that face to face as much as the online environment, uh, we tend to heavily depend on the learner being proactive, um, and also, um, motivated. So it, it's, it's more of um, leaning toward a mature, um, learners versus a traditional school where students get to see their faculty face to face and every session and every course that they take.

  • 05:54 Joshua

    Yeah, there's a little bit less involvement on your end. They actually have to go out and be responsible for making sure that they're doing their own thing.

  • 06:00 Mansour

    That's true.

  • 06:02 Tiffany

    And I've definitely felt that with Capella, you know, it's, it's really pushed me to go out and you know, find answers on my own instead of relying on someone to be there to lean on. And I think that's a huge part of programming is being able to research and look for answers.

  • 06:23 Joshua

    Absolutely. That's a huge part of it, throughout your career you'll find.

  • 06:27 Mansour

    Absolutely. However, we, we also tend to really be available. We do have tools in place. So for instance, as a faculty teaching a specific course, we're required to be promptly responding to emails within 24 hours where, uh, specializing on a specific ask the instructor discussion posts that we monitor daily. Uh, so we do require, um, faculty to be available and when learners send questions, whether through course email or ask the instructor discussion posts or reaching out directly to the faculty. Um, the communication is really at its high, um, monitoring perspective, if you will.

  • 07:13 Joshua

    Yeah. Now, you said that you start to follow or do you keep track of companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM, the big names when they do come out with something new, how do you start to integrate that into your courses?

  • 07:25 Mansour

    Um, so one thing, we look at the change. So if the change is directly impacting the overall picture of the course, then we take that into what we call competencies of the specific course. So the competencies are going to change because of the change the industry made. Then we evaluate that. If the change the industry made, isn't that going to impact the competencies, what we do, we do, we do a minor change and we add additional resources to reflect the changes the industry made. Um, but primarily we do, um, closely monitor the changes in terms of exams that has been updated and also type of types of materials in terms of book authored or content updated.

  • 08:11 Joshua

    Okay. And with exams, some of that clearly is going to be about making sure that there's been some comprehension they did the learning aspect of that. Do you also have programs built around preparing them for whiteboard tests and other things like that that are going to be very common place when they do go out and start to look for jobs?

  • 08:31 Mansour

    Yeah, so what we do in our weekly discussions within the course, we do have those type of scenarios built in the course we do have specific questions that really start that process. We do also have group activities and I would love to hear from Tiffany to get her perspective. She went through it as a learner and uh, this is a good opportunity, get her experience.

  • 08:57 Tiffany

    Um, I agree. I have really enjoyed the discussions, the weekly discussions within the class. It helps see everyone's different perspectives on the same subject or question or material. And when you can see a broader range of perspective, it really helps you see it from, you know, different lights but also just help you develop a deeper understanding for it. And so I think the discussions have been really enjoyable.

  • 09:33 Joshua

    And when you have those discussions, I'm assuming you've probably got things like Slack and things like that, but do you do a lot of video conferencing and actual audio conversations as well or is it mostly text-based?

  • 09:44 Tiffany

    It's so it's a, it's a discussion board and so it's basically like a forum. So every week you're given, um, a discussion board assignment or topic or question. And then you can go into the forum and you post your response to that material. And everyone in the class has to post their own initial response and then we go in and we can reply to each other's responses. And, um, it's just, there throughout the weeks. So whenever you have, um, your set aside time to work on this and you know it's there and you don't have to meet us at a specific time. So it's very flexible for people who work or you know, people like me who are stay at home moms and, um, we can sign in whenever and work on it. And so then you can go back and you'll have a notification saying that you've got a new response and you can go in and read it.

  • 10:46 Joshua

    Okay. Cause I can certainly imagine somebody who's considering doing something like this because there are a lot of people who would really benefit from this sort of remote learning a would, but they want to know exactly how that happens, what they would be required to do, what opportunities would be available for them, what kind of support they'd have from other students or sorry, other learners as well as the staff. And I mean I did a remote learning course when I was in college, but that was quite awhile ago. And basically they shipped me a box full of VHS tapes and I showed up on the last day for the final after watching them. So it wasn't quite the same as it is today.

  • 11:24 Mansour

    Yeah. Let me jump in real quick here. I definitely would agree. Um, 10 years ago, um, the online learning environment was almost an obsolete, uh, more static. Meaning they ship you something, you read it, and then you come back, you post your feedback or what you have learned from your reading.

  • 11:44 Joshua


  • 11:44 Mansour

    Nowadays, online learning in fact is more proactive than ever. Um, in fact, if you look around you, including myself, I work a hundred percent remote. Uh, so not only I teach remote, but I do work remote. So I interact with my peers than 100% online environment, um, because of the tools that are available to us. So, uh, we do record videos, um, faculties do record videos of specific lessons, of specific feedback, uh, whether it's an assignment or a discussion or a project or a scenario that they wanted to add. Uh, and that becomes really that interaction that the learner deserves to have.

