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Ask HN: People who did coding boot camps, what did you think?
112 points by anthony-j-c on Jan 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments
What were some of the positives or negatives? Why did you initially enter, and did you feel like it gave you whatever tools you felt were necessary?

I did one back in 2013 and went in with very minimal experience-- I could write simple loops in python but had no idea how to actually build something. At the time I wasn't even sure if that's what I wanted to do for a living. I knew I wanted to try something in tech since it's everywhere in SF. At a bare minimum, the bootcamp would give me an idea of how the engineering process works.

All of the bootcamps I know of focus solely on web dev. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of places need web people, and you can always keep learning and transition to something else if you want.

Here's the advice I usually have for people that ask me if they should do one:

* what did you do in college? I found that people who did some sort of STEM major caught on much more quickly than those who did something like Art. Basically, if you've had a lot of experience with problem solving and critical thinking things should come easier to you

* go in with a project in mind. Learning with a purpose and intent (I want to build X, what do I need to learn to do that?) is much more effective

* don't believe the job placement numbers. Prepare to be on the hunt for 6 months after you finish

* try to talk to people who did the specific program you're interested in. This is a big one. LinkedIn is your friend.

* if you do go, don't mention it on your resume. Plenty of people just throw bootcamp resumes out. Just say you're self taught.

* you won't learn to code just by simply showing up to class. It takes a lot of effort outside the classroom

That's all I can think of for now. I had a tough time finding my first job, but if I had to do it all over again I'd do it in a heartbeat. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions.

I've consistently found this to be a game-changer: "* if you do go, don't mention it on your resume. Plenty of people just throw bootcamp resumes out. Just say you're self taught."

Yet so many of the bootcamps are telling their students to list the bootcamp on their resume.

The whole job placement numbers thing is a sham. I've helped dozens of bootcamp grads improve their online presence during their job hunt and many have to take shitty jobs to start after struggling during the job hunt for months.

That said, the bootcamp grads I worked with a few years ago who kept at it are doing really well right now.

Where I'm at we hired a person with only bootcamp development experience and so far they have worked out great. They also linked us to their bootcamp work on github. With that said we mostly hired said person because we thought they were extremely intelligent. They were pursuing a PHD and just found that they were not interested in their field after their first job so they made the jump to something they thought they would enjoy more. With that said I think bootcamp alone on a resume is not going to get you in the door at a good development shop. You have to bolster that experience with something else. Anyway I agree if you don't have something on your resume that would be attributed to someone with an above average intelligence definitely say you are self taught over placing the bootcamp you just went to on your resume. It stands out more for companies who weight intelligence highly.

Sometimes accepting a shitty job just to get started is the only option. You do what you have to do though.

"* if you do go, don't mention it on your resume. Plenty of people just throw bootcamp resumes out. Just say you're self taught."

Yep. I haven't discarded a resume just because a bootcamp was listed, but I do have less respect for them than "self taught", perhaps unfairly. "Self taught" speaks to a personal responsibility for one's own education, which seems to be the key for success at bootcamps as well as college as in life.

With colleges the multi-year commitment is a reasonably useful proxy for said responsibility, though outliers are of course legion.

I went to a boot camp after being self taught and it was a huge help. Going to a boot camp put a good amount of polish on what I already knew as well as introduced me to some of the soft skills associated with working as a dev (doing/getting code reviews, working in a team, working on a time line etc).

If you're thinking less of boot camps grads, you shouldn't. At least in the program I attended everyone had at least a BA in something (some even had CS degrees).

I think it might be a bit unfair. Don't get me wrong, I have seen people who had the mentality of "I'll just go to a bootcamp and start making good money." There are definitely others who, as others have said, used bootcamps as a lunch pad and just something to get them started. Hard to tell just from a resume though.

2 things:

@stickperson, your email isn't visible. You have to add it in your profile in the about box or only admins can see.

Second, I'm friends with one of the https://appacademy.io founders. I don't think my friend is lying about the placement rates. And because their model is a chunk of your first years salary, they don't get paid until you do. I'd check them out. Of course, do your due diligence as well.

I actually went to app academy. Their placement rates are definitely deceptive. For example they touted a 95% placement rate on their website when my cohort went thorough but we had huge job hunt issues with our cohort. But that number never changed on the website even though we were at 80% at best and I can't believe that we didn't bring the average down. It's a great program but they are deceptive with numbers.

> if you do go, don't mention it on your resume. Plenty of people just throw bootcamp resumes out. Just say you're self taught.

I get resumes from candidates that do this all the time. Here's the thing though-- it's SO obvious. The formula is always the same: Someone with no real-world experience, and and 2 lines of content padded to a full page comprised completely of useless 1-week to 2-month projects.

What was the first job experience like?

A classmate and I did a bit of contract work for a company. We built out some widgets for a dashboard with d3.

Did one in Boston.

It was a total scam.

Billed itself as a RoR shop, would teach you Ruby, and then Rails, in a few months, and you were "sure to get a job". The kicker is that they asked for a bunch of money, or, if you didnt have it, a (terrible) loan.

