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let's get really real about bootcamps

k v v p a
find your heart and hope for better days
・6 min read

Person wearing halloween mask from the movie Scream sits at a computer

I have not been paid by anyone mentioned. These opinions are my own, and I’m not above changing my mind if new information presents itself.

I want to preface that I am not a software engineer.

I’ve worn many hats in my 33 years; small business owner, live show promoter, cable technician, cell phone salesman… but nothing requiring deep technical knowledge. A little extra to-know about me, I have ADHD and I have not had success within the traditional higher-education ecosystem despite multiple attempts.

In comes aggressive marketing from a new educational medium- BOOTCAMPS. Intensively immerse yourself in web development technologies for 12 weeks to 5 months and you could make six figures!

I have a handful of software engineering friends, and each of them agree that ANYONE can learn how. These are people who are working those glamorous six-figure jobs, and a person or two with salaries still much higher than I’ve ever had.

Therefore, In 2017 when a friend turned me onto web development I knew three things:


  1. He is making 6 figures.
  2. He is a software developer.
  3. He does not have a college degree.

So, I can too, right?

I have been trying unsuccessfully for THREE YEARS to understand how to code. Countless tutorials, both free and paid. I even participated in a very large and popular bootcamp for awhile. Why can’t I get this stuff to sink in?

In my most recent bootcamp search (happening as I type, btw), I decided this time to take the “do your own research” approach. Doing research requires you to ask important questions. A very important first question is, 'Can I trust this resource?'

There are endless biased bootcamp funnels out there (SwitchUp, Course Report, Career Karma). Knowing that these websites profit off of the advice they give, I cannot fully trust their opinions or reviews. Their end goal is for you to signup for a bootcamp so they can make a commission. That is a huge conflict of interest.

So what’s important to me?

  1. Results: I want to be competitive in the job market when I’m done.
  2. Price: It must be reasonable, or offer an ISA option.
  3. Flexible: I’m a smart guy, but I have a real mental hurtle to overcome (ADHD). I need it to be flexible enough to give me the time I need to absorb the information.

At a glance, there are hundreds of programs that meet these three requirements. A vast majority of the big guys have part-time options. Well over half of them offer an ISA at this point. #3 is a little more rare, but there are a few bootcamps out there (i.e. NuCamp, Treehouse Techdegree, FreeCodeCamp, etc).

I have applied to and researched maybe a few dozen programs, but I am going to use App Academy as an example of my decision process. So far, I have completed the “culture fit” interview, passed 2/3 of the assessments, and I have received an e-mail conditionally accepting me so long as I finish up that last assessment.

Let’s look at my short-list again.

  1. Results - They are known to get people high-paying jobs. They’ve been a player in the bootcamp industry for a very long time.
  2. Price - They offer an ISA option. I can do the program in its entirety with no money up-front. In exchange, they demand that I not work any job for the 5 month program duration AND the job search afterward.
  3. Flexible: Not at all. The program is pitched as rigorous and intense, with estimated workweeks lasting 60-100 hours. There is no part-time option. If you fail a test twice, you’re kicked out. If you get too many flags for not job-hunting hard enough, you’re kicked out.

While I’m not exactly excited about the lack of flexibility, I may be willing to sacrifice that desire for the results. So where are the results?

Again, I can’t trust them for this information.

They are a VC backed, for-profit company. So I hop on LinkedIn and other social media sites, and reach out to (and dig into the profiles of) App Academy alumni. I realize quickly: every single one of these people have a bachelors or masters degree, and MOST of those degrees are STEM related.

There’s no data from any of the bootcamp schools I’ve looked into regarding students or grads without a tech degree. In the info sessions they will ALWAYS tell you that it doesn’t matter. My amateur personal research is not showing this to be very common... maybe true, but disingenuous at best.

I spoke with a software engineer friend who is currently working in the field (hey Josh!), and he explained to me that in his experience App Academy grads have huge knowledge gaps and tend to struggle a lot on the job. This blew my mind, because the common consensus across the internet is that App Academy is among the BEST at churning out quality coders and getting them high-paying, in-demand jobs.

So what’s going on here?

I have come to some speculative opinions. Bootcamps may be disrupting higher education, but NOT because they are changing much about the process.

Colleges are highly selective because they want to produce positive outcomes. Positive outcomes naturally sell that institution choice to students. Coding schools are also highly selective, because they want to give positive outcome reports. BUT, like colleges, they don’t just profit off of their graduates. They profit off of everyone who makes an attempt. So, they strike a balance.

The prevailing model? Vet a student, make sure they are ‘smart enough’. Slam their brain with surface-level understandings, get them a job.

If we're being honest, will this make someone a software engineer?

-Maybe if you have a Computer Science degree already.
-Maybe if you have a degree and have already developed the necessary study habits to blast through 100 hour weeks.
-Maybe if you’re privileged enough to remain unemployed for 5 months+.
-Maybe if you aren’t the type who needs time to digest complex material (not most people).

So what now?

I’ll tell you this. I don’t have any motivation to work on that third assessment. App Academy is not right for me. I may be able to get into App Academy, but it does not align with my needs. Given their model is copied by newer bootcamps, most of them are ruled out too.

The upside?

I have found three bootcamps that have come up with solutions to these issues. They are disrupting the bootcamp industry! How ironic.

