This summer I did something completely
There aren’t a ton of reviews on coding bootcamps, so I thought I’d add my own to the mighty Interwebs and try to answer some of the questions that I had going into it.
It was awesome! I learned a TON and my fellow students were brilliant and enthusiastic. Highly recommend, would do again.
- Instruction: My class was taught by Ivan Storck and Tyler Morgan. They were both excellent instructors: good at explaining things, patient with questions, up to date on trends and technologies.
- Pacing: Intense! They introduced 5-10 new things a day. Homework filled every minute of my bus ride home and evening.
- Job placement:
I have not accepted a full-time position yet (2 weeks post graduation) but I have been in contact with a number of hiring managers who got my info directly from Code Fellows. I accepted a full-time software engineer position at Expedia, doing challenging and rewarding work with a great team of programmers!
The accelerator is not for beginners, so start writing code now if you’re interested.
What I did to Prepare for Code Fellows
Like most Code Fellows applicants, I was changing careers. Unlike many students, though, my past life was in software development. Even though I never wrote code for my design jobs, I was immersed in the lingo and processes of making a software product.
I’ll talk more about what I did, specifically, to cram for the class in a later section of this review.
Why I Didn’t Pursue a Bachelor’s of Computer Science Instead: Boot Camps vs. Degrees
Like a lot of boot camp attendees, I considered going for a Computer Science degree instead. I live near good schools and I’m sure I could have succeeded at any of them. Boot camps are too new to really know if they’re going to replace the traditional CS degree path into programming. And tech directors and hiring managers are right to worry about boot camp grads: apparently, some coding boot camps really suck.
But in my case, all that was really separating me from the front-end developer job I was aiming for was a better understanding of some very specific web technologies. After finishing the program, I can say that I definitely made the right choice for me.
I can’t say if boot camp is the right choice for high school grads hoping to skip the cost and time investment of a CS degree. I think that comes down to what you want to do, and how much you value a degree. There’s a lot of entrenched thinking (right or wrong) that having a degree is an indication of a job applicant’s worthiness, and until that changes, a degree will continue to open certain doors. Plus, a hard science education is virtually essential to get hired making airplane software, medical devices, and other things where the price of failure is very high.
Web development and game development seem to play more loose and free with degree requirements, and some of my brightest and bestest co-workers did not have degrees, so I’m not personally convinced of the necessity of a degree in order to write code for a living. Being great at what you do and being likable should guarantee you never run out of opportunities.
As a point of interest: almost everyone in my class of 18 students had at least one college degree, and the majority had workplace experience. A handful (maybe 4 of us) had software development experience in some capacity.
What I Knew Going In: My Coding Background Prior to the Boot Camp
I already knew a bit of ActionScript (learned it in college and used it at my first job to script menus), HTML, CSS, and WordPress (picked these up from my blogging hobby), lua (from when I tried my hand at making little indie games in Corona SDK), Java (from a free online Stanford course) but I wouldn’t have called myself a programmer. At best, I was a hacker who modified existing things to make what I needed.
Still, there were a number of things I did in the year leading into my Code Fellows class that I think helped me do well:
- Started and maintained several WordPress blogs – this taught me about web hosting, deploying to a web host, and a lot of web dev processes and lingo
- Customized several WordPress themes – basically a crash course in CSS and PHP (I didn’t use PHP in the Accelerator, but there’s no “bad learning”, so to speak)
- Completed Stanford’s CS106A Programming Methodologies – this taught me basic Java and object-oriented practices. The course videos are free on YouTube and the course materials are available on Stanford’s site. I cannot recommend this course enough. It gave me a stronger background in Computer Science than many of my fellow Code Fellows students had the benefit of, including an understanding of object oriented design, primitive data types, data structures, memory management, pointers, compiling, and more. It was worth it for the object oriented instruction alone.
- Knew quite a bit of Git – I learned Git as a part of my last job, which was great because Git can took me a while to wrap my head around, even though I had worked with version control before. Git proficiency freed up a lot of brain space for harder coding problems during the class.
- Opened a GitHub account – All the class homework and class projects are hosted on GitHub. Already knowing how to create repos, clone repos, fork repos, create branches, resolve merge conflicts, merge branches, and collaborate with others on GitHub was big advantage for me.
- Read the first several chapters of Code Complete – This “best practices” book is all about how to approach coding problems and how to structure the code you write. How long should a method be? What are good naming practices? Stuff like that. It’s approachable even to novices and I owe a lot of my good habits to it.
