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Ask HN: Why are there so few reviews for coding bootcamps?
52 points by jmstickney on March 4, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments
Search results yield coursereport.com and switchup.org.

With the "top" ones like GA, Hack Reactor, Career Foundry, you are lucky to get more than 50+ reviews.

With some of these being over $10k, am I wrong to think there should be more reviews out there?

As a relatively recent bootcamp grad who hasn't written a review, here are my excuses/hypotheses for others who haven't:

a) simple laziness. A good review takes time and thought to write, and the time isn't necessarily in the writing the review, but in processing the experience after graduation. By the time you have a more balanced (ie, graduated, employed/unemployed) perspective, you've probably moved on to other things.

b) in my case, it's mostly due to general ambivalence about the experience. There were things I liked, things I thought weren't done well, and the overall effect is to cancel each other out. Ambivalence doesn't encourage taking the time (see above) to write down thoughts the way more extreme positive or negative views do.

c) also specific to me: I genuinely liked the instructors and most of my cohort, and writing anything negative seems impolite - not wanting to hurt someone's feelings or seem ungrateful. Irrational, but there ya go.

> c) also specific to me: I genuinely liked the instructors and most of my cohort, and writing anything negative seems impolite - not wanting to hurt someone's feelings or seem ungrateful. Irrational, but there ya go.

I was reading Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance. In each of his shows for a tour, he polled the audience with two questions.

How should you let a person who is interested in you know you aren't interested in them: Pretend to be busy, say nothing, or be honest?

Overwhelmingly, most people practice the "pretend to be busy" and "say nothing" methods. Only a small sliver of the audience would say they were honest.

He then asked the audience to pretend the situation is reversed. Someone else is dealing with you. How do you prefer they handle the situation?

Overwhelmingly, the audience responded (with applauds) that they'd prefer the honest approach.

One reason we (collectively) might avoid honesty in that scenario is that we're afraid of a meltdown/confrontation/any kind of incident. When we're on the receiving end, we all know that "ourselves" are reasonable, so we'd never get into a fight over it. When we're delivering bad news to others, we can't be so sure.

Having done an online boot camp I can say at least part of it is not wanting to spread negative feedback that might devalue your investment.

I imagine many people go into these programs to gain skills to get a job. If afterwards you talk about how the program failed to prepare you for that you're shooting yourself in the foot.

As to why there aren't more positive reviews - maybe it's related?

> As to why there aren't more positive reviews - maybe it's related?

I would look at the absolute lack of glowing 6/5 star reviews about how amazing these boot camps are as proof of exactly the opposite.

There are presumably thousands of grads from the largest programs. If you can only get 50 or 100 people to write a review about how your $10,000 course helped them land a job, it should be a huge red flag about the actual value.

I don't know about that. It's education. I've never written a review for my university experience, although I'm sure somewhere there's a venue for me to do so.

We got a lot of this in college. Thankfully it's big enough and I'm ambivalent enough that I can say my college education was largely worthless and the good parts often far less good than they could have been. At a 'good' school.

One reason that also explains why there aren't many reviews of universities, relative to the number of people who attend: When your career depends in part upon the esteem of your degrees or certifications, speaking negatively about the source (uni, a camp) is disincentivized.

Reviews of individual university classes are prolific. Last time I used one of these websites [1] (years ago), there weren't any compunctions about posting negative reviews.

I know this isn't exactly responding to your comment, but I thought it fit.

[1] ratemyprofessor.com

As a total sidebar, my favourite ratemyprocessor.com review (of myself) reads as follows:

"is always willing to help if you need help just make sure that you at least try for a bit before you go for help from Tony otherwise he will not help you."

And yet the student rated me 5/5 for helpfulness and clarity. Makes me very happy inside to know that at least someone sees that that's a plus.

A number of employers (at least in SV) are so biased against bootcamps that the only sensible course of action is to pretend it never happened as soon as is feasible.

If you review a bootcamp, you risk a permanent association with having attended a bootcamp.

