Reflections on 2017 —LaunchSchool vs Coding Bootcamps

One of my goals for the upcoming year is to write more so as I’m lying in bed on this beautiful white Christmas Day, I’m thinking ‘why not start now?’

Some 365 days ago in a land far far away…

2017 has been a very eventful year. Exactly 365 days ago, I was travelling throughout Japan and Thailand while working through LaunchSchool at a snail-like pace. I wanted to learn the basics of web development during my off-time and LS seemed like a pretty solid program to help me achieve that. However, I knew of and have spoken to people who have gone through a coding bootcamp and my plan was to do the same. In other words, I saw LS as a platform to learn some basics but my plan was to attend a coding bootcamp when I returned home from my travels.

After doing some Googling, reading Quora answers, and lurking Reddit, I decided to jump into “201: HTML & CSS” as my first LS course since everyone said that HTML and CSS are simple to learn and it made sense to me to pick the low hanging fruit first. Fast forward a couple months and it was time for my first interview with LS. I was confident. I have a degree in electrical engineering. There’s no way I can be stumped by HTML/CSS questions. Right? After many long and drawn out “ummm” and “hmmm”s, Kevin (my interviewer), told me I needed to study more and re-schedule my interview. All my confidence went straight out the window. HTML and CSS are supposedly the easiest topics of web dev and I thought I had a pretty good grasp on them but I still failed. It was a really bad feeling but at the same time, it was a wake up call to start taking LS way more seriously.

I ended up getting through the interview on my next try and Kevin nudged me to go back and start from the very first course on LS’s learning platform: “101: Programming Foundations”. This was a course I originally had no intention of taking. Why bother learning Ruby? Plus, I’ve already taken programming courses in university so I already knew how to program. Right? Wrong again. Going through 101 made me appreciate the process LS has laid out in teaching the fundamentals of coding. Topics like “variables as pointers”, “working with nested collections”, etc. were luxuries I didn’t have a chance to study in detail when I was a university student. And because of my lack of understanding, I found myself unable to trace the output of more complex code snippets.

Fast forward a few more months and I was finally home from my Asia trip. I was also ready to buckle down and dedicate myself to coding full time. I learned from my mistake of taking LS assessments lightly and made sure I felt over-prepared going into the 101 assessment. After passing it, I felt ready to tackle bootcamp admissions. My reasons for still wanting to attend a bootcamp were:

  1. Coding bootcamps are only 3 months long compared to the X amount of time it would take to complete LS. This meant getting a job sooner.
  2. LS is an online program which means it was lonely pushing through the material alone. Being surrounded with people would motivate me more and help with networking.

So with the knowledge of LS’s 101 course, I began applying to the 3 most prominent coding bootcamps in the US at the time: App Academy (SF), Hack Reactor (SF), and Fullstack Academy (NY).

Bootcamp Admission Process

I want to keep this post about LS but I also feel it’s necessary for me to explain the bootcamps’ admissions process to give a concise explanation of my final decision. So without going into too much detail, here’s a quick recap of what went down with each coding school and the final result.

  • Fullstack Academy: coding challenge with a difficulty on par with the Medium LS exercises and a live interview slightly easier than the 101 interview. Accepted
  • Hack Reactor: at the time of my application (Summer 2017), Hack Reactor only accepted their coding challenge to be done in JavaScript which I did not know at the time. I was unable to proceed.
  • App Academy: very easy coding challenge followed by a live technical interview similar to that of FullStack Academy’s followed by another behavioural interview. Accepted

With an acceptance to App Academy in San Francisco (the most selective bootcamp and also my first choice), I was ecstatic. I had several months to go before my cohort started so I continued my studies at LS. Fast forward another couple months and I had made it through a few more Ruby back-end courses. It was also time to find a place to live in San Francisco and book my plane ticket.

Deliberation

By now, I had spent a good 600–700 hours on LS which also included a sh*t ton of time spent on other platforms like CodeWars and CodeFights in preparation for my LS assessments. I had learned so so much already. I began having doubts about bootcamps and these questions constantly popped into my head:

  1. If the very first course at Launch School was enough to get me into the top bootcamps in the US, why leave?
  2. Bootcamps are extremely fast paced. The only reason why I’m getting good at code is because of these hundreds of hours spent on the nitty gritty details and being stuck on coding challenges for hours at a time. How do bootcamps get around this?
  3. Cost. 18k in tuition + living expenses in San Francisco. Worth it?

The stress of going back and forth on my decision really hit me and I reached out to Chris Lee, one of the founders and instructors at Launch School. After 2 lengthy talks (thanks Chris!) I made my decision.

The Final Decision

Surprise surprise, I decided to stick it out with Launch School and these were my reasons:

  • There is absolutely no way around putting in the time. Coding bootcamps advertise 10–12 hour days and I’m usually burnt out after 5–6 hours of effective learning (big difference between coding and learning but that’s for another time). Is it realistic for me to put in 10–12 effective hours a day for 12 weeks straight? My undergrad degree was pretty intense and I discovered a lot about myself going through it. The answer is no for me.
  • Even having only completed 1/3 of the courses at Launch School, the bootcamp curriculum began looking mostly like review. This was something Chris had pointed out and I didn’t even think about. I was so ready to jump into the bootcamp that I didn’t notice the majority of the topics covered by bootcamps are overlapped with those at LS.
  • This is more of a mental and personal reason but I believed that if coding is something I saw myself doing for the rest of my life, I shouldn’t need a bootcamp to become a software engineer. Yes, the Launch School journey is long and solitary, but completing it means not only do I have the discipline, but that coding is definitely for me.

And with that, I rejected my bootcamp offers, opened up the Launch School tab in Chrome, and most likely got stuck on some coding problem.

Now

I’m only 2 courses away from completing the core LS curriculum and I’m extremely grateful to Chris, Kevin, and the Launch School staff for doing what they do. Looking back, it’s actually kind of weird to me what a difference an online program made to my life. And this is before even applying to the Capstone program that LS offers which is actually supposed to transform your life. Definitely have my eyes set on that as I’m now a believer in the Launch School process. Looking forward to seeing what 2018 has to offer and how different my life will be this time around 365 days later.

Wish you all a merry Christmas and happy New Year!