It's fine right? They told me "You'll leave here with a job paying you 80k +, and you'll get a bunch of money from us if you stayed at that job for 6 months, great! Not so much. The RoR market is saturated, and you had to lean on the Bootcamps connections to get you a job, connections that cost the company money. The people they had to place you were essentially really bad recruiters, and the teachers where just the "best" from the previous cohort. The person who ran the Bootcamp treated them like trash, and you could see it when the teachers would get black out drunk every Friday. The 99% placement rate was, as I found out after, was a lie. My cohort was 15 or so people, I was one of 5 who got a job within the first 3 months. 5 more would go on to be extremely underpaid living in near poverty as "support" or "QA" trying to pay back crazy loans, and the last 5 either went back to their old jobs, or are still looking.

All that being said, I did get a job after working there. I went from working odd jobs to doing something I love, and got my start there. I think Bootcamps are unnecessary, but I didn't know know that recruiters existed before. I truly believe most of them are scams, and you'd be better off trying to teach yourself over the course of a year, and putting small projects on github for recruiters to show off.

If a bootcamp gives you no guarantee, run like the plague.

I would never give a guarantee even if I ran a great bootcamp. Opens them up to too many lazy people trying to get into tech who feel entitled to a job but don't put in the work needed.

Agreed - additionally, a guarantee means only so much. A job at $10/hr chopping up emails is a job - but is it a job you want after completing a bootcamp?

(Disclaimer: I work for General Assembly - views are my own, and does not reflect those of my employer)

Name the bootcamp so people don't apply there

I did a coding bootcamp and it was a very positive experience. I transitioned from a PM to a software engineer and have been working full stack for 2 years.

Here's some advice:

* don't start the bootcamp without any practice on your own. Everyone successful at my Bootcamp had spent months / years practicing and learning to code beforehand. You won't be successful if this is your first attempt * you don't get really any job support. That will be your job * your "graduation" means nothing as an employer; it has no brand (or maybe negative) unlike a cs degree. The bootcamp gives you minimum skills to be competitive in an interview but it gives you no brand.

* My program had a strong curriculum. specifically our JavaScript curriculum was awesome and actually was a lot better than online resources. I actually understand key concepts like hoisting, this, and prototypical inheritance that a lot of people don't understand about JS. However quality of curriculum varies widely by program

* the job hunt will be brutal. You will rejected a lot and the hunt can last a long time. One of my colleagues took 9 months. if you don't have any pedigree on your resume (good school, good company, etc) many employers won't even interview you. You need a way to stand out of the crowd of bootcamp grads

I wonder how much "side projects" would help in the job hunt. Build things, put them on github, write 500 words about it, add to resume, repeat.

Maybe I succeeded despite working like this, but I tend to think I succeeded because I worked like this.

I think those are the best possible thing you can do to get employed. I recommend to everyone I meet - teach yourself to code, build a few things of increasing complexity as you go, and put em online. Preferably things a potential employer could look at.

There's a night and day difference between asking a newbie engineer about their ideas in an interview vs talking about something they've built before.

I made a bad chess game in JS before applying for jobs after college, and ended up talking about it in half my interviews - either describing it, or, in a few cases, finding that the interviewer had played it before I showed up (in one case he found some bugs! I brushed it off, saying that I had quit the project after getting basic functionality down and hadn't thoroughly tested pawn promotion...).

I made some small projects on github when I was first learning how to program. I am 100% convinced that's how I "got in"

I've found that, for people without a pedigree, having 6 or more live projects or one large live project tends to be enough to substitute for that and get many candidates through to initial interviews at many startups in SV.

That also gives you a lot more to talk about in an interview :)

I may just be another bootcamp grad, but the people who hired me said having multiple side-projects in Github was a factor, and it's certainly a factor when I'm interviewing and hiring similarly.

" Everyone successful at my Bootcamp had spent months / years practicing and learning to code beforehand. "

If you can do this why do you need a bootcamp? Genuine question. For help with the job hunt?

Other than the help with a job hunt, it has so much to do with having professionals/teachers with years of real-life experiences around, IMHO.

It's like, for instance, learning how to swim. Many people can learn some basics of swimming on their own, simply by spending time in water. They can learn how to use their arms and legs efficiently or how to stay on the surface of water with a minimum effort. But, there are quite a few details which are almost impossible to learn on your own before many years pass or without having a professional teacher - such as the importance of exhaling under water, body roll etc.

I don't know programming counterparts of this instances, but I guess there are so much more important details than there are in swimming.

Intrigued by the quality of your JS curriculum. Could you share the bootcamp you attended?

App academy. I assume hack reactor also has a strong js curriculum.

> I actually understand key concepts like hoisting, this, and prototypical inheritance that a lot of people don't understand about JS.

While I won't dispute that most people don't understand these, there are actually very good online resources covering them, e.g. Javascript Allonge and the blog posts that raganwald links to within the book.

The problem is that finding those resources takes skill. Curated lists are useful.

I recently graduated from Hack Reactor Remote and actually landed a job even before my program ended. I would say the only two bootcamps that are worth doing are App Academy in New York and one of Hack Reactor's many campuses.

Things I can vouch for:

* The curriculum is fantastic: you definitely get your money's worth in terms of learning things that you can't just pick off the web or even from paid courses

* A bunch of my cohort mates already have jobs and we've been out for less than a month. All their salaries are definitely in line with the Hack Reactor statistics listed on their site. They are pretty transparent about their salary numbers.

* You have to bust your butt off for 3 months. I was coding a good 10-12 hours each day and really burnt out near the end of the bootcamp.

