Last year, I made the decision to attend a Coding Bootcamp in San Francisco. I left my super stable job, said Adios to my friends and family, and moved country (with my life stuffed into a single suitcase). It’s almost a year since the day I walked through those doors on my first day, and it’s been one hell of a year. I’ve had countless people ask me for the lowdown, and many friends who are curious about getting into coding, so I’m gonna lay it out. Here’s an account of my experience of a bootcamp, and some factors to consider if you’re contemplating going for it.
Should I stay or should I go?
The majority of coding bootcamps have sprung up in the States, particularly in the Bay Area. If you’re a California-native, great. If not, is moving to the West Coast a smart plan? This one is tricky, and really dependent on financial circumstances, and willingness to relocate.
Personally, it was 100% the right move. After living in Paris, I’d moved back to Ireland in 2014, and settled into Dublin life, amongst my big circle of friends. Whilst being a really happy and social period, when planning to do a bootcamp, I took the somewhat extremist attitude of ‘I know what I’m going there to do, and I’ll be more productive if that’s my only focus’. Instinctively, I knew that removing myself from what was familiar (and the (welcome) distractions of family and friends), being a stranger in a totally new place was the ‘all of nothing’ shake-up I craved.
The major challenge is the fact that rents in San Francisco are constantly ranked the highest the world, making this unrealistic for some. Fortunately, I’d a won a scholarship (supporting Women in Tech) to a ‘live-in’ bootcamp, which meant the whole ‘living’ situation was taken care of. For obvious reasons (being in the centre of Silicon Valley!), attending a bootcamp in the Bay Area is incomparable, and if financially feasible, I’d definitely say ‘do it’! Alternatively, research your options – I know people who’ve moved back in with their parents, maybe you have family in a big city, or possibly you’re single-minded enough to work & save until you can afford to move & rent in your chosen spot. Coding bootcamps are gaining attention fast, which means new ones are launching in a number of locations, so keep your eyes open.
What does a typical day look like?
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the intensity. I discovered the word ‘bootcamp’ is not thrown around lightly. We were mentally and physically exhausted most of the time. But in the best way. We’d signed up to an ‘immersive’ programme, with the desire to learn as much as possible in this relatively short period. And that’s what we got.
8am: Wake up, feel like you haven’t slept. Eat the unhealthiest breakfast possible, whilst trying to fix one of the 5 bugs you’ve tossed and turned over all night.
9am: Morning scrum – stand up and summarise your wins/struggles in doing last night’s homework. When it’s not your turn, have one hand on your keyboard, trying to deploy your assignment to Heroku.
10am: Class begins, in the form of interactive lectures given by the bootcamp instructor, typically on a new topic each day.
12.30pm: Lunch. Sometimes with a side of sunshine. (Getting outside for little walks was a simple pleasure, for which there was sometimes no time).
1.30pm: Class continues.
5.30pm: Homework assignment is given out and discussed. Panic / excitement ensues.
6.30pm: Begin homework. This typically involved building a full-stack web application each night (meaning you have frontend webpages, a server, and a database which make up an application you can access online using a URL).
11.00pm: Mid-project slump. Typically involved sharing a tub of ice-cream, and reassuring each other. (Others went the workout / wine / smoking route to relieving stress). There were teaching assistants to help with troubleshooting, and pointing in the right general direction, which was helpful.
Unknown: Bedtime varied from passing out at 1.30ish, to making a valiant attempt at getting a working app until 4ish. Dependent on mood & level of exhaustion.
This was pretty much the routine for 6 out of 7 days. Christmas was such a welcome break, and a time to rejuvenate (I flew home to my family in Ireland).
Back in San Francisco for the second term, it was structured a little differently. Projects were usually much bigger, undertaken in teams (or as pair-programming projects), and lasting for about a week each. This meant there was a less rigid schedule, and time to explore topics you wanted to learn more about so that you could successfully apply them to the app you were building. There was also a shift in focus towards developing a personal website, updating resumes, and seeking job opportunities.
Our class became TA’s for the new cohort, so mentoring became a part of the weekly program too.
How can you prepare? Can you be a total beginner?
This is one of the things I would have done differently. I worked for a crazy hectic Tech company in Dublin for a year & a half before the bootcamp, and finished up on the first Friday of October. I left for the States on Sunday. The bootcamp had provided a lot of pre-work to do beforehand, but juggling this with a full-time job and getting ready to relocate wasn’t the best lifestyle for preparation. (Over the prior year, out of interest, I had completed some CodeAcademy courses, and Harvard’s CS50 Intro to Computer Science course, while working. But this was at my own pace). The majority of those in my class had spent at least a couple of months getting ready, without the pressures of work / school. I remember berating myself a lot at the time, and thinking of how I could be excelling at a much quicker rate if I had spent some solid time getting ahead before I arrived. It was a constant game of catch-up. Despite how much I was learning every single day (and loving it), there was never once a moment of comfort where I felt I was adequately prepared. Any coding practice or experience you have will really stand to you. Thus, my advice is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Your chosen bootcamp should supply you with a basic curriculum or some guidance on the best way to do this.
The Fun Stuff:
What else do you do beyond coding?
Bootcamps aren’t all classes and coding. There are a number of other great activities that make them a brilliant insight into the tech industry. We took part in Hackathons (giant events where a bunch of coders & designers get into teams, and work intensively on a product or solution in order to win prizes). My team were actually winners in the first Hackathon we entered – with our (pre-Pokémon GO) speech-to-text Pokémon game. Being in the Bay Area meant it was possible to attend a number of tech conferences, visit the offices of some cool companies, and enjoy guest talks given by speakers from industry. All of this immersed us further into a community of coders, hacking away on their various projects, and into the tech community as a whole.
Travel. When the boot camp ended in March, being in California, and feeling it was as yet, unexplored, I rented a car and went on a major road trip. (I wrote a post about it). We did it really cheaply, so if you decide to do a bootcamp in a new place, and have a little money left over at the end, go for it.
What happens when you’re done?
The end-goal for almost all bootcamp students is to get a job as a developer. At the beginning, it seemed highly unlikely that we’d be ready for employment in as little as 6 months, but it’s easy to underestimate the amount of knowledge you’re absorbing in that environment. And ‘imposter syndrome’ is a big thing.
From my class, people have gone in a variety of directions – most have gotten jobs (at companies like Google and Accenture), some are working on their own start-ups, and some are still looking.
One of the best things that the bootcamp has equipped me with is the ability to learn on my own, which is immensely empowering. I had no idea what to do with the command line, GitHub, or the Docs before I started. And now I do. I’ve spent the past couple of months learning Java (aided by a great Udemy course and this book), and it feels like second nature.
If you’re considering doing a bootcamp, or are simply curious to know what it was like, I hope this was insightful.🙂
_____Photo Credit – http://madewithcode.tumblr.com/ ____