Don’t Keep Away from Coding Bootcamps

A (gainfully-employed) bootcamp grad’s response to Sarah McBride’s Bloomberg article on coding schools’ job outcomes.

A peek at Flatiron School’s NYC campus, where I learned to code.

I read the article by Sarah McBride entitled “Want a Job in Silicon Valley? Keep Away From Coding Schools”, and found myself utterly shocked at the myopia displayed within. It takes a sort of determination to write such a powerfully one-sided piece, and I wouldn’t feel right without responding. Unfortunately, articles don’t allow for comments, nor is Sarah’s email address on any of her pieces, so this is my recourse.

My personal experience with a coding bootcamp is the polar opposite of what was described, as is the experience of almost every single person I personally know who attended one. I graduated from Flatiron School in NYC about six months ago. It was an incredibly challenging course, and probably the best educational experience of my life. Perhaps because I’m in a different place in my own development and ability to be a student, but I succeeded in the experience far more than most of my courses in college.

After three month of enormously involved coursework, I graduated, and immediately began interviewing with numerous companies with whom Flatiron School had relationships. Let me say this right now: the ability of any coding bootcamp’s Business Development (i.e. reaching out to prospective employers) department is at least as important as the rigor of their curriculum. As a bootcamp grad, you are an unknown quantity to most. It’s their job to help you get your foot in the door, and to go on as many interviews as possible.

I graduated at the end of June, was hired at startup incubator 1776 about two months in, and have been working there ever since. Flatiron School publishes a CPA-audited accounting of their graduates hiring rates (found here for 2015), salaries etc., and the average graduate is hired at $74k annually. My friends from my cohort were hired at full-time salaries ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-90s. Though our primary study was Ruby on Rails and JavaScript, we’re working in languages from PHP to Python to C and C#. Out of a class of ~30 students, I personally know of two or three who are still seeking employment. Through no fault of their own I might add; that’s just how the statistics shake out. But a hiring rate like that speaks for itself.

My fellow classmates came from all backgrounds. We had artists, we had musicians. We had real estate salespeople and customer support drones (myself included). We had investment bankers and people from other high-pressure industries. We had a C-suite-level former employee of a major new media company, wanting to learn to better communicate with the engineers under her (she had no prior programming experience, and came out as one of the best of us, I might add.) I was one of perhaps two or three who had any formal CS background in the past, yet when we graduated, we were competent programmers, one and all.

The article written by Sarah may be the case for some schools, and some students, but it is far from the case for all. I can affirm that to be the case for, at the least, App Academy and Dev Bootcamp, which are both extremely effective schools and whom I am personally friends with happy graduates from. Recurse Center, which charges zero tuition, has alumni at companies like Twitter and Google, and has received Google funding in the past. One of my co-workers graduated from General Assembly out of DC about two years ago, and he’s an incredibly talented developer, one of the sharpest I know.

When you graduate from a reputable coding bootcamp, you are well-placed to become a junior developer. You will, in your first few months on the job, be overwhelmed with new approaches, new techniques and new data, but you adapt. That’s what the bootcamp gives you: the ability to rapidly appropriate technical skills.

Sarah’s article, one-sided as it was, felt to me like a hit piece. I’m not sure if her bias was intentional, or simply a case of focusing so closely on one side of the story that you’re not even aware there’s another opposing side. I do not doubt that there are many graduates of coding bootcamps who struggle to find job placement, and whose schools have essentially abandoned them. However, my experience was like night and day from that description. Regardless, had I come across this article while I was considering joining a coding bootcamp those six months ago, it would have given me very serious pause, and the thought that her article might dissuade others from doing their own research, finding a great school, and taking the plunge, viscerally pains me.