  • 12:24 Mansour

    Um, and this is the Capella method. Really. We have improved our aligned learning in the past, um, few years, almost every year. There are new initiatives that we, um, deploy to our courses. And again, that's because of the feedback that we received from our learners. The feedback that we gather from, um, key employers that they do work closely with Capella to improve their working environment. And we also do listen to our alumni that have graduated, benefited from our programs and they do provide feedback because they do come back for another degree or they do care about Capella, uh, improvements and the way we serve our learners.

  • 13:05 Joshua

    Yeah, and you're absolutely right. Just even 10 years ago was a completely different atmosphere.

  • 13:09 Mansour


  • 13:10 Joshua

    And certainly I know a lot of people who are getting into development, this isn't their first career. So the last time they were in school may well have been 10, 15 years ago. And not everybody. In fact, I wasn't actually aware how in depth the online courses were until I, it was actually today I was at the coworking center and there was a teacher, there from Open University here in the UK, which is an online only university here. And she was talking about how the courses work and how they interact with each other. And the fact that I, and I'm assuming it's probably the same for you, they can adjust very quickly, much quicker than they could 10 years ago because it's all online. They can change things and everything can flow very quickly when there are changes in the environment and technology changes and business changes. But certainly as somebody who went to school quite a while ago, it would never have occurred to me that actually online learning is that in depth and interactive and that up to date, because those VHS tapes are what I think of when I think about remote learning.

  • 14:08 Mansour

    Oh yes. Oh yes. Nowadays, like I said, they have enterprise tools, major data centers supporting such an environment. And if you look around you, there isn't even a single traditional university that is not offering online environment. In the past. You go to your faculty or advisor in a traditional school and say, can I take this exam home or can I take this course because I'm not able to attend? They look at you and say, well, you know, are you serious now? Why are you even enrolled in a college? But nowadays, um, like I said, every single traditional university has an online program. How far, how big, how much. That's a different, uh, criteria to look at. And each school is different and 100% online. Schools are growing per day. In fact, you could see them popping left and right, but quality is what matters in all of these,

  • 15:07 Joshua

    Yeah. Obviously online only schools includes not just universities but also bootcamps. Do you have a particular point of view or does Capella have a particular point of view on bootcamps versus a traditional university? Bachelor's/CS degree

  • 15:21 Mansour

    or so I have been following that concept, um, in the past five years because especially how companies are viewing quote unquote skill sets each developer should have. Um, and based on the research that I have conducted, I really came into, um, a conclusion that I have noticed it has been shared across the communities. Um, I am actually a huge fan and a big supporter of bootcamps, but they're not the only way to do so. What I mean by that is bootcamp should be a supplement to a college degree. The reason being is you go to a college degree to really diversify your learning and your background and you build your skill sets. So if you're going to a four years degree in that four years degree, you're not only going to learn a specific language, meaning Java. In that four years degree, you're going to build your skill sets, um, and uh, a complete package.

  • 16:28 Mansour

    Meaning you will have a course in history which is very crucial to the app development. You will learn about mathematics, you will learn about, um, statistics, you will learn about, um, different programming languages. So you walk out of a four year college degree with the knowledge that the employer would look for, the employer would need someone with more than just having a programming language and skillsets.

  • 16:55 Mansour

    So bootcamp should be a complementary, a supplement to the college degree. So for me, definitely my professional recommendation would be to go through a college degree. You go through a complete, um, program plan. Then when you graduate, you focus based on your interests. So if based on the four years program that you studied and we'll take Tiffany as a great example, she learned about Java, she learned about cc plus plus and other programming languages, but her interest really grew into Java. So for Tiffany it would be great if she can go to a Java boot camp to really strengthen her skillset. It can't happen the other way around. We do know boot camps are very specific targeted and they have a specific timeline as well. So you go to a bootcamp for Java and you take Java for four to six weeks and after that six weeks they expect you to be an expert in Java and four years college degree. You really get more than that.

  • 18:01 Joshua

    Yeah, so certainly I can see that. And actually a lot of what the podcast is about is it's not... In fact we don't talk about much technical. In fact we claim to be mostly non technical because to be honest, learning one language isn't the hardest part of learning to be a developer. There are a lot of other skills around that and I can certainly see the colleges could provide a lot of that. But what do you think about somebody who is... Maybe not gone to college but has been in the workforce working in a particular career for quite a while, maybe an accountant or something of that sort and is now changing careers. What do you think that a bootcamp is more appropriate for that instead of going back to school or going to school for the first time after having worked for quite a while and career at a corporation or anywhere else?

