My Fullstack Academy Of Code Experience

If you’re reading this post it is likely because you were in the same place I was not long ago — looking to make a career pivot into tech, not quite sure of the “bootcamp” promise, and trying as best you can to find real life experiences online that could answer some of your aching questions about attending a bootcamp. Hopefully this post, like the handful that I found, can help answer some of those questions.

I’ll do my best to give you a transparent view into my process and experience at Fullstack Academy of Code. Be warned, this is lengthy.

Where I was

About a year ago I was in the middle of a successful career in marketing. I had been in a director role for corporate brands for about three years and had worked pretty hard to get myself there. I was continuing, as planned, to prove myself worthy of the next level (VP, SVP, then someday CMO). However, I started to feel like I wasn’t utilizing the critical/analytical side of my brain as much as I had hoped I would and that I wasn’t learning as much anymore. I was definitely flexing my creative muscles and that was great. So, I wasn’t really unsuccessful, but I also wasn’t terribly fulfilled and started to feel less excited about the next steps and roles that were planned out. Maybe I would start a side-project or hobby? Too bad marketing side-projects and hobbies feel a lot like work. Blergh.

I thought maybe it was just the company and I worked for and began looking at available marketing roles at companies that had a reputation for being awesome work environments and companies on the forefront of something. To my surprise, I saw very few marketing roles available at these companies, but a handful of dev positions, that seemed to not be getting filled all that quickly. Couple that with the fact that in my career in marketing I was the lead of many technology projects to give our company better mediums to reach guests and get richer data. In those particular projects I always thought that the problems and challenges that the agencies I managed were getting to tackle were fun and interesting.

My husband (who is a software developer) recommended I give JavaScript a try. Then I read this article in the New York Times. That’s how it all started.

Researching Bootcamps

The thought of going back to two years of grad school for something that people teach themselves how to do online didn’t appeal to me. Plus it didn’t seem like a computer science degree would teach me how to build and maintain apps. Most CS programs that I looked into briefly covered it in the curriculum while most of the curriculum focused on topics that were interesting, but less practical. Things are changing nowadays and I see more computer science programs evolving to compete with bootcamps. Anyway, add to that the time and dollar investment for a two-year grad program and bootcamps start to sound pretty good and also too good to be true.

The next steps was a simple google search that included the terms “top coding bootcamps in NYC”. A handful of forums and ads came up. After reading through dozens of forums and online ratings carefully two bootcamps stuck out to me, and one in particular — Fullstack Academy of Code, which focused solely on the JavaScript Mean Stack.

I attended one of Fullstack’s information sessions were Huntly (director of admissions) painted a picture of Fullstack and answered some questions. One thing that really stuck out to me was the fact that the admissions rate was in the single digits. Meaning, it was tough to get it in. That was important to me. A lot of coding bootcamps will accept anyone, which is great for them, but I wanted to be associated with a brand that was next level. I should mention that my husband tagged along with me to point out any bloated promises and just provide a second opinion. He gave Fullstack Academy a big thumbs up.

During this process I also reached out to alumni of the different bootcamps I was looking into on LinkedIn. A lot of them responded and I had phone calls or emails with most where they answered my burning questions — how easy was it to find a job after, do you feel like the bootcamp followed through on their promise, were the instructors legit, how to you compare to other people at your job who have a CS degree, etc. Everyone from Fullstack had rave reviews.

My top choice was obviously Fullstack.

Admissions Process

My preparation up to the admissions process took about 6 months in total. I was still working, and wasn’t totally sold on going to a bootcamp, but in the first three months I dedicated some time each week to finishing the codecademy JS course online. It took me a little longer to grasp than I thought.

