Should You Join A Coding Bootcamp in 2018?
by Luis Rocha
Dec 14, 2017
My Experience: A Collection of Contradictions
“There is a shit ton of money in tech. There are so many jobs out there that you won’t know which to pick. Companies will be on their knees begging for you to work for them. Anyone can code.”
That was the narrative that motivated me to put life on hold and enroll in the Galvanize six-month web development bootcamp back in 2015. I would spend Monday to Friday 9-5 immersed in code. “It’s a full stack program. I learn front end and back end, which essentially means I’ll be able to code up my own social network by the end the program”, I remember saying to friends in the weeks leading up to Galvanize. Spoiler alert: NOPE.
Upon graduation, I didn’t know enough to code my own social network. I barely even knew enough to get through intense technical interviews (no one told me I’d have to know what the hell “Big O” was until month 5 of 6). I felt lost. Somehow I managed to get into my first tech job 2.5 months after graduation at a $75,000/year salary, which was a drastic improvement to the $15,000 I made as a photographer the year before. So my outlook on my experience should be overwhelmingly positive correct? Not so much.
My coding bootcamp story is a collection of contradictions and in this blog post, I will share with you the good and bad as well as insight I’ve gained in the two years since. If you’re even considering joining a coding botocamp, you owe it to yourself before you drop tens of thousands in tuition on the table.
The Short Answer
Should you join a coding bootcamp?
Maybe? Probably not.
Yes, I just about sextupled my yearly income in less than a year. Yes, I got a job and remain employed in the industry. Yes, I formed deep and wonderful bonds with my classmates and instructors. No, I would not recommend joining a coding bootcamp to most people.
Keep reading as I go deeper into my personal experience. I hope my point-of-view helps you make your decision:
What's Good about Coding Bootcamp
Liz Howard and Tyler Bettilyon are two brilliant programmers. They have big brains and even bigger hearts. Liz, who dropped out of middle school to code full time because she was making more money than her principal, really took the time to entertain all my questions after class about the local tech scene and taught my invaluable soft skills including how to effectively network, how to ask for someone to mentor you with tact, and really helped me find my “self” as a developer. Tyler was a fucking machine who I’m convinced was actually a sentient computer. He exuded ability. I consider myself fortunate to have learned from them.
The classroom experience:
There is something to be said about learning, struggling, and growing alongside a group of incredibly different students. It gives you confidence and makes you feel like you aren’t alone in this journey you’ve decided to take. My classmates and I uplifted each other, helped one another understand concepts when they just didn’t click, and shared so many laughs together. Seeing a classmate succeed while you struggle gives you the courage to keep trying. After all, they started in the same place as you… so you have no excuse.
How many times have you told yourself you would pursue a passion project after work or class? How many times have you actually followed through? Probably not many. When left to our own devices, humans will often get distracted or give up when trying to learn the difficult concepts associated with code. Hell, when I first started learning it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to link my CSS and HTML.
I thrive on routine. Coming into class at the same time every day and following a set schedule really helped me get into a high-performing state when it came to learning and thriving. I find it difficult to imagine actually learning basic web development on my own. In fact, the biggest complaint I hear from friends who are learning code on their own is that they fall in and out of concentration. This may be the biggest difference-maker coding bootcamp has to offer.
What's Bad about Coding Bootcamp
My instructor's hire date:
My head instructor was hired less than a month before the start of the program. When students are dropping $15,000+ on a coding bootcamp and trusting you with their future this is NOT fucking acceptable. Tyler had also never taught in a bootcamp setting. He was a good teacher, but I heard from future classes that other instructors hired with little to no experience did not do even half as well at teaching. This is NOT a condemnation of my instructors as developers, teachers, or people. I treasure them dearly.
There is a low standard for code:
When a student completed an assignment, an associate instructor (usually a recent graduate of the program) was supposed to check your work and give you feedback. What I’ve realized since then is that the associate instructor just checked if it worked or not. I received no feedback for the quality of my code and this killed me in take-home projects during my job hunt.
For example: Many projects I completed had inline styling. I was literally not told once that this would be unacceptable in a professional environment as it isn’t scalable. I absolutely missed out on good jobs for these kinds of oversights.