  1. Nucamp - geared for working adults who want to get introduced to web development. Flexible mid-week schedule and 1 weekend day of in-person/live instruction per week. That and the low cost makes this program extremely accessible. Unfortuantely, I haven't found ANY grad who has been hired. Please find one for me, I'd love to hear about their experience!
  2. Perpetual Education - a 6 month mentorship program by a seasoned industry vet, focusing on holistic generalist web dev knowledge from a designer perspective. Unfortunately as of right now, there is a $10,000 cost-barrier than I can’t jump over.
  3. Launch School - Billed as the “Slow Path to Proficiency”, Launch School offers two separate programs. First is “Core”, a $199/month self-paced curriculum focused on cementing fundamental knowledge that other programs won’t dive into, and only passing you if you’ve mastered the material. Second is “Capstone”, which takes your fundamental knowledge and puts it to work. Launch School has the best results of any program I’ve researched. This seems to be checking off all my boxes.

I conclude: do your research.

Ask important questions. Dive deeper. Don’t fall for marketing hype. You can’t have a deep understanding of ANYTHING in 12 weeks. Do you want a job, or do you want a meaningful career that you'll excel at?

I want the latter.

Discussion (3)

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perpetual_education profile image
perpetual . education • Edited

Your research, ability to read between the lines, and identify patterns in your investigation is impressive. It will serve you well in a design/programming career. It's unfortunate that this reason will be drowned out by hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing.

From our experience, most people looking at "boot camps" on Career Karma and places like that - just want a magic 'solution' to their problems. They heard it was 'tech' and they don't want to know the facts.

We looked at Launch School extensively when we were planning out our curriculum. They are the real deal. They're on our shortlist of schools we think are legit. We even bought Mastery and read it per their suggestion.

We are very much in alignment with how they explain their teaching process. We care about the core concepts that don't change year to year. We care about building up - and talking things slow.

But we're different. We have different goals. Launch School trains 'Software engineers.' They do it over years. Their core curriculum ($199 a month) expects 8-16 months and up to 1800 hours of learning. Then their Capstone program is another 1000 hours and requires 40+ hours a week and ~18k. This path is when you know for sure what you want - and you have 2 years - and a great deal of time to dedicate to their curriculum.

We have no doubt that they do amazing work - and produce amazing developers.

They are 'the best' school for some people. We applaud them - and often recommend them.

Perpetual Education's program is different. We teach a larger scope of design-thinking. We teach things that they cannot/do not - and they spend 1.5 years more time teaching the things that we do not. We are different.

We are 'the best' school for another person - and another goal.

We don't promise 115k jobs in NYC and SF.

We promise to give you a solid foundation and deep confidence in your understanding of the medium of The Web.

We promise a unique experience that supports you in finding your passion. Is it UX? Is it front-end? Is it project management? Is it research? You won't know until you try. We help you identify where you can provide the value - and show you how to prove it and then - wind you up to speed off into a career - where you'll get paid to learn for the next few years on the job.

We do what we do - in 6-months / and with only a few focused hours per day. That's an entirely different style than 8-10 hours a day for years. Time and opportunity aren't always taken into consideration. 4-year CS is great - as long as you actually want to learn computer science. If you want to learn to make run-of-the-mill web applications, then it doesn't make a lick of sense.

We aren't teaching you what to type. We're teaching you how to learn and how to discover your path. Sound fluffy? Well... it's hard to describe. That's why it takes 6 months. It's not a story, it's an experience. We teach a lot of programming too 😉.

...

After talking with you, Joey - we were inspired to look deeper into ISA's and how we might be able to incorporate them in a way that we could be happy with. We think we've found a solid partner and have a win-win-win situation in the works. Let us know if you'd like to talk about it. We'd love to interview you about your wild trip through this new education landscape.

If you end up going all-in on Launch School, you can count on us as another angle to bounce ideas off of. We're in this together.

🚀

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perpetual_education profile image
perpetual . education

UPDATE 2021:

We now have an Income Share Agreement!

Thanks for pushing us to think more about it, Joey.

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poisonousjohn profile image
Ivan Fateev

Thanks for the article and for sharing your experience. Sorry to hear your story.
At the time I was learning programming, there were no any bootcamps. In fact, even access to the Internet was a luxury in Russia.

Programming was not so popular and you could not find a lot of articles, answers to questions on SO etc.

The only source of structured learning was books. So I started learning by downloading few books. Why not only one? Because usually the only one book is not enough, because there are some gaps in explanation. So to fill those gaps you may use different books.

Well, learning with books may be quite old-fashioned these days, but I would say it might still be a good way for some people. Also, with access to the Internet, it's quite easy to find somebody who might help you when you're completely stuck.

I'm not sure about the job market at your place, but here in Russia, it's totally fine to find a Junior position without a degree, or bootcamp certificate, or whatever else.

There are Junior positions that require only some basic knowledge of programming.

So this means that if one manages to get a Junior position, they will have a whole bunch of teammates to teach them, and even get paid (not much though).

I've been able to get a junior job, I believe, due to my personal project that I demoed during the interview. I walked the interviewer through the code and explained how I designed everything.

My point is that it's totally fine to try finding a job with surface-level knowledge and little-to-no experience.

I'm not really sure what kind of education you should get for $10k.