After, I enrolled in the JavaScript Jump Start course offered by Fullstack. I paid around $200 for four classes, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, to get get a feel for Fullstack and to see what kinds of things they covered that maybe weren’t covered in my online course. I wasn’t that impressed with the teaching quality for the jump-start course. The evening and extra courses at Fullstack are taught by non-immersive instructors (not the same quality as the full-time instructors). So if you take one of their ancillary courses or classes just know that the teaching quality there isn’t anywhere near what the immersive instruction is like. In the end, I’m glad I took the class because it gave me a set of 20 or so problems to solve with JavaScript that gave me a good idea about what to study for. It was also helpful to ask questions about what kinds of things would be on the assessment and good to learn some new ways to approach coding challenges.

Then, I started to tackle coding challenges on coderbyte.com. During an information session Huntly mentioned that if you could solve all of the easy plus most of the medium problems on coderbyte (back then it was free) then you would be in good shape for the admissions assessment. So, that’s what I set out to do. Being able to use a newly learned tool to solve these problems was challenging, but the more you do the better you get. For the last month before I applied I went to town on these challenges and tried to complete 2–3 a night. I got to the mediums and decided it was time to apply, even though I didn’t feel quite ready. And actually, it was this article by Shanna Gregory (dean of the Grace Hopper program) that inspired me to just do it.

I filled out some short responses about myself and work experience. Then I was sent a coding challenge online that had to be completed in the next few days. I would have a limited amount of time (I think an hour?) to complete a set of coding challenges in JS. As someone with test anxiety, this was a big hurdle for me. Nevertheless, I did it. Without spilling too much about the test I can say it was fair (not easy, that’s for sure). I didn’t even finish the last problem in the set of 5 or 6 problems there were so I was crossing my fingers that it was enough. A day to two later I got an email letting me know that I was invited to an online Skype interview with a Fullstack instructor that I could schedule within the next week.

The online/Skype interview included a few questions to get to know me, my goals, why I was interested in tech, etc. The meat of the Skype interview is a pair-coding challenge where you solve a coding challenge or two in front of the interviewer. My interviewer was really kind and made me feel at ease. I think I did a good job of thinking out loud, asking questions, and not freaking out when I didn’t know what to do. My interviewer walked me through some new concepts and then asked me more questions to gauge my understanding. Then, before I knew it was over and I had a chance to ask her some questions. That was it. I had no idea how to gauge how well I did, so I just tried to not think about it.

A few days later I got my acceptance email from Huntly and the next day put in my notice at work. I couldn’t believe it was happening.

Part 1: Fullstack Academy Foundations (five weeks)

The first portion of Fullstack Academy is called Foundations and it isn’t actually on campus. Instead, it’s a five week independent study course that you take on our own time with online videos produced by Fullstack or other online resources plus workshops via the Fullstack learning web site. They say to set aside about 20–30 hours a week for study during foundations but I was putting in closer to 40 since it was a lot of material. Some Alumni that I spoke with only put in 20, but that’s them. I found myself reviewing the same video two, sometimes three times each week just to solidify the basics of what they were covering. The instructional videos produced by Fullstack for Foundations were a bit awkward and hard to follow (on-campus instruction is far better). Hopefully Foundations has improved since I took it. The material covered in foundations is just more foundational JS concepts (some HTML/CSS as well), using the command line, and learning how to read test specs. Foundations helps get everyone on the same level by the time they arrive for the on-campus portion.

There are three timed checkpoints during foundations spread throughout the five weeks. In order to continue on to the on-campus portion you have to pass the tests. That’s a lot of pressure. To be honest, I felt like quitting during foundations. I mean, if this was just a “part-time” view into the real immersive program I was screwed. I’m glad I didn’t quit, but the thought crossed my mind when I was overwhelmed. I was learning a handful of new concepts each day and then the next day was another handful of new concepts with assignments to apply them to.

I got a borderline grade on the first checkpoint (yikes!) and then stepped it up to get a passing grade on the second and final (most important) checkpoint. Again, they were tough/fair and I found myself racing against the clock each time.

