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How our web development course can help your career
Published by Omar Mohamed – November 5th, 2015
We interviewed an old MakerSquare student who took the “Web Development for Non-Engineers” course before it was under the Batch Academy umbrella. Megan Coffey, Chief Creative Officer at Springbox, was one of the enthusiastic students who completed the course. Learn more about Megan, why she joined the course and how the skills she learned helped her in her current career.

What were you doing before taking this course?

I was Creative Director at Springbox, a digital technology company in Austin, TX. My role was to drive the vision and brand storytelling for many of our large accounts including PayPal, Nestle Waters and The University of Texas. I also manage the creative team, a group of about 9 Interactive Art Directors and Copywriters. As an Art Director/Designer by trade, I occasionally pitched in with design, but most of my time was spent out of the creative applications and in meetings, creative directing and reviewing work.

Why did you decide to take the course?

There were a couple reasons. I have personal side passions and have used pre-built themes but would often run into trouble and get tripped up. Ultimately spending a lot of time tweaking someone else’s code, to create a site that still doesn’t look like what I envisioned. I wanted to learn to code to understand HTML & CSS. At Springbox, we're doing more and more in-browser design and I felt it would be hard to manage this process if I did not understand it. By participating in the course, it shows our team the importance of continued learning and communicates the path our company is moving towards

How did the course help you at your job?

Completing the course has broken down barriers of communication between myself and our dev team. By speaking and understanding a similar language, I can better understand a problem and provide effective, achievable solutions.

I’ve always been passionate about what I do, as a designer and as a leader. I work hard, and that’s always been noticed. By taking this course, I put my passion to work, showing that not only did I have the passion to learn to code but that I was investing the time to do it. It’s no surprise that late nights and long hours are a regular in our industry. My company and team supporting me in that. This generated excitement and appreciation around learning to code that is really powerful.

In June, we reorganized our company in an effort to further break down silos and barriers between an individual’s role and their unique skill sets. Creatives were no longer only creatives. A creative leader is no longer managing only design or copy, but overseeing the whole process from inception to presentation to clients. Our creative, UX, development, and content teams can more easily ebb and flow across each others team, flexing their core skill sets, while developing and fostering growth areas.

The last week of class, I was promoted from Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. I see this promotion as a reflection of many things, but I do feel that my dedication to learning to code and this investment in growing my skills, my teams and the companies played a big part in it.

Do you think agencies need their employees to have many skillsets?

Yes, absolutely. Although, I may hire an employee to fulfill a specific need or capability gap, we consider, “If we had to put them on something else, what are their other skills?” In all cases if I was deciding between two candidates I would chose the candidate who could not only do what we needed but could flex to other capabilities and/or help us grow by providing their unique perspectives and experiences.

Do you think Creative Directors should learn to code? Why or why not?

Yes. Springbox is a digital company that has always been digitally focused. As a small to medium size company, I have always received opportunities and have had to choose to either back down or step up to challenge and figure out what I need to do. I have, surprisingly, been able to sustain my role and growth without knowing code. I feel that even if you’re not in a digital company you still should know how to code – you, your clients and your team will benefit from it. Coming from a branding background and having always thought about design elements (background, fonts, colors), I can now speak in development terms. For instance, instead of a headlines and subheads, it is a h1 or h2.

One example that occurred recently – our CTO and I were putting together a presentation and instead of using traditional PowerPoint, we leveraged reveal.js to build the presentation. We were able to share the build through bitbucket and in a matter of a few days we had a much cooler preso to share with the organization. There is no doubt that, learning to code has opened up the possibilities for us to use more dev-centric tools. As a leader I can start the adoption of these tools and help teach others how to use them.

In more traditional agencies there can be an old world thinking which will go away. I believe a lot of CMOs will require combined web design and development as a core capability for companies it engages with. If they are not currently, I recommend they do. We’ve seen huge efficiencies gained from having these capabilities combined and also seen large overages on projects where design and development are divided between multiple vendors.

Who else has your added skillset benefited?

Our clients are #1. I have had two recent situations where I used what I have learned. One client did not want copy in a particular area in an in-browser design, so I pulled up the dev inspector and hid it. Yesterday, a branding agency wanted to see a color difference for a button on a site, so again, I used the dev inspector to make the changes on the fly. It seems minor, but just this simple trick saved several tasks and comps to be created vs. real time reviewing.

How can creative leaders use knowledge of code to guide teams and innovate ideas?

If creatives can go in and play with things themselves, they will think of solutions they never would have thought of without the coding knowledge. Learn to think like a developer, and it becomes much easier. As designer, we want to make things look good. With development we are building a house differently by getting the outline and framework requirements in place first and then adding style.

At Springbox, we started using Slack (an internal communication app). The amount of content shared was off the charts. We have been trying to create an organically-built blog for the company and discovered that in two months we had curated over 200 links of content within Slack. I created a site (as an assignment in class), coined Slack Overflow, to pull together the content we had shared and filter the links into categories. We expect to release it to the public at the end of this quarter to allow others to see what people inside our company are sharing.

Why should an agency be interested in coding education programs for employees?

For a digital focused organization like ours, it’s a no brainer. I think it is important to always consider career planning and personal growth. People on my team want to grow and have an interest in learning to code. As the younger generation comes into the workforce with coding knowledge, it may be tough to find a job without these skills so it’s important for us to provide these opportunities to our employees to keep them relevant and build career paths for them in the future.

For all companies, I would find out how the company and the employee’s goals cross-over and align and then determine what the company can invest and where it should. We’ve found that any continued education creates value-add for you, your clients, and new business, whether that’s learning to code, getting GA certified, going to a conference, etc.

What advice do you have for future students?

1. Make sure you do the precourse work.

2. Bring ideas of what you’d like to learn and build. Before we ever had an assignment I was building things I’d wanted to do in the past, like a responsive party invitation.

3. Make sure you work with your classmates. Meet before class, even if just for 30 minutes to compare notes on how you both solved a problem, as there is a good chance you all achieve the correct answer in different ways.

4. Stay for the full class. There were a few students who decided to leave early and it’s obvious to me that they didn’t get as much value from the course.

5. Don’t miss a class if possible (at least in the first 8 weeks). Invest a lot of your own time. I probably put in 20 hours including class time per week.

6. Surround yourself with supportive people who will help you stay the course. Taking a 10-week coding class in the middle of winter, with vacations and activities going on everywhere was not easy – but my friends and husband kept me honest and made sure I reached my goal.

7. Talk to your boss and teams, if they’re not supporting you financially they can provide encouragement and time, allowing you to get the most out of the experience.

Check out one of Megan’s projects from her time during the course, Ranch Road Trip, and learn more about the Batch Academy part-time course. « Back to blog