I wrote a fairly detailed review on my blog. http://logicmason.com/2013/hack-reactor-review-life-at-a-hac...

It lead to several sites emailing me and asking me to write a review or to link to their sites. Here is what I wrote to coursereport:

>By completely ignoring the issue of student outcomes, your resource does prospective students a disservice. How about listing average salaries, listing graduation rates, linking to yelp profiles and linking to student directories for those schools confident enough in their outcomes to share them?

I hadn't looked at any of these sites in a long time, but to the best of my knowledge, very little has changed. They offer a comparison only of the costs of the various options, not the value. The person who emailed me did seem to express some vague interest in adding that kind of information later but two years later it's still not there.

At least for me, the main reason I avoided the "bootcamp review" sites is that I didn't feel any would have given me useful guidance as a prospect (whereas Quora, Yelp and HN threads would have if they'd been around when I applied).

Disclaimer: I run switchup.org

The reason we don't have average salaries and grad rates is because the only org publishing that is the school itself. Can we trust that number? Has it been reviewed/audited by a third-party? Only one school does that and we report their number on the site.

However, we constantly publish data on industry trends and overall placement rates and job stats to help guide the conversation. https://www.switchup.org/research/coding-bootcamp-survey

We do have independent school by school database of job outcomes based on our independent surveys, but sample sizes are generally small and we are not at liberty to disclose school specific info.

Yes, I've encountered this argument. Are you aware of the legal trouble a school misrepresenting its numbers would be open to?

It's extremely useful to include self-reported salaries and hiring stats. That's actually one of the key pieces of information I myself was looking at. List the stat and link to or summarize or link to their explanation of how it was calculated.

As for your own independent surveys, they are almost certainly far less accurate than that of the schools themselves. Considering the effects of selection bias on top of those of the small sample size you mentioned before I suspect they're essentially useless for someone making a decision.

Similarly, what good are "overall stats" that average the results of random respondents from world class institutions, low-end operations, experiments and all kinds of other projects? It would be kind of like looking at "overall stats" for a bucket of participating businesses who had taken money from YC, Techstars, unknown funds, crowdfunding, banks or their parents. That would yield some data, but the data wouldn't be useful for an entrepreneur actually considering taking on funding.

I don't think bootcamp review sites (except possibly Yelp) "help guide the conversation". I think they tend to mask the huge gulf between the several schools that a fantastic investment and the many more that aren't.

Many of the bootcamps are relatively young with not that many attendees per year. Back-of-the-envelope calculation: ~50 per cohort, 6 cohorts per year is 300 students per year, times 3 or so years is around a thousand total enrollees. 100 reviews is 10% of people reviewing - that seems pretty high to me.

FWIW: I did a bootcamp, loved it, never wrote a review. Just laziness/generally don't write reviews for things. I would guess many people don't write reviews for the same reason.


++ Second cohort at Flatiron School - it has grown up so much since then that there is a time relevance issue.

I'm a grad... and I would say part of the phenomena -- and this might sound corny but I will explain -- is how bootcamps are a personal journey.

By that I mean the entry point for most participants are all different, the expectations for most participants are all different, the experience for most participants are all different (some students work harder than others), and the outcomes are all different.

I felt there was more to learn than there was time (I did a 12 week course), so how I felt after graduating was largely a reflection of my own confidence and ability in contrast to the effort I put in and not a direct reflection of the quality of the instruction.

The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition [0] is a useful reference here. Any program that claims you will gain mastery over a discipline in a dozen weeks is lying to you. The guys that ran my bootcamp were plain about that. They said they would help me help myself learn... which they did but not to the level I really wanted to get to. And that more than anything is why I am ambivalent about recommending them.


0 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_model_of_skill_acquisi...

