My Bootcamp Application Process
This is a long one…. TLDR: skip to the summary at the bottom.
About a month ago, I decided to start applying to bootcamps. Until that point, I had been chugging along on Free Code Camp, hoping to complete their program by the end of this year and start applying for jobs. The problem was, as I wrote in an earlier post Why I Decided to go to Bootcamp, that I felt like I was missing things, and that FCC wasn’t providing me as solid a foundation as I would like.
So I started researching, and ultimately decided to apply to 6 camps: Dev Bootcamp, Coding House, Coding Dojo, App Academy, Hack Reactor and Maker Square.
Yesterday, I was accepted to Maker Square in San Francisco! I start in September and will finish early December.
I plan to blog as regularly as I can about my experience while I’m there. I wanted to start out with a post about my application experience with each camp, and why I ultimately chose Maker Square. Hopefully, if you’re in the position I was in a month ago, this post will help you navigate the wealth of information on camps out there.
Dev Bootcamp touts themselves as “the original code bootcamp.” They were one of the first camps, established in San Francisco in 2012. They now have campuses in Seattle, Chicago and New York. In 2014 they were acquired by the for-profit education company Kaplan, Inc.
Tuition: $12,000 -$14,000 depending on the city.
Length: 19 weeks
Success Rate: 90% *
Avg Salary: $80K *
* Dev Bootcamp has actually stopped posting their stats online since I applied — these numbers are a couple of months old at the time of this post. They’ve since replaced them with more general statements about salary differences between cities, and they no longer post a graduate hiring percentage on their website. This is probably in response to a recent outcry that there is no standardized metric in place for evaluating bootcamp success (which is something I kept in mind during this process.) Flatiron school is, I think, the only school to date to attempt to come up with a meaningful standard to measure their outcomes. Still, I do believe Dev Bootcamp likely graduates many successful candidates.
You are expected to follow a few tutorials on their website to prepare, and then do a technical Skype interview. The interview is done in Ruby. All the material is very accessible and fun — cute animated videos narrated by an upbeat woman. The final video is a TED Talk — you are expected to watch it and be prepared to discuss it with your interviewer. (The talk is cool and I recommend checking it out either way.) The interview itself was not hard. I was expected to know some pretty basic stuff. I don’t think I even wrote a “for” loop. They also asked me questions about why I wanted to learn to code and what I hoped to achieve after the program.
I was accepted. This was the first camp I applied to, so it was super encouraging to be accepted, although the camp was not my top choice. I ultimately decided not to go there because of 3 reasons:
- There is a 9 week online self-study period before you actually get on campus. I’ve already been studying by myself for the past couple of months, and my main reason for going to a camp is to get into a classroom and be around peers. I’m not interested in spending another two months in my room alone…
- The technical interview, once I compared it to later interviews, was not particularly challenging (more on this later.)
Coding House combines the bootcamp model with a hacker house. Students live in the house and attend classes during the day. The idea is that being around your colleagues all the time motivates you, and that you can easily get help 24 hours a day.
Something about this place was fishy to me from the start. I couldn’t put my finger on what, exactly, but it seemed off. Then, I read a bunch of stuff on Reddit about a grad from the first cohort who had posted a really scathing review of the place. That’s fine — I’m not swayed by one bad review: everyone has a different experience, and I’m fairly sure this one guy was probably just a moron who didn’t put in enough work and then blamed the camp for his own shortcomings. The part that nagged at me was that the actual review he wrote has been deleted everywhere and is basically impossible to find. Who deleted it? I don’t know, but it’s fishy.
I also read a few other reviews saying that living in the house was actually really distracting and made learning difficult. Again, I’m sure this depends on who you are.
Tuition: $0 — pay when you’re hired
Length: 14 weeks
Success Rate: 95%
Avg Salary: $84K
They have an extensive prep course, consisting of coding challenges that you have to complete in order to “unlock” the next step of the process (i.e. complete 10 challenges to schedule an initial interview, complete 10 more to schedule the technical interview.) Many of the challenges actually direct you to Free Code Camp to study their material if you need help. You can also direct message Nick or AJ — the two guys in charge — for help, and they are generally quick to respond.
