How do you decide on a coding bootcamp in this age where there is a myriad of coding bootcamps competing for your business? This is what we will cover in this blog.
More importantly, this blog will be designed as a self-qualification exercise to help you determine if a coding bootcamp similar to Bloc would be a good fit for you.
If you need some tips in preparing for a coding bootcamp, starting from where you are now, then check out my last blog on “How To Prepare For Coding Bootcamp: My 18 Months Best Practices”.
My Challenges in This Decision Making Process
There are so many coding bootcamps in the marketplace, whether its one started by coding bootcamp grads, tech people, or from university; it suffices to say that you can get destroyed by analysis paralysis.
Next, when you reach out to these coding bootcamps, you talk to a salesperson who is not informed about the software developer space and trends outside of the coding bootcamp they represent.
Hence, you don’t trust to invest your hard earn money and most importantly, your precious time, to these salespersons who pitch you on that particular bootcamp.
Who Is This Message For?
This blog is for students (college, high school) or working professionals who want to embark on a career change and considered leveraging a coding bootcamp as part of their execution plan.
This was a frustrating journey for me and hopefully this blog can help alleviate your decision making challenges.
How Should You Use This Blog?
The blog is written as a self-qualification design to help you make that decision to decide if an online bootcamp like Bloc might be a good fit for you if you resonate with 5 out of the 7 arguments provided.
Here Are Arguments On Why I Chose Bloc Coding Bootcamp
Why should you join a coding bootcamp? In Simple Programmer Software Developer Career Guide book, joining a coding bootcamp is a great strategic way to accelerate your career switch versus choosing to bootstrap yourself into a software developer role as a self-taught person.
The following are some arguments that won me over to choosing the Bloc Web Developer coding bootcamp over other coding bootcamps such as App Academy, Hack Reactor, Thinkful (Bloc is part of Thinkful now), Covalence, and General Assembly.
(A) Learn Anywhere
You can learn location independent, meaning, at home, cafe, or anywhere you have internet connection.
This is powerful to enable anyone who might not live in an ideal situation or location to transcend the brick and mortar education model and access quality education anywhere.
Hypothetically, one day you need to be present elsewhere other than your home, if you have a laptop, then you can take that to go and learn on the go.
(B) Avoid Commuting – Save A Week of Work Time
The biggest reason why I wanted to do an online remote coding bootcamp was to repossess and re-invest my time lost during my morning and evening commute if I were to join an onsite coding bootcamp.
For me, to get to San Francisco downtown, it would take me an average of 1 hour or more each way. Meaning, each day I spent 2 hours or more each day on commuting.
In one week, that’s 10 hours. In one month, which is 40 hours… That’s basically a week of work that you are throwing away commuting…
Online coding bootcamps are invaluable if you understand how precious is your time AND you know how to leverage all your time to maximize your output.
(C) Build Sustainable Coding Habits
With an onsite coding bootcamp, grads need to readjust their coding habits once they no longer have to attend a physical location to practice their coding habits.
In contrast, individuals who choose the online coding bootcamp option already have a ritual on how they code and this doesn’t change much upon graduation.
Therefore, they can retain the powerful habit of coding daily in their home office like nothing has changed.
This really applies for me because I have a nice standing desk workspace setup at home with great monitor peripherals for multi-tasking and increased productivity.
Meaning, upon graduation, I am already adapted to taking on remote developer roles on top of coding at an office.
(D) Designed for Students Who Have an Independent, Learning Styles
Online coding bootcamp is not for individuals who are accustomed to the traditional brick and mortar school. These students rely on instant response, support, and answers from their instructors.
This is a double edge sword because on one hand, you are getting instant support and answers; but on the other hand, a real life software developer does not have that luxury and requires investing time in research, etc to solve a problem.
However, if you in the past were a student that excelled in independent work, research, or projects; then an online, remote coding bootcamp might be a better fit because that’s
(A) Not For Students Who Need A Lot of Hand Holding
If you are only accustomed to brick and mortar way of education and never tried online learning, etc; then an online, remote coding bootcamp might not be a good fit for you.
Typically, students who need to be in an onsite setting to successfully learn something are individuals who are not motivated, self-driven, and historically have a record of failing to commit to something and see things through.
If that sounds like you, then you should find a tough, rigorous onsite coding boot camp like AppAcademy or Hack Reactor.
The downside of these bootcamps is that they are normally more expensive and that’s warranted because they give students more attention. But they specialize in students who are already accustomed to brick and mortar learning styles.
