Why Attending a Coding Bootcamp Was One of the Best Decisions I’ve Ever Made

I have a confession to make: I’m not really a “developer.”

I’m really a fraud.

Or at least felt like one until recently.

I’m actually just a graphic designer who learned a bit of HTML, CSS, and some Wordpress. And then started calling himself a “web developer.”

Because, well, I was “developing” things for the web. So I thought: “Close enough, right?”

However, I lacked a fundamental understanding of one key programming language when it comes to building websites and modern web applications…

Yes, I’m talking about Javascript.

I always felt anxious when somebody would ask me if I could add a really basic feature to their website and I knew it would involve a certain degree of JS. I mean, these were extremely basic requests. For example:

  • Make a newsletter subscription pop-up when somebody hits the “Subscribe” button.
  • Have a special user menu appear when somebody clicked their user profile bubble.
  • Have a navigation drop-down menu with categories and images, a la Amazon.com “Departments” menu.

Luckily, the web is such a vast place full of amazing developers who have seen and done it all, that almost 100% of the time I’d be able to find a solution that would solve the problem. Maybe not perfectly, but at least good-enough I suppose.

But this never felt right with me. I knew that this lack of knowledge was a crutch that was holding me back.

I wanted to tackle bigger projects with world-class teams. And I didn’t want to be the poser in a world-class team.

So I finally decided to do something about it. This summer, I successfully completed a coding bootcamp at The Iron Yard Houston.

To say this was big challenge would a massive understatement, but surprisingly enough, I’ve never had more fun coding and I can honestly say that it’s been one of the best investments (both in time and money), I’ve ever made.

If you are at the same point in life where you are trying to decide whether attending a coding bootcamp is the right move for you, I encourage you to keep reading…

Web “development” for fun and profit

Anybody that has ever tried to build a website in return for money can attest to this: We have some amazing software nowadays that can make this pretty easy.

Software that you can leverage to build some really impressive web applications, all without knowing a lick of code.

That is both a good, and a bad thing.

Good because never before have there been so many possibilities to earn money online to build something for somebody, even when you are half-way across the world.

Bad because all these great tools skip learning good fundamentals (great for business-owners, bad for somebody who wants to make a serious career out of web development).

I am not criticizing anybody.

I myself used a lot of these web platforms in the beginning, and still do today for certain projects. Here are a few of the most common I’ve used as a freelancer in the past few years:

  • Wordpress (perfect for small-business websites or blogs)
  • Joomla (mainly for online portals that needed some kind of access-level control, aka “I don’t want X group to be able to see this, only Y group and maybe Z group when they login.”)
  • WooCommerce, Shopify, Bigcommerce (for anything e-commerce related where there was something being sold and money changed hands via the Internet)
  • Plugins, plugin, plugins (this is how I added the necessary functionality needed for any advanced feature requests)
  • Existing Javascript libraries, code snippets, and Googling stuff. A lot of Googling stuff.

However, having to constantly lean on these tools for basic things started to become a crutch, instead of something that was adding to my abilities and skills as a professional.

So after 6 long years of mostly designing and coding things for the web using HTML, CSS, and a CMS with a few plugins, I finally threw in the towel. I’ve had enough and wanted to move on to bigger and more interesting challenges.

Most of all, I wanted to work on real web products, and not just static or Wordpress websites.

So I did what any of us would do: I fired up Google and typed in “coding bootcamps Houston.

Why I picked The Iron Yard

The results I got back were a little underwhelming. In comparison to the San Francisco Bay Area (the mecca-of-tech), Houston only seemed to have a handful of coding bootcamps.

The Iron Yard was one of them.