* Don't let people tell you you can't do it. I came in with ZERO programming experience before 2016, but self-taught myself Javascript in order to get into Hack Reactor and pass their technical interviews. None of my friends thought I would be able to do it and I had some major doubts and imposter syndrome every day of bootcamp. But, I not only graduated Hack Reactor, but got a freaking awesome job as a fullstack dev at a super legit company.

* If a bootcamp doesn't have a rigorous admissions process, probably not worth doing (ahem General Assembly, Iron Yard, etc.) unless you're restricted by geographic constraints.

* Trust their career advice process. They are very rigorous with resume work (they help minimize the bootcamp footprint on your resume and help you spin it well on interviews). Their alumni network is fantastic and also I was very prepared for algorithm based tech interviews.

Let me know if you have any other questions!

I just finished at Hack Reactor in SF and honestly had a better experience than I could have hoped for.

Disclaimer: I don't have a job yet as my cohort just finished a week before Christmas.

As for me, before HR I had been a designer for about ten years and had been doing some front end dev work at my last job.

I'd say the number one reason to do one of these programs is not the curriculum itself, even though HR's is great, it's the opportunity to work in groups of really smart people on software engineering projects. HR seems to be pretty selective and this definitely pays off for their students. You will learn a LOT from your peers. A large portion of the program involves the self directed building of applications in teams, and this team workflow is the one thing you just can't really learn on your own.

Long story short I think it's a great idea but try to find a boot camp that really cares about selecting people they think are a good fit for the industry, not just a stat. You will benefit.

I felt the bootcamp really exaggerated outcomes. They said like 95+% got jobs. In reality, probably only roughly 30% got "real" coding jobs (a bunch got support or testing jobs at well.) Some ended up empty handed, one of us is working at Trader Joes.

Bewares statistics! They can be easily manipulated.

They definitely do. Every one that I've interviewed has unrealistic expectations on salary or hourly rate.

These camps are telling their students that they should be getting $75/hr all day long. The reality is that most should be like $20-30/hr. They'd be better served if they were told to go for a fair rate, get a job and experience and were prepped on how to negotiate as their skills increase.

That being said - I really like the personalities of the people coming out of the camps and I've hired a few. They're generally hungry and excited.

How did they manipulate 30% to "95+%"?

OP didn't say anyone from his cohort is actually unemployed. The job at Trader Joes may not be what that person was envisioning, but it is a job.

Even if they claim something more specific than literally any job at all, they'll probably count anyone doing something related to IT (if only for a week).

I've also read about boot camps hiring their alumni as teachers/tutors for a bit if they can't find a job. I always assumed that's mostly to be able to count those people as successfully placed.

What was your outcome and/or your personal experience

I went to App Academy with no degree about 3 years ago. It costed 15k after landing an offer (3k up front).

For my first year out, I made ~80k in the bay area. The next year, my salary went up to ~120k.

I can save up 140k in the 4 years it would take me to get a comp sci degree. Enough for the down payment on a (small) home. I also have 4 years of programming experience on the fresh grad.

From my experience, about 10-15% of my cohort didn't get tech jobs. This is better than the 30-40% drop out rate of college. Also, people who are "just in it for the money" can pursue comp sci degrees as well.

I use none of the technologies I learned there. I could conceivably have done it all on my own. But App Academy put me on the right track.

I did put in a lot of time initially, ~50-60 hours/week coding for my first couple years. But I imagine comp sci majors go through the same thing.

I've done two here in Chicago, one for Rails (my first Intro to coding), then another one for iOS.

Both times I did not have the intention of finding a "job" afterwards so that never factored into my decision. Instead my intention was to learn the material so that I could provide it to clients as an independent contractor.

If you go in with the understanding that you're going to have to put in several months of work afterwards in order to effectively provide for clients, or get hired for a job, the experience can be a great opportunity.

I met many great people with whom I still keep in contact with, overall it was a very enriching experience and I would highly recommend it for someone who's willing to put in the work.

Note: Both boot camps are now only teaching high school kids.

How would you rate that experience against going through some books, if you have to do a bunch of work on your own either way?

its a fair point, I have pondered just spending a couple thousand on dollar-a-minute live programming assistance, and then just creating my own course. I still think that's a really good route.

In the end though, if you value the in-person instruction that of course is hard to replace. I'm really glad I did them, if I wanted to jump into another brand new area of study I would consider it again.

I read enough negative comments that I feel the need to weigh in here...

I went to General Assembly in NY in 2015. I had a great experience with them - learned A TON and was successfully able to change careers. I am now teaching at a bootcamp in Berlin, Germany. Attending General Assembly changed my life for the better, I can say the whole-heartedly.

The cons are the cost and the time commitment. It will take you many months to become a proficient programmer, this is only the first (several) steps.

You obviously need to be wary of bootcamps that don't live up to their promises. I would say stick to the bigger names in general, but do your research and make sure that the school has alumni who were went on to have successful careers.

A lot of comments on here are saying things like "Bootcamps are a scam" and "Bootcamps are just not worth it". This could not be further from the truth. These bootcamps have changed a lot of people's lives for the better. There are some bad ones out there (as with any institution), and it is ultimately on you to do your due diligence to make sure that school is right for you. But as for me, attending a bootcamp was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I'd ask anyone that went to a coding bootcamp to fill out a review of the bootcamp you attended at https://schools.techendo.com

It not only helps out potential devs looking to attend bootcamps, but also helps the bootcamps themselves figure things out.