I loved my bootcamp experience, am still plugged into the alumni network, am not ashamed of it (why would I be?), but I'm probably never going to write a review of it. I'm happy to talk to people about it, but I'm not going to take the time to go write a review. There's no particular pay-off for me, and besides, the program changes constantly; I mentor where I graduated and in the 1.5 years since I finished, tons of things have changed in terms of how they organize things. I'd feel like an idiot if I said, "Oh, this was a part I didn't like," and then somebody who worked there emailed me and said "Hey, that doesn't exist any more." (Which has happened, except in conversational form.)

And sure, I'll freely cop to self-interest here. Bootcamp grads get enough shit from people in tech who want to dick-measure. I'm not going to do anything to further the cause of people who already think I'm an incompetent chimp with a keyboard.

Also, like the SwitchUp person already said in this thread, there's no reliable source of data for outcomes. I can tell you how long it took to get a job and what I made fresh out of the course, but why would you believe me, especially if you're already primed, like a bunch of people here clearly are, to believe that bootcamps are bullshit and their grads are rubes desperate to cover up the fact they got bilked? Maybe I'm just a plant; maybe I get paid a combined $200k a year by DBC/GA/HR/Flatiron to fire up 100 sockpuppets and argue that bootcamps are a good investment to con people on Reddit/HR/wherever. (That actually sounds like a super fun, super immoral job. Maybe I can trick them into actually paying me to do that. OR MAYBE I AM STILL MESSING WITH YOU. ~spirit fingers~)

Try yelp. Hack Reactor has 150+ Yelp reviews http://www.yelp.com/biz/hack-reactor-san-francisco

As good as the course sounds, and though it's small fish in the grand scheme, this turns me off:

"Also, you get this hoodie for writing a review so...)"

- http://www.yelp.com/biz/hack-reactor-san-francisco?hrid=mVJT...

That's shady. Normally, there's a bias such that people who are disgruntled are more likely to post a review than people who had a good experience. If you take that bias into account, a 4 star rating is pretty good, 5 stars is excellent, and so on.

But if you flip that bias on its head, 5 stars becomes a mediocre rating. That's ok if you've disclosed what you've done, but out of 165 reviews only one mentions that people are incentivzed to write reviews with free swag.

Disclosure; I graduated from Hack Reactor in October 2013.

The lack of negative reviews may seem strange, but I genuinely believe that everyone who has written about HR does so in a sincere manner (whether it be positive or negative). I can understand how it seems shady, but with a $17k tuition, a "free" hoodie is not enough to sway a review one way or the other.

> with a $17k tuition, a "free" hoodie is not enough to sway a review one way or the other.

That's intuitive but factually incorrect. There's a large body of empirical research that shows that giving away trivial tokens has a significant impact. This is true for everything from charitable donations to sign-ups for services to survey responses. Not to mention ratings for college courses, which are, in the aggregate, more expensive than Hack Reactor.

I'm past the edit window here, but it's also not to the point. The point is that, by incentivizing reviews, you skew the sample of reviewers. Even if we didn't have decades of research showing that giving people toys changes their behavior, it would still change the sample of reviewers and make the rating both meaningless and misleading.

That's a valid point, but they are trying to incentivize behavior to fix the issue OP asks about, so it's probably a good thing overall (it's not a hoodie for 5-star reviews only).

You get the same hoodie for writing a negative review.

There are also 87 Hack Reactor reviews on Quora: https://www.quora.com/Reviews-of-Hack-Reactor

Hmm... there is probably space for a service here. Find out who applies to boot camps, interview them, find out who gets accepted to boot camps, interview them, then interview the graduates and any drop outs/people cut after the program is over. Use questions drawn from standard sociological and psychological surveys like the Grit-S Scale http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/12-item%20Grit%20S...

Provide ratings and info to the general public that don't just show rates, but trends, who drops out, comparisons of success rates for different groups, etc. Provide more structured but still anonymous feedback, for a price, to bootcamps as a consultant, or get a grant from a large tech firm. Publish papers in conjunction with academia on a delay.