Both interviews were done over the phone. I spoke to Nick both times. First, to chat about my experience and goals, and the next time to do the “technical” interview. Because it wasn’t done over Skype, there was no actual coding challenge. The interview consisted of him asking me questions to check my understanding about various topics. It was fairly casual and he offered some suggestions on the things I wasn’t totally clear about.
- Bad reviews. I know that a bad review doesn’t necessarily mean the school is bad. Some students are just not cut out for it, and some people just can’t accept responsibility for their own shortcomings. However, why risk it? When you’re investing this much time/money, it’s just not worth it when there are other schools out there that people literally gush about *coughmakersquarecough*
- Living situation. I realized that I would essentially be living in a hostel for 3 months, and I didn’t think I could handle it and be focused in that environment. I’m pretty sensitive to noise and a very light sleeper, so I just didn’t see it working for me.
- Technical interview. Something about doing an interview over the phone just seems like a cop-out. It seemed too easy. I need to know that the course is going to challenge me, and that they are going to weed out the people that don’t cut it.
This was the first bootcamp I heard about, and for a long time it was my top choice. It’s one of (surprisingly) few camps in the San Jose area, and it’s the cheapest of the bunch — especially if you’re a woman, veteran, or identify with a minority group: they have massive scholarships for these groups.
Their selling point is that they teach 3 full stacks, rather than focusing on just one language, as other schools do. You choose between LAMP, MEAN, iOS, Python and Ruby, and spend a month on each stack.
Tuition: $14,000 (minus up to $2500 in scholarships if you qualify)
Length: 14 weeks
Success Rate: not listed
Avg Salary: not listed
Coding Dojo’s site has an “algorithm platform” designed to take students through basic programming fundamentals before they apply. This was actually my very first exposure to code, wayyyy back in February of this year and I have to say, it was invaluable. The platform is great, easy to use and understand, thorough and very informative. You don’t have to apply to be able to use it, so I encourage newbies to get on there and start studying regardless of your intention to attend a camp.
Their actual interview process was the easiest of all of them — no technical interview. I had only one phone interview with an admissions person, and they didn’t ask me a single question about programming. Their program really seems geared towards “everyone can learn,” and they accept basically everyone. They don’t kick anyone out for falling behind, and the whole thing is very inclusive. That’s great, and I’m sure it works for some people, but if I was looking for that kind of environment, I would go and teach preschool.
I went to an info session, and it seems that many of the teachers there are recent graduates themselves. I’m not looking to learn something as tough as programming from someone who has barely learned it themselves. In addition, I realized that most of their content is delivered in video format. If that’s the case, then what is the point in going to campus? I can sit at home by myself and save ten grand for that.
Needless to say, I was accepted and declined. In addition to the reasons listed above, I really don’t think it’s possible to teach 3 full stacks in 3 months. If other schools teach a single language in 3 months, I don’t see how Coding Dojo can claim to teach 3 in the same amount of time. Sure, you might get an overview, but as far as in-depth knowledge that will actually get you hired? I don’t think so.
Hack Reactor is, as far as I can tell, one of the top bootcamps in the country. Their only campus is in San Francisco, but they recently bought Maker Square — who have campuses in 3 states. They are also one of the most expensive bootcamps in the country — with tuition around $20,000 at the time of this writing. Because of that, it was not my top choice school.
Length: 12 weeks
Success Rate: 98% *
Avg Salary: 104K *
The technical interview itself was brutal. Essentially, they blind-sided me with something I had never seen before. The guy interviewing me said I wasn’t expected to be familiar with the concept, but that didn’t make it any easier. I struggled for the entire 45 minutes to complete one problem. Needless to say, I failed the interview.
Surprisingly, the next day, I received an email saying I had been conditionally accepted (!!) I was floored. I was convinced I would receive a flat-out “no.” They said I was a promising candidate and offered me free mentoring with one of their coaches (two group sessions and one individual session) for the next three weeks, which would be accompanied by extensive homework. After that, I could redo the interview. I was under no obligation to redo the interview or go to the school after I completed the coaching — I was free to use it as a way to bolster my knowledge and prepare for other bootcamps. I’m not going to lie, that’s pretty amazing. It made me feel like they truly are trying to find the best candidates and give those candidates the best opportunities to succeed — they’re not just out for the money.
