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SkilStak is a unique private school located near Town Hall in Cornelius, North Carolina (off exit 28), where we believe learning to code Jedi-style is not only a fun, empowering skill but an art form preparing students for life, college, and job opportunities.
Congratulations you found us! Though newspaper articles have been written about SkilStak, we have done very little advertising other than local sponsorships and volunteer work. Most students have been referred by others or found SkilStak themselves. We get downright metaphysical in our belief students are led to SkilStak when the time is right. Is this the right time for you?
We like small. Even though our schools can enroll up to 400 students and class sizes range from 3 to 20 students each student is grouped with two other students and a teacher's assistant based on aptitude, personality, and learning style. We select our teacher assistants from among our most dedicated and exceptional students. TAs help students understand having learned it the same way themselves and are as effective (or better) at connecting and communicating. This reinforces the TAs learning as well and gives them something for their resumes and college applications later.
Our classrooms are designed with partial separation to help with sound levels and so each subgroup feels like its own private class. Core concepts are taught together briefly and then subgroups take on the task of the day with their personal TAs. Course content is available online for review and self-paced learning and the course instructor is always available rotating through each class subgroup checking on status and offering guidance for both students and TAs.
Courses are grouped by a general level and learning rate and subgroups within them provide additional fine tuning to customize an educational experience for each student personally. Class organization is fluid to allow immediate changes when needed to better meet the needs of each individual.
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 your needs than to discuss them in person. You can read more about this in the Meet Us section.
Every course is carefully selected from current and future technologies that are real and relevant. In fact, special in development courses are regularly offered at a discounted rate to students by invitation as they collaborate with instructors to prepare and test new technologies and new course materials for them. As a result our curriculum and materials change much more quickly and organically than most every other school, almost too quickly some students lament, but this is simply the nature of technology and the pace of change is only increasing. To help keep up, we use the same systems to manage our code that we do to manage our course materials so changes are immediate and on-going. This is the closest thing to a text book SkilStak will ever have. The term "technology text book" is practically an oxymoron today.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time in IT 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 those in IT to quickly digest any relevant technology, understand it, and apply it productively.
While SkilStak is not associated with Montessori, we have always shared philosophical and pedagogical preferences. The biggest of these are independence, accountability, fostering internal drive, and ownership of one's own learning. The loose structure and emphasis on mastery over gold-star false progress at SkilStak demonstrates our commitment to these principles. You won't find any numbers in any of our courses and you won't find any grades. You either know it or you don't. How you learned it is irrelevant.
Mastery is measured by completion of Prep achievements, SkilStak Fundamentals Certification, (which is free to students and must be renewed every two years), and attained through skill-based projects and activities, student-led presentations and workshops, and teaching others, which often grows into rebate opportunities to work as a student teacher assistant on staff. Students don't move on until they are ready and they know they are ready.
Students, parents, and instructors will monitor fluctuations in mastery through our custom learning management system, which is currently being developed by our instructors and senior students.
Every Fundamentals, Core, and Pro course is taught by instructors with more than five years professional programming experience. Code and Play™, Code and Prep™, and some camps are lead and taught by trained adults over 18. Most classes have one or more experienced teacher assistants who are selected from our most exceptional students to maintain our 3-to-1 student to mentor ratio.
While we support and assist traditional educational institutions we believe the best way to learn and teach is by using the same workflows and tools professionals and college computer science students do.
We believe strongly in helping students work as soon as possible in positions they choose and love. Teacher's assistants are hired from exceptional current students and are paid in rebates to tuition. Some motivated students have paid their entire tuition with these work opportunities while learning valuable non-technical skills in the process. Our TAs have started code clubs in their own schools and community organizations and been invited to work elsewhere as well.
Some prefer coding projects for SkilStak including building Minecraft worlds, updating the web site, system administration tools and more. Over $2000 was paid to SkilStak students in 2015. This might not seem like much, but we are proud to say our students literally helped build our school.
For our senior students we have our SkilStak Pro Incubator program focused entirely preparing and creating opportunities for students in the professional enterprise, higher education, and freelance entrepreneurship. Projects, portfolios and professionals we call it as we work to fill out students' Linkedin profiles and resumes. Recruiters and professionals from the tech community are regularly invited to visit, share, and mentor Pro students and occasionally take them on field trips to local tech conferences, meetups, and on-site tours of local tech companies.
SkilStak Pro students have also done paid work for free-lance customers while attending SkilStak. Our instructors provide that needed safety net bolstering the confidence of students as they create their own sites and apps for themselves or customers. We are proud to say some of our students have created their own LLCs and partnered with SkilStak to take flight on their own teaching Summer camps and more. Our greatest mission is to prepare an army of qualified, personable technology professionals instilled with an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and mind (and to hire as many of them as we can ourselves as part of our not-so-evil-plan-to-rule-the-world, muahahahaha).