I think what bootcamps could do, if they were willing to, is be much more agile in changing how they work based on research then a 4 year school, and actually do research and experiments to find better ways of teaching, and improve the industry as a whole.

Kind of relevant: Are bootcamps worth it? I'm looking to get into programming, but I have a full time support job right now that I need to be able to live and eat. I can save my money and do a bootcamp, or I could learn how to program in my downtime. I'm not sure which route to go through.

My friend did a local bootcamp and now he's doing ASP.NET work and loves it! I'm just scared of doing that specific one because I don't really have interest in anything microsoft.

Why not both?

Our hires from bootcamps would have learned coding on their own, but the bootcamp just accelerated their learning. Their experience was that those who were already digging in and involved before the bootcamp were the ones who got the best offers at the end.

I attended App Academy and am one of the people who had already started digging in and used bootcamp as an accelerator of sorts. That is actually the reason I've never written a formal review.

I've written reviews on a message board a couple of times and provided specific advice re: bootcamps to posters as well. Ultimately it's a very personal experience. While I think the experience was great for me, some of the people that didn't have as much prior exposure and effort really struggled and I worry about their long term prospects.

I think the answer to this depends on how much experience or practice you already have with programming.

It sounds like you're just starting out and you're nervous about your situation. In that case, I'd focus on a bit of simple private learning that will help prime you to get more out of any bootcamp or formal-learning stuff you may do later.

For example, set up a basic Python interpreter, grab one of those "teach yourself" books from the library, and at least run through using basic building-blocks like algebra, if-then conditionals, looping, functions, etc. It doesn't matter too much what language you use.

I am pretty much just starting out. I took a few classes in high school and I've done some really minor projects since then, but I'd definitely still call myself a complete noobie.

I've been considering trying out Learn Python the Hard Way, it comes up in pretty much every "I want to learn programming" thread on /g/.

How sure are you that you want to write code for a living? How much debt do you have? What kind of savings do you have? How many external obligations do you have?

DBC was worth it for me; I moved to a new city, got a great job, didn't have to take on too much debt, and I am generally happier and better off now. But it's not a flat yes or no, it's very much a question of your circumstances and your commitment level.

I'm very sure that I'd like to write code for a living. I have $3k in credit cards from the last time I was unemployed, a $16k car loan, and around $2k in student loans from the one semester of college I did before I had to start working to pay for food. I don't have a savings. My only obligation is that my girlfriend of 5 years has a really great job in this city so I'd like to stay here until I get a "big boy" job.

It depends what kind of job you've got now. If it's technical, let's say engineering or science, data analysis etc... , then you can learn how to code on your own and build something that you can show to potential employers. You'll need a certification or something if you have no prior experience in a technical field.

Which bootcamp did your friend attend? Did they teach your friend .NET at the bootcamp? I love the .NET ecosystem and even have a company built on it. I'd love to learn more about bootcamps that expose new developers to .NET.

"The Software Guild" in Akron, Ohio. Here's a copy/paste of his review of them, I tried to get him to comment here but he's a little busy.

"I was an apprentice in the Software Craftsmanship Guild's .NET cohort in August 2014. Eric Wise is definitely one of the best teachers I've ever had, as well as one of the coolest people I've come to know. His 15 years of development experience in many aspects of development shows in all of his work. Combined with his devotion to his students and seemingly endless energy creates a unique and exciting classroom experience. He's /always/ available for questions and advice on Skype or Email, even after we graduate from the course. The PowerPoint slides are an incredible resource that we get to keep to review in the future. It gives us not only the necessary information, but the best practices for many common problems we face in coding in an easy to navigate package. They're so great that they are being licensed by colleges to be incorporated into their curriculum.

One of the most valuable parts of the course, in my opinion, was the job placement "speed-dating". At the beginning of the 9th week, the guild brought in 25 companies, and had us Apprentices sign up for 15 minute interviews with as many companies as we wanted and could schedule. This allowed me to get a lot of face-to-face interview experience, and it took pretty much all of the stress of job searching out of the equation. I mean, they literally put the hiring managers in front of you. It can't be any easier than that. From those short interviews, I had multiple full-length interviews with several companies I was interested in, and accepted a position at the end of week 11.