  • 18:46 Mansour

    Sure. So that takes us back to the original root cause of um, what I stated earlier, which is what the employer looks for. So if I'm hiring someone for an app development, obviously I'll be more specific into the programming languages. For me, I would look more, um, than just the specific development skill set that the employee will provide to me. So as an employer they are still pushing forward to people having their four year college degree and the reasoning being again, they want diversified skill sets built within that employee portfolio. Um, having a boot camp again is just a specific targeted training that anybody can obtain. But if you go to, let's just take a practical example. If you are applying to Microsoft, Google or Facebook for an app development opportunity, you would definitely, and I guarantee it at least at a 99.9 6 sigma percentage, uh, you will notice that one of the requirements is to have a college degree.

  • 19:59 Mansour

    I'm sure there is a reason behind it. And again, part of the, that answer is they need somebody with more diversified learning background and experience. And that learning comes with um, mathematics. For example. You take calculus, differential equation. Um, and you look into a stats, you'll look into logic taking classes in logic. You take into the consideration of um, other courses that really supplement the knowledge that the employer look for. So yes, even if you have 20 plus professional experience within the field, most employers would require a college degree for that quote, unquote next promotion that they may have. So it's still a vital, uh, reason for them to really go and get a college degree.

  • 20:51 Tiffany

    And if I can, if I can add onto that, just from the experience. Um, I feel like I've spent equal amount of time coding as I have reading about technique processes. Um, and, and you know, like he said, math, um, just the different things surrounding, what, how things work and, and what's actually going on behind the scenes, you know, instead of just learning the language and how to put it in the program and code it and build it instead of just learning that I learned the whole process, the what the bigger picture looks like, what things are going on behind the scenes, um, how to write letters to stakeholders, how to, um, you know, write memos about the user stories or whatever the case may be. It's, it's been such a deeper knowledge I think.

  • 21:57 Joshua

    Okay. And it's good to get a different point of view because actually at the moment there is a lot of media going around about bootcamps. They're really promoting the concept of, you know, it actually reminds me of the dot com boom and year 2000 where there were a lot of these, uh, they'd weren't called bootcamps at the time, but they were trade schools basically encouraging people to, you know, go here for a year, don't go get a four year degree, learn how to be in it and make big bucks. And a lot of the fallout of that was actually a lot of people who were not experienced enough to actually go do the jobs that they were training to do, which certainly hurt for a while. But certainly we've now got a different opportunity. Bootcamps are of a similar vein but not necessarily the same thing. So it's interesting to get different points of views on that as well as see the actual experience of people who have been to bootcamps versus people who have gone to university and see how they feel that they're prepared at the end of it to go get that first job.

  • 22:56 Mansour

    Yep. That's true. And if my, I, if, if I may add, uh, I've noticed also because I do work with a lot of, uh, learners and I mentor some of the young professional in the field and I do ask that question really because, um, it, it really matters to them in terms of the outcome or the ultimate experience that they gain at the end of both experiences, whether it's a four year college degree or a bootcamp. For instance, at the boot camp, again, you only have four to six weeks timing to prove yourself, learn the materials that they want you to learn and really, um, work as hard as you can to master a language. To me, that's not enough really. Even as an employer, if you come to me and say I'm a fresh Grad, but hey, I attended this boot camp, I would consider that.

  • 23:47 Mansour

    But if you just say, oh, I graduated from high school 20 years ago, I've been working in this, um, IT support for a while. Then I wanted to change career. So I went to this boot camp and I took Java and you know, I consider myself an expert in Java. I would really think about that twice and I'll be hesitant to even believe that statement. Again. There are exceptions, but exceptions don't really matter when it comes to making a judgment or conclusion in a research based environment. So at least at the four year college degree, that learners will still have an opportunity to develop their skill sets to reevaluate what they want, to be able to be exposed to multiple courses and to multiple languages and to multiple platforms where they could develop their interest. So this semester I took Java, next semester I took c, c++ the following semester I took um, c sharp. Then wait a minute, I love C#. C# is awesome. I love dot net, dot net is awesome. They still have two years to go in the program to develop that skill sets. So it gives you an opportunity to pick and develop your interest and therefore take further courses. You can, um, take another, um, certification or educate yourself on any specific certification or of course, uh, but in a boot camp, like I said, you don't really have enough time to reevaluate and readjust your skillsets.