Knowing that the on campus portion was going to be far more intense than foundations I thought about ways I could get more time out of my day. Fun fact — I have super thick hair and it takes me about 40 minutes to blow dry it every day. Before starting on campus, I went to my hairdresser and shaved off the bottom half of my hair ( a nape cut, looks dope) and shaved in a cool design. I honestly did this so I would have more time during the program but I love it and will never go back to a non-shaved nape ;)

Part 2: Junior Phase (six weeks)

On the first day of the on campus portion of Fullstack Academy we got a presentation from one of the founders, Nimit. In it, he had a slide that clearly stated that during the next three months if the activity we were engaged in was not eating, sleeping, exercising or coding then we should honestly ask ourselves if the thing we are doing is worth doing at all. Implying that we should pretty much always be coding, blogging about coding, or reading about coding. I should also mention that during his presentation he said it would be a good idea to email our friends and family and let them know that we are unavailable for the next three months. I am not kidding.

He also said to trust the process. Which is key.

Remember how I said I wanted to quit during foundations? I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. But, I followed his advice and I mentally prepared myself for what was ahead.

We played a quick name game to get to know everyone in our cohort (40-ish people total) and then got right into it. We had our first lecture on data structures (which went completely over my head) and then got paired with someone in our class to complete a workshop based on that topic. The rest of junior phase followed this pattern pretty closely — lecture, pair-coding workshop, lunch, workshop, review, lecture, lunch, workshop … 10:00am — 6:30pm every day. Oh! And don’t forget CS Saturdays, full days worth of lecture and workshop on deeper computer science topics. Whew!

There was always pre-reading for the next day’s workshop which it felt like there was never time to get to because I needed to understand the previous day’s lecture and workshop (which hardly anyone ever finishes) before moving on. Everyday felt like I was just trying to keep up.

I did prioritize a few things outside of Fullstack Academy including exercising 4–5 times a week, eating right, and getting enough sleep. I didn’t feel like I had much time to squeeze in anything else, but I know others in the class didn’t seem to be as overwhelmed as I was.

We also got put into small learning-teams with an assigned Fullstack fellow to oversee us. Fellows are recent grads who stay on to assist as TA’s for the next cohort. It’s an amazing program that I can speak more to later.

On Fridays class goes until 6:30 as usual but then drinks are provided (two drinks only rule applies while you are on campus) and then they have some fun social interactions for the students until 7:30. Students usually break off and go to a bar afterwards to unwind and hang out with each other.

Three weeks into junior with senior phase (mostly project based) right around the corner I really started to feel the pressure and didn’t feel like I knew or had all the tools to build web apps. How was I supposed to learn the rest in just three weeks? My mentor Alex was always there to assuage my worries and remind me to look back and consider all the things I had already learned in the last three weeks, and that come senior phase I would know how to build a web app from scratch. I was so happy to have these mentors there along the way to help put things into perspective.

One thing that surprised me about my cohort is the diverse backgrounds of the people in my cohort. We had a doctor (practicing physician), lawyers, game developers, designers, fresh college grads, and a handful of CS majors (which surprised me). The people with CS majors were great and definitely were a step ahead of the rest of us. One of the CS majors shared that he decided to come to a bootcamp after working in the industry for a few years because his CS degree from UT didn’t actually teach him how to build things. He knew a lot about algorithms and processors, though. So, that was interesting. Some people had moved here from a different state or different country just to attend.

There were about 10 girls in my cohort, including me which I loved.

Another thing that surprised me was the quality of instructors. I knew that they had to be good, I just didn’t know how good. These people were uber smart, passionate, and fun. There isn’t a single question that went unanswered in class and they took the time to answer questions that were off lecture topic or out there. These instructors know what they are talking about and have passion for what they do. I can’t speak more highly of the instructional quality. It’s some of the best I have ever had the privilege of learning from. Ashi and Gabe in particular are some of the more inspirational and intelligent people I have ever met.

During my cohort, Fullstack Academy made an announcement that they were switching the curriculum from teaching Angular to React. I loved that. React is very up and coming and in high demand so I was happy to be part of an organization that was prepared for these technology trends and watching out for them.

