How I Picked My Bootcamp
When COVID hit, I was working for a small talent acquisition firm as a recruiter. After the initial stress of an abrupt switch to work-from-home wore off, I felt like I was able to find another gear. I was setting personal bests week after week on the majority of performance metrics that we tracked. With two hours worth of commuting cut out of my day I was getting more sleep, spending more time with my partner, and felt happier than I had in a long while. With ironic thanks to COVID, I’d hit my stride.
Then I had my quarterly one-on-one with my boss. A few days later…I’m unemployed.
I’ll save you the post job-loss existential what-to-do-with-my-life journey that followed, and skip to the end. I decided to go down the software path for three main reasons.
- After a year of spending the majority of every day cold-calling potential job seekers, I knew that I wanted to do something more creative. Or at least something where I had something more tangible to show for my work at the end of the day than a list of calls made.
- I wanted to build a more technical skill-set. I have both a bachelors and a masters degree in theatre, and I wouldn’t trade them in for something, but it felt like building a more technical skill set would be a great next step.
- I wanted a challenge, something undeniably difficult, that I could rise to and win.
So, given that, why a bootcamp? I knew if I was going to make this transition successfully, I needed two things: structure and speed. Structure to hold me accountable, speed to get me back to working as soon as possible. A bootcamp, I reasoned, could give me both.
Additionally, I spoke with many people who’d completed bootcamp programs and found great success afterwards. I realized…if they could do it, I can do it. There was no need for me to reinvent the wheel.
The Research Process
My social media feeds were full of advertisements for Fullstack Academy and Lambda School and I had friends who graduated from Launch Academy and General Assembly, so I started there and made a spreadsheet to keep track of as much information as I could. These were my data points: the different specific programs each school had, the tech stack they used, the length of the program, the cost and financing options, and the location and online learning options. I also had a catch all column of “notes” for various differentiators, gut feelings, and the like.
Then, I expanded my search, adding Launch School, Hack Reactor, App Academy, Flatiron School, Holberton, and Tech Talent South to my spreadsheet. I spent a good deal of time looking at Course Report, and generally googling until I felt like I had a solid list of various options. Filling in the spreadsheet was mostly an exercise in intensive googling. Course Report, CIRR, twitter, and of course the school’s websites themselves were key. It was a struggle to find some of the data that I was looking for, which was a major frustration in the process. Specifically, I found it impossible to find out specific terms for Income-Share-Agreements and loans, without going through the full application process for each school. I only got answers by talking with admissions representatives at a couple schools, but I shouldn’t have had to. The industry could definitely stand to be much more transparent with this.
Creating my spreadsheet was helpful to get started and organized. It helped me to think about what exactly I was looking for in a program. But as I went on, it’s utility diminished. I found that listing out and comparing points about different programs wasn’t driving me toward any decision. I needed to narrow things down and keep moving forward.
Narrowing it Down
I did have firm views on the length of program I wanted. I knew that I wanted a longer bootcamp. It felt impossible to me that I would truly be job ready after just an eight week program. Plus, I came across this report on bootcamp job placement that showed grad salaries on average $16,000 a year higher for 16+ week programs over 8 week programs. I decided I wanted at least a 16 week program.
Due to many factors — not the least of which was COVID — I knew I wanted a fully remote program. This knocked a few schools out immediately. I also thought that it didn’t make sense to attend a program that was previously in-person, but had moved online due to COVID, when there are so many options available built from the start for online learning. This narrowed the list down further.
Cost, of course, was a huge factor. I embarked on my bootcamp search fresh on the heels of losing a pretty low-paying job, so I didn’t have a lot of savings. If I was going to do it, at the cost of most programs, I figured at the start that I needed a favorable loan or income-share-agreement. But, the more I looked into those, the less appealing they were. An ISA would likely cost me at least 3 times the upfront cost, and the loan terms had gargantuan interest, and felt too risky given the uncertainty in the job market with COVID.