#2 Structured Curriculum Roadmap to Save You Time
(A) You Are Given The Road Map of Success
This is a contrast against developers who were self-taught. I tip my hat off to them because it takes a lot of willpower, intentionality, discipline, grit, and more to pull that off.
When attending an online coding bootcamp, you probably have to exert 50% the effort of a self-taught developer but the other 50% is covered, directed by the coding bootcamp you’ve committed to.
Onsite coding bootcamps essentially hold your hand 80% and the 20% comes from you just showing up and doing the work.
Therefore, online coding bootcamps are the happy medium that sits between an onsite education experience and independent self-taught route.
The value you are getting out of an online coding bootcamp is the road map of success to keep you in track.
Meaning, the bootcamp eliminates all analysis paralysis distractions of picking what technologies, methods, etc that you should learn.
This is extremely valuable because it streamlines your time investment to get you from point A to point B (graduating with fundamentals), which saves you a lot of time and headache.
(B) Handed Certificate of Completion
Think about it. A college degree technically is the same thing. What they both signify is you were able to commit to completing the task at hand.
That is in itself a powerful witness to your ability as a software developer since your job demands you take a problem from start to end and solve it.
Again, I am a strong proponent of skills over degree, but the fact that a coding bootcamp is an accelerated learning medium to build your skills and you were able to complete it within a short amount of time does speak powerfully.
(A) Curriculum Content Sucks
You get what you paid for with the Bloc (Thinkful) self-pace, online, remote coding bootcamp. Yes, you do get perks like Q&A sessions and 1:1 weekly 30 minute mentorship.
However, the curriculum content is dull and boring (essentially, you are doing a freeCodeCamp 2.0) because it’s all text with occasional practice problems via Repl.it (which is frustrating to use because it fails and doesn’t work most of the time).
How to Overcome The Disadvantages
(A) Supplement Your Learning With Other Resources
Leverage freeCodeCamp’s curriculum for learning purposes is much better than what Bloc offers. You should leverage that in tandem with Bloc for algorithm practices, etc.
Select key Udemy courses (cmd + f Udemy) to supplement concept learning, data structures and algorithms, and to build projects.
#3 Self-Paced, Flexible Cadence
(A) Designed for Self-Driven Individuals
For me, when I look back on my academic journey in university, I realized I thrived in a competitive program that had high expectations.
Story time: I was part of the Chinese Language Flagship Program during university because in late 2013 I made a decision to master Mandarin because the pain I’ve experienced in Taiwan when I attended my cousin’s wedding and couldn’t communicate with my Chinese blood.
Therefore, I started learning by myself, attended Cantonese, Mandarin fellowship at my church; embraced frustration, sadness, and tears initially because it was extremely difficult when your own kind viewed you as a dumbass foreigner, etc.
Immediately in summer 2014, I had the opportunity to do an accelerated language program in Taiwan for 12 weeks. And I completely seized this opportunity and excelled tremendously. But the accomplishments here like passing the program with 4.0 GPA, scoring into ACTFL Mandarin OPI of 2 were just the beginning.
Next, I earned my way into a full scholarship study abroad capstone in China and from there here were my accomplishments:
1. Scored OPI 3/5, passed HSK 6 (target goal for the program)
2. Traveled to 25+ cities in China and 8+ countries
3. Completed 6-month internship
4. Hit all language benchmarks for Flagship Language Program (reading, writing, listening, speaking)
5. Experienced a short, yet memorable period of love 😉
6. Become sustainably fluent in Mandarin within 2 years of learning.
7. Blogged about my entire experience on my personal blog
My other cohort from my school and other schools had years of experience learning the language, but the majority of them failed to hit the metrics designed from this rigorous capstone program for one reason: they were not driven and took success lightly.
A great analogy of my success is the story of the hare and the turtle. Sorta. The other students were like the hare because they had an advantage of experience, but they got lazy and overconfident. I was the turtle who started late, but I kept with the process and grinded it out to the finish line.
Moreover, I created SMART goals and crushed them each semester because I lived with urgency each day and tried to maximize my results.
I can go on and on about the parallel similarity between my capstone year in China in 2015 and a coding bootcamp like Bloc. The key takeaway is, you have to be driven and own your success and failures.
So ask yourself and do some deep introspection: have you ever in the past done anything academically or personally that required intensive focus, dedication, execution, and grit to accomplish something in 3 months? Did you finish and deliver results?
If the answer is yes, then surviving and being successful in an online coding bootcamp is just as possible.
(A) You Are On Your Own and Need to Create Your Own Sense of Urgency
Yes. You have a road map of what success looks like, but for 80% of the day, you will be grinding alone.