General Assembly is located in more than just NYC - see here for all campus locations: https://generalassemb.ly/locations

https://www.coursereport.com/ is another site often used for reviewing/scoring various bootcamp programs.

(Disclaimer, work for GA)

I went to a bootcamp in SF during spring 2015. I have now been working for a year at a YC startup doing front-end dev. I'm about to begin a new job (at a larger, more established company) focusing on full-stack dev in RoR.


* Amazing community of driven, engaged people

* Week long interview/algorithms prep at the end of the program

* Strong curriculum, learning a ton of material into 3-4 months

* Learned about most key topics for web development (see cons for negative of this)

* Much easier to get job #2 (was juggling multiple offers) with experience on my resume

* No one said having bootcamp on my resume was a negative (possibly that's because the ones who did think that didn't even give me a first round interview...); more often seen as positive since I have more diverse background (used to be in sales).


* Limited help getting a job after graduation

* Strong disadvantage to individuals who are new to the area when getting a job; most people got jobs through personal connections/networking

* Since time is so limited, even though we "learn" a lot of topics, the practice for each topic is extremely limited. This leads many people to feel unprepared come time to interview.

* Seeing a larger majority of bootcamp grads going into sales engineering jobs (maybe could be a positive too? depending on the type of job you're trying to get after graduation)

Overall, I think it really depends what you want to with your bootcamp education. With so many options out there with online learning, there are a variety of different paths to software engineering.

I wanted to move into an engineering position quickly, and learn in a more social/collaborative environment, so I really enjoyed my bootcamp experience. I would highly recommend it to individuals with similar objectives as mine.

> Strong disadvantage to individuals who are new to the area when getting a job; most people got jobs through personal connections/networking

This is key. The people I know who found good jobs after attending a boot camp had worked at startups in non-technical roles, and they were able to rely on connections with their friends in the engineering department. They got hired back at the same startup as junior developers. They are good at their jobs, but there are other boot camp grads who are just as good who never would have been considered if they had applied for a job without a personal connection at the company.

The tech industry is really not that different than other industries: personal connections are at least as important as skills, experience, and credentials.

I attended a bootcamp in 2014. I regret it.

I entered because I wanted to switch from front-end development to full-stack. I'd really enjoyed what little I'd done with Ruby and Rails, so I fell for the pitch of this bootcamp that I could be retrained as a Rails developer in three months.

What I wished I'd known: - everything about the bootcamp (schedule, curriculum, equipment) was set in stone. You are just a widget on a conveyor belt. - the bootcamp's mandatory pair programming did not help me to learn the material at all. - as others have mentioned, bootcamps are untruthful in their statistics. Mine even lied to the state regulators, claiming 90% of my cohort was employed as software developers, when maybe half of us were.

I ended up going back to my previous career.

Mine even lied to the state regulators, claiming 90% of my cohort was employed as software developers, when maybe half of us were.

A prior employer employed an advisor at a famous Data Science bootcamp. We wound up interviewing a ton of his students (I guess required for him being an advisor?) and most hadn't learned enough to be useful. Not even up to a BA/BS in CS/Math level. Even after the program ended, many of them will still in the job market for extended periods of time.

My current employer has someone who had a non-technical job, left for a boot camp, and came back for a more technical job. In his case it worked because he had a lot of market context.

So it's hit or miss, but not worth a guarantee.

If most people can't make it through a 4 year CS program, how can open-entry programs create better output in 3 months?

> most hadn't learned enough to be useful. Not even up to a BA/BS in CS/Math level.

Why would your expection be someone in 3 months learn what other people learn in 4?

You should compare them to high school students or self taught people with no job history.

>If most people can't make it through a 4 year CS program, how can open-entry programs create better output in 3 months?

100% of bootcampers are Computer Science dropouts?

I started App Academy two years ago. I had programmed in college and was generally code-literate, but had no portfolio, no confidence, and no idea how to build either convincingly. And I didn't actually have an idea of how code is written in a business context.

I learned what they were teaching easily, but it didn't really teach me to code in any way different than I had for tiny self-contained projects in college. I was on the hunt for 10 months, got a job, and lost it a few months later. I still don't really know how code is written in a business context, and I'm probably heading back to academia now.

Overall, would not recommend.

I've been thinking about bootcamps a lot recently as my wife is attending one and it's amazing to me how dismissive our industry is of bootcamps, while we're totally supportive of "self-taught" developers. People learn in different ways and the fact that we have no problem with people who sat in their basement reading to learn coding but we dismiss people who learn better from lectures followed by labs is bizarre.

As far as my wife's experience, it's a legit introduction to the craft and she'll be able to assemble crud web apps when she's done. It does not make up for experience, but neither does learning on your own or a CS degree.

I find it hard to separate 'self-taught' which generally equates to 'given a problem and time, they can figure it out through their own abilties' and a bootcamp where 'someone guided you to a positive result in a short amount of time, but I still have no idea if you can figure anything out.' It's the same thing that happens with certifications, as you know some are just exams you study and quiz for and you don't develop any real skills or a foundation for real skills. There are some certifications I personally would place value in (Cisco, CISSP) because I have personal understanding of what that actually means. At resume review time? most are ignore at best and concerning at worst if a resume is padded with them.

For bootcamps the general HR person doesn't know what it means, and the technical person on the other side probably doesn't know what it means either. I can't even name the 'top 3 bootcamp programs' offhand even though I have been skimming most HN posts for it. The way I look at resume authoring is that every line needs to provide direct value to the audience reading it whoever they may be and to tell me what you have done before.

