Beware The Grim Repo

Drawn by one of our own

I’m back!  It’s been so long and there’s so much that’s been going on.  Perhaps you thought the Grim Repo actually did get me, but in truth, it didn’t get me until a few weeks ago, and not the way you’re thinking, but by the heart.  Yeah, that’s right, I might be getting a little mushy in this post.

So who is this Grim Repo?  Only the greatest cohort to ever come through the doors of Coding Dojo!  Sorry Cobra Kai, although you were definitely at the same level and will always hold a special place with me. And don’t think I forgot about all of you in Mega-Cohort either, you guys killed it, especially at the hackathon.  Greater even than the O.G.’s, the very first cohort to come through Dallas, yes, MY cohort that started an entire year ago.

Since September I’ve been working at Coding Dojo as an Apprentice Bootcamp Leader (ABL), an assistant Instructor in layman’s terms.  But Coding Dojo had plans, big plans, and I was a part of it.  The Dallas Dojo Captain, who I have the utmost respect for and hope to one day be as good a programmer, made it clear he wanted to keep me on and move me up the chain to full-on Instructor.

So on Tuesday, February 21st, a brand new cohort started, and I was their lead instructor.  My only help being a TA, who ended up getting a great job offer and was only with me the first week.  To make it even more interesting, I had one less day to teach them than normal due to that Monday being President’s Day.  So in less than 2 weeks I had to teach them HTML, CSS, jQuery, JavaScript basics, AJAX/API’s, Git and GitHub.

Was I nervous? Um, hell yeah I was nervous.  I didn’t want to look like an idiot, or for them to write one of those course report reviews about how their instructor was just a bootcamp grad themselves and had no clue what they were doing.  Most importantly though, I didn’t want to fail them.  I didn’t want for them to get through those first 2 weeks without gaining the knowledge they needed to help them be successful throughout the rest of the bootcamp and into their professional careers afterward.  I admit there’s a little bit of selfishness to that.  If they succeed, then I can say I was a part of that, but if they fail, then I failed.

I did whatever I could to be at my best for them.  I planned out the lectures, went over the material, wrote notes, went through the lectures/demos in my head as I was driving in to the dojo.  Anything I could do to prepare.  I didn’t want to just help them with the material at hand, I wanted to also be prepared for any questions they came up with or any errors they got.

There were some tough questions and problems too.  This cohort is smart, really smart, some of them were engineers and one had a computer engineering degree.  Talk about intimidating.  There was a moment that first week where I was talking to someone from another cohort and he was asking me how my “first cohort” was going.  I remember just replying to him to not say that so loud because I didn’t want them to hear that they were my first lead.

At the end of the first 2 weeks it was time for them to decide on a cohort name.  By then this cohort was already becoming a really tight group, and everyone at the dojo was noticing, even the rest of the staff made note of it.  They had a whiteboard filled up with all sorts of names, as soon as I saw ‘Grim Repo’ I loved it, but another name they had up there took me by surprise… ‘Team Ulanowicz’.  Of course I had them take that off the table.  They voted and ‘Grim Repo’ it was.


The next two weeks were a whirlwind, but what Grim Repo did for me is something that I’ll never forget.

To kick it off, all the staff learned that the Coding Dojo founder was stepping back in to the company, and anytime the founder of a company comes back in, you know things are going to get shook up (think Apple, Starbucks, etc.).  Coding Dojo tried to grow way too fast and couldn’t keep up (I actually voiced some concerns about this back when I was a student myself and I think I may have mentioned it in my posts).  I knew right away my position was in trouble, I was the low man on the totem pole in Dallas.  The next day I learned that my fears were not unfounded, and I was out.  Since the ABL position was technically a 6 month deal, and my 6 month date was March 15th, they let me stay on until then.

News started leaking out slowly.  Geekwire even picked up on it and wrote this article about it, although they’re missing a few details.  An email was sent out to all the students by Michael Choi, the founder, noting some changes that’ll be taking place including a reduction in staff.  One student messaged me directly with concern, asking if I was staying.  That’s when I told them all what was going on.  Their reaction was not a good one.

The next day, our Captain was sitting near me, and put his computer in front of me.  On it was a message that was sent directly to him by one of my students.  Although I wish I had a copy of it, I don’t really need one because what I read still keeps running through my head.  All the fears I had about taking the lead in teaching them were gone.  I was speechless at the moment.  I handed the computer back and had to get up and just walk to hold back the tears… …told you I was gonna get mushy, but I’m fine with it, I mean hey, it was a pretty bad week.  It wasn’t just the what, but also the who.  The person that wrote this is someone I was admittedly intimidated a bit by, someone that many in the cohort would agree is one of the strongest and smartest (also one of the engineers I mentioned).

Then later that day, the whole cohort came together, started their own private Slack channel (which no other cohort has ever done that I’m aware of), and decided to all write letters to Michael Choi directly.  I couldn’t believe what was going on.  One by one they were confirming having sent an email.  While I never saw most of these, they did tell me about some of the things they wrote about.

Unfortunately, they’ve all expressed their disappointment in the fact that he never responded to a single one of their messages, but they’re pretty confident that if he didn’t know who I was before, he definitely knows my name now.  The amount of support I received from this group was completely unexpected.  To think that after only a few weeks, I was able to make that kind of impression on them, and have such a positive effect on them and their education, that they would band together like that for me without me ever asking….I honestly can’t even put it into words how that makes me feel.

Grim Repo weren’t the only ones.  The rest of the staff at the Dallas Dojo had my back.  They did everything they could for me, and still do whatever they can to help me.  They let me leave during the day for interviews, and the career advisor has and still is doing everything she can to help me find work.  I’ll go so far as to say that she’s the best career advisor in the country! (not sure if they’d want me putting their names out there or not so I’m playing it safe).

Back to Grim Repo though because they weren’t done yet.  On Wednesday, March 15th, my last day working at Coding Dojo, they all decided to take me out.  Before they did though, they put together a little package for me…

…wings, jerky and beer!  Now I know I’m a guy and not supposed to care about cards, but this one means a lot, and I’m going to hold on to it, and if at any time I start feeling like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I’ll just open it up and read it.  Oh, and they made me carry the bucket around downtown Dallas too.  They took me out to the dojo’s favorite spot…WingBucket for food and drinks, and then later in the evening, we ended up at another bar and let’s just say I was feeling pretty damn good.  Keep in mind this is a Wednesday, they had all just started learning django in python, which can be pretty rough, but instead of working on that, they spent the evening with me.

Grim Repo with me at WingBucket for my last day – sadly missing a few members that couldn’t be there for this pic

-personal note to Grim Repo

     In the short time you have been together you’ve become one of the tightest, closest-knit cohorts I’ve seen.  You’ve become like a family and included me in it.  I am extremely proud to say that I was the one that started you off on your new journey and know that all of you will go on to do great things.  I may not work for Coding Dojo anymore, but I still work for you.  I’ll continue to track your progress and help out whenever I can and can’t wait to be at your graduation where I was already told that I would be allowed to hand you all your certificates myself.

– And so this odyssey of mine continues…who knows where this coder will end up next, but wherever that may be, rest assured that you’ll find out all about it.

Author: Chris Ulanowicz

Full-stack web developer made in Detroit currently living in the DFW area. Always trying to learn as much as I can about everything I can, especially new technologies and programming languages. When I have time I'm into gaming, comic books, ice hockey, drag racing, and spending time with my family of course.

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