There were several factors that influenced my decision to attend The Iron Yard’s “Front-end Engineering” class. The most important ones were the following:

  • Great staff: Everybody at The Iron Yard Houston treated me like family from the moment I crossed those front doors. I was welcomed to stop by their campus, talk to any member of the staff, and even bring my laptop and do a little freelancing if I so desired (this is even before I made my final decision to sign up for their bootcamp)
  • “Demo Day”: Christy Loyd, the Houston campus’ Operations Manager, invited me to attend their newest graduating class “Demo Day” — a special event where all students get to put everything they’ve learned to the test and build their own MVP (Minimum Viable Product). And they only have 3 weeks to do it. I was impressed by some of the apps that I saw, and even more impressed after finding out that most of these guys and girls had zero coding experience before starting the course.
  • The front-end instructor: Before I was officially accepted, I had to schedule an interview to meet with the Javascript class instructor: Justin Richards. Justin impressed me by answering all my questions honestly and letting me know ahead of time what I was getting myself into. I don’t know why, but something in my gut told me: “This guy knows his shit.” And I was right.

Tuition cost vs. opportunity cost

Now, I’m not going to lie to you: cost was one of the biggest things I had to come to terms with before making my final decision. I hate getting into debt, and simply don’t buy things I can’t afford (I don’t even use credit cards).

So, paying for a $13,900 bootcamp was not exactly peanuts for me.

Not to mention, I was still freelancing at the time. Enrolling in the summer class would mean spending 60–80 hours a week on average — as Justin warned me during our first meet. That meant there was no way in hell I could take on freelance projects during that time.

It would be 3 months where things would be quite tough not just mentally, but also financially.

But I saw this as an investment. A major time investment to be precise. I was trading a good chunk of money for the opportunity to learn at an accelerated pace — instead of taking a year or more to teach myself through online classes with zero accountability or having a real human being to talk to face-to-face about problems I may encounter during class.

And if there’s one valuable lesson I’ve learned in my years of freelancing is this: You can always make more money. You cannot make more time.

So I bit the bullet, applied for a student loan through Climb Credit (since they gave me the lowest interest rate), and enrolled in the upcoming cohort which would be starting in only a few weeks’ time.

It would be a decision I’ll never regret and one I would do again in heartbeat.

Coding bootcamps work!

It’s hard to believe all the things I’ been able to accomplish in these past 12-weeks. Here are just a few of them:

  • I can proudly say that I understand Javascript at its fundamental level, which has been a huge boost in my confidence as a developer.
  • I’ve built apps with an MVC (Model, View, Controller) pattern, and now understand why it’s so popular in a lot of modern web applications (hint: it’s what I like to call “fluidity”)
  • I now get why all the kids are crazy about the MEAN stack (MongoDB, Express.js, Angular.js, Node.js) — except we used Facebook’s React.js instead of Google’s Angular.js during our course.
  • I’ve untangled the mystery of what the heck an API is (a question that I always wondered about for the longest time), and how to fetch data from one. Not to mention, now I can even build my own API endpoints using MongoDB and Express.js.
  • I know what the hell this means in Javascript, and why it’s never a good idea to use it inside a callback function (you should use a stable self variable technique or fat arrow in ES6 syntax). Oh yeah, I also know what a callback is now.
  • I’ve learned all about modern web development tools used by everyday web teams (i.e. Github, Heroku, npm, etc.).
  • I’ve had the chance to talk to several industry pros and pick their brain about web development, where they see the industry going, and what languages, frameworks, and other tools are worth learning in the years to come.
  • I am not afraid to white board a coding problem; something that would’ve terrified me before if I was ever presented with one at an interview. Why? Because I feel my brain has made a huge shift over the past 12-weeks to think and approach problems like an engineer. This is a big one.
  • I’ve built an MVP product that solves a real-world problem from start to finish in less than 3 weeks. Instagram e-commerce platform, anyone?

The future is bright

Deciding to sign up for The Iron Yard this summer was one of the best decisions I’ve made. No doubt in my mind.

Not only did I learn my very first real programming language, but I also met a bunch of amazing people who share my love for tech and “making” things for the web.

Drone + selfie = Drelfie?

If you are considering attending a bootcamp in the near future, I highly encourage you to do so. It might just be the spark that skyrockets your career (and life) to the next level. It’ll be some of the most challenging months of your life for sure, but they’ll also be some of the most rewarding.

Trust me, I’m a bootcamp graduate who is now a front-end developer… and I can say that with confidence for the first time in my life.