What's best and worst about Upcase right now?

What’s good? What’s bad?

Let the honesty bombs fly.

Or, if you prefer, you can email me directly: ben@thoughtbot.com.

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Hello Ben,

My name is Andrew and I am huge fan of Upcase and thoughtbot’s publications!

A little about myself so you can better know me as a User.

  • Started learning Ruby January’14
  • Graduated from Dev Bootcamp June’14
  • Tutor for Ruby novices since Nov’14
  • Working for a healthcare company since Dec’14 within their Rails development team
  • Sole person responsible for writing our current project’s test suite, with little guidance since January’15


  • Weekly Iterations
    • Great resource for introductory material like SOLID
    • The examples are well thought, concise, and relatable.
    • You and Joe have an entertaining synergy
  • Trials
    • The tutorial videos, like the TDD episode series are downright the best; surpass teamtreehouse / codeschool
    • Questions are clear
    • There is enough work to do outside the challenge that makes me feel
      confident in my rails basics between navigating the basic set-up,
      bundling/gemfile/running tests
  • Forum
    • Great interface


  • Weekly Iterations
    • Live code reviews with possibly user submitted content
    • Live coding of common coding puzzles or patterns
  • Trials
    • More Tutorial videos
    • Solution from Thoughtbot with walk-through / video
    • Hangout room for people to chat via voice / text about challenge
  • Forum
    • More staff replies even if brief; I personally fail here as I should be
      more involved in the forum to incite the change I wish to see


While I am not 100% familiar with upcase/thoughbot’s business model, I’m
basing the below on upcase_continues_production if production_cost <
income; therefore if these desires would cease
upcase_continues_production, I and most likely other users would like to
shell out the difference.

  • Office hours - whether its a time slot we can sign-up for or a free-for-all, if there was a time where we could come in with a trial challenge to pair / ask questions, a current project, or general advice it would be great to bounce ideas off a senior developer.

  • One on One tutoring - This is a super resource heavy desire, though one I could see paying in the $75/hr range.

Not sure how others are doing, but as the sole Jr. Dev tasked with building
the testing suite a full-fledged app, I’m annoyed when I hit a road
block and no matter how many stack-overflows/blogs/magic-8-balls I
read I’ll just be stuck.

As a tutor for Dev Bootcamp I see first-hand the impact a good tutoring session can have for my student’s learning process.

Thanks for reading and best of luck on your AMA tomorrow!


Andrew, this is super helpful. Thanks so much for all the details.

I totally dig your Wish-List. I think we can make almost all those ideas happen, and they jive well with the direction I think we should be going.

As for your Wishier-List, office hours are something we might be able to do, and one-on-one tutoring is actually already a thing! If you go to https://thoughtbot.com/upcase/my_account, you can upgrade to that plan (but it’s more than $75/hr; keep in mind our usual rate for consulting is ~$250/hr).

I totally agree with Andrew. Over the past few months, I feel like upcase upgraded so much. The best part for me is the weekly iteration. I would love to see more of out takes of Joe hating the sound of infamous bells near your Boston office.

My wish list would be, having a weekly iteration through google hangout air with upcase community where we can ask questions and you guys can answer them… and having that recorded session available for upcase community to watch later.

We do this at our graduate school, where we have 35 to 40 min session with our professor, and we as a class are able to ask questions and find it super helpful.

While it will be awesome to have one and one consultation, unfortunately most small business have hard time paying $250/hour rate… especially for someone like me who works at a non profit world… that will be our annual budget…

I think those other alternatives can benefit the community as a whole.

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Great idea!

In fact, I’m doing this today! :smile:

Hey Ben,

First up, thanks go out to you and thoughtbot for everything that goes into Upcase! I think Andrew did a fantastic job of formatting his input so I’m going to follow his lead.

A little about me:

  • I also started learning Ruby in January '14
  • Did the online path going from CodeCademy to Treehouse to Code School to Upcase with Daniel Kehoe and Michael Hartl tutorials mixed in.
  • Found a code buddy on oDesk in late Summer '14 to pair with (not many Ruby devs around here).
  • Started freelancing on oDesk in October '14
  • Been working on personal projects, freelancing, and building our local Ruby community since.


  • Weekly Iteration - IMO the best video series on non-intro level Ruby / Rails available.


  • Trail Content - I’ve enjoyed the trail content I’ve had the chance to complete, however, some sections seem to lack direction on how to find the content where the topic was covered originally.
  • Forums - Some great discussions but I wish they were more active (I know, as a lurker I am also part of the problem).
  • Video Workshops - Great content but some of it is aging.

##Missing the Mark##

  • The peer review system - I feel like you hang your entire marketing campaign around this feature but in practical application, it has benefited me the least of everything Upcase offers. Most comments I see are “Looks good.”, “Nice solution.”, or something of the like.


