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Considering a dev bootcamp? Four questions you have to ask yourself first

Screenshot of Sarah Ransohoff’s Emergency Bootcamp Motivator.

If you are considering making a career change into tech, you have no doubt come across one of these developer bootcamps or intensives.

Most of these schools follow a similar model: students enroll in a 3-4 month full-time program. Students pay between $5,000-$15,000 for their session, and at the end of the course of study, students apply for entry level development jobs at local tech companies.

Developer schools are popping up all over the country, literally: in Austin you’ve got Maker Square, Chicago’s got Starter League and the Startup Institute, Boston’s got Startup Institute and Dev Bootcamp, Seattle has Ada Developer’s Academy and Code Fellows, and no surprise, New York and San Francisco both boast a veritable buffet of options: New York has Flatiron School, Hacker School, Dev Bootcamp, Fullstack Academy, Startup Institute, App Academy, and more. San Francisco has Hackbright, Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, and many more.

In other words, if you are interested in making a dramatic career change, there are plenty of places that are excited to help you do it.

But quitting your job, picking up and moving, and plunking down most of your life savings is no small thing. So we sat down with two Skillcrush alums, Sarah Ransohoff and Christina Thompson, who both made the leap into a full-time program.

Four questions you must ask yourself before you enroll in a developer training program:

1. How do you learn best?

Developer intensives are called that for a reason. Sarah, a current student at the Flatiron School in New York, says that “this will be what you do, and likely the only thing you do, for the next x number of weeks (or however long your program is).” What that means is that you better like focusing all your attention on one thing all day, 6-7 days a week.

So you really need to ask yourself, says Sarah, “what is your learning strategy? How do you learn best? The reason it’s so important to know the answer to this question, is that every day at a dev bootcamp a lot of information is thrown at you, and you’re trying to make at least some of it stick.” And does your method of learning jive with how the school does things?

If you’re not sure, try experimenting a little bit before you commit to three full months (or more). Try an online course or two, a weekend workshop, or go see if you can’t visit the school for a day. See what style fits with you and make sure that you will get the most out of your experience.

Remember, bootcamps “aren’t 4 year C.S. programs,” says Christina, a current student at Ada Developer’s Academy in Seattle. “They are condensed and move fast. You must quickly get comfortable with learning on the fly. I think the purpose of dev bootcamps are to give you basic skills and teach you to be a continuous learner.”

2. Can you afford it?

These programs aren’t cheap. The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you have the $5-15k to plunk down.

If your answer is no, you are not completely out of luck. Many of the schools do offer scholarship opportunities, especially if you are a woman or minority. Hacker School teamed up with Etsy to provide grants, Flatiron School is offering scholarships to NYC residents, Ada Developer’s Academy and Hackbright are both tuition free for any exceptionally qualified ladies who get in.

That said, even if you do get your tuition covered, you are not entirely in the clear. “It’s a full time commitment,” says Christina, so you will need to also have money saved away to pay all your living expenses while you are in the program.

The good news though is that if you have the money to spend up front, your chance of recouping your expense is really good. Remember the average salary for developers is upwards of $90,000 a year.

But of course, there are other ways to get the same education without having to uproot your life or gamble your savings.

3. Do you have the technical foundation to get the most out of it?

These bootcamps expect you to learn a lot in a compressed period of time, so it’s important that you , in fact some passing knowledge of technology is a requirement for most schools.

Before you begin, “try to lay a foundation” recommends Christina. This doesn’t have to be hard, you just need to “read, do tutorials, find out what languages and tools you’ll be working with and get some practice in them.”

Consider an online school like Skillcrush or Codecademy, or try a shorter in-person session offered at places like General Assembly and Girl Develop It.

As Sarah put it, you “might as well test the waters before you spend on a lot of time and money on something that you may not like at all.”

4. What is your end goal? And where do you want to be?

It’s not that you have to know exactly where you want to end up and what you want to be doing, you just want to make sure that enrolling in a developer bootcamp makes sense for your goals (and that you aren’t just being swept up in the latest fad).

Your goals don’t have to be super specific. Sarah, for example, says that “my long-term goal is to be a user experience designer for a shared economy company (e.g. Airbnb or Zipcar, who are encouraging large-scale sustainable behavior).” But she’s not wed to that path, instead she approaches learning with an open mind: “I basically approach the lessons at Flatiron with the goal of: Understand this, right now, as much as possible. It will help you build whatever you end up wanting to build in the future.”

What you need to remember is why you got into this thing, you have to answer the “Why do I want to do this?” question agrees Christina. “Because when it gets hard, and it will, the answer to that will help you get through.”

The other thing to consider is where you want to be when you leave. In general, most of the developer bootcamps have the most established relationships with employers in their area. So if you want to end up working in San Francisco, best to enroll in a local program.

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  1. Just an FYI Dev Bootcamp who was the first immersive web development program is located in San Francisco, New York City and Chicago, not Boston!

  2. Sheonna Harris Replied

    So, is this article stating that your courses are compressible to Codecademy?