I did an online boot camp about 3 years ago. It was a good deal, because the price was right and I viewed it at structure for my self learning. That program no longer exists, but the have something called LaunchSchool now. Something like Free Code Camp or Pluralsight would be a similar level of rigor.

If you aren't already technical, I would view a bootcamp as the start of developing a career in tech. Maybe equivalent to getting 25% of the way thru college. If a college student can drop out after freshman year to get that 80K+ USD/year job, that student were pretty close to being career ready before ever attending college.

A Bootcamp is an object; A Person is an object, too. We cannot make any comments to an object, right? If a person enters into a bootcamp, it only creates the one to many relationship. That's it. Bootcamp.successRate = 99% has nothing to do with Person.landAJob. What makes a Person become an ideal candidate depends on what methods and properties you put into the person's instance. You have to work damn hard to build stuff(methods) within this object to stand out in the job market. Colleges, bootcamps, nowhere build the roads for you. They just hand you tools to learn a bit efficiently. You need to handcraft everything by yourself.

If you want to land a job, you can check out this repo. https://github.com/jwasham/google-interview-university

Everyone just works damn hard to get a job that he/she dreams about. Nothing comes easy.

I did not attend a bootcamp, but I have known a few who have. Of them, there were two types I found most successful.

1. People who were also spending time learning on their own while working for peanuts (or even free) to gain experience.

2. People who were supplementing their existing expertise (outside of computer science) with basic coding skills.

The people in group 1 certainly had a lower salary/years-experience ratio than people from CS backgrounds. The people in group 2 often increased their salary, assuming they learned relevant things.

I had a great experience at the program I attended and would do it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.

> What were some of the positives or negatives?

I didn't have any negative experiences that were big enough to remember but I had many great experiences. I met lots of very smart people, learned a lot and built some cool stuff. It was a lot of work (a lot, probably 60-70 hours a week) but very enjoyable and definitely worth it.

> Why did you initially enter, and did you feel like it gave you whatever tools you felt were necessary?

I was attending school in the evenings for a CS degree while working full time and at the pace I was going it would have taken much longer than I was willing to wait to be able to change jobs. I wasn't enjoying my job and the pay was less than awesome. My fiance (now wife) encouraged me to to try it and I applied and after a couple of tech screens was accepted and haven't looked back.

I believe I gained about 95% of the skills I needed there. However I did learn how to learn everything else I needed, as the saying goes I didn't even know what I didn't know. At the program I went to we even spent time doing practice interviews and reviewing our resumes so we were prepared for the job search.

I went to App Academy a few years back. I ended up taking a software development job at just about the salary they advertised, spent over a year there, and then moved on to one of Amazon/Facebook/Google/Microsoft.

Hey aagrad, would be curious as to how you were able to transition over so quickly. And how's the interview process like for a senior level engineer?

I don't think I did anything special. At some point a recruiter from one of those companies messaged me on LinkedIn, then I spent a couple of weeks preparing with Cracking the Coding Interview. I'm not a senior engineer - I interviewed for a mid level role but got a junior level offer. Probably didn't do well enough on the systems design questions.

Does anyone have any sense of how sensitive the bootcamp boom is to the overall monetary expansion of the last several years? If VCs stop piling money into dipshit startups, are these places going to go away overnight?

I was lucky.

I found Dev Bootcamp after flunking out of university. I guess that was a choice. I had grown increasingly afraid of my classes. They stressed me out. Sitting in lectures was torture. The reading seemed pointless. My professors didn't have time to for my unread, meandering questions. My TAs didn't want to spend all of the lab entertaining my musings, either.

I guess you could interpret all that as selfish monopolization of shared resources — TAs and professors have limited time to spend with their share of ~15,000 students; they're not tutors, after all. So maybe it's a good thing I fucked off.

I managed to finagle myself some independent studies, but these were even less nurturing than I had hoped, and I came out of them only marginally better at the subjects. My independent study sponsors were very critical, but not very constructive, and with no input into the process, they were more-or-less guilt-tripped into giving me a barely passing grade, and a vague sense that my efforts were mediocre — but not, crucially, how.

I have spent my entire conscious life dreaming up software products. It probably started as games, but I am a very connected guy — read, web-addicted Millennial — and the Tetris Effect knows no deontological divide. While I was flunking out of university, I was filling grid-paper notebooks with colored boxes. Uninterpretable, colored-pencil, overlapping, concentric or con-something else.

Some of these were UIs, and some of them were data models. I didn't know the difference, really. I didn't know anything about any of these. I didn't know those words.

I didn't have a major at university. I took introductory classes. Anthropology. Astronomy. Afromusicology. Robotics. Philosophy. I thought I wanted to be a writer. I still do!

But people don't read novels. This was 2010. The next great American novel was gonna be an app.

So that's what I wanted to do.

A friend of mine came home from school in Montreal, disenchanted.

"They're not real artists," he told me. "They're just concerned with their grades. There's no scene! They're not doing real work!"

I don't know how true that was, but he and I liked Silicon Valley. There was a scene, here. People were doing real work. They were bluffing. They were failing. But they were trying.

We agreed to start a company on the ride home from an early Quora meetup. We wanted to build an app to build the artists' scene he hadn't found in Montreal. Something to get people out to freaky little early-stage artistic efforts. And something to reward the artists.

