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Each SkilStak™ Coding Arts Center is a learning lab where we help particularly motivated individuals learn to master computer programming and other skills needed to fill the dire need our world faces for technology professionals today and tomorrow. Here's what we think are most important:

Applying these skills to challenges in every country and industry — not just tech — is not only lucrative and exciting, it is essential. Rarely has there been a better time or reason to become a highly trained technology professional who cares.
Free Lab Session

Congratulations you found us! We do very little advertising other than yearbooks, local sponsorships, and volunteer work. We figure there are better ways to spend advertising dollars. Our program speaks for itself. We aren’t into winning you over with flashy, fluffy marketing. We want you to come for the right reasons, authentic reasons. Most have been referred by others, found us themselves, or been personally invited. In fact, we get downright metaphysical in our belief people are led to us when the time is right. Is the time right for you? If so we invite you to audit a session for free to see what we are all about for yourself.

Cornelius

Price per semester (16 weeks Fall & Winter, 8 weeks Summer):

Mailing List

What is a Learning Lab?

Is SkilStak™ a school? No, although learning and assessment do happen here and we can prove it. Schools usually have grades, teachers, graduation, certificates, and standardized formal curriculum. We don't. Most schools are based on the false premise that teaching is something done to students. At SkilStak™ you control and direct your own learning with help from professional, experienced mentors, and facilitators.

Is SkilStak™ an after school program? Nope, although many of our lab times are after school. SkilStak™ is for those seriously dedicated to discovering and improving their skills and knowledge (in gamer terms, "no casuals"). This includes mentors and facilitators with work experience and other resources such as software, hardware, and our own unique SkilBots™ Challenge learning system that you can use while here.

Is SkilStak™ a maker space? Not really, while we do have an engineering lab and work with actual robotics (no legos) and hardware it is not our primary focus as is in most maker spaces. We do have a Make offering that is rudimentary compared to most maker spaces and uses only Raspberry Pis, robotic arms, and a small library of sensors. You could say we do enough in the maker space of learning to understand how coding applies to physical things that move and do stuff, which we feel is largely considered secondary by more maker/hacker spaces. In short, making is secondary to coding at SkilStak™, although both are amazing things to learn.

Can I learn to make games? Yes, but our material only covers up to 2D HTML5 game development, which simultaneously helps you learn general web development as well. We have had people learn game development here, in fact, in our first year we used GameMaker, (which we strongly discourage now). Honestly we realized we need to stick with what we consider essential and that meant leaving game development for others to help you learn. We love and play games a lot as a group. We just chose other things to focus on, things that are more likely to change the world.

Is SkilStak™ a bootcamp? No. In case you haven‘t heard bootcamps are simultaneously changing private tech education for the good while revealing some of the biggest scams in educational history. If you are looking for a bootcamp keep on looking and make sure you get plenty of references—including for bootcamps provided by seemingly trustworthy institutions such as universities. Some employers won't even consider applicants with bootcamp in their resume. One of our biggest gripes about bootcamps is that 90% only teach web technology. We feel there is a lot of other important stuff out there to learn as well. If that is your thing, make sure to check out FreeCodeCamp.com in your search. While very web-centric, they sure get a lot of things right, in our opinion.

So what are you? The best category we have come up with for SkilStak™ is learning lab, a term you will hear more as the education revolution continues. This term best captures the semi-structured, self-directed, dynamically assessed, project-based, and professionally facilitated learning that happens here.

We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves. (Galileo Galilei)

Learning is something every individual does for oneself, often with help. That is why we are here, to help.

Small by Design

Small means focused, simple, agile, and personal. We like small. Our locations are small. Our lab groups are small. Every facilitator has no more than eight in a lab at a time. This fosters an optimal, apprenticeship-style learning environment. Like true Peripatetics entire lab groups can take field trips to local tech companies and conferences easily.

Standard Lab

We figure when we hit more than 136 at a given location that it’s time for a new location even if that means just down the block. This way everyone at each location can get to know each and every other person.

