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Do Bootcamps Work? (Changing careers during a pandemic)

gedalyakrycer profile image Gedalya Krycer ・19 min read

TL;DR:

Spoiler... I do believe that Bootcamps work. However, success is dependent on multiple factors and I'll touch on those here.

Introduction

This post is an in-depth timeline that covers why I opted to change careers from a stable job and the decision to attend a Bootcamp during the coronavirus.

I share my journey to shed some light on...

  • Some of my motivations to enter development (impostor syndrome is real!)
  • Alternative education resources I tried first
  • My experience in the Bootcamp
  • Almost quitting the Bootcamp and why I didn't
  • The outcome to date after Bootcamp

This was not a quick decision, nor a straight path.

Doing a self-imposed career change was an incredibly scary and unsettling proposition for me. I struggled throughout my career with not feel confident enough or worthy of ever finding something new.

I am still very close with many of my old teammates, bosses, and clients. I felt guilty at times for not being satisfied with my job and wanting to leave.

Why I really wrote this...

Yes, this is to share my experience doing a coding Bootcamp, but also offer some encouragement. If you feel stuck in your current career field and scared to do something else... you're not alone.

I totally get that feeling.

This story is a testimony of that. It is also a testimony that going after what makes you fulfilled is possible and 100% worth the effort.


Career Change Timeline:

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| • 2014: "The future is code" ⬇️

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| • 2015: Web Design !== Development ⬇️

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| • 2017: Trying with Codecademy ⬇️

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| • 2018: Fighting Impostor Syndrome ⬇️

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| • 2019: Trying with TreeHouse ⬇️

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| • 2020: Trying with a Bootcamp ⬇️

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| • 2021: Starting Something New ⬇️

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| 🌄


2014: "The future is code"

Around this time I was almost through my bachelor's degree in Graphic Design. It was the first time in my life I was doing well in academics and felt like I had some purpose.

One of my professors advised me to learn HTML/CSS.

"The future is code," he said. "Being able to design and code for digital experiences will give you a lot of opportunities."

"Yea, that is not going to happen," I thought.

I got into the design field to get away from strings of nonsensical characters that make up things like algebra, trigonometry and you know...code.

Back to timeline ⬆️


2015: Web Design !== Development

The Monday after graduation I got hired as a Junior Graphic Designer by the design agency I was interning at. While many tasks were print or branding-based — surprise surprise — there were web design projects as well.

(Should have listened to that professor.)

Trial By Fire

My first major web project was to help redesign a large-scale medical analytics website and I was utterly lost. Heck, I didn't even know how wide to make the artboard.

Thank God for some very patient senior designers on our team who gave me many, many notes.

I worked, researched, and reworked the designs late into the night for weeks. Every morning I thought I would surely be fired when my submission was reviewed. It felt awful.

Thankfully I made it through that project and today am very grateful for the lessons it afforded.

Throwing Designs "Over The Wall" to Development

How the designs were getting built was something I couldn't even begin to fathom. As far as I was concerned code was "that thing our team's programmer handled". It was completely separate from what I needed to be aware of at that time.

This honestly wasn't arrogance, but rather fear. Even after this project I was still just trying to "fake it until I made it".

  • I felt overwhelmed with the sheer amount of web design knowledge out there that was essential to learn.

  • I was worried that at any moment I would be "caught" at work for being as incompetent as I believed I was.

Back to timeline ⬆️


2017: Trying with Codecademy

After countless courses and practice on the weekends, I eventually began to improve and even started to like designing for the web. I became intrigued by the psychology around user experience and creating clean hierarchies of information.

Getting Exposed To The Possibilities Of Code

I got promoted to a Graphic Design Lead and began owning stand-alone web projects.

One, in particular, was a 70+ page STEM academic portal that I built from the ground up with a powerful WYSIWYG called Ion. (Similar to Webflow.)

While it didn't require actual coding, its tools were built around Bootstrap and JavaScript principles. It made me realize that understanding code was actually incredibly important for creating usable designs.

Time To Learn Code

After some research, one of my co-workers and I decided to do "The Codecademy Pro Intensive" 10-week course together.

It was exciting to learn new topics like CSS and how to make an HTML table. We had many "aha" moments.

