Bootcamp Mastery: Why Did I Choose Fullstack Academy in NYC?

I recently finished a coding intensive at Fullstack Academy in NYC. These articles are part of a series about how to get the most out of an immersive bootcamp experience.

After spending a few months coding on my own, I wanted to head to a bootcamp so I could polish up my skills. After all, a solid bootcamp is a great finishing school for the aspiring programmer.

Why Fullstack?

I spent months agonizing over where to go. I think I read just about every bootcamp review on the internet. Bootcamps are not cheap. The market is still new, so there’s definitely some fly-by-night scam operations out there.

I even had one bootcamp (who shall remain nameless) call my cell and use high-pressure telemarketing-style sales tactics to get me to commit.

“I thought you were serious about programming, Zachary!” the rep said when I told her I had decided not to write her a check!

Fullstack did none of these things and had a simple, clear value proposition that did not set off my B.S. detector. Fullstack also has transparent outcomes as a member of CIRR.

I was impressed by the pedigree of Fullstack’s founders (both having sold companies and worked as ex-Yahoo! engineers). It’s also backed by Y-Combinator, which gives me some confidence that the founders know what they’re doing.

Finally, I found several alumni on LinkedIn and asked if I could call them on the phone to ask about the program. Some said ‘yes’, so I called them.

Each was enthusiastic about their time in the program. They were also all working as web developers, and not just in the New York City area.

Most of all, I never felt that I was promised the moon in the marketing. I was told that I would get significantly better at Javascript and the NERDs stack in particular. And that I be eligible for decent entry-to-mid level engineering jobs afterwards.

How does Fullstack Academy work?

Fullstack is divided into three phases. The first is a chunk of pre-work done remotely. This gets everyone on the same page with Javascript. It’s like a 101 refresher and, if you’re good enough to have been admitted, you’ll find it easy.

Phase two is a 6-week junior phase. This phase is an intense whirlwind of new information. Fullstack throws you in the deep end. You spend every day working through a variety of workshops that take you through Fullstack’s favored tech stack: Node, Express, React/Redux, and databasing with Sequelize/Postgres.

Most of the workshops use test-driven development. This means that you’re presented with a set of specifications in the form of automated tests. These tests suggest functionality for your program. You must write the code that makes those tests pass. This is easier said than done!

The great thing about this phase is that you’ll absorb a huge amount of information as you build functional, toy applications. Workshops are supplemented by lectures and great Q&As from the instructors.

You’ll take two tests during junior phase. Here’s how to ace them.

The third and final phase is senior phase. During senior phase you’re given much greater autonomy.

First, you’ll build a full featured e-commerce website from scratch with three teammates. Second, you’ll build a solo project during a 4-day hackathon. And third, you’ll work with three teammates to build an ambitious capstone project that applies an unfamiliar technology. I built mine using Mozilla’s brand new Aframe VR framework.

Everything culminates in a series of workshops for career preparation and a hiring day, where companies arrive to interview candidates.

It is Seriously Intense

When people call bootcamps ‘intensive’ or ‘immersive’, they are not joking. Do not plan on having any life outside of Fullstack while you’re attending.

You’ll be working intensively at least 9 hours a day, and usually more. To get the most value from the experience, you should plan on working before or after-hours.

To show you how not-kidding the ‘intensive’ aspect of bootcamps are, here’s a readout from one of my weeks at Fullstack:

RescueTime logs what you’re doing on your computer the whole time it’s on. In that week we spent 15 hours just in the text editor. This doesn’t include the lectures, pair programming when someone else was writing in their text editor, reading docs, watching review videos, doing flashcards, and whatever else.

The People are Sharp

Cofounders David and Nimit are both extremely intelligent. Overall, I was impressed with the pedigree and skill of the staff at Fullstack.

People really knew their stuff and several of them (shout out to instructors Omri and John) were wizards with Javascript.

Some people complain that bootcamps use recent grads and the quality of instruction suffers. I never got this impression at Fullstack. The recent grads that did work in the program (as ‘Fullstack Fellows’) were smart and helpful. But they were never our primary teachers.

I’ve written about the importance of peers in any learning environment, especially a coding bootcamp. I was extremely satisfied with the friends and connections I made in Fullstack. It was a very smart, ambitious, and diverse group who I am glad to now have as friends.

It’s Insanely Fun

I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun doing something so difficult. The difficulty seems to be part of the fun, really. The joy of shared struggle draws you together with your friends in mutual understanding and support.

If you are a geek, Fullstack is like the summer camp you always wish you had gone to as a kid.

You’ll Get Out What You Put In

I’m extremely satisfied with my experience at Fullstack. I became a significantly better developer in my time. There’s no better and more liberating feeling than to feel like I can build professional-looking projects from scratch, alone.

But you get out what you put in. A bootcamp is not a silver bullet. If you are considering Fullstack, take your commitment seriously. Do the work. Focus hard. Go the extra mile. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll grow in three months.