Personal

People are more likely to make friends and participate no matter how shy they may be when groups are small. Crowds are frequently an issue for the particularly gifted coders among us. They are also more willing to speak up and raise their concerns and frustrations with a facilitator or assistant they known and trust. You will organically gravitate to a lab group that works for your aptitude, personality, age, and learning style. This helps maintain a good amount of camaraderie in every lab.

You won’t find any way to register on this site and you never will. That’s because we want to meet you first. There is simply no better way to understand you and your needs than to discuss them in person. It is astonishing that somehow educational institutions have become so disconnected from those attending them that they have no idea who you actually are. You can read more about meeting us in the Meet Us section.

Best Tech

Staying small means our overhead is dramatically reduced allowing our labs to enjoy the very best in state-of-the-art equipment — often better than what some professionals have available to them. Learning like professionals means using professional equipment.

Relevant

As a technologist, learning how to find and invest in relevant current and future technologies is as important as learning the tech itself. At SkilStak™ we discuss and learn to spot the tech wave, paddle fast, and at the right time, catch the wave when it crests. Staying relevant is far more involved than following current trends. It requires distinguishing flame-out bad tech — even if the whole world seems to be lit up by it — from sustainable, strong technologies that can support long-term growth. Our well-curated knowledge and the recipe for how to glean and maintain it is something we are proud of and enjoy sharing. Our selection of tech topics and skills has been validated by top tech colleges and cutting edge companies in growth industries. People don’t just learn to program and make things here, they learn to maintain their edge, foresight, and relevance in an ever-changing, often volatile tech industry.

Fun

Learning seems to stick better when it is fun. Whether it be constructing your own Flappy bird clone using the same web technology as front-end engineers and game developers or choosing sides in a competitive hack battle to break into your opponent’s system before they hack yours, or writing the AI behind a bot to which you gave life to battle characters you have written code to automatically generate – fun introduces real skills with less intimidation and frustration. Each lab session is filled with some element of unpredictable fun powering us all through the learning challenges we face.

Fun @SkilStak with ZtypeFlappy Bird

Lab sessions always end with thirty minutes of completely unstructured personal project time. This is when we apply what we have learned in ways we care about or invent. Often one of the challenges serves as a seed of inspiration about a program you would like to create and build on.

Playing hard has always been a part of education and building social skills. For three hours once or twice a month on Saturday nights from 6-9 we have Game Night, (which often doubles as a parents' night out). This gives everyone a chance to relax together and think about nothing more than having fun, sharing ideas, jokes, and interests, with snacks and pizza. People can invite friends and previous SkilStak™ enrollees can catch up on all the changes. Some have even proven to be rather astute connoisseurs of retro gaming consoles and bring them out, (which parents also enjoy).

Being social is a big part of being a successful professional even if it does not come easily and these controlled tech parties are meant to help. Making friends makes learning easier.

Just in Time Learning

Anyone who has spent any amount of time working with technology today knows the most important skill to learn is how to learn, often just in time to make the deadline. When combined with a solid foundation in logical thinking and creative problem solving just-in-time learning allows one to quickly digest any relevant technology, understand it, and apply it productively. In fact, tech professionals who learn to learn quickly and well often cross-over into other industries because they can learn anything. This is one reason the learning lab format is so critical to creating successful technology professionals.

Discere Faciendo. Learn by Doing.

It has been suggested that 70% of learning comes from challenging assignments done individually.

In other words, science shows that people teach themselves and manage their own learning. This is why we have facilitators at SkilStak™ instead of “teachers.“ We are here to do everything we can to help you learn by teaching yourself through practice, synthesis, and invention.

Experience

Our facilitators and content creators are drawn from the ranks of veteran technologists. These seasoned professionals not only know tech, they know the tech industry and how to work in it. This critical wisdom makes our exceptional content even more valuable as it is delivered with experienced context vaulting SkilStak™ head and shoulders above most other educational institutions. (By the way, if this describes anyone you know tell them how to contact us.)