Pro's

  • The curriculum was divvied-up into digestible modules
  • It was great to code right in the built-in browser editor
  • It was only $200 for the whole 10-week course

Con's

  • I found it a bit difficult to learn new concepts via reading vs a video
  • 10 Weeks was too short of a timeframe to get beyond the very basics of HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript.

After completing the course I became pretty comfortable with using Chrome DevTools and talking with our dev team about HTML/CSS.

However, I was really lost when it came to JavaScript and felt pretty intimidated by many of the advanced concepts introduced. I didn't practice coding after the course and quickly forgot a lot of it.

Back to timeline ⬆️


2018: Fighting Impostor Syndrome

After some "career soul searching" at a different company I was kindly accepted back at my original job and became a Sr. Web Designer.

By this point, I really had grown to love the process of web design and the nitty-gritty details that goes into creating a truly helpful browsing experience.

However, just like in 2015 I felt completely out of my depth and a fake. This time I had no problem suggesting design solutions, but also had no idea how to technically implement them.

This role was also in large part managing accounts and meeting with our clients as their "defacto design/dev" department.

Now more than ever they looked to me as the "tech expert" as our actual dev team spoke a different language and rarely joined client-facing meetings.

Many of our clients would even refer to me as "their developer" when introducing me to other project stakeholders...but this I was not.

I would get questions like...

  • "How long will this take to build?"
  • "Can we add this filtering system to XYZ?"
  • "It seems like an easy addition to code XYZ, do you think it is an easy addition?"
  • "A third-party consultant said our site should be built with XYZ, but is built with ABC...why is that?"

It felt like at times my clients knew more about web development than I did and I was the supposed "expert"!

I found myself constantly saying things like "Let me check with our developer team on that..." or "I am pretty sure that is doable, but let me double-check that..."

It felt like I was not actually adding real value and instead just a go-between for the clients and the real experts.

In short, I felt incapable.

Back to timeline ⬆️


2019: Trying with TreeHouse

Feeling incapable did not sit well with me and the projects were only getting more technically complex.

This time I decided to try the Team TreeHouse Front-End Development Techdegree program. It was self-paced with an average of 3-9 month completion timeline.

Pro's

  • Courses went much more in-depth then Codecademy
  • Videos were used instead of just articles which I loved
  • Everything was pretty much self-contained in their portal, but I also could do projects in my own IDE.

Con's

  • More expensive the longer I spent on it
  • While there was a Slack channel, I didn't feel connected to anyone since we were all going at different paces
  • The self-paced format did not provide enough accountability to stay motivated.

I ended up quitting the program halfway through. I was learning a lot and got "Exceeded Expectations" on every submitted project. But it still felt like too big of a hill to climb.

After an 11-13 hour workday, I did not want to look at the screen anymore. Eventually, even on 7-8 hour workdays, I made excuses to not code.

I felt guilty wasting $200/month so eventually, I put the course on an indefinite "pause".

The course was great, but I was simply not motivated enough, nor disciplined enough to finish it.

Back to timeline ⬆️


2020: Trying with a Bootcamp

In early 2020 I felt truly stuck. While I loved the people I worked with, I had no joy or energy at work. Being at an agency was proving to not be a sustainable lifestyle for me.

There were constant "client fires" and little predictability on how busy any given month would be or what I would be working on.

I was beginning to burn out. To be honest, I was starting to seriously question if being a designer/account manager/project manager was the right fit at all.

Discovering The Bootcamp

I remember one day going to a local diner with my laptop and musing over my future. Somehow in doing so stumbled upon a review for a 6-Month Full-Stack Developer Bootcamp at the University of Arizona.

The 2 things that stood out to me were it wasn't cheap and it wouldn't be easy.

The review said that successful students put in 30+ hours of work each week between live classes, homework, and practice. But in return, you gain a solid beginner understanding of many practical languages and methodologies.

This made sense to me and gave me hope. Based on past experiences, half-measures and half-dedication would not do the job. I needed to go all-in on something to make a change.

Commiting To The Bootcamp

My wife and I spoke at length and agreed it was a worthy investment and would at least bring clarity to my career. We spoke about how this could change my earning power and more importantly could help me find fulfillment. We tried to "Paint The Why" in as much as possible to make sure this was the right choice.

Check out my article on motivation to learn more about "Painting The Why".

We were aware that it would come with some sacrifices too.

  • We committed to doing at least one dinner together a week for the next 6 months. But then all other time after work would be available for me to focus on my studies.