We believe strongly in promoting education where ever 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. In fact, several of our students and parents have founded code clubs on their own. Need help? Let us know.
Our main offerings are organized by tiers or categories priced by semesters, which are 16 weeks of 90 minute classes.
Code and Play™ - $240
Code and Play gently introduces students to programming in a camp-like environment. Each class has two parts: code and play. Students spend the first half of every class learning in Code.org, CodeCombat.com (Clan: SkilStak Coding Arts), Khan Academy, CheckIO and other fun educational sites dedicated to learning code. These are great ways to learn programming that anyone can take home with them. This gives students and parents something fun to work with outside of class and combines well with homeschooling, afterschool, and Summer camp programs.
The second half of Code and Play is usually why students sign up, to play Minecraft on our special SkilStak servers where each class gets a server and can use special tools and powers like World Edit that they normally could not use without a subscription to a public server like Hypixel™ or Mineplex™. In fact, our Minecraft servers use the same technology as these popular sites and students can eventually learn to run their own servers.
Games counter frustration and keep students motivated. Students learn best when they care about why they are learning the skills. We've had students go from academic probation in their public school to the honor roll because they learned to associate math and science with the skills needed to make a really good game.
Minecraft is very educational with a rich command-line that strongly encourages kids to learn to type, navigate their command-line history and more. Some students actually type faster than their parents after playing Minecraft a lot for a semester or two.
The camp-like atmosphere and low-cost of Code and Play™ makes is great 'extra' course for students enrolled in other courses — including older students — that want more time at SkilStak to have fun. Code and Play is also the first course most Teacher Assistants will work with.
Code and Prep™ - $400
Code and Prep is the next step. Students are encouraged to move from Play to Prep as soon as possible but not before they are ready. There is no need to wait for a semester to end, for example.
Fundamentals - $600
The fancy term for this is polyglot programming and you will probably have a hard time finding any school in the world offering programming instruction in this way, which is unfortunate. Our unique polyglot approach provides a valuable contrast as well as instills confidence in students to learn any language they may encounter later. Too often programmers develop strong language biases early in their careers that hobble them later. Fundamentals combats this in the best way.
All programming is done in class on Mac and Linux systems from the
command line using the professional
vim editor. skilstak.sh is a
remote Linux host students can access from home or school using
ssh, another professional tool. Students can also use our Raspberry
Pi image or download our SkilStak-On-A-Stick Linux virtual machine
to run on whatever computer they have at home. We strongly believe
students do not need educational substitutes for real tools and
technologies. Students are initially exposed to these technologies
in Code and Prep.
Programming is useless without data. In Fundamentals we cover reading and writing data in different formats (JSON, SQL, etc.) from different sources (file system, web apis, etc.).
Although we have fun making games, interactive stories and adventures, and fun web pages in Fundamentals this course has only the last 10 minutes for play time. Fundamentals is a serious programming course and students will likely decide if programming is really for them during this course. Like Chemistry 101 is for many would-be doctors or Physics 101 for would be astrophysicists and engineers, Fundamentals is hard enough to serve as a filter for students who may wish to choose other career paths later. Students will have learned computational thinking before Fundamentals, but Fundamentals is designed to master programming and provide the independence required for Core and Pro courses. Chasing down missing brackets and semicolons isn't for everyone. Better to find that out as soon as possible.
Core - $600
SkilStak currently offers the following Core courses for those that have completed Fundamentals (listed roughly in order of popularity):
The SkilStak Core courses provide a firm foundation for further specialization as students progress, by invitation, to SkilStak Pro.
Pro - $600
Another option for those completing Fundamentals is SkilStak Pro, sometimes referred to as Projects, Portfolios, and Professionals. While priced the same as the Core courses, this by-invitation course is focused on assisting experienced, motivated students to create line items for their LinkedIn profiles and resumes leading to direct job opportunities and college acceptance. Each student is required to have an ongoing project and regularly report on it to the rest of the class. Every student is required to participate in every other student's project in some way. This results in eight projects for resumes and college applications with 'project lead' listed for at least one of the projects.
Based on the nature of Pro, classes are strictly limited to eight students. Pro classes have no TAs. Each student is expected to support the others as needed in addition to the full attention of the Pro instructor.
Pro students are strongly encouraged to bring their own laptops, preferably Mac or Linux more as a matter of creating productive development habits. We have more than enough laptops, workstations, monitors, 3D cutter as well as several more high-end graphic systems (Mac Pros, Wacom tablets, etc.) suitable for 3D modeling, digital art, and other development.
Pro students have access to our extensive tech book and electronics library where sensors and robotic parts of different kinds can be tested and explored. Minimal soldering and other electronics development tools are available, but the focus remains primarily on programming.