  • Weekly Iteration
  • A series on building a small app start to finish, something similar in scope to Trailmix (or as a workshop).
  • Apprentice.io series that documents the experince of going through the program (possibly one section per month, four in total: Intro, Month 1, Month 2, Month 3/Recap).
  • A series on code review for Upcase students.
  • Workshops
  • Ruby Science: The Movie!
  • Anything that dives into real code (refactoring, open source submission, etc).
  • Trails
  • Suggestions for Jr skills, Mid skills, and Senior skills similar to the old Learn trails.

Thank you again for all the hard work going into Upcase! It has been an immense help in advancing my development skills.

I’ll catch you in the AMA in a bit!

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This is a big one for me.

The Form Objects thread is one example where some staff input would have been nice. I know from listening to your podcast(s) that Thoughtbot may not have the perfect solution for Form Objects yet but a production ready example would have been nice.

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That’s a great example, Michael. Thanks for pointing it out.

Let me see if I can get an answer in there.

@benorenstein Well I have to say thank you guys first and foremost for creating this. I have always admired Thoughtbot from the outside - based on your gems, articles and other stuff. So getting access to a product tailored to me - and Intermediate-Level Rails dev - is awesome.

The weekly iterations are a mixed bag for me, to be honest. Maybe it is because they usually aren’t relevant to me at the time. Maybe when I have a need for it, it will be. But I am yet to encounter something in the Weekly Iteration that really hits the nail on the head for me.

That being said, I love the tutorials and the trails.

My biggest gripe is that I would like to see more Thoughtbot created content within the trails. I can’t remember which Trail it was, but I remember clicking on a few and basically seeing like 1 or 2 pieces of original content. Everything else was just links to other tutorials and articles around the web. That sucks!

That being said, there are many other tutorials that you guys have done that I thoroughly enjoyed - so I just really want more.

In summary, what I would have loved to see is if all the trails you guys have were 90% original content created by you guys and the external links are just additional resources.

So ironically, the Trails are the best and the worst. When they are original content, they are the best…but when they are not…they are the worst :frowning:

I just bought a few ebooks from you guys, so we will see how those go. So far so good though.

Edit 1

The forums are a BIT confusing. I love that the comments are tightly integrated with the comments on some of the tutorial videos…but the way it is displayed is kinda weird in the forum list. Sometimes when I click on a forum topic, I expect it to be an entire discussion about that subject matter, but then it is just 1 comment on a video tutorial. So maybe making those comments more obvious or finding some way to distinguish the two.

I will also follo omgmakeme’s example:

  • My name is Anthony
  • I started with Ruby on Rails around 2013
  • Did several online courses like: Tealeaf Academy and the Pragmatic Studio online courses
  • I work at the IT-service of the Departement of Politcal and Social Sciences (Ghent University, Belgium)


  • Workshops (Rails, TDD, in every project I’m practicing the TDD-skills I learned in that workshop)
  • Weekly Iterations
  • The Forum: it’s very comforting to have advice and help when I’m stuck on something in my Rails projects.
  • Access to the Github repositories for Upcase etc…, are also very helpfull to me. When working on a Rails project I often peek in them to see how stuff is implemented and configured.
  • The trials are actually a good idea - nothing beats practice - but what I’m missing is reference material accompanying the exercises.


  • More workshops. I said it a couple of times, but I really miss a workshop on Bourbon Neat. I’m using these front end tools in all my projects now, and I would love to dive deeper in them and learn some best practices. A frontend workshop where we build a website from scratch with Bourbon Neat, Bitters and Refills would be so cool!

  • More on Tools and Workflow. I really dig the latest Trails on Tmux, I didn’t start using it, but I will soon. Also everything on Vim is more then welcome, Vim has made me so much more proficient at editing code.


Ok, this is a strictly personal opinion and it’s just based on my personal needs, but at this moment I can’t do much with the Haskell, IOS and Swift material. Right now I’m focussing solely on learning Ruby on Rails and I have my hands full with that.

Keep up the good work!

This is super helpful @acandael.

In particular, I totally hear you on the front-end workshop. A lot of people have asked for this, so I’m on-board with making it happen.

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Got it! We’re working on this.

Thanks for the feedback.

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For someone without a formal computer science background, the weekly iteration in particular helps fill those gaps with good pointers for appropriate pattern usage, refactoring decisions and looking abroad at other languages for inspiration. At it’s current price point I consider it one of the best screencast offerings out there for my skill level, as it fills the conceptual niche that I’m looking for, over say general discussion on a gem and how to use it.