We had no product sensibilities. We imported a Canadian software engineer, and he taught me how to install Hadoop. This is a good joke, if you're paying attention: at this point, I've only read one book on Python, and hadn't even yet written my first program. Hadoop is a non-trivial big-date-crunching ecosystem, a tool for reliable, scalable and sophisticated analysis of large data sets across disparate computing clusters.

We had no users. No designs. No business model, and three old PC towers in my friend's father's garage.

We had a startup fetish, and no mentoring. It took us more than a year to fail, by which time we'd thrown one (1) party, hashed out one (1) mockup, pitched one (1) investor and let slack two (2) academic careers.

Oh, but I learned to stay away from Hadoop, which is something.

So what the fuck was I supposed to do next? Go back to school for computer science? Sit alone at my mother's kitchen table reading SICP? None of that seemed the alacritous route from zero-to-CTO I was seeking.

Enter Dev Bootcamp.

(This story ends badly, by the way. Five years later, I am not CTO.)

I had heard about it from a friend with a real CS degree, who now has a read CS job at a real CS company.

It took me two tries to get in. They rejected my first application. I think they only let me in the second time because I offered to pay all $10,000 upfront. Did I mention I saved a lot of my [grand]parents' money by flunking out of public university? That's a weird way to put it, huh?

Dev Bootcamp was a phenomenal experience. I never felt so hot, so capable, so brainy, or like I was learning SO DAMN MUCH! I was psyched to get in early, psyched to stay late! I was flooded by a barrage of unassailable concepts, but among them were countless grokkable models to wrap my hungry head around. I started saying things like "you don't have to understand everything to be learning maximally", and imagining that drowning might not be such a bad way to die.

Sometimes, it was easy. And I got to play. My pair and I would finish an exercise, and I'd say, "hey, wait; before we go on, what if we tried to go further?" or "what if we tried that first step like this, or like this, or like this!?"

Maybe I just like having a pair — a captive audience for my japes, as well as a library of unknown unknowns who could only explain things at a basic level: my level!

I didn't know the exercises we were going through were trivial.

I sat on a couch all afternoon with giant Jenga blocks, trying to explain iteration, sorting and searching to a smiling, comfortably bewildered cohort. It was like magic: I was grokking beautiful immaterial things in a room full of crazy, ambitious people.

None of them were techies. Doctors, lawyers, hippies, mothers, just wandering, wondering people desperate to learn the secret art!

Leave no one behind, we promised ourselves. Our reputations are only as good as our peers'.

They made us cry. They brought in a shrink to walk us through interpersonal communication exercises. They had us sit in groups, every week, to talk about how we felt, what we were learning, how we were struggling. We cried! We embraced! We joked about recursion!

Our instructors were mad geniuses! They exposed themselves. They knew too much. They'd cover any topic. They'd go far afield. So long as we finished our SQL milestones, they'd sit at the whiteboard and explain absolutely anything. They were real people.

"There are two kinds of people," our instructor told us, one day. He pantomimed an intensely focused person hunched over a keyboard. He became exasperated. He threw his hands in the air, and stood up. "That kind, and then this kind."

He pantomimed another intensely focused person, hunched over a keyboard. He became exasperated. He threw his hands in the air. He lay his palms in his lap, closed his eyes, and drew a long, meditative breathe, then whipped around, and again began to energetically strike at his pantomime keyboard.

He stood up, finishing "only one of these people is a programmer."

They taught us yoga. My father loved this. "They're teaching you things I wish they'd covered in my classes."

He's an old-school Java programmer. Never taught me a thing. Didn't want to be like his father: controlling, forcing him to learn software to help the family business.

"It took me years in professional environments to learn these communication skills, the importance of health, of empathy," my father told me, when I got out. "They're really setting you up to avoid all the worst things about working in software."

He stopped bothering me about going back to school, after that.

Instead, I got a job writing software at an international business services firm, and Dev Bootcamp sent me a bottle of champagne.

I put a date on my calendar for three years after I was hired. "Quit Your Job," it said. When that date came, I quit my job. I have been freelancing ever since, and I've never been lonelier.

I love this. I can't tell how much is real versus a character you are creating, but I have to say, the Great American Novel has a lot more longevity than an app, and I think you could maybe pull it off, or at least a quippy book of essays that makes me LOL on the BART.

Which would you prefer?

The novel if you could pull it off.

I think I love you.

Much appreciated.

Thanks for this. I enjoyed your writing style.

When I read, I skip a lot of words. I try to write so you don't have to.

So, thank you! Much appreciated.



It was great for me, but I know it wasn't for other people in my cohort/class. It got me my first software job and it definitely gave me at least a foundation to build on.

It's silly to dismiss a job applicant for having a bootcamp on their resume, but don't hire them for entirely that reason either. I have it on my resume.

I've never done a coding bootcamp, so feel free to ignore my comment if you feel it is irrelevant.

My overall observation with coding bootcamps is you shouldn't do them. At my current company we have turned away a very, very, large number of applicants who have come from coding bootcamps.

The reason being they have a very narrow skill set and no actual real-life skills. They all build the same projects (this isn't always the case), and seem to always share their bootcamp projects as their own projects.

The best applicants we come across are simply passionate about building quality software. They build things just to build things, and learn because they're interested. They gain a very solid understanding of mathematics and algorithms through MIT OCW, Stanford Online, Coursera, etc...see a pattern? If you're looking to learn to code just to get a job, you'll have a really tough time.