The rigor of the interview combined with this unexpected little bonus (I signed up for the coaching and my first session is on Monday) really solidified Hack Reactor’s credibility for me. Though I won’t be attending (mostly because of the cost), I’m encouraged to know that my instincts about the school were correct, and I’d be happy to be associated with their brand in any way. Which brings me to my final review…..
Maker Square was founded in Austin and now has campuses in San Francisco, LA and New York. They were bought by Hack Reactor in early 2015, so the curriculum is extremely close to Hack Reactor’s (their websites are also very similar.) A lot of my enthusiasm for Maker Square comes from knowing that they are affiliated with Hack Reactor — and also because they had made a good name for themselves before the acquisition.
A lot of my enthusiasm for Maker Square also comes because it was one of the only schools I got feedback about from a real human. My mom works in tech, so early in this process I reached out to her, and asked if she could float the names of the camps I was considering to some colleagues to get their reactions. She did one better (like she always does because my mom’s the best) and emailed the Women in Tech meetup group at her company. I got responses from 3 women, and ALL of them talked about either Maker Square or Hack Reactor. I got in touch with one of them — a former high school music teacher (!) who now works for Maps Eval at Apple. She said she was hired less than a month after finishing the program, and answered all my many questions about Maker Square. She raved about the program. And she was incredibly helpful and generous throughout my entire application process, staying in touch and offering me support and feedback. I have never met this woman, but she was psyched for me when I emailed to tell her I had been accepted. So awesome!
Length: 13 weeks (plus 1 month prep work)
Success Rate: 96%
Avg Salary: $106K
The process was very similar to the work I did to prepare for Hack Reactor. The resources they suggested were exactly the same. The only difference was that when it came time to interview, they actually asked me questions about what I had studied. I’m not mad about my interview with Hack Reactor — I’m actually really glad I got the shit kicked out of me — but I gotta say, working your ass off to prepare for something and then nailing it feels pretty good. It gave me a really positive feeling about the school.
On top of that, the person who did my interview was a woman. In fact, everyone I’ve interacted with about Maker Square so far (except the admissions director) has been a woman. Does the school appeal more to women? I don’t know why it would, but I will say that having so much positive feedback and support from women made me really excited about the program. The gender gap is closing (slowly) and it seems like Maker Square gets it.
I’m going in September! Eeeeeeeeee!
If you’re interested in hearing more about Maker Square, follow this blog for regular (I hope) updates as I make my way through the program.
The decision to go to a bootcamp is one that only you can make, and deciding where to go can be even harder than deciding to go. Throughout this process, I’ve come up with a few rules (tips/insights/wisdoms/what-have-yous) that I think could be helpful to a prospective camper, and I’d like to summarize this post by sharing those with you now:
- Don’t just go for the cheapest option.
- This is an investment in your future. As painful as it is to part with large chunks of money, it will be far more worth it in the long-run than saving a few thousand bucks now, only to come out the other side with a sub-par education.
- Challenge yourself
- Computer programming is SUPER HARD. You can’t expect to actually succeed in this field without a lot of sweat. So the program you choose should be hard too. Thus, the technical interview should be hard. If you breeze through it (or they don’t even give you one) how can you be confident that their program will be rigorous enough to get you to where you need to be?
- Less is more
- Three stacks is too much. Better to learn how to do one thing well than do a bunch of things half-ass.
- Stats are important, but not everything
- I’m not gonna lie: Maker Square’s promised $106K average salary looks sooooo good. But I’m not going into this expecting that to be my outcome. Lots of things warp those numbers, and I’m not naive enough to believe that they are entirely accurate (or truthful.) But, at the end of the day, I’d rather be at the low-end of a maybe $106K average than a maybe $80K average.
- Go with your gut
- If you’ve put in the time and done your research, and you’re stoked about a school, chances are you’re making the right choice.