There is a low standard for admissions:
Coding bootcamps will accept you, even if you probably don’t have the mind for code. Contrary to what the marketing says: not everyone can code. From what I have seen it either clicks with you or it doesn’t. You are either consumed with passion for it, or you struggle to get through simple tasks. It was clear that at least 25% of my classmates were not suited for the program. They were lovely people who got blinded by stories of 18 year olds making millions of dollars coding and moms transitioning careers in their 40’s. These stories DO happen - but they are outliers that do not reflect the average.
I struggle offering these sorts of cautionary tales. I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing their coding dreams… however, it is important to acknowledge the reality that I have personally witnessed regarding admission into coding bootcamps. Being accepted does not mean you are guaranteed a job in the industry.
Less than half my graduating class of about 30 students currently holds a job as a web developer. Enough said.
Coding bootcamps are not all created equal:
There are so many bootcamp’s out there these days. Some are straight up money-making schemes and some are prestigious institutions that churn out highly-skilled workers like clockwork. I would personally say that the most reputable Bootcamp you could enroll in would be Hack Reactor. They have very high standards for admissions and I work with two incredibly talented graduates of the program. If you are dead set on joining a bootcamp then you should not settle for anything less than Hack Reactor.
The industry is a gold rush on decline:
Since I left Galvanize, several bootcamps have shut down, Galvanize has had huge lay-offs, and the market for entry-level devs has only gotten smaller. Those “piles of jobs” they talk about are for senior devs with over 5-years worth of experience. The market is flooded with entry level devs and bootcamp grads. The only way I was able to succeed was by deciding early on in the program that I would specialize in my expertise and not graduate as a jack-of-all-trades generic full stack developer.
How I Succeeded by Specializing
Frontend development has to do with design and user experience of a website. Backend development works behind the scenes and involves databases, routing, and infrastructure. I realized early on that my background in photography and design gave me an edge in frontend. Also, backend made me want to tear my hair out. I decided that it would be strategic for me to specialize in a more specific set of skills so that I could stand out and apply for jobs that would make me happy.
This ended up paying off. I was referred to a job by Galvanize’s in-house admissions director based on the job description and the unique set of skills she knew I had. This led to a job where I was lucky to work very closely with my CEO, who really took me under his wing and taught me about conversion optimization, lead generation, and split testing. This led to a passion for developing with revenue growth in mind, which led me to my current job at the control group where I have increased revenue by at least 8% on four different pages for our in-house products. I love what I do and grateful every single day to have found this niche.
I have found this to be trend. Most of my classmates who were successful after the program had a background or set of skills that complimented their coding skills or even compensated for them in some cases. A Masters in physics, a background in graphic design, experience as a project manager, or prior experience in IT helped make some of my currently-employed classmates more attractive hires. There were a handful of classmates who started from absolute-zero and succeeded after the program. However, those were few and far between.
I realize many of my words may come across as harsh and I truly hope that this blog post does not come across as me absolutely trashing Galvanize. Enrolling in their web development program was the best decision I have ever made in my life. However, being in the thick of the bootcamp industry and seeing where it has gone in the years since offers me a pragmatic perspective on whether or not it’s a good decision for you to drop $10,000+ on a coding bootcamp.
Galvanize’s objective was to turn me into a full stack web developer, and in this mission they failed. I made the decision to specialize on front end. Was this because I couldn’t hack it in the back end? Was this because my background lended itself more towards the right-brained aspects of code? Was this because the curriculum was sub-par? It’s hard to say and I don’t think I will ever know for sure.
One thing I know for sure is that the narrative that coding bootcamps are pushing is false. Not everyone can code and you won’t graduate with jobs lining up to hire you. This path is not an easy fast-track to money. It’s going to take A LOT of hard work and dedication… which can also be said about pretty much any profession in America. You need to do some serious soul-searching and ask yourself if you are genuinely interested in code or if you’re in it for the money. I can tell you that I was a bit of both.
So should you join a bootcamp? Should I have even joined? Who fucking knows. It all depends. The answer remains: not really? The answer will be different for everyone and I hope my experience was able to give you some insight into yours.
If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or contact me on any of my social channels. I am here and happy to help. Make sure you subscribe to my e-mail newsletter or follow me on Instagram or Twitter to keep up with my blog posts and get more tips towards accomplishing your dreams and getting that career that you already deserve.