pylights

At SkilStak™ we help particularly dedicated students learn computer programming, engineering, entrepreneurship and professionalism by having them solve technical challenges using real tools and practices facilitated by experienced instructors and professionals. We’re taking tech education viral in a fun, social way preparing students for college, career, and life.

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, like financial aid for exceptionally motivated students and local outreach programs. 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 students have been referred by others or found us themselves. In fact, we get downright metaphysical in our belief students are led to us when the time is right. Is the time right for you?

Cornelius

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

Mailing List

Small by Design

Small means focused, simple, agile, and personal. We like small. Our schools are small. Our class sizes are small. Every facilitator has no more than eight students at a time. This fosters an optimal, apprenticeship-style learning environment. Entire classes can take field trips to local tech companies and conferences easily.

Standard Classroom

We figure when we hit more than 136 students 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 student personally. In fact, any staff member that forgets any student’s name has to do push-ups or pay up a quarter every time. (As far as we know, this is legal.)

Personal

Students are more likely to make friends and participate no matter how shy they may be when classes 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. Students organically gravitate to the class groups that work for their aptitude, personality, and learning style. This helps maintain the family feel of every class.

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.

Best Tech

Staying small means our overhead is dramatically reduced allowing our students 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, not some donated left overs some schools are ecstatic to get. Students love that there is no ”good“ computer in the corner.

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™ students learn to spot the tech wave, paddle fast, and at the right time, catch it 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 so successful we consider it proprietary (along with our constantly changing curriculum and method of maintaining it). Our selection of tech topics and skills has been validated by top tech colleges and cutting edge companies in growth industries. Our students don’t just learn to program and make things, 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 students to real skills with less intimidation and frustration.

Fun @SkilStak with ZtypeFlappy Bird

Our unique lesson material includes pop-culture references to memes and stuff those who are 10-20 will general smile about. We do our best to keep this up to date and fun but also refer to ageless memes as well. Python, for example, got its name from Monty Python and so The Bridge Keeper has become a coding lesson and challenge.

Every class ends with 30 minutes of personal project time where students model a lot of the same behaviors they would on the playground playing or building things, just sitting next to each other in the classroom. This dynamic will never be something that can be recreated by purely online virtual education offerings, period. This gives the facilitators and assistants an opportunity to help anyone having trouble wrapping up and to review progress. It also allows students to practice what they have done in class on a project they care about of their own creation.

Playing hard has always been a part of education and building social skills, which coders sometimes struggle with. 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. Students can invite friends and previous students can catch up on all the changes. Some of our students 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.

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.

Discere Faciendo. Learn by Doing.

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

In other words, students 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.

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 you and you want to teach what you know please contact us about certification.)

Energy

Our facilitators are paired with intern assistants who come from the ranks of students providing a boost of energy and a connection to students that only recent students 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 earn master facilitator status. We constantly encourage everyone on staff to get and maintain industry experience, something we sincerely wish the public school system were able to better provide everyone.

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, and ownership of one’s own learning but the biggest is assessing proficiency toward mastery. 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, but you will find mastery as assessed by industry programming competitions, startups, and would-be peers in the industry. In tech no one cares about what some school, or paper, or transcript says you can do, they 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.

A large part of assessment and certification is a public-facing student portfolio of the student’s best work on a project of their own design and creation demonstrating skills and topics they have learned. This portfolio is available to peers and other professionals potentially interested in hiring them. Several SkilStak™ students have been solicited for job offers from their public portfolios alone.

Delivery Driven Education as a Service

IB and Montessori schools are project-driven, which is great. We take that same concept one step further to — what we call — delivery-driven education™. In fact, our entire curriculum can dynamically be rebuilt at any time following our Education as a Service (EaaS) model allowing personalized educational content focused on what before how in a way that instantly scales to individual needs.

We are so confident that no other educational system like this exists that we have offered a $200 bounty to any student or parent who can find anything similar in the world. So far it remains unclaimed.

Professional Tools

The sooner students start using the tools of professionals, the sooner they become professionals. While we support and assist traditional educational institutions that heavily depend on educational versions of things, we believe the best way to learn and teach is by using the same workflows and tools professionals do from the very beginning, just at a consumable pace depending on where the student is.