Occasionally, you will attend Q&A sessions to get unstuck on problems or projects you are working on, but afterwards, you go back to me, myself, and I.
You need to be resourceful and create an execution plan for yourself to complete the program in X amount of months. Bloc frames that if you do the program part-time investing 20 hours a week, you will be able to complete it in 8 months.
For me, I knew that I wanted to finish the Bloc boot camp within 3 months. Next, it’s up to you to create your own sense of urgency and hit your own success metrics.
Meaning, I had to commit 40 hours minimum per week and realistically, it required close to 60+ hours a week to fuel this intensive 3 month completion target.
(B) Hard to Collaborate With Other Students: Pair Programming and Team Capstones
Thinkful’s Full-Time Engineering Immersion has paired programming and team capstone projects baked inside its road map. The Bloc web developer track unfortunately does not because it’s an asynchronous program.
Pair programming isn’t discouraged, but my mentor at least wanted to supervise whether I did pair programming with other classmates under his mentorship.
This was kind of odd, but it can be for business reasons of creating this hindrance in order to upgrade you to the full engineering immersion.
How to Leverage this Flexibility
(A) Do Pair Programming Anyways
Leverage the Slack channels and find other students who live in the same time-zone as your or is in a similar pace as you to do pair programming.
It’s valuable for both parties because this allows you to articulate your thoughts when tackling an algorithm problem or project bugs.
Since the program is entirely remote, these short excursions of meeting with another classmate is precious.
It’s a win-win for both parties because when the student who is more knowledgeable over a topic teaches the other inexperienced student, they are learning by teaching.
My advice would be to find at least 3 other students that you can do weekly 30 minute to 1 hour pair programming with.
(B) Find Like-Minded Students for Team Capstone Projects
Leverage the Slack channels and find channels about collaboration and start prospecting potential classmates who also want to collaborate in either paired programming or do a collaborated, team capstone project.
Team capstone projects show to employers that you can work with a team of engineers to accomplish a common goal by playing different roles in the project.
Bloc web developer track does not have it built in the curriculum, but the salesperson there do not discourage it.
Yet, pulling one off is harder because everyone is self-paced. Hence, you have to find a group of students who are at the same pace as you to work on the same capstone project.
Or you can leverage your Thinkful mentor or other software engineer friend mentors to do a team capstone project with you.
Regardless of how you get this done, I encourage you to do this because its just adding another skill set for you.
#4 Weekly 1:1 Mentorship and Daily Q&A Sessions
(A) They Point Out Your Weaknesses
You don’t know what you don’t know. However, when you have a mentor investing in you, they have visibility into your blind spots.
This can translate into them criticizing the way you tackle problems, organize your code, and more.
The feedback is extremely powerful and will accelerate your learning.
(B) Mentors Remove Roadblocks 80% Faster
The truth is, when you are junior developer, a problem that took you 2-4 hours to solve b yourself can be solved with the help of a mentor in 10-20 minutes.
This advantage helps you progress in your road map faster and keeps your motivation to code and improve burning bright.
(C) Share Best Practices
I recently had a session with my friend software engineer mentor from Square and he gave me best practices in writing clean, maintainable, readable code.
It gave me a paradigm shift from thinking that one-liner codes were the best way to write code; after the mentorship session, I learned that writing readable code, meaning using variables to paint a story of the software developers thought process in multiple lines of code was superior for a professional software developer that worked at Square.
It’s hard to have that insight when you are first starting because again, you don’t know what you don’t know.
(D) Q&A Sessions Are Awesome. Over Use Them
You only get one 30 minute 1 on 1 session with your mentor per week. That is nothing. Luckily, there are daily Q&A sessions on different topics covered in the curriculum that are hour long.
If you are lucky, there won’t be other students in the queue and you can get close to an hour worth of mentorship, or in most cases you get 15-20 minutes for the Q&A mentor to answer your question.
(A) One 30 Minute 1 on 1 Session Per Week is Not Enough
30 minutes 1 on 1 mentorship is not enough time to fully answer a question or problem you might be facing.
Therefore, you have to be more resourceful and Google or search engine your way to the answer. Which is great practice because as a professional software developer, that’s what you will be doing.
However, in a coding bootcamp, the entire purpose is to land that first job. Without the proper dedicated support, it becomes harder.
My 2-cent is leverage the Q&A sessions and the next advice I am going to mention.
How to Overcome Disadvantages
(A) Prospect Software Developers in Your Social Circle As a Potential Mentor
In the Bloc Web Developer track online coding bootcamp, you do get weekly 1:1 mentorship support from a Thinkful mentor, however, 30 minutes per week is not enough.
