Free Coding Bootcamps: A Practice in Patience

tomreifenberg profile image Tom Reifenberg ・5 min read

With countless platforms selling knowledge, make use of government programs to reskill and reenter the market without financial constraints.

There are some incredible public support systems in place to help you shift into a new career. Photo by Maxim Melnikov on Unsplash

(Note: This article was originally published on Medium; it's likely most folks on DEV are already familiar with coding and bootcamps, but I've decided to share on this platform as well in case anyone is curious about entering bootcamps through free, public options.)

As the title reveals, I’m entering the world of software development from the increasingly popular pipeline of bootcamp graduates. While these range wildly in terms of price, quality, and attendee reviews, there is an underutilized government resource that won’t financially gouge you in an already challenging time. Though this path isn’t ideal for every situation, I’ve outlined the benefits and drawbacks below.

On the razor’s edge of the pandemic outbreak in the United States, I was laid off from my job in landscape architecture. It’s a career path I’ve enjoyed and learned so much from, but this seemed like a natural time to reassess my life goals and pursue a career with more invigorating possibilities that still combined technical prowess with creative problem solving; software development is a natural fit, so I began learning the ropes on Codecademyand freeCodeCamp.

While I mulled over my next steps and studied JavaScript in the spring, my partner pointed out the possibility of attending a bootcamp at no cost through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This program helps successful applicants refine their skills, either for a new career path or to gain knowledge in their current field. Additionally (and unlike other bootcamps), WIOA will work with the unemployment system; this allows you to receive payments while in training, an invaluable buffer while you focus on learning so many new skills!

Many of the courses (in Chicago, at least) don’t relate to software engineering or are quick sessions to learn a single skill. In Chicago, Microtrain offers a 12 week Agile Full Stack Web and Hybrid Mobile App Development Bootcamp, which covers a broad range of skills over a few short months. Getting accepted into the program and completing my bootcamp with Microtrain was an excellent experience, but there are a few variables to consider if you’re interested in this route.

Patience will be your greatest strength in the application process. Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash.

  • Do you have time to wait for acceptance into WIOA’s program?

One of the biggest drawbacks to this path is the time needed to apply, wait, and start the program. I started the application process in March a day before they closed down the offices, retooled everything to be remote, and were busy in that process until May. I didn’t get fully accepted into WIOA until June, with the bootcamp itself starting a few weeks later.

Perhaps it will be faster for you, since they’ve adapted to the reality of online applications, but this still involves taking tests, submitting a mighty number of forms, interviewing with career coaches, and sitting in on training courses. This will take time, but is crucial to prove your commitment to using the training voucher’s investment responsibly. Being able to attend training for free was absolutely worth the wait, but I’m fully aware not everyone has the ability to be in limbo for so long.

  • Do you have the time to train each week, study outside of class, and fully commit to the course?

If you’re entering software development from any other career, I won’t pretend it’s going to be easy. Even with a background in engineering, math, and science in general, it took quite some time for core concepts of development to fully click.

Some classmates entered with a whole wealth of skills in JavaScript, Java, Angular, and all sorts of experience that let them breeze through earlier lessons; for the rest of us, it took a great deal of dedication outside of class, finding study materials that suited our methods of thinking to supplement knowledge gained in the swift speed of classes. Learning will be a full-time job during the bootcamp, so it’s best to brace for that impact on your schedule any way possible.

  • Do you have a genuine interest in development? Will you spend time before the bootcamp kicks off studying, discovering what role will make you the happiest?

I took time before classes kicked off to study JavaScript intensely, supplementing with smaller tutorials and projects revolving around HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, and other front-end elements. Knowing we would work in Linux (which is now my favorite operating system!) while coming from a background in Windows, I started practicing with the command line, learning how to operate version control with git and navigating files through the terminal.

This practice paid off when the bootcamp started at a swift pace, letting me reinforce the basics during class while studying more complex applications afterward . This isn’t to say you need to enter a bootcamp with a rock solid understanding of every language, framework, or database you’ll cover. Rather, it will prime you for the nomenclature and broad use of each element in the tech stack you’ll learn. Once it comes up in the course you won’t feel like the instructor is talking in circles around you.

These may be tough questions to answer, especially with so much uncertainty in life these days. If you’re able to endure a lengthy application process, dedicate plenty of time outside of class to learning, and discover some interests before the bootcamp begins, I’m confident looking into WIOA’s offerings will be worthwhile.

Bonus Tip: Having multiple screens will be a massive boost to developing and testing your applications. Photo by Tarn Nguyen on Unsplash

At the bootcamp’s end you’ll have covered such a dizzying number of tools, but I have no doubt a few will grab your interest; as my session wrapped up earlier this month, I became deeply intrigued by React and am now taking an excellent course on Udemy to really dig into this library while building fun projects.(If a course you want is full price, just wait until they offer a discount; most will drop down to $10 — $15 every other week.)

I’m proud of the work I’ve done, the portfolio I’m improving every day, and the network of amazing people I’ve connected with on LinkedIn and Twitter. If there are any finer details you’re curious about when it comes to this underutilized pathway into tech, please feel free to reach out any time on any platform!


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