  • We opted to use our savings to pay upfront for the entire course. This was not "pocket-change" to us. It made it real that if I quit, we would suffer a large financial loss. It provided me with "skin in the game" motivation to stay with it when it got hard.

  • I told many important people in my life and the admissions office all the potential reasons why I would quit. (Being tired after long work hours, getting intimidated by new subjects and things like that.) By calling them out ahead of time, I knew it would make it harder to use them as excuses in the future.

  • I stopped taking on freelance projects and reduced some of the time I spent volunteering at church to create more time to study.

With all these things in place, I felt positioned to be successful in learning as much as possible during those months.

Pre Work

The Bootcamp officially started in March, but they provided a slew of assignments beforehand called "Pre Work". This basically covered setting up my machine correctly and lightly touched on many of the subjects we would cover at a birds-eye-view.

The Pre Work was surprisingly extensive and took me about a month to finish. But it eased me back into actually coding with HTML/CSS/JS and even playing with Node.js. They had awesome sections that covered networking tips and career advice. It inspired me to take a side course in HTML/CSS and do daily code typing exercises.

There was also a slew of weekly webinars that the university provided for free that covered technical interviewing, impostor syndrome, and basic intro's to technologies like React.

I loved that without even starting the course, I was already learning so much. It really came down to just making enough time to take advantage of all of the resources.

Curriculum

Starting the actual Bootcamp course, I honestly felt confident. I did all this pre-work and webinars ahead of time and even remembered some of the stuff I learned in Codecademy / TreeHouse. However, that feeling only lasted until week 2.

The material was taught in a way that someone can come in with no design or coding experience and be fine. However, it quickly ramped up in difficulty and I often found myself spending hours after class taking additional courses to dive deeper or even understand the initial concepts taught in class.

This is by design though. As a developer in the real world, it's impossible to already know everything. We constantly have to learn each day and knowing where to look is a huge skillset. The Bootcamp taught me the art of "Google-Fu", as much as it did about the actual syntax of React or MySQL. This was very important.

The material was very structured and covered a lot. I repeat, it covered a lot. I did not become an expert in any one language through this course. Rather, I got exposed to many technologies and how they can be used. From there it allowed me to choose if front-end, backend, or a mixture of both was the right fit. After the Bootcamp, I decided I would go deeper on the front-end and save the backend for a later time.

While there are definitely presentations and development theory/methodologies discussed, most of the Bootcamp was spent actually coding in class. The instructor would demo a new concept and then my classmates and I would practice it in timed Zoom breakout rooms.

Each week there was a large homework assignment that covered many of the concepts taught in class.

I found it to be a very effective mixture of instructor guidance and the freedom to try things and make mistakes without judgment.

Every week my classmates and I were growing. It was happening so fast that we often didn't even realize it until our teacher pointed out our growth. We went from not knowing what a JavaScript function was, to deploying full-stack MERN apps on our own in a matter of a few months. That was huge.

Some topics covered:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Bootstrap 4
  • React Bootstrap
  • JavaScript
  • jQuery
  • Node.js
  • Handelbars.js
  • API's
  • React
  • Servers
  • Express
  • MongoDB
  • MySQL
  • Git / Git Hub
  • Heroku
  • Agile / Kanban Workflows

My only critique is that I wished we stayed a little longer on each core subject. (CSS / JS / Servers / Databases / React) To me, it would have been worth paying a little extra to make this an 8-9 month program instead of 6 months.

Instructors

I can't stress enough how awesome my instructor and TA's (teacher assistants) were. They made everything mentioned so far, actually valuable.

Our instructor TJ, was patient, accommodating, and innovative in how he communicated to our class. He was a true pro and in the rare case he didn't know the answer right away to our questions, he was humble enough to say so. He would then take extra time outside of class to look up the answer and teach it to us the next time.

Our two TA's Cesar and Phil were also stellar educators and patient to no end. Phil graded my homework and always provided useful resources and tips on how to take the project one step further.

All three spent so many hours with us after class to debug, answer questions, or give career advice.

I know for a fact that I would not have learned as much as I did without their guidance.

Classmates

My classmates were pivotal to the success and completion of this program. From the very beginning, our instructor & TAs honed in on the importance of working as a team.