In addition to the regular SkilStak Pro instructor, (always an industry professional with more than five years programming experience), we invite technologists and recruiters from different professions and industries to regularly speak and mentor. This includes CTO's of large corporations, Directors of Technology for large colleges, local successful entrepreneurs, local tech and other industry recruiters, and other tech industry insiders who are willing and anxious to share their wisdom even take the Pros on an occasional field trip to a tech conference.
Classes rotate around specific topics requested by the students and focus on specializations that normally cannot be covered in the Core courses and include 3D modeling, printing and cutting; maker projects, robotics, and electronics; video and audio equipment; Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Premier; Native App Development; C, C++, C# and other languages; ethical hacking, and more. For some activities there will be fees for the materials used (3D printing, solder, sensors, etc.) which can be paid with SkilBux.
In addition, Pros can come to SkilStak any time the school is open based on availability. This provides many more hours than other students to work on their project and receive periodic guidance anytime during the week they can come (and extra space is available).
SkilStak Pro is a professional space and assumes a high-level of trust and responsibility. Not everyone gets an invite and not everyone will keep that invite. Like Google there will be a lot of fun and perks, but like Google there are certain expectations. We want students to mature and learn what it means to have fun while remaining professional. Visiting professionals and recruiters should observe that even our youngest SkilStak Pros are skilled, mature and — most of all — employable.
While we are a technology company we strongly believe in balance, which is particularly challenging for the geeks among us. Yoga is a natural compliment to the intense amount of sitting that comes with any technology profession. Yoga teaches students to be aware of their body, how to code in different positions, and when and why to take breaks as they embark in marathon coding sessions. These skills help students be even more successful in their jobs and lives than simply knowing how to code would ever make them.
Yoga classes are held at Community Yoga about five blocks North from our Cornelius location. Times appear on our calendar. Cost, payment and registration is all managed through Community Yoga. SkilStak has no relation with Community Yoga other than to promote their program and encourage our students participation. Students receive SkilBux for participating as motivation.
SkilStak instructors, mentors and teacher assistants are right there doing Yoga with the rest of the students making it a great 'recess' from coding, homework, and other hectic demands on students' time during the week. Ashtanga yoga (originally a combination of traditional Hatha yoga with British calisthenics) was actually created specifically to deal with the energy and needs of young men and has since grown into much more. Yoga also makes you a wicked skater, SUPer, or martial artist if that's your thing. (So yeah, yoga's not just for girls.)
The best way to help you decide how to start is, you guessed it, to talk to us in person so we can get a feel for your interests and aptitude. Here's a link to the current weekly calendar to give you some idea.
All our courses can be entered at any time depending on the applicant and course availability. Fundamentals and Core are the hardest to enter mid-semester because the material is more scheduled than Play, Prep, and Pro. Partial semester payments are pro-rated.
At SkilStak we have done a lot to create an extremely fun and intense learning environment and curriculum for a particular kind of learner, which isn't for everyone. SkilStak is a place where the right students want to be, not where they have to be. For this reason, and because of the high demand for SkilStak courses, the application process is selective and often involves a waiting list.
Anyone can apply but SkilStak tends to attract students 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 sometimes accept adult students the style and most course materials are designed with younger students in mind (roughly 8 to 18).
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.
An application process starts with a conversation. Call 704-310-6778 or email email@example.com. Someone from SkilStak staff will explain things, answer questions, and ensure you understand where to find more information including pricing and expectations.
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.
If after speaking everyone still agrees SkilStak looks like something the applicant might want then we set up a free audit. This gives students a chance to see what it is like here, what is expected of students, ask questions from other students, and let staff evaluate the student. Sometimes more than one audit is appropriate.
If the applicant is excited about beginning and receives staff approval the student can register in any available classes or put their name on the waiting list. Priority is given to currently enrolled and returning students. The process of registration involves first sending an email confirming the desire to register and for which courses followed by payment in person or by invoice. This email and payment means you accept the school policies.
The only information required to register a new student is the following:
We create a GitHub account and password for every student with their full name so it can easily be found with Google or by recruiters, (who often find new hires by searching for content in GitHub.)
* Password information is optionally stored encrypted at the school to prevent in-class delays looking up forgotten login information. Any student who forgets a password even once is required to store it this way.
Congratulations you got to the bottom! Maybe you just skipped past everything *wink*. In case you haven't noticed we expect students and parents to read, a lot. This wall-of-text web page is designed this way on purpose. Reading is a core career skill any programmer, technologist, or responsible human will every learn — especially in this 140-character, TL;DR;, video-centric world. Today, those who read accurately and quickly will dominate their domains. These are the distinguished students (and parents) we want at SkilStak.
We know everyone is busy. You still need to read, this site, mailing list notifications, and lots of material on the Internet related to what you are learning. Google is your main textbook. If you find reading painful or bothersome SkilStak is likely not for you. Start your reading practice today by making sure you read all this page before calling the number below. And yes, we will know if you did *grin*.