The top 1% of software devs choose where they want to work, they don't ask for jobs and cross their fingers - they're actually very passionate about their work and it truly stands out.

The point is, anyone who is looking to do a coding bootcamp should really ensure this is not the only thing they have when they come out of it. Love coding and solving problems, that's priority #1. The skills will come to those who enjoy it simply because you're always asking questions and learning something new.

> The top 1% of software devs choose where they want to work, they don't ask for jobs and cross their fingers

I don't think folks go to these bootcamps to become a top 1% dev. They want to get a job building web apps. To do this you don't need to know the algo for quicksort or whatever.

I think I'm good at what I do, CS degree with over 10 years experience, but I don't consider myself a top 1% dev or top 10%.

Right. The top 1% of devs go to the top 1% of companies. The other 99% go to the other 99%. No one coming out of a bootcamp is a 1% dev, and they're not going to 1% companies. They're 99% devs going to 99% companies, companies who just need someone who knows Rails and can get an e-commerce site stood up.

I've never been to a bootcamp, but I've worked indirectly with people who have. They're mostly good people and want to do a good job.

I don't disagree with this, but in the long haul, life is richer and more complex.

I have a bachelors degree in "The History and Philosophy of Science" and w.r.t. CS am completely self taught. My first job (20 years before bootcamps!) I got mostly on the grounds of knowing a modicum of C and marginally better than high-school math. That wasn't the hottest software company out there, but it was a great apprenticeship for me. After 3-4 years I moved on, to a startup with marginally higher standards which was then acquired by Microsoft.

I'm currently a Principal Engineer at Amazon, I regularly use and apply the deeper CS canon that many people that I have interviewed over the years seem to have forgotten since they studied CS. One of Amazon's leadership principles is "Learn and Be Curious" -- which is not a bad maxim for doing well regardless of your educational background.

Agree with most but I think they can be a great launching pad for a lot of people. I've had success hiring people from bootcamps because it's usually a decent filter to find people that are doing career changes and are hungry. Recent college grads want way too much money and they don't know much either.

The main con of the camps is that they inflate the applicant's expectations about compensation. That's part of how they sell their product which is disingenuous IMO. You have to then filter out those that are only in it because someone told them of the financial opportunities. I always ask candidates how they stay up on the latest and greatest and they better have a good answer. If they're not investing in themselves when I'm not paying them, I don't want to keep investing in them either.

I agree with what you say. I also KNOW that coding bootcamp works for the people running the bootcamp and no one else. If you go, you literally piss your money into the pocket of someone else, and leave with nothing of value. Amazing, depending on what side of the fence you reside.

I think it depends. My sister went to Hack Reactor in SF and got a position doing front-end development paying $115K per year. She also had a degree in oceanography from UC Berkeley, so that probably helped. I doubt she would have been able to get a programming job with just the degree.

Hack Reactor apparently has a decent reputation in San Francisco so that probably helped.

Regarding the parent post, it seems to me that most people feel comfortable hiring those who are similar to them. So if you are a comp sci person, you will probably want to hire comp sci people. If you are a self-taught developer, you will probably feel more comfortable hiring self-taught people. You can't base the efficacy of a program based on whether or not any given tech company loves or hates hiring people who do coding bootcamps. When you are starting out, you just have to apply for jobs until you interview with someone who feels comfortable giving you a shot.

That's simply not true. Plenty of students have had success after bootcamps.

I don't know if Fifer is in SV, but there's a big problem on this site of SV folks thinking that SV represents the rest of the world. But if you went to a coding bootcamp in Chicago, you'd be flooded with entry-level job offers in Milwaukee or Madison.

I don't know what elite company you work at but my closest friends at my bootcamp work at Pinterest, Credit Karma, and Pivotal Labs.

Those are solid companies. 2 years in I am finding that 75% of the companies I apply to respond within a week asking to screen me.

Your comment is irrelevant whether or not somebody feels it is. The post title is "Ask HN: People who did coding boot camps, what did you think?" How is this hard?

I went to the Big Nerd Ranch. A heads down intensive week of coding dawn until you drop. The others in the class were very bright and we had an amazing time. I'd highly recommend it.

I did Hack Reactor in SF two years ago and had a great experience.

To be fair, I had already had two jobs as a developer and had been coding for about 4 years. I was self taught so I really wasn't sure at what level I was at the moment and felt I didn't know a lot of things. I decided to do a bootcamp in order to move away from living in Virginia and doing mostly WordPress + CSS web dev to living in SF and doing mostly Node work. I think doing HR helped a lot in doing this and it would have taken me a lot more to do this without it. For me, the experience was incredibly helpful since I was able to:

1. Learn new technologies like Angular, MongoDB

2. Improve/perfect my JavaScript knowledge

3. Learn about CS: data structures, algos

4. Learn Interviewing skills

5. Have a network in a completely new city and see a bit of SF tech culture

Of all of these, I feel #3 was probably the most useful one, since I already knew a lot about coding, but all of these were important. I was able to get a job fairly quickly and now have a lot of confidence for tech interviews. It also really expanded my universe in terms of things I knew about and how my career could go. I'd say my imposter syndrome is completely gone because of being able to see how well many of my other classmates are doing.

That being said, my experience was a lot easier because I already knew how to code and already had job experience.