Forums and Github access, the community that is here, is fantastic. Discussions on the forums are by and large interesting, but I’m really looking forward to seeing it grow more. The access to source code is pretty fantastic for developers looking for inspiration about development approaches outside of stock rails.

The AMA yesterday was pretty fantastic as well, as an Australian, the time wasn’t bad either (though it helps that I’m up reasonably early), but I really enjoyed that offering.


This is a very nice to have, but I’d love to see a debrief/breakdown of a complex application that you guys have built and a discussion around the challenges, planning and identification of problem areas/sections where you’ve made a conscious decision to employ a particular strategy. Some of the best content with this service is insights into the thinking and approaches at thoughtbot, so I’d love to see more of this.

Agree with @acandael s comments re workflow

More advanced trails, above and beyond the intermediate rails video series that’s currently available, though I feel the weekly iteration does help towards this. There does seem to be a disconnect between the more high level weekly iteration topics and the more general approach to trails (at least the new versions).

I think @marcamillion’s comments have summarised what I wan’t more of. I’m really happy with the thoughtbot content, but I just want more of it, plus I feel you guys fulfil a nice niche in the market, where you’re producing content for advanced beginners/intermediate developers, so please keep it up.

Hey Ben,

Two easy technical improvements:

Add a created timestamp to all the resources (videos), or version numbers for the libraries used. It’ll be helpful to know if we can expect the content to be up-to-date using the latest Rails and libraries, or if the content might be a bit outdated. Even if you guarantee all the content to be fresh, at least tag it with Rails 4, or Rails 3, or something, so we have an idea what to expect.

An example is the Refactoring video, where I didn’t know if you were using Rails 4 with Concern support and deliberately not using it, or if you were using Rails 3 without concerns. Only at minute 55 did you create a concern which told me you were actually deliberately not using a concern before, and not because you were using Rails 3. But since you’re still using monkeypatched Rspec, I think we can assume you’re using an older version of Rspec. Too much sherlock holmesing necessary to come up with these answers though :smile:

Syntax highlighting of the code samples in the trails.

Hi Ben,

I’m going to follow Andrew’s format…My name is Bruce and I am a fan of thoughtbot’s work as well.

A little about myself so you can better know me as a User.

I work at a University building Rails applications.

I pretty much agree with what others have said, so I will add my own thoughts to the wish list that I haven’t seen by others:

Wish List

  1. Downloadable Transcripts for the weekly iterations - this would help especially for the videos where there is no code or slides and it’s just 2 people talking - I tend to learn best by reading (it’s also easier to skim than video when you’re looking for that nugget of information you’re trying to recall), so hopefully I’m not the only one.
  2. Downloadable slides and/or transcripts for the workshop videos (e.g., rails performance, etc.) - for the same reasons as #1
  3. It might be great to have a central dashboard that “bookmarks” for me automagically all the video courses I’m working on / watching (the dashboard could be similar to Pluralsight’s dashboard). Right now, I’m making entries in a todo application to remember where I’m at. The trails does this visually, but not the video workshops unless I am missing anything. A really super cool feature would be for it to remember where you were in the video when you left off (so I don’t have to remember I was at 10:30 in), although this may not be possible with Wistia I realize.
  4. Maybe a calendar to schedule pair programming with other Upcase members who are interested? It might be nice to work on one of the exercises together and learn along the way. Also, I think it may help with community engagement & retention (just a guess of course :slight_smile: ).
  5. It might be helpful to categorize exercises as easy, medium, hard, etc. This way more experienced developers might be able to have a better idea of things they’d like to skip over and go right for the stuff they need.
  6. Perhaps as more workshops/videos are put together, a searchbox (similar to gistboxapp) that lets me search for content I might be interested in watching by keyword.
  7. Perhaps a separate part of the upcase dashboard that shows me what current repos I can contribute to as a member. Then members could contribute features on their own or as part of a pairing exercise. If it goes off well/is manageable, it could potentially be a good way to let the community drive the development of upcase rather directly as well as letting members get code reviews too. A win-win for both upcase members & thoughtbot.

Overall, I think it’s a great service and I can’t wait to see how it evolves!

This is more of what I would like to see than good and bad in the Trials I would like to find one complete project they can be like in a group but you still can do them one by one like the tests css ror but at the end they all end in the same project more like the rails tutorial but with thoughtbot standers and preferably a real project something with all the problems that would face if your doing the real thing so the instructions would be more like what your boss or team would say to you giving a beginner a feel of what it would be like in a real work place with a team like thoughtbot.
Other than that you all have done a great job

Hi Ben,

I am yearly subscriber. Site is fairly confusing with things not linked well. For example, I went through tmux trail. Once you do one video, it is not clear how to proceed to next.
While I enjoy your material, it probably would help if navigation would be easier.


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