Coding Bootcamps: Obsolete? How I Made My Decision

Cue the panic of starting my thirties: How in the world am I going to change my life?

I spent my savings on a M.Ed. and a used Honda Civic. I work full time as a teacher. I live in an amazing city- Chicagoland- surrounded by successful people. Many of the parents of my students are successful start-up starters in tech that are around my age but leagues ahead of me. Living in a city of movers and shakers is both inspiring and frustrating. Rent and living expenses in this city are exorbitant, and I am surrounded by people that make me want to do better for myself. I pass this billboard every morning on my way to work that says “Do something that future you could thank you for” or something like that. I am sure it is about retirement, and suddenly I realize “Holy moly I am going to want to retire one day!”. Oh my god I have got to change my life and soon. My plan of marrying rich doesn’t seem to be panning out, and the universe seems to be sending me a lot of signs that I can do this.

So here I am, just me and google, the both of us talking about what to do with my life. Let’s look at the options to break into the tech field. I have a friend that did a distance computer science degree and she highly recommends it. She is currently employed as a software engineer and a few months shy of graduation. But it is really expensive. And hey, there are so many free resources on the web. My mom is self-taught. She lived in her c++ books through most of my adolescence. So I get online and do some tutorials. Oh my god this is going to take me forever. Also, I have a pretty demanding day job and without a plan, I will collapse and be asleep by 8:30. Also, there are just way too many resources online. You can take a course with MIT for free, you can learn java or python. You can read books or do Khan Academy. I quickly became overwhelmed with options. It is like trying to choose a movie on Netflix. Suddenly you have lost three hours to watching trailers and it is time to go to sleep. Google shows me some blogs of other people like me who benefit from a little direction. They did a coding bootcamp.

Ok google, let’s look at bootcamps. For every article that recommends a bootcamp, there is another that says they are a waste of money, not reputable or the moment has passed. Great. Another week of self-directed free online studying shows me that if I am going to actually take control of my life, I am going to have to take a risk. I don’t like risks. I am a Virgo, and every risk I take comes after an excessive amount of research, second-guessing and gazing wistfully out of the window. I continue to go to a job that I don’t feel I am really great at, which happens to run me ragged. Cue: another date with google.

Okay, Chicago is filled with some really great bootcamps. Many have discounts for women getting into tech, and a few are close to my daytime job. My top pick is one that is 10 minutes from my work. Okay, I can go to work from 7–5, then go to school from 6–10. Wait, four weekdays plus all day Saturday and homework on the other two days? I can probably do that. Wait, I have to park downtown. That is about 20$ if you are lucky in that area. Okay another hundred bucks a week factored into the cost. I really want this, but I really want to make sure I am taking care of my mental and physical health. And retaining information that I am paying so much for. Let’s look at the online programs.

Apparently a lot of the older online programs have lost some of their luster. Hiring graduates to fluff their job placement stats, and giving students an inexperienced instructor doesn’t seem like a great business practice. I come across a few online programs with great reviews. Some of them have slower paces for people that have to keep working while they study. I hope all of the folks who don’t have to do this know how lucky they are. I stumble upon a few nice looking blogs from students in “The Firehose Project”. This is not a school I had really seen much from in my original research. I do a lot more digging and discover that they do a lot more sciencey type things than the other programs do. Basically, a lot of programs teach you to be a coding monkey, but The Firehose Project teaches you to think like a computer and understand the processes behind coding, better enabling you to go with the flow of tech, instead of becoming obsolete if the current climate of coding changes. This was a major plus for me, as I know tech is constantly changing. If you can only do one thing- you are not really prepared to evolve with the industry. Also, I am not great at math and I need a little more guidance. Understanding algorithms is not something I will be able to self-study in a weekend. I am going to need it presented intentionally and thoughtfully within a curriculum.

A recurring theme in my research of “should I or shouldn’t I” was that with any bootcamp, you get what you put in. Meaning, there is no program that is going to magically make you know this stuff. If you work hard and make sure you are understanding the material presented (versus going through the motions) you will be successful. To me this meant that the worst thing I could do was get in over my head. Another bootcamp blog explained that she took the slow pace and was really grateful because it gave her time to walk away from a problem and let it sink in. This really resonated with me because I picture the students at the hardcore bootcamps being pushed along, picking up some concrete understand but not really, and being forced onto the next concept. I figured I could take the slow and steady route and get a firm foundation. If I somehow found myself with extra time, I could build something on the side. Also, you can try them out for two weeks to see if you are a good fit before you enroll.

One day into my two week trial and I learned more than I did in two weeks of self-directed study. More importantly, at the end of each lesson, there is a forum with a million questions asked by people about the lesson. These were great to look through, and the answers are from the people who lead the program. The best part- I can ask my own question, even though I haven’t signed up- and basically one of the top guys of the program will respond in like 3 minutes with a thorough answer and some words of encouragement. There are people emailing me asking how I like the program so far and if I have any questions. These people actually care that I understand the material. I am not just a number in this program. I pay my money, enroll, and two months later- these people are still patiently answering my questions. At weird hours. On weekends. I basically spent valentines day with one of the head guys because I was having a problem setting up a new app and he walked me through a long process. These guys are so dedicated. They always have a few pros keeping tabs on the question forums. They never make me feel stupid when I ask a silly questions, which has happened a lot.

Two months in, I have built my own webpage, which will serve to showcase the things I have built. Currently I am starting the hard maths alongside building my second app. My mentor is great, and I am starting to really understand this whole world of things that I thought were just magic before. I am really enjoying coding, and thinking about it when I am not doing it. Instead of dreading doing my homework after my day job- I seriously look forward to it. Time flies when I am doing it, which I think is a good sign. If I don’t fully understand a topic, I have time to stop the lesson and have a date with google or email my mentor to get a better understanding. I don’t feel rushed. In the program, they also focus on teaching you how to do your own research. I am gaining more confidence in my abilities each day, and I am getting really excited for my future.