In order to get to senior phase you have to pass a final checkpoint that covers the main “pillar” concepts and frameworks learned from junior phase. I say this about all Fullstack checkpoints, it was fair. I think I got an 85% or so which was good enough. Everyone in our cohort made it to senior phase, although some people decided to replay part of junior phase or had to defer until the next phase due to personal reasons. Good to know Fullstack is flexible like that.

In a nutshell I can say this about junior phase:

  1. I maybe got 5% out of the lecture (not that they were bad lectures, but it’s a lot of new material to digest and I was a novice to things they were talking about). I felt like an idiot most of the time. It was awesome! My brain couldn’t even hold all the things I was trying to learn everyday. So if you don’t soak every word up either, don’t worry.
  2. Hardly anyone finishes the workshop, so don’t hate yourself if you don’t. The point of the workshops isn’t the finish the workshops (they aren’t turned in), it’s to get practice in a concept that you were taught. If you don’t finish, just watch the review video as you’ll likely get more out of that.
  3. If you can, use a Mac for the course. There were people in my class who were not on Macs and it just seemed like it was a hassle. Not all the instructors know how to get the programs needed running on non-macs so some students spent up to an hour trying to figure out installation and set up on some days. Although one guy successfully completed the program on a surface!
  4. Trust the process.
My 1609 cohort. ❤ them.

Part 2.1: Review Week (one week)

After the Senior Checkpoint there is a week off called Review week. This is for students to take a much needed break from the pace of junior phase and relax after the big checkpoint. Lots of us used this time to review and familiarize ourselves with concepts we were shaky on or learn a new library.

Part 3: Senior Phase (six weeks)

During senior phase there are fewer lectures and more projects/workshop time. There is definitely less hand-holding during senior phase.

The first thing that is new about senior phase is that it starts earlier, 9:30am to be exact. That is because every morning during senior phase you are practicing a Technical White boarding question with a partner for an hour on an actual whiteboard (or window). Tech companies really interview like this, so it’s great practice.

The first major project is called Grace Shopper. For Grace Shopper you are split into teams of four and are tasked, with some direction, to build a dummy e-commerce site. It’s really the first time you are building something from scratch in a team with your new knowledge, so it can be stressful. However, it’s such an amazing way for you to solidify your understanding of the frameworks that were taught in junior phase. Nobody’s site is completely done or has all the features it needs and it’s funny to watch the presentations of what people decided to sell. Fun project overall but not something you are adding to your portfolio necessarily.

The next project is a Stackathon where you build an app — anything you want, from scratch on your own or with a partner in four days. This was maybe the most difficult project for me because I chose to work alone and it really tested my understanding of the things I thought I knew. Everyone ends up with something cool, though. You get a chance to present your project to the entire class and have it recorded and put on youtube so it’s a nice add to your portfolio because it looks legit.

Somewhere during senior phase you also give a tech talk which is a 10 minute presentation on anything tech related. I gave mine on the JavaScript semicolon and it was really fun. Again, it’s recorded and bundled up for youtube very nicely so you can show it off to potential employers and friends.

You also get introduced to the Career Success team during senior phase and start having regular resume and tech interview workshops to get your ready for the job hunt.

The last project during senior phase is a Capstone. You are assigned a team consisting of four people (however, some teams got to choose their teams, which I wish I would have known about) and tasked to build out a larger application to present at Hiring Day and is really the project that is going to define what you learned and the skills you have developed at Fullstack. You get about 3.5 weeks to build it out, which sounds like plenty of time but most teams were coding down to the wire because things just take longer than you expect, you run into bugs you didn’t expect to run into, and sometimes there are weird team dynamics (i.e., a lot of teams felt like they had someone who just gave up and stopped coming or just wasn’t contributing or putting in the effort, which is so strange to me).