Moving Beyond the Spreadsheet
While the spreadsheet didn’t drive me to a decision, it did help me think about what I wanted, and narrow down the field to a few top contenders. Once I’d done that, the process became much more qualitative than quantitative.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my best friend Jessica who graduated from a bootcamp nearly three years ago. I leaned on her a ton throughout my research.
Sidebar: she recently wrote a great article on being the first female engineer at her company). She was a sturdy sounding board for ideas, questions, fears, the lot of it. Find yourself a Jess.
I also dug into reviews and testimonials from former students for all the programs I was considering. I found a few podcast interviews with bootcamp grads that I listened to as well.
Then, I began to reach out to other alums of bootcamps — both of bootcamps generally, and of the programs I was considering to get their takes. A few people I knew had experienced bootcamps, and provided great perspective.
But the real magic happened when I decided to DM strangers on Twitter. Seriously.
For example, after I listened to an interview with Caitlyn Greffly (@thecaitcode), I sent her a DM asking to pick her brain about the program she attended at Thinkful. She responded to my laundry list of questions with extensive answers that were extremely helpful to me in making a decision on attending bootcamp, and thoughtful advice that I’m sure will be invaluable as I get into it. So seriously, take a deep breath, and cold DM some folks who could help you. It really does go down in the DMs.
My experience with Thinkful’s prep course was fantastic. They assigned me a personal mentor like I would have in the real course, and their admissions team was super responsive. It felt like a genuine sample of what their program would be like, not marketing or sales tactics.
After a couple weeks of meeting with my mentor, continuing with Thinkful’s prep materials, and talking with their admissions team, I decided to enroll in their full time Engineering Immersion program. Thinkful won out with three factors.
- Cost. When I decided to move away from an ISA, they offered me a discount with the other payment options of $6000. On the contract, it was coded as an “Early Enrollment” discount. This put the price in reach enough that I was able to work out an informal “ISA” with my family to pay for the course month-to-month.
- One-on-One Mentors. This is one of the things that I think differentiates Thinkful, and it attracted me from the get-go. Being able to work with a mentor through the prep course without enrolling was phenomenal, and convinced me that having a dedicated one-on-one person to help me through would be invaluable. Shout-out to my prep-course mentor Walter. Give him a raise, Thinkful.
- Length and Timing. A 5 month program felt like the perfect bootcamp length for me. Plus the timing of Thinkful’s cohorts allowed me a little over a full month to prepare, then I could hit the ground running.
If I Could Do it Over…
The biggest “mistake” I’d say I made in searching for a bootcamp was rushing through the process. I was on the right track with my original plan to go through multiple prep-courses to see what seemed to fit best, but I got impatient and made myself feel like my back was against the wall. I ended up in the right spot, but that was a little lucky. I could’ve taken that luck out of the equation by giving myself a little more time and being a little bit more thorough.
With all that said, I’m excited to get started. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone preparing for the past month, and I feel I’m set up for success.
I’ll be writing about my experience throughout bootcamp, so keep your eyes open for more.
6 TIPS FOR PICKING A BOOTCAMP
1.) Do your research, but don’t get bogged down in it. You won’t find every detail you want by looking online anyway.
2.) Talk to people, Talk to people, Talk to people. Talk to your friends who have done bootcamps, especially ones you’re considering. Read reviews, listen to podcasts. And I’m serious, DM strangers on Twitter.
3.) Explore multiple options. You have time! While it’s turned out fine so far, the one mistake I made was rushing through the process. Once you decide to seriously consider a bootcamp, give yourself a few months to research and explore the prep materials for multiple of your top contenders.
4.) Pick a longer bootcamp. The data is staggering. Your salary will be higher by more than 1 bootcamp tuition check if you opt for a 16 week + program versus an 8 week one.
5.) Ask for a discount. The worst you get is a no 😉.
6.) Go with your gut. It’s a big move, and an expensive one. But if you’ve gone this far, you’re probably on the right track. Sleep on it, and pull the trigger on what feels right. Remember, you don’t need to check off all the boxes. At a certain point, you need to take a leap of faith and see where you land.