The Career Changer’s Guide to Coding Bootcamp
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It's a good time to be a web developer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, developers made a median salary of $63,490 in 2014, and employment is projected to grow 27% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than any other occupation out there.
Of course, one doesn't simply become a developer – it's a highly specific skill that often requires intensive training. If you're looking to make a career change, a bevy of classes, coding bootcamps, and courses have sprung up to help you start learning. But all courses are not created equal.
We talked to three graduates of Dev Bootcamp – Michael Angelo DeCarlo, Front End Engineer at The New York Times; Julianna Rusakiewicz, Junior Developer & Digital Producer at Catch New York; and Christine Schatz, Junior Full Stack Engineer at PetFlow.
They shared their experiences before, during, and after the 19-week full immersion course.
If you're hungry for a career change and thinking of moving into web development and engineering, here's what you need to know.
It doesn’t matter where you came from.
I was a professional opera singer for almost seven years. I absolutely loved it – I went to college for music.
I moved to New York City to be an artist. I started my adult life as an actress, and then, in an effort to make more money, I moved into lighting, sound, and media design. And so I spent the last four years as a designer for the theater. Had you told me when I was 20 that I would be a developer, I would have said “Absolutely not. I barely know how to open Gmail.”
Inspiration can come from anywhere.
I got to this point where I wanted to do something extremely creative, and I didn’t know if that was music… My older brother had been in technology for a while, and he said, “You should try a Ruby course for fun,” and I was like, “You’re the smart one. I’m the talented one.” But he said, “Try it, it’s not as hard as you think it is.”
I believe I Googled “32-year-old high paid careers no education”. I had already spent money on a master’s degree in design and I just didn’t have another $40k for another master’s degree. I’m looking through all these career paths and the only one that I thought I would have any interest doing is software development.
And I was working with a group of artists who were writing code to make their projections.
I saw how effortlessly they were writing code and I started asking about it. The conversation that we had made me think, “This is what I want to do.” I started realizing it’s the same thing as art making – it’s just a different medium.
My interest started when I was young, around the era of GeoCities and Angelfire back when the internet was still really only for nerds. I taught myself HTML and I was building my own websites.
It’s important to know if you like engineering before you actually dive into it. But that doesn’t mean you need a ton of experience.
After I took the Ruby class, it opened up a whole other world to me. There was that instant gratification of programming – just seeing something appear that you’ve created from scratch. I had never thought about being creative through a computer.
At first I thought maybe someday I’ll create a little game. But suddenly I wanted to know more and more, and I wasn’t learning fast enough. And my brother said, “If you’re serious about this and you want to make a career change, look into a bootcamp.”
I started teaching myself [engineering] and I gave myself a curriculum, but I was trying to teach myself something I didn’t know… I would sit down to do an online class and later realize I didn’t ingest the material as deeply as I thought I would. After a year teaching myself, I didn’t learn nearly as much as I thought I would – but I really wanted to learn.
While I was an academic coordinator, I was doing an associate’s degree in computer science. It took me three years to get because I was doing it part-time, and I really was not confident… I knew someone who worked as a software engineer and she connected me with an internship interview. I sat down and they gave me this algorithm to solve and I literally thought about running out of the room. I was clearly not prepared.
Do your homework before you sign up for anything. This is a big deal.
I applied to Dev Bootcamp and I got in, but I still had to make my decision that I was going to switch careers, and that I would be okay with that. So I had a heart-to-heart with myself – what do I really like doing? What makes me happy? I realized singing and programming are both a subcategory of being creative, and that was the main thing for me – being creative. The medium doesn’t matter.
Because I think I can pick up information quickly and I can implement quickly, I didn’t necessarily need a long-term program. At the same time I didn’t have a lot of money for a long-term program, so looking at bootcamps the price range is pretty reasonable… and I was very fortunate to get a Yes We Code scholarship. There are a lot of scholarships out there.
In school I studied a lot of theory but I didn’t get a ton of practice with actual coding and algorithms. I was searching Quora to find out if a master’s in computer science is worth it, because I was considering that after my associate’s. Someone there mentioned that Dev Bootcamp has become a great way to segue without needing a master’s or bachelor’s degree necessarily.
I looked it up and then I immediately started preparing to apply.