Granted, you can attend Q&A sessions and have other Thinkful mentors help you out on a daily basis, but you can only ask 1 question before they have to work with other students.
It’s crucial for you to prospect and reach out to your network for Software Engineers who see potential in you and want to see you succeed by mentoring you.
They can help you with algorithm problems; provide pair programming support for your capstone projects; provide best practices in writing clean, readable, maintainable code; and much more.
Try to find 2-3 software developer friends to become your mentor. Meet with them on a weekly basis for 30 minutes to an hour. This way you can switch out mentors per week and ensure that you get some support each week versus relying on one friend.
#5 Affordable Tuition
(A) You Avoid Debt like The Plague
Expensive, “top-tier” coding bootcamps like GalvanizeU, AppAcademy, and Hack Reactor cost an average of $20,000 to $30,000.
For me, it’s something that I wish to avoid: getting into student loan debt. I chose Bloc Web Developer Track because its $1063/month (plus the initial “limited” director discount of $1000 so that your 1st month payment is $63), therefore, if you manage to finish within 3 months that’s $3252.
The differences come from the mentorship support and if the coding bootcamp have experience staff to teach advance database structure and algorithms.
(B) Leverage Extra Capital in Other Resources
However, for the latter mentioned differences, you can leverage your remaining capital to supplement those learnings from a different source like Outco which is a career accelerator for software engineers to help them with interviews.
Or upcoming software engineer interviewing and algorithm practice companies like AlgoExpert who provide a cheaper alternative to prep you for interviews.
This way, you are mitigating the risk from investing everything into one coding bootcamp.
(A) You Get What You Pay For
You have less support, the curriculum usually sucks more, and you are left to learn on your own with minimal attention.
Overally, you are basically getting the “second best” of their flagship coding bootcamp which is an onsite alternative or a better version of an online coding bootcamp.
(B) Being Okay Starting at a Junior Developer Level
Typically, being part of a top coding bootcamp like App Academy leads to the first software developer job with a salary of $105K (based on App Academy stats).
Not to devalue my skills as a developer (I’m sure I can negotiate into that salary range based on my entire value package and skill sets), but you have to be ok with the possibility of starting in an paid internship, contract developer, or apprenticeship role as your first gig.
Based on the price you are paying for it and the ability to avoid debt, this is not a bad trade if you think about it when it comes to the risk and reward comparison.
How to Overcome Disadvantages of an Affordable Tuition
(A) Thoroughly Prepare 3 – 6 Months To Maximize Your Investment
Again, leverage my previous blog post on how I took roughly 18 months to prepare prior to attending Bloc online coding bootcamp.
The more prepared you are before attending a coding bootcamp, the more value you can extract out of it during your attendance because you will ask harder questions above the fundamentals.
This can be in the form of taking mini-coding bootcamps on Udemy, Codecademy, TeamTreeHouse, freeCodeCamp or more.
Remember, being a software developer and programming is a process. Joining and finishing a coding bootcamp are just milestones within that journey.
However, you can start that journey now and prepare for a coding bootcamp.
#6 Connecting to a Network of Bootcamp Alumni
(A) Potential for Paired Programming
When you are a self-taught developer, you don’t have this opportunity to work on coding projects or problems with another engineer.
A coding bootcamp of any sort, allows you this opportunity. And you should definitely take it.
(B) Potential for Collaborative Projects
Again, when you are a self-taught developer, you know how to create projects by yourself from start to finish, which is a powerful skill.
However, in a work environment, you have to understand how to be an engineer that takes in to consideration how your code affects not only the project at hand, but your teammates.
Hence, you have to adjust your skillset to allow for project collaboration, pair programming, writing readable code, and much more.
Not to mention, the communication skills needed to articulate engineering concepts to your teammate to overcome challenges, etc.
You can only get this experience when you’ve done a team capstone project with another engineer.
(C) Potential to Leverage Alumni Network for Job Referrals
You’ve heard the ageless saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know”.
My friend who graduated from App Academy told me that he was at the bottom 10% of his cohort, but he was able to land a $115K job in San Francisco because another App Academy alumni recommended him a job at his company.
In heavy contrast, the top 10% in his cohort still weren’t able to find a job past the 3 month mark.
It’s harder to leverage a network when you are a self-taught developer because you are not in the environment to expose yourself to those opportunities.
(A) Competition: Everyone Wants a Job – CS Grads and Boot Camp Grads
It’s crowded in here. Really. The flaws of human nature will come out. (I really hope not haha). But this is the reality, everyone is competing for similar jobs after they graduate from coding bootcamps and from 4-year universities.