Energy

Our facilitators are paired with intern assistants who come from the ranks of those who have been here before providing a boost of energy and a connection that only those who have been here a while can provide. Assistants can certify to become facilitators themselves. After working full time for at least five years as a professional software, systems, or electronics engineer they can earn master facilitator status. We constantly encourage everyone on staff to get and maintain industry experience.

Focus on Mastery

While SkilStak™ is not associated with Montessori™, we have always shared philosophical and pedagogical preferences. These include independence, accountability, fostering internal drive, ownership of one’s own learning, and mastery before continuing. You won’t find any numbers in any of our offerings and you won’t find any grades, but you will find mastery as assessed by the industry startups, and would-be peers. In tech people care about what you can actually do and have done to prove it and, frankly, they could care less how you learned it. Anyone telling you differently has never worked significantly in any tech profession.

All progress is measured by challenges (that expire over time) and personal project portfolios. Progress is entirely up to you. You will likely want to register for several, sequential semester labs with the same emphasis to be around others working on the same things.

A large part of assessment is a public-facing portfolio of your best work on a project of your own design and creation demonstrating what you have learned. Portfolios can be reviewed by peers and other professionals potentially interested in hiring you.

Professional Tools

The sooner you start using professional tools, the sooner you will become a professional. While we support and assist traditional educational institutions that heavily depend on educational versions of things, we believe the best way to foster learning is by introducing and using the same workflows and tools professionals do from the very beginning, just at a consumable pace depending on where you are.

Based on this commitment we have created our own unique SkilBots™ challenge-based learning system that allows you to dynamically self-assess skills in real-time, on real systems. This repetitive, skills-driven practice—not unlike scales on the piano or katas in martial arts—compliments the creativity and invention encouraged during project-time. This fosters self-directed, self-paced learning with the help of a facilitator when needed. This also allows you to progress at your own speed. All passed challenges are submitted and signed by a facilitator who reviews the work and leaves comments. Each completed and signed challenge is then good for a set expiration date after which you need to complete it again in the time required to maintain mastery. This way you leave SkilStak™ knowing exactly what you know increasing your confidence and helping you decide which blocks next to add to your growing stack of professional skills. Many will continue to supplement with maker-spaces, professional certifications and internships (including our own), kickstarting their own apps and startups, and college. Most have responded remarkably well to Challenges as a fun alternative to more traditional, fill-in-the-blank assessment.

Prep CLI

We deeply master the command line and do all our work on Linux servers hosted on professional cloud services or in development labs, no for-education training wheels, just pure, real, professional tools and practices.

Early Employment Opportunities

Field Trip
Solar Energy Conversion Company Field Trip

While SkilStak™ neither promises future employment of any kind, nor actively works with any recruiting agencies officially,we believe strongly in helping you work as soon as possible. We recognize there is more to life than work, but having experience in the working world gives important perspective that only experience can provide. Assistant interns are chosen from exceptional people who have been here a while and given the opportunity to list internship work at SkilStak™ on their resumes and school applications.

Some of those attending have started coding clubs in their schools and been invited to share what they know in different ways.

One key advantage you will have, if dedicated, is the leverage your knowledge and skills will provide to distinguish yourself from other college applicants and potentially lab and development jobs while there. In other words, what you learn at SkilStak™ often gives you the freedom, opportunity—and maybe even money—while you figure out what your next step will be. Obviously every individual is different, but it follows that having more skills than everyone else in your same position puts you at an advantage.

Our Mission

Our mission is to prepare generations of qualified, personable technology professionals instilled with an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, an open and sharp mind, and a hunger to explore and contribute to the world — and to hire as many of them as possible ourselves.

