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Q&A with Roger Qui from Polycademy

First session has started in Canberra’s Polycademy and Roger Qiu is envisioning a graduate class of accomplished coders and designers in 11 weeks time. We catch up with the founder of Polycademy and find out where the idea came from and what it takes to run a budding development school in Canberra.

How did Polycademy come about?
I came up with the idea in March 2012 as a place where we would teach programming langauges. I saw Code Academy and I saw people teaching foreign langauges and I thought “why can’t people teach programming languages?”.
Originally I was going to cater to high school students, I later did some market research and found that from the last two years, these kinds of development camps in the US had a lot of success and realised there was a market for adults and so I developed the website in November to test the market and that’s how its come around.

Tell me a little bit about your background
I am a self-taught developer from 12 years old. I started messing around with websites because my friend built a website and he stopped doing that but I kept going. Eventually I started learning about all sorts of different stuff and at university I started studying Bachelor of International Relations and I guess I have lot of interest in a lot of different fields.

What kind of websites did you build?
The first thing that I wanted to do was build a dictionary that gave you rhyming words. I had to find a dictionary first that had a lot of words and there was only one that was available for free and that was Wiktionary so I had to do a dump of Wikitionary which was about 400mb of compressed text and I tried to load it to the computer and then basically do a tree search in XML format. The problem is that it was too big, you can’t load 400mb into memory and expand it into a full DOM tree. So then I had to learn how to stream bit by bit. In any case, it took me ages and I learned so much- it was my first project and I had just started on PHP.

I didn’t succeed but I did manage to get data out of the Wiktionary, so I got it into a format where I was actually able to process it but I was bored so I didn’t complete the mission.

So if I googled it now, would I be able to find it?
No, I googled it myself a while ago and someone else already created one. It’s not something you can make money from, it’s just something you do.

What do you hope to achieve from Polycademy?
What I hope to achieve is to build an environment where people can come up with creative ideas and actually see results in a short amount of time. It will be a great place to experiment and learn. It’s not just web application development, it’s about all sorts of creative enterprises. I was actually thinking of 3D printers in the room where you can build hardware. Hardware is something I want to get involved with as well. It’s about trying to bring different technical expertise and innovations together- a factory for creative stuff.

Basically it’d be a cross pollination of different ideas.

What kind of level of experience would you need to start at Polycademy?
We’re trying to cater to beginners, so you wouldn’t require too much experience. I suppose if you applied to this school, you would already have an interest in certain types of technology, but you don’t need to have much experience in the development field.

What is the ratio of women to men in your class at the moment?
Out of the thirteen applicants that I have now, four of them are women. I was talking to some women entrepreneurs and some of them were telling me that I should start something just for women. In the US, there is a bootcamp just for women, and there’s Girl Geek Dinners I think. There are arguments for and against that kind of segregation. I don’t really see why there needs to be this kind of segregation. I can see how it can be a male dominated environment, but there won’t be much of a male environment at Polycademy. We are just doing what we need to learn.

What is the age range of your students?
I haven’t actually asked but I think they are (from what I can observe) between twenty to late thirties.

What kind of teacher are you going to be?
I’ve ran a couple of workshops before, not on development but on other theoretical topics. What I like to do is make everything really understandable because I like  abstract things that are concrete. I’d like to make sure everyone in the class can understand what I have to say.

I know in a lot of development workshops, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge that is used when you’re talking about these technical terms and what I know is that you have to try and abstract them all into something people will know from everyday life. The thing with programming is that it’s really simple actually, it’s not a complex thing, you’re just describing logic.

And so you can ascribe everything that happens in programming to real life objects and people.

Want to find out more about Polycademy? Click here to visit the website here or email Roger at Roger.Qiu( at )polycademy.com





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