Hello World

This means all our students deeply master the command line and do all their work on Linux servers hosted on professional cloud services — no Repl.it, Cloud9, CodeAnywhere, CodeAcademy, Scratch, IDLE, Turtle, Blockly, App Inventor, Mindstorms, nano, Alice, or other cutesy, (often insecure), for-education training wheels, just pure, real, professional tools and practices. Ironically, we have found this is what most students prefer when given the choice but most schools don't bother asking or are incapable or otherwise unwilling to do what is actually required to properly prepare their students for real work.

Computational Literacy is Ruining Coding Education

Whether or not we ever hear from you, a word of caution: chances are you have heard the buzz words “computational literacy” peddled by academics at some point in your search to learn computer science and programming. Strictly speaking “computational literacy” is not programming nor is it STEM. The idea is that everyone should learn to code because it helps you, as Steve Jobs said, “learn to think” (even though he never wrote a single line of code for Apple). Learning logic and problem-solving falls into “computational thinking”, they say, but humans have been doing that thousands of years before computers and in many cases better than some human-less, online offerings do today. While programming does require these skills it also requires knowing syntax and specific tools to create working programs, not dragging and dropping blocks together in a cartoon game. In fact, there are a lot of other pursuits that teach that same “computational thinking” like philosophy, foreign language, and math. The issue, which is well described in George Saine's CodeCombat.com blog, is that you could have a Ph.D in Physics with a brilliant, fast mind and not be able to land a job anywhere in the software engineering field without learning the specifics. That‘s what SkilStak™ is about, specifics.

Early Employment Opportunities

We believe strongly in helping students work as soon as possible in positions they choose and love. Assistant interns are chosen from exceptional students and given the opportunity to list internship work at SkilStak™ on their resumes and school applications. This is always optional and highly competitive.

Our students have started coding clubs in their schools and been invited to share what they know in different ways.

Students are invited to create their own educational videos on topics and skills they enjoy for our YouTube channel.

A very select few students are invited to our companion SkilStak Professional Incubator program, which is managed as a startup with Agile weekly reporting, project documentation repos, remote and in-person collaboration, Kick Starter funding, and more. Recruiters and professionals from the tech community are invited to visit, share, and mentor our Pros. Occasionally we take field trips to local tech conferences, meetups, and on-site tours of local tech companies. If you are a technical professional interested in helping out please let us know.

Field Trip

SkilStak™ Pro students have also done paid work for customers while attending SkilStak™. Our facilitators and assistants provide that needed safety net bolstering the confidence of students as they create their own sites and apps for themselves or customers. Some of our students have gone on to work remotely for companies in Australia, create security drones with Raspberry Pi, form their own LLCs, be selected for highly competitive FBI-invite security camps, and partnered with SkilStak™ to take flight on their own creating Summer camps, workshops on regular expressions and more.

Students use their SkilStak™ to separate them from the other early college applicants and win the lab and development jobs available from their schools or simultaneously work for money or as interns for tech companies nearby. In other words, a SkilStak™ education often gives students the freedom and opportunity to make money while they figuring out what their next step in life will be.

Our Mission

Our mission is to prepare an army 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.

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. In fact, several of our students and parents have founded code clubs on their own. Need help? Let us know.

logos

What to Learn?

At SkilStak™ our curriculum primarily focuses on preparing students for the applied programming careers of today and tomorrow working with alternative energy, Internet of Things, engineering, medicine, data science, education, networking, and systems operations and security.

Field Trip Again

Few teach 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). We are seriously looking at a day when a refrigerator can be hacked to indirectly gain access to your phone and activate your camera and microphone. This is not fear-mongering, this is reality. Coders have quite literally rescued 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 — more critical, in point of fact — than those creating the latest hot cloud service, popular web site, or trendy app, (some of which have already put us at risk.)

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 Prep course since it helps give students a vision of their future and where they are on the path.

Offerings

Everyone starts in Prep and stays there until they have mastered the Prep Skills. For example, students code everything with vi (no arrow keys) on an actual Linux Bash command line, (not some fake emulation of one running in a web browser). In fact, students as young as 10 are about ready to take the LPI Essentials Certification exam by the end. We introduce the basics of programming in a fun way. The goal is to avoid frustration at all costs. Programming should always be fun. This is much like learning the scales and chords before attempting to play music. We keep it fun in ways that are both common to all schools and unique to SkilStak™.

Golang Gophers

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 students learn not only modern languages, but also modern best practices.