Why learn coding? (from Code.org)

Helping the Community

We believe strongly in promoting education wherever it is happening including public and private schools, local Parks and Rec, scouting programs, even organizations others would see as competitors. We encourage anyone to do whatever they can to join the education effort and will do whatever we can to promote it including giving free semesters as raffles to local schools, providing external intern and mentoring opportunities, participating and sponsoring local education meetups, and sending our SkilStak™ SWAT™ (Skilled With Awesome Technology™) team to local STEM nights.

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What to Learn?

At SkilStak™ our material primarily focuses on preparing you for applied programming careers of today and tomorrow working with alternative energy, Internet of Things, engineering, medicine, data science, education, networking, and systems analysis, operations and security. These certainly are not the only professions involving computer programming but they are projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be most in demand, some of the highest paying, with a reasonably low risk of being outsourced overseas. In fact, just the Computer Programmer profession is projected to decline, (that's right, go down), 8% while all the others to increase 10% or more. Learning to program is not enough. Learning what and why to program is essential.

Field Trip Again

Few include applied programming, network security, and computer science even though trillions of devices are coming online and into our homes with the potential to put us all at great risk, (such as the thousands of hacked home appliances used in October 2016 to execute the largest Internet Denial-of-Service attack in history). Coders are literally saving the world by preserving critical science data put in dire jeopardy. Careers involved in managing and developing related technologies are absolutely critical to our future.

Offerings

Our main offerings are organized by tiers or levels priced by semesters, which are either 16 weeks of 90 minute classes or 8 weeks of 3 hour classes. Understanding these levels is a part of the Essentials offering since it gives you a vision of your own potential path. Remember you are in control of your own learning.

Preparation

Everyone starts in Essentials and stays there until you can demonstrate mastery of the Essential Skills:

This list is substantial. We invite you to compare it to offerings of other public and professional educational institutions. Notably, we code everything with vi—the most powerful, ubiquitous editor ever made—and use the Linux Bash command line from day one, (not some fake emulation of one running in a web browser). We introduce the basics of programming in a fun way training to improve our own best times against our unique SkilBot™ Challenges. The goal is to avoid frustration at all costs. Programming should always be fun, even when using professional tools. After Essentials most are about half way to LPI Linux Essentials professional certification for those who wish to pursue it on their own.

Golang Gophers from Renee French

Proficiency

In Proficiency we focus on the well-established Python, Web, and Go languages. These have a solid 10+ year maturity and an unquestionably relevant future. The strongly-typed Go language (aka golang) reigns as the dominant, billion-core future language for its ease of use, blazing speed, best-of-breed concurrency (without complicated async callback hell), stand-alone binaries that can link existing C libs, cross-platform compilation, prominent use in physical programming, and architectural emphasis on composition over the error-prone, bloat-inducing, traditional inheritance. What does all of that mean? It means we are obsessed with helping you learn not only modern languages, but also modern best practices.

Mobile is all about developing apps for mobile devices on the two leading mobile platforms, iOS (Apple) and Android (Google). While we present an overview of approaches to creating apps using hybrid approaches we focus specifically on developing what the industry calls native apps. Those who become proficient with Go and Web can choose to focus on one or both of the two main Mobile languages: Kotlin (Android) and Swift (iOS). We do not learn Java, however.

What about Java? Lots of great things have been and will be created in Java. Java has been relevant for one very important reason above all others. Up until May 17th, 2017 it was the only practical language for writing native Android apps. With Android accounting for 80% of all devices this meant Java was essentially required for true native mobile development. However, on May 17th Kotlin support was announced ending the requirement for Java (although the JVM is still used.) We believe that date essentially turned Java into a "legacy" language, much like COBOL it will be found everywhere and need to be maintained, but few will create new things with it. This had already started with Scala, Kotlin on Android was just the nail in the coffin. Java is an inferior, unpleasant, unnecessarily bloated and complex language that new programmers should only learn as a last resort. We also believe it is a dubious decision to use Java on the AP Computer Science exam. It will change once College Board catches up with the rest of the world. We feel we are in good company with MIT and Stanford making this decision to drop Java as a first language.