As of the last day of classes, we 87% of apprentices that chose to stay in the area have accepted positions, and I have no doubt that my out-of-state classmates will find positions quickly.

I don't have a single complaint. I've made friends for life, learned an incredible amount of material, and accepted a position making nearly triple my previous wages. They did everything they advertised, and I enjoyed every minute of it."

> learn to program in my downtime

The hard part here is curation of resources and environment setup.

It's funny to hear that because I just typed "learn to code" into Google and the first page (ads included!) are all fine and mostly free resources, many requiring only a web browser to start.

Just 10 or 15 years ago the process was completely opaque, a lot of books in your local store had omissions or bugs that made them impossible to follow, it was a seriously frustrating process unless you stumbled into the right community, were a genius, or had lots of guidance.

There're enough options that it can be overwhelming. It's hard to see the place to start, because if you're completely outside the bubble, it's hard to even know what the options are, or why you'd pick one of them. Say you type "learn to code" into Google. You go to Codeacademy, because it's the first option and maybe you've heard of it. You log in, then you go the courses page. You don't want to drop $20 on the personalized plan right away, so you skip that; you don't know what "web development" means, or how it's different from anything else, so you skip the web dev stuff. You go down to the language section - that's a good, basic start, right? - and you see six boxes:

HTML & CSS: Learn how to create websites by structuring and styling your pages with HTML and CSS.

JavaScript: Learn the fundamentals of JavaScript, the programming language of the Web.

jQuery: Learn how to make your websites interactive and create animations by using jQuery.

PHP: Learn to program in PHP, a widespread language that powers sites like Facebook.

Python: Learn to program in Python, a powerful language used by sites like YouTube and Dropbox.

Ruby: Learn to program in Ruby, a flexible language used to create sites like Codecademy.

Apparently you can use...all of these things to build websites? And they're all languages? The goals section is better, because those are concrete things that make some of these choices for you, but your rookie who just wants to learn some code and maybe see if they like this is already being asked to make a bunch of choices with relatively little data. And when they start researching, they're going to find a bunch of sites that say PHP sucks, a bunch that say the criticism of PHP is overrated, a bunch that say Ruby is the best beginner language, a bunch that say Ruby is terrible, and a bunch of math nerds (<3 u, python). Plus, they're going to stumble into the CF that is the wide world of JavaScript.

None of this makes it impossible, but choice paralysis is a real issue, and I know a fair number of people who want to get started coding, but can't figure out where to get a handhold. That's one of the benefits of bootcamps - they make some of the initial choices for you, so you can get started learning the building blocks.

Weirdly, I think that well-written books (huge caveat) might be better, because they do something similar: lock you in a path and then tell you to put your nose to the grindstone and get to work.

> choice paralysis

Yes. This is what I'm really getting at.

That, and for environment setup, some choices will genuinely send you down a rabbit hole of wrestling with with unfamiliar tools.

Right. Take carpentry as an analogy: If you decide to learn how to build anything big, you need to set up an area where you can safely make a little bit of a mess and you may also need to acquire arrange some tools.

If you're not ready for that, then practice with some "birdhouse"-like projects.

I believe there can be legal repercussions if you write negative reviews about some of these bootcamps.

I did a GA bootcamp, during which time we were all encouraged to blog about our experience on a weekly basis (and we did). I'm not sure where I'd necessarily write/post a proper review.

My GA review: I did GA coworking space before their pivot to full time bootcamp. Startups and an established community that had been there for years were all given one month notice at the end of the year and were kicked out... seats for learning are more profitable than desks for doing. Now all of the grads need jobs, which used to be across the hall. In summary, they're short sighted.

Theory: If you disliked it, reviewing it poorly could reduce the credibility of your education. If you liked it, you don't care enough to review it.

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