Sometimes, it’s not how good you are as an engineer, but a lot on soft skills like selling yourself and being socially accepted.
#7 Leverage Coding Bootcamp to Substitute a Computer Science Degree
(A) Project Based Curriculum
Universities focus on theory based computer science courses and very few courses on actual coding. Coding bootcamps are the complete opposite where its focused on project based learning so you have something to show for.
Think of colleges as the traditional waterfall methodology of creating a product over the span of 4 years. And think of a coding bootcamp of creating an MVP over the course of 3-6 months.
Granted, the coding bootcamp grad won’t have polished, perfect projects, but they’ve created things and deployed them for immediate feedback and improvement based on the market.
(B) Strong Portfolio
Portfolios communicate “I can get stuff done and produce results” and that’s what employers of any sort really care about, not your degree in most cases.
A strong portfolio can be developed by a CS college student, self-taught developer, or bootcamp grad.
But with the latter, bootcamps really specialize on helping students produce the best portfolios because their business depends on it.
Hence, it’s advantageous to consider a coding bootcamp if your goal is to produce a portfolio of exceptional/ MVP projects.
(C) You Are a 3 Months, Not 4-Years MVP
When you join a coding bootcamp, you are essentially an unpaid software developer. You are already producing apps, tackling projects, and building the pragmatic skills of a professional, working software developer.
Granted, you might lack the depth of theoretical knowledge of a 4 year college grad, but let’s face reality people; how often have you used theoretical knowledge in your everyday life?
The fact is, in a coding bootcamp, they churn out MVP software developers within 3-6 months and that’s enough to get in the door and start a long-term journey as a programmer.
(D) Experience, Skills > Degree
When you are in a coding bootcamp, you are effectively an unpaid jack-of-all-trade software developer that has to play the role of a Product Manager, Product Marketer, Frontend Engineer, Backend Engineer, UX Designer and more.
You will be learning more skills and applying them directly versus a 4-year college student.
(E) Leverage Coding Bootcamp Brand Name
This is where coding bootcamp act as traditional schools. I picked Bloc (Thinkful) because they are ranked #5 out of 10 coding bootcamp in 2019 according to Switchup.
It was the happy medium between picking an expensive coding bootcamp like AppAcademy, GalvinizeU, or Hack Reactor.
In the end, it’s better to have some sort of formal engineering training than without. And it’s easier to leverage a brand name that is recognizable (but obvious not accredited) than to apply as a self-taught developer.
(F) Build Software Developer Interview Skills
Coding bootcamps help you with 2 things: build skills on software developer interview process and help you build a strong portfolio of projects.
Interviewing specifically for a software engineer role is a skill of its own to master. In reality, when you are in a coding bootcamp you have to master fundamentals of programming and the art and science of interviewing well.
(A) Stigma Against Coding Bootcamp Grads
When coding bootcamps first came out, it was easier to get a developer job. But now that there are plenty of coding bootcamps churning out junior developers, companies are more defensive about hiring coding bootcamp grads.
(B) Only Fundamentals Skills of Programming
The entire design of a coding bootcamp is to produce a graduate that is an MVP software developer, meaning they are able to produce tangible results although it may be rudimentary.
Overcoming the Disadvantages
(A) Be a Salesperson, Sell Your Developer Skills
It’s harder but not impossible. This just involves you being able to sell yourself and your capabilities while transcending your coding bootcamp background and not letting companies devalue you because of that fact.
Therefore, you have to be a salesperson and go into each interview like its a sales meeting, qualify each opportunity via discovery to learn about the company’s or team’s challenges and position yourself as the best solution to meet those challenges.
(B) Computer Science Theory Can Be Learned Overtime
That is the double edge sword of a coding bootcamp, however, compared against typical computer science graduates, they are not far off because the average computer science grad hasn’t actually coded anything.
The advantage of coding bootcamp graduates is they can successfully deliver tangible results. As for theoretical knowledge, they can leverage real work experience and affordable learning materials throughout their career as an engineer to develop and fill holes in their knowledge.
Key Takeaways & Action Items
Evaluate the Advantages vs Disadvantages of Each Argument
If you resonated with 5 out of the aforementioned 7 arguments, then you self-qualified yourself to attending a similar online coding boot camp like Bloc (Thinkful).
If not, you should consider exploring an onsite coding boot camp as another possibility.
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This blog has been inspired by these creators who specialize in inspiring other potential, prospective upcoming software developers with their content: Chris Sean, whatsdev, Joshua Fluke, Traversy Media, Dylan Israel, Engineered Truth, freeCodeCamp, BullDog Mentality(SimpleProgrammer)
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