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Whew. A Dynamics CE Accelerator finished. I've been out of the classroom for a little more than a week. I love teaching, and there’s nothing that I would rather be doing, but doing it reminds me of how tiring teaching can be. When it has been a while, you forget these things. I had to look it up, but I haven’t been in the classroom since mid-late 2017. So long ago! Memory stirred.

I am enjoying my little break, but I will be ready to again in a few weeks. What will the next one be on? When will it start? No one knows. Bootcamping and accelerating tech careers is something that we at Improving are good at, but we don’t schedule them back-to-back, so at the moment I’m doing other developer-related tasks.

But while the class and all the emotions are fresh in the brain, I figured I should write up some reflections.

What Is A Dynamics CE Accelerator?

This is a good question. It’s a twelve-week coding accelerator for young programmers. It is a mix of core programming skills (C#/ASP.NET/JS/Sql Server), the Dataverse, Dynamics CE/Marketing, the Microsoft Power Platform (Automate, BI, Apps [Canvas, Model-Driven, Portal]), and Azure. Some of this involves a lot of coding, but some of these tools are made to be no-code or low-code. In case you are not familiar with these things, here’s some short explanations. But I won’t say too much since I don’t want to give away the secret recipe.

C# and JavaScript are programming languages. ASP.NET is a website-building toolkit. Sql Server is a database. If you’re not familiar with the latter, imagine it’s MS Access, but way better. If that’s also unfamiliar, imagine a big ol’ spreadsheet that you can write code to insert data into and pull it out when needed. It is a home, or a base, for your data.

The Dataverse is like a database. For those who have used databases like Sql Server before, it’s relational and built at least partially on Sql Server, but has an interesting event and security model. For those who haven’t its…er…just another type of database.

Dynamics CE and Marketing are highly configurable (primarily) cloud-based CRM tools. Although plugins can be written in C#, these are primarily low-code/no-code tools. The data is stored in the Dataverse.

The Power Platform is another low-code/no-code tool. Power Automate is for automation (surprise!). Power Apps is for building user interfaces and comes in three flavors, Model-Driven Apps (nice UI, less UI flexibility, but otherwise quite customizable), Canvas Apps (easy way to make a UI for mobile based on your data), and Portal Apps (make a website). These are built on the Dataverse. Power BI is for making pretty and interactive visualizations (I’m over-simplifying here) and can pull from the Dataverse, but so much more.

Azure is a set of cloud servers and services offered by Microsoft. It’s roughly equivalent to something like AWS. If that still doesn’t make sense, you’re writing code and website stuff and paying to have it run on someone else’s computers so that you don’t have to set all that up. And yes, that is yet another vast over-simplification.

Paying Your Students

One thing that’s different about Improving is that it pays its students during its accelerators (or bootcamps). Back when I worked at The Iron Yard, the students paid pretty large sums of money to take a full-time class for three months during which they received no income. For those that succeeded, it was absolutely worth it. For those that didn’t, well…

You can probably imagine the stress this put the students under. How long does it take to save up around $12K? And then you spend it on some teachers that you hope will be able to help you. And then you aren't able to work during that time. And then you have to convince people you’re worth hiring after! Ugh. Tough.

This was also very stressful for me as a teacher. People spending their savings, expecting that I’ll be able to deliver the goods and help them get a job? Stress! I get that learning is the primary responsibility of the student, not the teacher, but this is still psychologically exhausting. On top of that, I have my own responsibility to do well. Like I said, stress!

At Improving we avoid this by paying the students a salary while they are in class. This allows the students to focus on the learning, and me on the teaching.

But could this really work? Is this real? When we were recruiting for the accelerator, I remember one student who essentially ghosted us after the first chat. I contacted him a few more times and he eventually joined the class. A couple weeks before the class ended, he told me that he ghosted us because he thought there was some sort of catch. Maybe it was a joke! Well it wasn’t, he did well, and now he’s an Improver.

Team Teaching

My last reflection is around team teaching. Though some of the previous bootcamps I did involved some team teaching, this was the modus operandi of our accelerator throughout.

On the one hand, this was a necessity for the course because I didn’t know anything about Dynamics or the Power Platform before this started. Fortunately, Improving has many Improvers who do, so I played host to a guest teacher from out of town every week. I taught the core programming tools, they taught the platform-specific materials. I think this was hugely successful.

Apart from just the knowledge problem, this teamwork created a nice support structure for leading the class. Demos not working? Fine, let the other teacher take it for a few hours while you work out the kinks. Have a client task you have to deal with in the afternoon? No problem, teach in the morning and let the other guy teach in the afternoon.

Success!

The accelerator was a huge success. We now have eleven new Improvers in the Dallas office with some new skills. And I now have eleven new friends. I’m proud of what we did, and I’m looking forward to seeing them succeed.

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