They put us in different groups every few weeks to meet new people and find those with complementary skills. We formed close relationships with each other and helped each other out as each of us got stuck.

We had 3 large group projects in addition to the weekly homework assignments. The projects were 2-4 weeks long and involved things like "use a new framework we haven't covered in class".

It meant that being close-knit as a team was absolutely critical to how successful the projects turned out. It was just too much to learn, plan and code for any one person to do on their own.

Through these group projects, I rediscovered my joy for design, while learning so much about code. I felt creative once again and was motivated by my team to grow beyond what I thought I could do.

Group Projects

I am so grateful for my teams there. I made lifelong friends that I still communicate with almost every day. They inspired and encouraged me through some really rough days and still do.

Besides the knowledge gained, I am grateful that this Bootcamp taught me to rely on others. At work, I was so used to relying solely on myself to get the job done.

But in this Bootcamp, I was surrounded by people who knew far more than me and had talents far greater than my own. It taught me to listen more and that my success was really our success. Collaborating allowed for a much better end product and I once again learned so much from my team.

Getting Promoted During COVID-19

During the height of the pandemic, I got a promotion at work to Digital Design Director. While it sounds really good, it wasn't something I expected or wanted. It was a need that had to be filled and I tried my best to step up to meet it.

All of a sudden my days changed. I never thought of myself as a leader, but more of a "behind the scenes" sort of person. To be honest, I felt so utterly scared, alone, and overwhelmed.

Our team was still working through the effects of COVID and some large transitions at work. We were onboarding new clients and trying to stay on top of current ones.

I began leading weekly and daily standup meetings and holding multiple 1-on-1 check-ins and training sessions to help people feel more equipped. I also began attending more client meetings than ever before and had to manage the workload of almost everyone in our company to make sure no one was getting swamped.

Bootcamp started to become an afterthought. I began missing classes to jump on new client fires. Homework time went away, as I started getting up at 3 am to get my own work done before the rest of the company signed on.

Some of it I actually really enjoyed.

  • I loved creating new project management processes and rebuilt all of our Trello production board templates with documentation.

  • I wrote our first-ever employee guidebook that outlined expectations and how to work from home effectively.

  • I also got to re-build the vacation policy for our out-of-country development team. It allowed them to get more days off, but our company to have more developer coverage.

  • My favorite thing was being able to work with our owners on thank you cards/gifts for each member of our company for their dedication during COVID. That was fulfilling beyond anything.

Quiting My Job

As much as I enjoyed the above experiences, my new position shined a bright light on the fact that I was on the wrong career path. I was no longer building things. I was in meetings all day. I felt like despite my best efforts, I wasn't getting anything done. I gave each day my all but felt like I was shortchanging everyone around me with my inexperience in leadership and management. I felt like an ineffective employee and supervisor alike.

My physical health was starting to suffer and I could no longer balance work and Bootcamp and my family. Each needed my all and I had nothing left to give.

One night I sat on the couch with my wife and just began to cry. I was burnt out.

With her wise counsel and care, we spoke it through and weighed out the options.

  • If I stayed at my job I would be around people I truly cared about, but I would be unfulfilled in what I was doing. Each day would be a battle to survive.

  • If I quit my job and worked my butt off, I might be able to catch up on my missed Bootcamp assignments and graduate. I would have time to recover my physical and mental health. I would be able to focus on investing time back in my family. And just maybe, I would be able to find something out there that I can earn a wage and be truly happy doing.

We opted for the latter and for the next month I worked with my bosses to transition out and train some new people to fill my position.

It was bitter-sweet on many levels. But I knew deeply that it was one of the best choices I have made in years.

With the encouragement of my Bootcamp team, instructor, and TA's I did manage to catch up. I began to enjoy being creative and code again. I had time to explore code more and even got an opportunity to teach a 2-hour webinar on Web Design and Figma to my classmates. (Included in the article below.)

It was one of the best feelings in the world to pour my heart into our final project. We presented it to the class, proud of all we had learned.

With that, I had graduated!

Career Services

The Bootcamp also included a thorough career services program.

My Career Director Amber helped me take my newly learned skills, combine them with my experience, and make the final package marketable to new employers. We worked together for 3 months and by the end, my materials were completely transformed. She helped me in our meetings and offline, by providing many resources and tips on how to interview in the tech space.