- Followed this AngularJS tutorial and then built my own separate site using what I had learned – It took me a little while to really grasp MVC and the role of a framework like AngularJS, so spending a couple weeks on this before the 4 days it was covered in class was very helpful.
The class moved very fast and there wasn’t really time to get mired on a new technology or technique, so I tried to give myself a good grasp on the basics before the class.
Not that Code Fellows didn’t have its own preparation courses, which I’ve outlined in the next section.
Foundations I and Foundations II Review
Both Foundations classes meet two weeknights a week for four weeks each, 7-9pm. The classes are open to everyone; you don’t have to be committed to an Accelerator to take a Foundations class.
Both classes featured:
- Live instructor-led demos on a big projector screen
- Work time in class with access to TA’s
- Challenging homework assignments to supplement instruction
- A customized “what to work on next” guide for each student, given at the end of the class
The Foundations I class was held at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. Parking was usually $5 a night, but it was occasionally free due to unexplained reasons. The campus was beautiful, well-lit, and easy to navigate. The class was held in the biggest classroom I’ve ever been in, with about 150 students in attendance.
Here’s a pic I snapped 15 mins before class one night:
Foundations II was held at Code Fellows’s campus in South Lake Union at 511 Boren Ave. You can park in the Amazon garage around the corner (heading west on Republican, drive past Boren and then turn right into the garage). After hours parking has an unadvertised rate of $2.44 and it’s a ghost town by 7pm.
This parking garage doesn’t show up on Google maps. It’s a hidden gem.
Heads up to any Eastsiders – I live near the Kirkland/Bothell border and my drive into the city for the night classes was hell. I took either via 520 or I-5, whichever one Google Maps predicted a shorter drive for at the time of my departure. The shortest I ever made the trip was an hour, and the longest was 90 minutes. It was tedious and miserable, and there were no better public transit options. Inbound traffic is super jammed up between 5-7pm. Just something to take into account if you live or work on the Eastside and have dreams of getting to these classes in a reasonable amount of time.
I came into the Foundations classes with familiarity with most of the material they introduced, but I appreciated the “legitimization” of my self-taught knowledge. Plus, the homework was good practice.
Foundations I included:
- A brief history of Computer Science
- Using GitHub – forking repos, pushing to repos
- Simple CSS styling
- Creating a simple card game, first without and later with a visual (in browser) component
Foundations II included:
- Creating a menu using jQuery
- Lodash and Underscore
- An introduction to Big O
- More Git practice
I wouldn’t recommend relying 100% on the Foundations classes for Accelerator prep. You won’t get enough coding practice unless you do as much as you can on the side in addition to the classwork.
Dev Accelerator: 8 weeks of kicking my ass with code
The pace was brutal, the homework was never-ending, and the whole 8 weeks flew by so fast I was shocked when it ended so “soon.”
A typical day introduced anywhere from 5-10 new technologies to read up on, learn, install, and use in the homework. (A lot of these were node packages.) The class squeezed every last drop out of me, which I loved – I feel like I got my money’s worth!
Ivan Storck and Tyler Morgan were fantastic teachers. Just absolute geniuses at this stuff and I miss them now that the class is over! They were both very approachable, knowledgeable, and good at assisting in ways that helped without just giving away the answer.
This will probably be hilariously out of date in 6 months, but here’s a list to give you an idea of just some of the material we covered:
- Workflow and build tools – Grunt, Yeoman, Sass, JSHint, Browserify
- npm packages galore
- mongoDB – CRUD operations
- authentication / authorization
- Unit testing in Mocha
- Karma, Jasmine testing
- deploying projects to Heroku and Amazon Web Services
- Google Maps API
- Backbone and AngularJS
- Data structures – linked lists, queues, stacks, arrays, using objects as hash maps
- Whiteboard questions like the kind you might encounter in an interview
And by “covered”, I don’t mean “they mentioned this in a demo once”. I mean actually wrote code that used these technologies, usually as homework and/or for team projects.
I actually had no idea what to expect for the class schedule other than “every day from 9-4”, so I’ll share what mine was like here.
Class was held every week day from 9am to 4pm for 8 weeks total. Mondays-Thursdays followed a schedule of co-working time in the morning and instruction in the afternoon. Fridays were “How to Get a Job” workshops and did not include any coding instruction (more on those later).
For my class, the 9am-1pm part of the day was “co-working” time. This means everyone in the class is expected to be present, but the time is for homework and asking questions. The instructors are available during this time for help.