Projects is also for independent learners who simple need resources and peers rather than structured courses or who wish to explore or specialize. Other languages can be explored in Projects, notably C, Elixir, Ruby, Swift, POSIX Shell, SQL, and Assembly. In fact, we encourage students to create their own languages. [Java will never be taught at SkilStak™ in any form, (including for AP Computer Science test prep, so don‘t even ask). We strongly warn against learning the unnecessarily verbose and bloated Java language at all — especially as a first language since, despite attempts to deemphasize it, Java promotes bad practices such as inheritance that would have to be unlearned later.]

Make is a project and kit-based introduction to applied programming and physical computing and hardware.

The Linux mastery course focuses on professionally recognized certifications and includes learning POSIX shell scripting and System and Security Operations with Kali™ and Ubuntu™ Linux.

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. This is college level material introduced in a fun, digestible way.

CBL or Challenge Based Learning provides an unending supply of new learning opportunities for even the most advanced student. It is entirely driven by challenges facing our local community and world that students and facilitators can accept and work toward solving together. CBL is managed as an informal tech group developing social and teaming skills with different students serving as project leader. 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 students enjoy a strong command of both software and hardware as they 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 any student can work toward. CBL students are the first to receive professional and internship recommendations as well as internal work opportunities.

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

We would love an opportunity to meet you in person to discuss the specific technologies and methods we use.

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 24 words per minute using home row?
✅  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 ok with watching YouTube memes in class and coding them? (waffles, badgers, applepen, etc.)
✅  Are you patient with yourself? (Or do you get frustrated easily?)
✅  Do you accept that it will take several semesters to really learn to code?
✅  Will you promise never to utter the words, ”But I already did that?“
✅  Do you try to figure stuff out on your own when you need to learn something?
✅  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?
✅  Do you want to work at least 3 hours a week outside of class?
✅  Will you be honest in all your work?

SkilStak™ is a school, not an after school program, (although we do after school programs as a part of our Outreach to local schools and organizations). Students are expected to participate in and outside of class. Students with limited home ”screen time“ — for whatever reason — that prevents them from working an average of 3 hours a week outside of class should not apply. SkilStak™ is for real students, not club members or kids that need a good nanny. This may sound harsh, but it is important everyone understand this before applying. We are fun and friendly, but are also very serious about our commitment to learning. If there is even the slightest doubt about a student‘s commitment to serious learning it is better not to apply or to do a Summer Camp or Game Night instead.

All potential students must demonstrate being able to type 24 words per minute using home row keys, no exceptions. This important milestone is essential. Our custom-built challenge assessment system assumes this minimum. We heavily depend on the standard professional vi editor, which fundamentally uses home row keys for navigation and more.

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 materials are designed with middle and high school students in mind, roughly ages 10 to 20. As it turns out, this is an ideal age to first learn programming, students are mature and skilled enough to write code but have not yet discovered the full range of distractions teenage life tends to present.

There are sometimes exceptions to the age limits. 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. This does mean several potential students have been (and will be) encouraged to pursue other interests or to reapply later.

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. But if that is too much, prove to us you have the drive, aptitude, and dedication and we will do our best to make it happen for you.

Sometimes this means a location manager will wave the enrollment and registration costs completely. Usually, however, this means money will not come from SkilStak™ but from any number of parents and fortunate patrons who have generously offered their help and believe in giving motivated students the gift of an opportunity to contribute to the world through code and engineering no matter what their social and economic status.

Financial aid considerations and decisions are at the sole discretion of the location manager.

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.

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.

Register

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 but parents should be warned, most students who audit beg to enroll (one literally dropped to his knees with a "Thank you, God!" exclamation).

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)

Students can register any time for the next upcoming Prep course based on availability. Students can also potentially test out of Prep and go directly into one of the Proficiency tier courses. Although, because our Prep program covers essential professional material that most colleges do not — such as the vi editor and Linux command line — it is rare to have students test out who have not followed our Prep course material (available for free upon request to any potential student).

Summer Camps are often the best opportunity for students who want to try out SkilStak™ to see if it is something they wish to continue doing for a full semester.

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 of both students and parents are so high. Never settle for perpetual mediocrity. Find your greatness (even if it has nothing to do with tech).

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 for students and parents as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sincerely,

Mr. Rob
Founder and CEO

Mr. Rob Gnome