I definitely felt the old insecurities come back up, now having to compete in a space that I only had 6-8 months of experience in. Amber helped by listening and then encouraging me or challenging my assumptions. Because of that, I felt a lot more confident as I started to apply and interview.

She called our time together "a partnership" and I think this is very well-reflected in my experience. The interview process can be rough and full of rejections, but I never felt alone through it.

Career services itself is a lot of work, even though the actual Bootcamp was over. But let me tell you it was worth investing in.

Back to timeline ⬆️


2021: Starting Something New

Post-graduation from the Bootcamp I focused on job applications and learning code.

Study Plan

My plan was not to try to learn everything in programming but to focus on CSS, SCSS, React, and JavaScript. (With a little PHP/WordPress, since building 1 custom WP theme was on my bucket list.)

I also didn't work on a lot of different projects. Instead, I focused on a few key ones that would allow for multiple rounds of iteration and practice in the topics listed above.

Lastly, I started a blog to practice code by writing about it. Describing code to others helped me understand the topics so much better. Plus, it kept my design chops up as I try to explore different design styles with each article's banner.

Job Applications

They say to find a job you need to apply to 10 places a week. To be honest I didn't apply to nearly that many places. 22 places over 7 months to be exact.

The reason is that I only felt comfortable writing cover letters to companies/roles I genuinely was excited about. It was also incredibly important that the company excelled at culture, work-life balance, and would provide a mission I deeply believed in. I quit my job for this change and wanted it to mean something.

I spent hours and sometimes days on each application. Some I got interviews for and others not, but that was ok. Each one I felt made an authentic case of why I might be a fit.

My insecurities were reducing the more I coded and I had faith the right job was out there.

Contracting

To help get by I freelanced with my new coding skill sets and eventually was hired as a part-time contractor for an iOS fitness app.

I loved that experience so much! It was my first time working on a real product. I got to learn React Native and so much more. For a full list of lessons learned, check out my below post on it.

Oh and remember that college professor back in 2014, who suggested I learn code? Remember how I secretly scoffed at the idea...?

I’m currently building him a React website from the ground up! It has been an amazing opportunity to utilize everything I’ve learned about branding, UI, UX, copywriting, and code in one digital project.

“Never say never” I guess. :)

Landing My Dream Job 🙌 🎉 🤩

In March 2021 the long journey ended, and another one began. I got hired as a Front-End Designer, for a company I have deeply respected for many years called Planning Center.

I interviewed with them on and off over the course of several months, but it was well worth the wait. Each person in the hiring process clearly loved their job and was genuinely kind. Despite all my usual insecurities, I felt comfortable and like I could truly be myself in the interviews.

In this role, I will get to design and code for a product that I am excited about and believe in. It feels like I will be operating right in my "sweet spot" and I can't wait. :)

Back to timeline ⬆️


Summary

Are Bootcamps worth it?

Yes, I learned how to code with mine and after utilizing all the resources it had and working my tail off, found my dream job.

I am also very aware that I am privileged in several ways.

  • My wife was incredibly supportive as a spouse and partner. She took on many many extra burdens for 6 months so I could focus on code. She also believed in me completely and allowed me to quit my job during a pandemic and unstable job market. Without her support, I would not have been successful.

  • We don't have kids, so any time outside of work, sleeping, and eating were available for me to practice code.

  • We are debt-free and have lived below our means for many years. This allowed us to lean on our savings for a while and therefore be more selective in the job hunt.

  • While I don't believe this applies to learning how to code, I did have a slight leg up being a designer. My career materials (resume and portfolio) probably benefitted from having a background in design.

All that said, I do believe that it is completely possible to switch careers and find success in development without the above advantages.

Many of my Bootcamp classmates are an amazing testimony to that fact. With kids, extra jobs, and without a background in design/code — they still managed to follow their dreams and become exceptional developers.

In conclusion

I hope this timeline has helped demystify how a career change can look. No two people are the same of course, but I hope it encourages you to start following your dreams. Or if you are in the middle of making a change, to absolutely keep after it! Don't give up just before it is about to get good! :)

And if no one has told you this yet today, allow me to say...

You are worth investing in. You deserve to be happy and fulfilled. With a plan and consistency over time, you can achieve anything you want.

Anything.

Now go do something that makes you happy.

Happy coding. 🤓


Thumbnail designed with Adobe Photoshop

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