Tech Bootcamps

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go through a tech bootcamp? You know those two to four month programs that promised to jumpstart your career and a hot new tech field? We’re going to find out if they’re worth it: I’ll tell you about my experience at a tech bootcamp and explain why the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Link: General Assembly UXDI Bootcamp

History of Tech Bootcamps

Let’s talk about the history of bootcamps for a second. You know, they’ve been around for about eight years and they were originally created for developers to get more training and experience in a faster amount of time than it would take to get a master’s degree in let’s say, you know, computer engineering or computer science. So they originally created for developers, but today they expand to a bunch of different fields including product design, product management, and even today I’ve seen a lot now in data science and where they are now is kind of an interesting story.

They’ve been around for eight years, but some tech boot camps have come and gone in that, in that short amount of time. General Assembly is one of the well known ones, but now lots of institutions, including right here in Berkeley, California, UC Berkeley extension is now starting their own tech boot camp programs, so it’s not just private institutions anymore. Even public ones are kind of getting into the game. They’re finding that these accelerator programs can be really fruitful in filling that skills gap that exists, especially here in Silicon Valley for developers.

Why I Went to a Bootcamp

So one night my partner and I had a discussion. It was kind of this come to Jesus moment, which was, you know, she said, you need to focus on being creative. You have a creative background. You need to figure out how to get a job in tech that’s creative. And later that night I applied to tech bootcamp at General Assembly in San Francisco and I said, Hey, I’m going to do this. I’m going to see where it lands. Maybe it’ll. It’ll be a better fit for me.

The Daily Schedule

And I kind of just did it and I applied and I got in the week later, I think I started in late 2016 and November. And the daily schedule for us in, in the bootcamp was you arrive at 9:00 AM and you do learn lecture for about four hours and then you apply that in a lab later that afternoon and that’s kind of what went down for the first two to three weeks.

A lot of lecture in the morning and then application in the afternoon. But unlike most, you know, classes that kind of teach you a bunch of variety of topics, then you have a test at the end everyday would build on the previous day’s learnings. So day three of the bootcamp was already building on day two and day one. And so we basically learned the entire UX workflow and about two to three weeks.

By week three they take the training wheels off and they say, “Hey, now you’re on your own.” You’re going to do a group project and it’s going to be kind of a fake client, but you’re going to kind of go about it. Execute it. Do all the research, the learning, the design, everything, and they call those projects kind of P1 through P5. P4 is your portfolio and P5 is a real client presentation where General Assembly finds a startup client or an existing product or brand to work with and the client comes to you with what they need from a design perspective and as a team of three or four you execute on it.

And so you leave the bootcamp after three months with a real client project under your belt. So my experience afterwards was pretty much the same as my experience during the bootcamp. I was job hunting. I was applying. It was the same kind of, you know, eight hour days that would extend into 10 and 12 hour days. I was trying to eat as best I can sleep as much as I can, as much as I could.

What Happened Afterwards

I definitely did not have a social life during the bootcamp. I would not go out on the weekends. Um, and I didn’t have one after while I was job hunting. It’s a full time job to be job hunting for sure. And I went to interviews, I did whiteboard challenges and I got hired at a company called [inaudible], which does mobile phone insurance for T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.

So I was, I was pretty happy about it and I got hired as a senior designer based on my background experience in advertising. So I use the bootcamp to pivot my career from on one creative output to another. Recently, earlier this year in 2018 I went back to GA to kind of teach workshop and interview prep for students because I realized I had, is about giving back to the design community. That is something that I found really enlightening while I was in the program and needs to get passed on. So that was my whole kind of experienced both, before GA, applying, getting into the program, during the program, job hunting, getting hired and bring it full circle: giving back to the community.

What I Didn’t Learn in the Bootcamp

So let’s talk about the things I didn’t learn in the bootcamp. So the first is learning how to work with people who have different ways of working and communicating people. Some people love slack, email, some people just loved him to meet in a room and just get heads down into it and some people communicate in different ways as well. They short communication. Sometimes people want to have a long, lengthy discussion. Learning that is really important in the corporate world and something you can’t learn in the bootcamp.

Number two is that the design workflow in the industry is a lot different than the design workflow. When you’re learning it for the first time or doing it for your first client project, there’s wonderful techniques. There’s daily scrum techniques, there’s agile techniques, there’s hybrids of all of those kind of mixed up and jumbled together and learning that is something you just can’t pick up in a bootcamp.

And then the third thing is just navigating office politics. You can’t learn how to navigate those politics and those kind of social relationships unless you’re in the in the actual setting. Unless you’re in the actual setting of a of a office environment, you just can’t pick up on a bootcamp. So there’s things that you just have to learn on the job, but you can’t learn at the bootcamp. But overall for me, the bootcamp did give me a framework and a good solid footing for me to start my career in product design.

So Was It Worth It?

So the question you might have on your mind is, was it worth it? Was the bootcamp worth it and the answer generally yes it is worth it to a lot of. But your mileage may vary based on what you put into it. So I used it as a way to pivot my career from one output which was advertising to another output, which is product design and they’re both creative outputs and that’s a lot easier than someone coming from a very different professional background like finance or healthcare. So I got advice also early on which was you get out what you put in: aka, you kinda gotta work your ass off. And I worked my ass off to get out what I put in.

So if you’re thinking about a career in product design or web development or data science or product management, tech bootcamps can be a good way to jumpstart your career in a field that has the promise of higher paid salaries and a lot of career growth right now, but your experience is going to be based on the effort you put into it. So if you weren’t the person in high school who sat in the front of the class taking notes, raising your hand for every question, you might just have to become that type of person for 4 months in order to find the success that these bootcamps promise. Minimum effort is not the name of the game when it comes to tech bootcamps.