Make is a project and kit-based introduction to applied programming and physical computing and hardware. Python proficiency is first required. In this lab we use Raspberry Pi, robotic arms, and real-world electronic sensors to make cool stuff—including soldering together your own competition-grade light saber (if you want).

Mastery

The Linux mastery lab focuses on preparing for taking professionally recognized certification exams for LPIC, OSCP, and Kali Linux. This is particularly important since the LPIC Professional Certifications do not have a hands-on lab requirement or component of any kind. It is not an exaggeration to say you could certify with LPIC without ever having logged into a Linux machine. The Linux lab includes learning advanced command line scripting with POSIX shell, Perl, and Ruby; Penetration Testing (Ethical Hacking) with Kali™ Linux; use of virtualization (VMWare and Virtual Box) and containerization (Docker, Vagrant, etc.); network management; systems architecture; cloud setup and hosting; and general devops and system administration.

Our Data offering focuses entirely on reporting, gathering, and storing data using modern micro-services, data stores, and data science including SQL and NoSQL databases, regular expressions, JSON, Microservice REST APIs, and modeling with UML. It also includes an introduction to machine learning and neural net programming. Future tech careers will largely revolve around unprecedented numbers of devices producing data and never-before-seen levels of data storage and manipulation.

CBL or Challenge Based Learning provides an unending supply of new learning opportunities for even the most advanced technologist. It is entirely driven by challenges facing our local community and world that lab groups and facilitators can accept and work toward solving together. Facilitators mentor, guide, obtain resources, and help arrange meetings with local organizations. Challenges include: creating digital GeoCaches to educate explorers about the natural world and our local history; applying programming skills toward help non-profits improve their web sites and other IT infrastructure; and building software for the local education community. CBL-ers enjoy a strong command of both software and hardware as they have usually have reached mastery in every other SkilStak™ offering before they are considered. This is the SkilStak™ dream team and getting in is the highest achievement you work toward while here. CBL-ers are the first to receive professional and internship recommendations as well as internal work opportunities.

Extra Summer Offerings

Summer Camps are often the best opportunity to try out SkilStak™ to see if it is something you want to continue for a full semester. Camps are usually Monday through Thursday, nine to noon. These are in addition to Summer Semester labs as well. Summer Semester labs are the same as others except they are compressed into eight weeks instead of sixteen. You have the option of one or more camps and/or labs depending on your Summer plans.

The GeoCaching Summer offering is to take our tech outside searching and hiding our own geocaches.

The Summer Paddleboard offering has very little tech and is just to get ourselves outside Paddleboarding on local lakes and water ways (where they exist).

Summer camps also supplement regular material, some require previous work, most require no previous experience at all.

Who Can Apply?

No previous programming experience is required, but it is preferred when considering applications. Here is a checklist to see if you are ready to apply:

✅  Are you at least 10 years old?
✅  Can you read at a 4th grade level? (100 wpm)
✅  Can you type at least 15 words per minute? (goal is 24+)
✅  Do you know your times tables?
✅  Can you do division with remainders (not necessarily decimals/fractions)?
✅  Do you have access to a Gmail account you can use?
✅  Are you patient with yourself? (Or do you get frustrated easily?)
✅  Do you accept that it could take several semesters to really learn to code?
✅  Will you promise never to utter the words, ”But I already did that?“
✅  Do you often try to figure stuff out on your own?
✅  Do you enjoy helping others around you learn (despite any age difference)?
✅  Do you want to learn to code for more than just making games?
✅  Will you makeup absences within two weeks?
✅  Do you have use of a computer at home?
✅  Will you work at least 2 hours a week outside of class? (20 mins/day)
✅  Will you be honest in all your work?

Those attending SkilStak™ are expected to participate in and outside of class. If you have limited home ”screen time“ that prevents you from working an average of 20 minutes a day then you probably should not apply. We understand that people have busy schedules but like learning an instrument or sport We think this fosters the best learning environment where everyone shares a similar level of interest and motivation. After all, what kind of song could you play or foreign language could you speak after only 24 hours (the total time per semester just in lab not counting home practice)?

