The JavaGuys program, as the class is known, is a collection of around a dozen prisoners at Marion Correctional Institution who are part of the WinWin Institute for Response-Able Re-Entry.  The object of the class is to produce professional-level Agile software developers, with resumes containing knowledge and experience that prospective employers will find directly profitable.

We have students who were professional developers before they came to prison; we have prisoners who barely knew how to turn on a computer before they joined the class; and the rest of the students are sprinkled in various places between the two extremes.

Prisoners who are interested in being part of JavaGuys join a waiting list and take a test that is intended to evaluate their potential as Agile software developers, even if they have no prior experience.  I’ll probably describe the test in an upcoming post.

The class itself is divided into three parts:

  • Beginners, sometimes called the “nothin’ from nothin’ ’bout nothin'” guys, who spend their time learning the elementary theory of programming, elementary Java syntax, and test-driven development all at once, frequently with the help of Jeff Langr‘s aging but excellent book Agile Java.
  • Java students, who work through a series of programming problems of increasing difficulty and realism, ending with a cluster of web-front-end problems based on Tapestry followed by a cluster of back-end problems using Spring, JDBC, and Hibernate.
  • Project programmers, who participate in a real-world Agile project creating a real-world website for use by real-world people in solving real-world problems.  (The website is for a volunteer organization, so nobody makes any money on it.)

Students in the last two groups spend much of their time helping students in the first two groups.  Most of the passion and horsepower for the class is supplied by the students; they are certainly much more serious and dedicated than any college students I’ve ever seen.

Still, it’s difficult to impossible for me, as one guy, spending two to two and a half hours a week in the prison, to adequately address all three groups.

In the beginning, the class met with me for two to three hours a week on Friday mornings, because I was on a commuter project that allowed me to work four tens.  Since then, I’ve been moved to a local project that insists on five eights, so I go in for two and a half hours or so on Tuesday nights.

Lately, a couple of colleagues–Rob Conaway of Pillar Technology and Joel Helbling of LeanDog Software–have been hooked by the Code Reviews (I’ll probably mention them in a future post) and have been coming in with me on Tuesday nights.

Huh.  Three groups of students in the class, and now three outside guys volunteering to come in and teach them.  Almost enough to make a fellow believe in God.

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