Choosing a next career

This story is part of the application process of the Holberton School.

Why do you want to be a software engineer, Holberton School asks. Well, I already am one, and this work is both a source of enjoyment and an opportunity to contribute to making good things work well. But software engineering is changing month by month, making my skills, which date mainly from the 1960s to the 1990s, somewhat obsolete. So it would be more accurate to say that I want to become better at what I do, taking advantage of some of the powerful tools and standards that I have not yet learned to use.

Secondly, the school asks, why do you want to attend this school? To be frank, I probably don’t. [If the algorithm that evaluates this story lets me proceed with the application process after reading the previous sentence, then its natural-language understanding is not yet perfect.] Why not?

I’m comparing HS with similar competitors, principally Learners Guild, freeCodeCamp, and 42. Here are some comparisons affecting my preference.

  1. Age limit. HS has an age limit of 128. I qualify. LG and fCC have none at all, so obviously I qualify. 42 has a limit of 30. Doesn’t work: I’m almost 2.5 times as old as that. So now there are 3 in the running.
  2. Location. HS is in SF, LG is in Oakland, and fCC is everywhere. Living in Berkeley, I have a bias toward Oakland, although the advantage of HS’s location in facilitating mentorship relations is probably significant. Participating in a web-based program like fCC could work, too, and would avoid any commuting time, but I have the feeling that an intensive on-site collaboration will produce better results, faster.
  3. Content. LG and fCC have more focused curricula than HS. My aspiration to be effective at making things work pushes me toward that focus. If I cared most about being able to adapt to any work requirements, the more eclectic HS model would appeal more.
  4. Collaborativity. HS seems to be the least collaborative of the 3, with projects mainly being individual projects. In both LG and fCC, by contrast, one performs projects in a team (typically a team of 2). I lean toward forcing myself to collaborate.
  5. Duration. fCC would probably last a few years, because the distractions would eat into time spent participating in it and its remote collaboration modality would likely be less efficient than face-to-face collaboration. HS is designed to last 2 years. LG lasts 10 months. These are all longer than typical bootcamps, for good reasons, but I find 10 months a personally more appropriate time commitment.
  6. Project selection. HS seems to impose the most uniformity on its participants’ choice of projects, and fCC the least. LG seems in the middle. Also HS projects are more numerous and shorter than LG projects, while fCC projects are the longest. I appreciate LG’s combination of expert vetting, learner choice, and projects that typically last about a week.
  7. Maturity. HS gives an impression of being the most established, recognized, and successful of the 3. On this basis, all else being equal, it seems like the safest bet.
  8. Sunk costs. I have already been admitted to LG and learned of HS only this week. If I declined LG admission and applied to HS, I’d have only about a 10% chance of admission there, most likely leaving me with fCC as the only option.

Those are my main considerations weighing for one or the other option. They make it difficult to answer HS’s second question in the affirmative, even though it, fCC, and 42 all seem like fabulous opportunities for those whose aspirations (and ages) fit their models.