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When I first heard about programming bootcamps, my assumption is that they were scams — the slightly more modern version of ITT Tech (which has now been shut down). They had the same characteristics: for-profit, not well-regulated, targeting people who are eager to turn their career around, etc. I figured it had all the same pitfalls. Even if the founders had good intentions and weren’t trying to take advantage of people, that didn’t mean the results were any good. Plus, they were only three months long; how could the education even come close to a four-year program?

My point here is that if you’re looking down on programming bootcamps as stupid, then, hey, I was with you.

The Penn Engineering Masters 2016 Commencement speech, delivered by Gayle Laakmann McDowell (founder of and author of Cracking the Coding Interview). Watch it online.

This is a graduation speech, and I’m what one might call a professional interviewer, so it’s fitting that I would ask you this quintessential interview question: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

But I’m not going to ask you this question because, to be honest, I kind of hate it. I’ve never been a big fan of this question.

It’s not that I object to goals. It’s fine to set some vague goals that you might want to be doing X, Y or Z in 10 years. …

Your algorithm was correct, your code was correct, but you still got rejected. This is not only possible, but incredibly common.

Candidates are routinely surprised when it does because they don’t quite understand the interview process and how they are evaluated.

Let’s start with just the part about the code being “correct.” Is this necessary? Is it sufficient?

It’s neither, in fact. Consider the real world (which, after all, is what interviews are attempting to be indicative of). Is it okay to have a bug in the real world?

You probably find it a little difficult to answer that question. Bugs are never “okay.” All else being equal, you’d prefer the bug-free code over the buggy code. But one bug doesn’t usually get you fired. …

You’d think I’d speak at Grace Hopper, right? It’s right up my alley — women, tech, etc.

So let’s cut to the chase. This is why you won’t see me there: Speakers must pay to speak [1].

I do lots of talks — over 100 per year — and I almost always charge something. Doing a talk isn’t free. It costs me time, and therefore money. This is my job, and therefore I’d like to be compensated for it.

Importantly, an organization paying something [2] also sends a signal that they value my presence. This isn’t vanity; it’s just good business. If they value my presence, then they’ll probably consider appropriate time slots and they’ll probably put some effort into advertising the talk. They’ll do their part to ensure there’s an audience. …

Did you hear? Someone did something. It was sort of stupid or sort of inappropriate or sort of wrong.

You know what that’s time for, right? It’s time for the Internet Hate Machine. Let the games begin!

Read through their Twitter. Go back years if you have to. Find everything that confirms our assumptions about them, derived from the obviously representative One Bad Thing They Did.

Now do the same for Instagram and Facebook.

Quick! Before they have the audacity to make their settings private.

Have lots and lots of people send tweets attacking them. Then write some articles, too. Some medium posts, for sure. If we’re lucky, maybe BuzzFeed or Gawker will repost one. …

I wince as I post this because I know it will invite controversy and the occasional nasty remark about how they are super successful in <insert city>. Let me make this clear from the very beginning. Yes, there are exceptions — lots of them. Maybe you’re one of them. But the exceptions don’t disprove the rule.

If you want an A+ career in technology, you should move to the San Francisco Bay Area. The same argument can probably be made of finance and New York. It’s not that you can’t do it in another city, but your odds are just much better in your industry’s hub. …

Seven years ago, I launched the first edition of my “book”. I remember being so happy because I sold five copies. FIVE! It was a great day.

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But, what I first launched wasn’t really a book. It was a 20 page PDF of interview questions — without solutions. It could charitably be called an MVP (minimal viable product).

Only it wasn’t even that because I never thought about it developing into a real book. I was not a “writer” and was absolutely not going to write a book. It was just one of many monetization ideas for CareerCup I was playing with. …


Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Founder/CEO of CareerCup. Coder. Author of Cracking the {Coding Interview, PM Interview, Tech Career}. Consults on technical hiring and interviewing.

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