Everyone must demonstrate being able to type 15 words per minute no exceptions. Students must attain 24 words per minute before moving into any Proficiency lab. This important milestone is essential. Our timed challenge assessment system assumes this minimum. [Exceptions can be made for those with legitimate physical impairments.]

“What about home row?”, you ask? Although initially we do not require it, eventually your should be using home row (as opposed to hunt-n-peck). We heavily depend on the standard professional vi editor, which fundamentally uses home row keys for navigation and more. There are numerous resources online to learn proper typing. We happen to use the Aesop's Fable challenge on typingtest.com as our measure.

Anyone can apply but SkilStak™ tends to attract those that don’t seem to fit in elsewhere or who are very bored with their current school. Most of us who work and attend SkilStak™ fall proudly on the spectrum between geek and nerd. Though we do accept adults the style and materials are designed with middle school, high school, and early college ages in mind, roughly ages 10 to 20.

There are sometimes exceptions to the minimum age limit. Applications are judged based on maturity, aptitude, dedication, and fit and SkilStak™ reserves the right to accept only those applicants we feel will benefit and contribute the most. While we believe everyone should learn to code, we do not believe coding is the best career for everyone.

Financial Aid

PayPal provides financing options for those who wish to offset the one-time semester registration payment.

Although we are not a non-profit, we have very low margins and overhead to keep our prices in range with other similar activities or comparable sports activity costs.

Meet Us

An application process starts with a conversation. Find the location contact information and call or email your location. You can also always call 704-310-6778 or email learn@skilstak.com to help you find your location. You'll be directed to your location manager who will explain things, talk to you about availability, answer questions, and ensure you understand where to find more information including pricing and expectations.

Next we invite you to come in for a free lab. This way you can get a taste of the environment and how stuff work here.

If you do end up wanting to enroll and register, (and about 90% do who actually first attend), then you can request to register immediately for a current Essentials lab or wait until the next semester session begins.

Register

We take a highly personalized approach to registration and enrollment, no forms to fill out or buttons to click. This surprises some since we are a technology company but we feel the human connection is critical — especially during enrollment. Nothing should get in the way.

Registration requires the following:

  1. Full Name, Birthday, Address, and Contact Phone
  2. Gmail account with recovery options set
  3. Signed policies form, (which you will get at your audit)
  4. Full payment of PayPal invoice (financing available through PayPal)

Anyone can enroll and register in Essentials at any time (based on availability). Normally no more than a maximum of 18 new people are enrolled at any given location in a given semester so don't delay if you are seriously interested.

Entering in the middle of Essentials is possible because it is designed to meet you where they are. No one moves on until mastery of Essential Skills is demonstrated. Costs for those who start in the middle will be prorated.

Reading Required

Congratulations you climbed down the wall of text! Or did you? *wink* Yeah, we don't do “TL;DR;”. Believe it or not we constructed this wall on purpose. Sometimes you just need to read, no videos, no fancy widgets, no animated transitions, no pictures, no “marketing optimization”, no Bootstrap templates, just well-chosen words. If reading this much hurts your eyes, bores you, takes up too much time, seems superfluous, beneath you, inconsiderate, or is otherwise too bothersome, then SkilStak™ probably isn’t the right place for you or your child. (Ironically, if this does describe you it is statistically probable you will never see these words. *sigh*)

On the other hand, if you are saying “YES! Words rock!” then we definitely want to meet you as soon as possible. There’s a good chance you are already a SkilStak™ native ready to learn and contribute with the rest of us. It’s better for everyone that you know this now. Honest, we do care, which is actually why our expectations are so high. Never settle for perpetual mediocrity no matter what you do in life. Find your greatness! We would be honored to help you.

Feel free to sign up for our mailing list in the location box above. That is our primary way of communicating. We have a private chat server as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sincerely,

Mr. Rob
Founder, Developer, and CEO

Mr. Rob Gnome