  • 25:20 Joshua

    Yeah. And certainly that variety of exposure to different languages to different paradigms is, and Kel and I have mentioned this on the podcast in the past, one of the things that I'm looking for when I am hiring a developer is the ability to learn because specifically I'm looking for, "I need somebody to do x, this person, can I get them to doing x in a certain amount of time?" And somebody who has only ever seen one language has only been through a six week program. I have very little faith that they would be able to pick up something very, very quickly. Whereas somebody who may not actually be any more experienced with jobs but has much more exposure to different languages, to different concepts in programming, I have much more confidence that they can learn that very quickly and they can get up to speed very quickly.

  • 26:10 Mansour

    Absolutely. Because they have proven themselves. Yes.

  • 26:14 Joshua

    Okay. Now you say proving themselves. That is one thing that I have seen out of bootcamps that I really like that I've seen from a lot of different ones and I get quite a few cvs from people who have been to boot camps and they always include a really nice portfolio. They have a lot of sample projects, not always the sort of thing I'm looking for, but it's in the right direction. Does Capella encourage their students to go build really great portfolios to demonstrate the sort of work they've done to help people who are actually just going through the CV and looking for different people? Identify is there somebody who actually might tick the boxes? For me,

  • 26:50 Tiffany

    I think through the process of getting my degree, um, it just seems like the classes just fall back to back to back. And, and maybe you can speak on this more. Um, I'm curious to hear about how the courses are designed in this way, but it just seems like you go from course to course and it just builds on one another in a way to where it just seems a so well designed. Um, just for instance, my last class, we actually were required to upload our project each week, um, into Bitbucket. And so I think that Capella does have the steps in place to help you build your portfolio, to help you build projects, um, to add to your experience so that when you're ready to start applying for jobs, you have that there, you've, you've done it, all of that in your class. And so I think Capella just kind of builds upon itself in a way that just helps you prepare. When you are done with your program, you are ready to start applying,

  • 28:05 Joshua

    which is really what you're looking for. That's why you're going is to get in a position where you feel like you are ready to go apply for jobs and be ready for it when you get the call.

  • 28:15 Mansour

    If you look at the current software development program at Capella, you would look at a specific structure and platform built ready to assist the learners to really build that diversified learning experience that I've been referring to. For example, if I may reference some of our courses, so in addition to the specific languages that they will, um, learn about, they will have an opportunity to really take classes and ethics, uh, for IT. Introduction to web development, um, user experience and interaction design. They will have a good exposure around the components of hardware and operating systems, system administration, software architecture, um, and they will have, um, network architecture courses. So really these are the principles/foundations that a good developer will build and have. And that's something that a learner like Tiffany can speak to throughout her interview. Uh, she is not, um, a Java developer by itself, but she's also supporting that Java experience with these platforms that the employers will be happy to have.

  • 29:29 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. And those are the sorts of things that I would expect somebody that I'm interviewing to be able to talk about at least a basic understanding of architecture and how computers work and how their applications are going to fit into the grand scheme of things.

  • 29:44 Mansour


  • 29:44 Joshua

    As well as just when we do actually hire somebody, one of the first things they have to do is be able to wade into whatever strange architecture we're working with. Understand how the pieces fit together and uh, just knowing Java isn't necessarily enough to do that.

  • 30:00 Mansour


  • 30:01 Joshua

    Okay. Well thank you so much for joining us.

  • 30:03 Mansour

    No, definitely. Again, I really wanted to thank you and Tiffany for the opportunity. Uh, this is a great learning experience.

  • 30:11 Joshua


  • 30:11 Tiffany

    Yes. Thank you.

  • 30:13 Mansour

    Thank you Tiffany and good luck with the interview tomorrow. Um, keep us posted. You got my email. Let me know if you need a reference.

  • 30:19 Tiffany

    I will. Thank you so much.

  • 30:21 Mansour


  • 30:22 Joshua

    Alright. Thank you again. Have a good day.

  • 30:25 Mansour

    Not a problem.

  • 30:26 Joshua

    It's still afternoon for you guys, isn't it?

  • 30:27 Mansour

    Yeah, it is afternoon. Yup. Thank you.

  • 30:30 Joshua

    It's time for me to get ready for bed.

  • 30:33 Mansour

    Alright! And time for me to refresh that coffee.

  • 30:35 Joshua

    There you go.

  • 30:39 Joshua

    Alright. Well thank you again, Tiffany for joining us.

  • 30:42 Tiffany

    Yes, thank you for having me.

  • 30:44 Joshua

    Alright. I will put some transcripts up at, Please be sure to check out my website I will also put some links to Tiffany's personal site and to Capella University in the transcripts, so be sure to check those out as well.

  • 31:00 Joshua

    If you have an opinion on university versus boot camp or have a particular reason that might be different than the usual for why you chose one over the other, we'd love to hear from you. We're very curious about these things, why people are doing it, and what companies think of it as well as what the practical applications of these are. So, uh, please feel free to share. Until next time. Thanks for listening.