Back to Product
In an unexpected turn of events, I had been presented with the opportunity to kickstart Ironhack's product team. A blank canvas and the amazing challenge to create unique, unforgettable learning experiences for our students.
Although mentally it feels like a decade, only two years have passed since I joined Ironhack. It has been intense. Yet looking back I’m astonished by the amount of progress we’ve made so far — not just in Barcelona, but across the globe.
To put these two years in perspective, and before we jump in to discuss what this article is truly about, let me share a handful of highlights of what our team has accomplished so far here in Barcelona.
- Moved from a co-working to our own space at the heart of Poblenou — almost 1.000 square meters of pure delight.
- Enhanced our product line and launched a brand new UX/UI Design Bootcamp, in addition to our Web Development Bootcamp. On top of that, we extended both programs to have their own part-time counterparts.
- Doubled the amount of enrolled students each year. On our way to graduate more than 200 Ironhackers this 2017 alone. Which also means increasing our revenue by more than 100% YoY, twice in a row.
- Despite this growth, our student satisfaction metrics weren’t hurt. On the contrary, student NPS increased by more than 30 points. Also placement rate1, for the first time, recently crossed the 80% mark.
- Assembled a local team of rockstars. That’s a big one; it might be the biggest one, actually. Scaling operations from a one-man show up to 15 passioned, hard-working persons — ranging from sales, marketing, teachers, etc. has proven to be a daring endeavor.
- Launched key city partnerships, such as the strategic alliance with ESADE, to enable a new breed of hybrid profiles. Or the wallapop scholarships, to promote women in tech. Which reinforced our leading position among the community.
This was just the first two years. This has been just Barcelona. This is just getting started.
Back then, with close to zero information, I predicted my role to be something like this:
In short, it means I have to establish the entire company operations in the city, from scratch. Recruit the team, set up a community, enroll students, assemble a network of hiring partners… easier said than done 😅
In retrospect, these lines might read like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They turned out to be a remarkably accurate description of the things to come. However, they failed to capture the most inspiring side of the role. Something that was nowhere to be found in the job description.
I am talking about our mission, our purpose, the ultimate reason why Ironhack exists: changing people’s lives. Empowering every single student we graduate to change careers and join a thriving tech industry full of opportunities. I’m aware we are not reaching millions of people. Brick and mortar ventures do not scale as fast as server farms. But the impact we make in every single student we “touch” is massive.
Two years ago I wouldn’t have said that this “noble mission” could have the potential to be a determining factor when choosing a new job. Today I can safely say that it has become a critical component and something I couldn’t live without.
But back to the aforementioned prophecy, it also stated this:
The only concern I had though, is that the job was far removed from a product. This was the only thing that held my decision back a few days. I had to think about it but finally ended up realizing that Ironhack Barcelona was a product in itself.
Both turned out to be true as well.
First, Ironhack Barcelona was a product in itself, yes. A product like no other with the potential to, literally, change its students’ lives. Few products can live up to such high standard.
Building this “product” from scratch has been one of the most rewarding deeds I’ve undertaken so far. Something I’ll bring with me wherever I go. Something I’ll always look upon and feel nothing but pride.
Second, during 2017 this idea of “product” evolved. It reached a stage of maturity where it stopped behaving like the product it used to be. It outgrew me in ways I expected. The paintings were already on the wall.
As an organization, we gained momentum, but at agility’s expenses. There was no time for building anymore. My schedule turned into an endless array of meetings, presentations, and PR events. Being the campus manager was no longer about creating, it was about all about growing.
One trait I admire in a person is self-awareness. I have always believed that we underestimate how far in life a healthy combination of self-awareness and common sense can get you.
I was aware that the role of the campus manager had evolved. I was aware that it now required a completely different skill set than the one required two years ago. Back then Barcelona needed to go from 0 to 1; we achieved that. Now it needed to go from 1 to 100.
The campus manager job is not your 9 to 5; it is a lifestyle, a passion you live and breath every single waking hour. Hence it must be perfectly aligned with the person’s motivation. It requires the “right guy”. Otherwise, it does not make sense to keep going. If you don’t feel like this you’re probably doing it wrong. The infinitesimal misalignment of these values can compromise the whole edifice.
Fortunately, we were not yet at that point. But I started feeling that I was not the “right guy” anymore. My thing is starting things from scratch, and there was no more scratch around. I wasn’t enjoying the way I used to enjoy during the early days. My contribution was no longer optimal. The misalignment started to manifest itself and my days as a campus manager were coming to an end. It was the time for a change, a change for the best.
So, I had it all figured out. I had a plan, and it looked like this: go to Ironhack’s founders, explain the situation and the reasons behind my decision, help them find the “next me” — no matter how long it takes, assist during the transition as much as I can, shake hands, and, finally, depart.
When the time came, I punctiliously deployed the first stage of the plan, sharing all the above with Ironhack’s founders.
Well, nothing went according to the plan.
In an unexpected turn of events, the conversation quickly shifted to another place. I’ll give you the executive summary.
These are founders talking:
Ok, so you know about products and like starting things from scratch, right? Well, Ironhack has grown a lot in these two years, however, we haven’t been doing a particularly good job with our product. We still don’t have a dedicated product team, we haven’t defined our product lines… In fact, we were currently thinking of launching this department; we already started looking for a product manager! Would you like to do it?
What? Say that again?
The unexpected turn meant that I was being presented with the opportunity to kickstart Ironhack’s product team. The proposal came bundled with the keywords “product”, “from scratch”, “impact”, and every single requirement I could be possibly looking for. It checked all the elements on the wishlist.
With an enthusiastic “yes” in mind (already making its way into my tongue), I think I did what any rational human being would have done. Behind a thick diplomacy filter, and in an effort to freeze my passion and sound
sane politically correct, I responded that “I love the idea, I’d like to think about it, just give me a few days to puzzle over it”.
During the upcoming days, I made a thorough introspection around what all that meant. I wanted to understand what “product” at Ironhack was really about. Because when setting up any product venture you have to first go through the exercise of daydreaming about what it could possibly become.
To begin with, it’d mean to create unique, unforgettable learning experiences through software. Nonetheless, the beauty of it would be that this experience won’t be confined to the digital realm. Such tools would be able to empower our team of rockstars in an offline world. We have the potential to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical, creating a seamless experience that blends the best of both worlds.
From this perspective, the possibilities are limitless. Helping our teachers with better tools to deliver their lectures. Creating products to optimize the matching abilities of our outcomes managers and hiring partners when it comes to employing our graduates. In the end, getting back to the front lines to actually build the tools and products that will enable our students to not just learn, but help them transition to the industry — get a better job.
So, here we are again, back to product, a blank canvas, a new challenge, and about to start a new thriving epoch in my life. And of course, as you might have guessed, I said “yes”.
- The Placement Rate is the ratio of students finding a full-time job after three months of their graduation — by all accounts our golden metric and true north star.↩