  3. There is another really good training center to learn everything in UI. Its called Go-Live Labs, They actually turned out to be an amazing deal for me.

    They offered me Free – Yes FREE!!!! 12 weeks programs – The most complete program I could ever dream of.

    The catch? You have to work with them in a consulting role for one year. Or you pay $8000 in 4 installments if you leave and join a full time position. Compare that to others now!
    They offered me a great salary + H1B Sponsorship (at No Cost unlike some of these Indian staffing companies who ask candidates to pay for legal fees).
    I recently interviewed with them and got in. Check out their website. Not only do they give one on one attention to all of us in class (small class of 6) but also have a career department that actively circulates our resumes and gets us interviews. The previous batch got some awesome job offers since they knew all the latest JavaScript Frameworks like Angular JS, Backbone JS & Core OO

    There is an interview but it’s mostly to assess how seriously you are pursuing a career in UI/UX and if you know basic programming. They demand minimum 40 hours in their classroom and Lab per week. They do 3 classes of 4 hours each per week.

    They are still growing so you may not have heard of it. I am learning so much! They are in Sunnyvale downtown on Murphy Street with a nice Training and Lab space. Check them out here http://GoLiveLabs.io .

  4. On the tuition front, App Academy (in NY and SF) is completely free until you get a job. Disclosure: I went there and worked there. I love the work Skillcrush has done to build a knowledge base around tech and web dev in general. I link out to your explanations from the curriculum I’ve built at The Odin Project (http://theodinproject.com) fairly frequently. The project is meant to actually help people who can’t do in-person bootcamps (like @susanwilson:disqus above) but still want to access the same path forward on their own terms (for free).

  5. Bobby Replied

    Great article! Some additional online resources related to bootcamps; Epicodus in Portland put up the material for their entire four-month program online. Flatiron school put an excellent list together of their “pre-work” for incoming students online (With awesome definitions from Skillcrush). JumpstartLab, creators of Hungry Academy & gSchool, have a great list of tutorials, including daily outlines for gSchool (They’ll no longer run gSchool after the current cohort). Quora and Reddit have a lot of answers to questions about bootcamps also. For me, Twitter has also been a good resource for finding out information. Throw any of that in your favorite search engine.

    Make sure to do your research! The programs vary greatly, new ones have been popping up quite frequently. Some good advice I’ve seen is to look at the reputation of instructors and each program’s focus to make sure it aligns with your goals and learning style. Check out what your local community college offers as well and the “Meetups” in your area.

    Happy Coding!!

    “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” -Henry Ford

    • MikeG Replied

      Even though JumpstartLab isn’t going to run gSchool after this cohort, the program will continue to operate. The next class will be in Boulder, CO starting March 2014. Check it out here:


  6. I love the idea of a crash course in coding but the reality is that if your over 40 or a mom, these intensives just aren’t doable. I use a few different solutions to teach myself and I’m making progress, but I figured I’d ask the group if there’s a program that’s geared more toward older women and moms that have to juggle a bit more and cannot (no matter how much they wish they could) focus 24/7 on coding and their start up?

    • Just a normal woman Replied

      Hi Susan,
      I wish you wouldn’t presume to speak for all moms or older women. I’m 55 and I’m having no problem re-learning to code most hours of the day… and have been doing it for months on my own… and no one codes 24/7.

      That is a ridiculous rumor that you are helping to perpetuate. I don’t spend time watching tv and I’m an empty-nester. This is exactly what I want to spend my time doing and I love it. I know many older men and women that have plenty of energy and focus.

      • Sorry, never meant to speak for everyone. I’ll work on that. I’m not an empty-nester. My 3 kids are 10, 15 & 17 so I can’t just leave them for the intensives. That was the point I was trying to make. I didn’t mean all moms. I just meant moms with kids that they can’t just leave for a month or six weeks to focus on coding at a boot camp. But maybe you know of a viable solution. I really am trying but it’s frustrating. I’ve already done 3 tech startups and the first was started in 1998 and sold for $100M in 2000 so I SWEAR I’m not an idiot, but I was 2nd in command and the business person who knew a little about coding. Now I just want to be able to build the stuff I dream up – especially because most of my ideas are complicated to build.

        Again, apologies for perpetuating any stereotypes but for me, “Coding Bootcamp for 43 Year Old Entrepreneur Moms that Can’t Remember What They Had for Breakfast” would be ideal.


      • Laraa Replied

        Hi Susan, I’m also a mom (to a 7 year old) and I’m working on my idea for a startup for a while… I’ve been thinking about taking a bootcamp and I experience the same problem: to have peace of mind while I’m there (that means to be sure that my son is taken care of), so, one of the possibilities for me is doing the bootcamp during the summer and leaving my son with my mom (she is loving it since we live far apart and she doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with him). But there is also online options: Bloc.io and Thinkful. have you heard of them? Bloc.io is expensive, but they guarantee you have a mentor that you will meet online 3 x a week. Hope it helps!!

  7. Tess Replied

    Don’t forget about gSchool. It’s a great program that focuses on leveling the playing field and doesn’t require a bazillion dollars up front.

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