For my classmates, a lot of them that were relatively new to coding. Most of them were able to find jobs, although the process certainly was not easy (I've also heard it's getting harder every year), but many of them were able to pull it off. It does take a lot of work and dedication. In my experience, the two things I saw that differentiate the good ones from the mehs is 1. If they had previous coding experience (even if it was just a bit) and 2. If they were really passionate about it and continued learning after they graduated. If they had this, they did fine!

My suggestions for anyone considering a bootcamp are:

1. Have some months of coding experience before going to a bootcamp. This will ensure you actually like coding and are decently good at it.

2. Only go to a selective, high-quality bootcamp. There are a lot of scams out there. Asking graduates about their experience and outcomes is a good way to measure this.

3. Before going ask yourself: Is this something I'd be willing to pursue for the next 10 years, even for next to no money? If you like it enough and are passionate enough about it, the answer will probably be yes and the short term barriers won't seem that bad. If you're doing it for $$$ or to just get a job, the answer to this question will probably be no.

This was pretty much my experience, and that of a few of my friends.

I went to a bootcamp in Toronto. The admissions person I spoke to made it sound expect an internship or a permanent job after the bootcamp depending on my progress and experience. I've been doing RoR full-stack dev for a few years so I thought for sure I could land a salaried position after the 3 months were over. (Plot twist!)

Many of the "mentors" didn't know the subject matter, and were struggling themselves in their careers. On day one, the at-home prep-course we had completed in advance of starting the bootcamp was re-introduced, so basically there was little point in doing the prep-course because you repeat all that material in class. Turns out the at-home prep-course exists mainly for the bootcamps to get a different tax code classification so they can pay less federal/provincial tax.

The companies that hire from the bootcamp use a government grant so they can pay their new hires $5/hour and the government covers another $10/hour. This is only for the first 3 months (they call it "probation period"). So new hires make $15/hour for the first three months, and then if you prove yourself (and they actually have the money to hire you), they roughly double that pay to around $30/hour after the "probation period".

Right after graduating I lost three job opportunities (even though I have a few years web dev experience, and these companies were very interested in me) because I'm over 30 and this gov grant all the companies are using only applies to people 30 and under. I started telling companies: "Hey, I'm 3x years old, is that an issue?" and some confirmed to me that yes, it was an issue, and that they were no longer interested in interviewing me.

I ended up getting hired by a startup that had me apply for another type of gov assistance that would allow them to pay me the same $5/hour while Ontario covered another $10/hour. I was their first employee. I built approx 50% of their app during my probation period, by myself. When I was done the 3 month probation period, they offered me $7/hour, a fancy title, plus bonus pay when (if) they get VC funding at some point down the road. I refused and am now looking for another job. The Career Services person at the bootcamp hasn't sent me any leads, but it's early Jan so I don't expect much, and I'm doing OK networking on my own.

This is the second time I've worked for a startup that used my labour for near minimum wage pay during a "probation period" and then tells me they have no money to pay me a fair wage. First time this happened was in Berlin. There are many companies in Berlin that survive by hiring people, paying them 1/2 industry standard pay for 3 to 5 months and then kicking them to the curb. Companies in Toronto appear to be doing the same.

I'm somewhat considering going to a bootcamp in Toronto and currently researching schools available here. I wonder if I can ask you more information about your experience with the one that you attended. Thanks.

I did go to a bootcamp for Python/Django in SF, 2014. I was previously doing basic small biz wordpress sites and graphic design, now lead backend engineer at a 5-year old startup, making 115K when hired.

If you want to learn to code, definitely a bootcamp is a great resource. Sure, you can do it all yourself, find materials online for free, but putting in the time with other learners for 10-15+ weeks in an actual learning environment is for me worth the $10K.

A lot of people (who almost always have never done one) like to say that you shouldn't do them, you won't get hired, you can find it online. I'd ask them if they have a college degree, and they why waste your money at college when all the info is available online?

In the end you're going to get out of it what you put into it; before, during, and after. Obviously do your homework not only on the camp and instructors, but as well all the time you can into online resources.

I'll never regret my choice to go to a programming bootcamp. It literally changed my life in amazing ways.

I did a coding bootcamp but it was far from my first experience coding. I was previously working in DevOps and did 2 years of a computer science degree prior, also countless microcontroller projects written in C and processing.

What the coding bootcamp did is kicked my ass into web development and gave me resources and people to get a job as a programmer. I think it would have taken me much longer to get up to speed if I would have done it on my own. It also gave me a chance to learn my learning style and gave me the tools to pick up new languages and frameworks.

The only draw back is I'm now in a position where I feel like i want to go back to school to bone up on Computer Science basics because I'm more into the craft and less about whatever market forces are doing. I'll be programming probably for the rest of my life in one form or another.

You should do one if you want to get into app/web development, but if you want to dive deep into computer science or do things not related to app development, just go do a computer science or computer engineering degree. I'm still considering doing my masters in computer engineering which will be a lot harder without a bachelors in compsci or computer engineering, but possible.

>> he only draw back is I'm now in a position where I feel like i want to go back to school to bone up on Computer Science basics..

Man, I totally know what you mean. I had done primarily Ruby & web stuff one tends to use with Ruby from 2009 until early 2016. I hadn't even considered programming outside of web development as an option. Then I fell into a cloud infrastructure role. Totally changed my thinking.

My new paradigm includes:

* Bash is cool

* Elixir is cool

* Systemd is cool

* Networking is cool

* Reading RFCs is cool

* C & Go sound like fun

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