The co-working space was big enough for several classes worth of students to hang out in there at once:
People typically left for lunch around 11:45-12:00 and everyone returned by 1pm. Food in South Lake Union is pricey, and I brought my lunch almost every day – Code Fellows has refrigerators and microwaves on site.
The 1pm-4pm part of the day was instructional time, where everyone sat at desks facing the projector and followed along on laptops to the live demos and lectures that were given by the class’s two instructors. They instructors filled every minute until 4pm with useful stuff, which was great – I hate when class I’m paying a fortune for ends early. ;)
Here’s my class near the end of an afternoon lecture session:
Some classes flip it and do instruction in the morning and co-working in the afternoon. On days when my bus ran late, though, I really appreciated missing 15 minutes of work time instead of 15 minutes of expensive instructional time. At $9,000 for the course (assuming you pay in full up front for the discount), every hour of instruction costs $93.75!
Team Project Weeks
Team Project weeks were weeks 4 and 8. Groups were self-selecting and typically 4-5 students each. The whole week was given as co-working time for teams to work together on projects that were then presented to the class as a whole on Friday. Instructors were available all day every day for help.
Like everything else in the class, the team projects are hosted on GitHub!
- InstaPitch – Week 8 (AngularJS, Auth/Auth, REST)
Friday “Get a Job” Lectures and Workshops
Instead of class, each Friday was a “How to get a job” lecture or workshop session. There were six of these total, usually an hour or two in length. A couple of the sessions were pretty elementary stuff, but I’ve worked in software for nearly a decade and have introduced myself more times, written more resumes, and interviewed more people than I can remember by now. These sessions might be more exciting to someone without that experience.
But there were some real gems in the Friday sessions, too!
Gina Luna, a Code Fellows staffer and photographer, has a great eye for portraiture. She took photos of each student and we all got a bunch of professional-quality photos of ourselves to use on our GitHub and LinkedIn profiles.
Code Fellows also invited two alumni to speak to the class in one of the Friday sessions. Those guys were awesome, and I had fun picking their brains about what it’s like to work at their respective web dev companies.
I also loved the presentation given by Mitch Robertson – he showed us a lot of LinkedIn tricks and emphasized the importance of being likable (in my own experience with hiring people, being likable is often more important than raw skills).
The Hardest Stuff
All things considered, the most challenging aspects of the class were keeping current on the homework (more every day!) and the week where we did whiteboard challenges for a couple hours every afternoon in small groups. These problems were hard, but they became more manageable the more of them we did, and now I feel pretty well prepared to write code on a whiteboard in an interview.
How do I Job Now?
Code Fellows doesn’t place students in jobs, but they do have a bunch of “hiring partners” – companies that basically get first dibs on the Code Fellows resume stack.
I’ve already heard back from several of these companies, and they’re prestigious, exciting companies located in downtown Seattle, not Bumblefracktucky. So that’s awesome. (However, I’m only pursuing Eastside opportunities at this time.)
At Code Fellows, assuming you’re not a huge jerk, you’ll get to know a lot of great people who will be the start of your new professional network. I’ve personally never gotten a job where I didn’t already know someone on the inside vouching for me, so I think this “instant network” was just another one of the class’s benefits.
The Accelerator instructors also encouraged us to attend local Meetups, which I did, and I left with another half dozen really good contacts to keep in touch with.
In short, I met a lot of great people as a result of the class.
My Advice to Interested Students
- Start programming now. This isn’t for beginners. The more you know going in, the more you’ll get out of it. You don’t want to be the person stuck on Git basics when everyone else is doing cool stuff.
- Get some practice with algorithms, data structures, and Big-O. These topics really deserve more time than they get in the class, and they’ll probably hit like a bag of bricks the first time you encounter them.
- If you’re a procrastinator or are just doing it for the paycheck, you probably won’t survive. This class was brutally difficult and frustrating at times, and the only way to survive it is out of a genuine interest and passion for computing.
- Also, You’ll need a laptop with a UNIX based operating system. That means a MacBook or a machine with Linux installed. I started this adventure with a Linux machine but purchased a 15.4″ MacBook Pro refurb right before the accelerator. It was a good choice.
And that’s it!
Overall, a fantastic experience and I’m glad I went for it. I think it would have taken me at least a year to learn all this stuff on my own, and it really helped to have knowledgeable teachers pointing me at the right technologies, answering questions, and challenging me with things I might not have discovered (or given up on) if I had been relying entirely on self-teaching.
If you’re considering a coding boot camp and you live in the Seattle or Portland area, you should check out the next Code Fellows open house.