Anyway, at this point in time it really hit me that I finally knew and was comfortable with how to build web apps. More importantly, at this point I had learned how to learn — which is so valuable to me because it boosted my confidence beyond measure. So, it really did come full circle even though I was a stress ball during some of it. Everything worked out.

The last part of senior phase is “hiring day” which should really be considered “career-fair day”. Hiring day is essentially a day where a handful of hiring partners (aka, different companies) send representatives and recruiters to come watch your final capstone presentations (which at this point you’ve practiced to perfection). After the presentations, students are paired up for some short mock interviews for practice after which it’s more of a networking social where you can talk to different companies. A lot of students get interviews out of these, some of those get next round interviews, and some students end up getting job offers from it. It’s a great opportunity to practice interviewing and to face-time with a company that you might be interested in. Most people from my cohort ended up getting jobs outside of the hiring day event. The companies that come also vary, and it is usually around 12–16 companies (since not all of Fullstack Academy’s partners are hiring at the same time). Definitely a cool opportunity and something awesome that Fullstack offers its students above the rest.

Part 4: Flight

When the program ends the Fullstack Academy Career Success team stays in touch with you during the job hunt to help be a resource for the hunt itself and for offer negotiation help etc. I haven’t participated in the job hunt just yet (more on that below) but from what I’ve seen they really stay on top of you and make sure you are getting a good offer (no pressure to take crappy offers either). For instance, every Fullstack grad creates an Asana board and has a daily plan of who they are reaching out to, jobs they applied to, where they are in the interview process and more and the career success team has access to these and make sure you are staying busy. You pretty much have access to them as a resource until you accept an offer, which could be a few weeks, or a few months depending on the person, after graduation.

Where am I now

So, I graduated in December of 2016 and prior to graduating interviewed for the Fullstack Fellow position and accepted an offer to stay on for the next cohort. Not expected from the girl who wanted to give up, eh? Currently I am working as a teaching/engineering fellow for the next cohort and I love it. It’s a paid position in case you were wondering.

I’m surprised to see that the Fullstack instructors are continually updating the curriculum to be better. So, as a fellow I got to experience workshops or lectures that I never got as a student. Fullstack is always improving.

Knowing something is one thing, being able to teach it to somebody else requires a whole new level of understanding. I feel like I’ve learned everything over again and picked up on some new things that I missed as a student. Overall I feel like I am a better developer because of it. Plus, I love the Fullstack vibe and community. I have four weeks left and will start applying to jobs at Spotify and Google soon…

Final Thoughts

I probably didn’t cover everything I could have in this post, but I wrote what came to mind and those are the things that stick out to me about the program.

Just a heads up…about a year or so ago Fullstack was a lot smaller and the founders (David and Nimit) were a lot more involved in the instruction and with the students. I think I saw them a handful of times while I was a student.

If you’re considering doing the flex/part-time course just make sure you do your research. The reviews and feedback about the flex course are night and day compared to the full-time course quality. But, if it’s all you can do then it’s worth looking into.

In general though I can say this:

  1. I am happy with the decision I made, and feel that the investment was well worth it. Even my husband says that I learned in three months what took him years to learn on the job.
  2. The Fullstack immersive instructors and curriculum exceeded my expectations.
  3. I entered Fullstack knowing basic JavaScript (loops, strings, arrays) and I now know how to build web apps from scratch and not just the front end. I can create a server, make API routes, and have information persist to a database. I also know how to teach myself any other framework or language.
  4. I am prepared to enter the tech world with confidence and am confident that I can land a stellar job. My career path has been changed and I have more opportunities and options now.
  5. You don’t have to come from a computer science background to succeed at Fullstack Academy. It’s a tough program, but well worth the effort you put in.
  6. I love to code because it’s both creative and analytical and now my job is also my hobby.
  7. I learned how to think like a programmer.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or comment on this post and I’ll be happy to answer.

I’m also considering posting about the Fullstack Fellowship to give future fellows insight into the program.

xoxo,

Stephanie

visit my site: stephanie.manwaring.io