Dev Bootcamp’s curriculum is divided in two parts. A remote, part-time 9-week program, followed by an on-campus 9-week immersion program. There’s also a career prep week after that.
I was still working for the nine-week at-home portion and it was definitely hectic. But I made this decision so I put my all into it. When you’re paying for it, it raises the stakes.
You learn Github – how to fork and clone – and you’re introduced to Ruby, JS, HTML, CSS, and SQL.
Every time I learned something new, and it would work, I would just get so excited. You don’t really need other people to tell you that you’re on the right track because you see it. I felt really prepared when I went on-site.
The remote weeks were fairly grueling – it was a lot of work. If you weren’t on top of things, you were in trouble. I was also working while I did it, but I do think it helped students prepare a lot before the on-site program.
If you think the off-site is tough, wait until you get to campus.
The immersion curriculum is divided into three phases. In the first, they focus on traditional CS degree stuff – algorithms, data structures, tons of methods, and you start to touch on databases a little bit.
And then in phase two you start doing all the front-end work, everything you need to understand how the web works.
But the amount of knowledge that you get from the beginning to the end, I still don’t know how I crammed it all in my brain. But this environment that they’ve set up it’s just so welcoming and open, that you just feel like you can fly.
It’s not just going to be intellectually challenging. It’s going to get emotional.
They focus on engineering empathy, learning how to open yourself up to other people’s emotions and your own emotions. It sounds a little weird being in the tech world, but it really helps you to let go of a lot of stuff that you may be carrying with you into this process.
Because a lot of people are making a career change, a life change, they’ve put a lot of money into this, there’s a lot of things going on in their heads. But it allows you to let go of things from your parents, let go of things with each other, and communicate that, which is not typical in any field.
You learn to code – you code all day, every day – but there’s also distractions to alleviate some of that pressure. They have yoga, and we had group bonding experiences – an improv guy came in facilitate an improv workshop with us. They do a dance class which is hilarious. Imagine a room full of programmers and then imagine a room full of programmers dancing.
There were struggles. There were definitely tears. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I doubted myself. On the first day I wanted to leave. I thought, “OK, this is not for me, maybe I can’t learn quickly.”
One of the reasons why I’m so thankful for my Dev Bootcamp experience in particular is that they talked about self-doubt. I would think I don’t belong here and then immediately recognize that I’m doing this to myself because I’m human, this is normal. It doesn’t mean that I can’t. It means that I think I can’t. It’s just going to be a little bit harder than I’d like it to be.
I would compare my learning pace with the pace of others – that person’s getting it so much quicker, or how is it that they already built that thing and I’m so slow or something like that. But I learned that it really didn’t matter.
But it’s going to get you there.
It’s just like a language immersion class. Before Dev Bootcamp, I would read tutorials and have to reread things. Or I would get to a word in a sentence and realize I have no idea what that means and I would have to research that.
Now my perception of development and coding is entirely different – if someone says to me “Do you know Java?”, I don’t think “I don’t know that language, that’s scary and intimidating.” I think, “I don’t know it, but give me a weekend and I’ll figure out the syntax.” Because it really is a lot more about concepts and the way you approach problems and the way you problem solve.
Career week will help you brand yourself as a developer and prepare you to show off your new skills.
Career week is essential. They boost your resume, they connect you with all the people that they know – because we have our own network of employee partners. They do white boarding and help you get ready for interviewing, because a lot of people aren’t used to having to go into a room, opening their computer, and performing.
At first, you’re going to feel like a fake. That’s normal.
It’s called Imposter Syndrome, where you feel like you’re an imposter in the industry. I don’t know that that will ever go away, I think it’s something that you have to make peace with. You’re a professional now or you’re not a professional. I think now I feel like I’m finally a professional.
For the first few weeks, maybe even the first few months, I felt Imposter Syndrome and I knew it. I also knew it was normal because of the training that we went through. In our engineering empathy classes we talked a lot about Imposter Syndrome.
I thought by learning enough about it I could block it out, but instead what happened was I was able to recognize it and realize, great, I’m not an imposter, I’m a junior, I belong here.
The job hunt can be a struggle. But it’s like that for everyone.
It took about two-and-a-half months before I found my first job. You’ll hear a lot of “no” and you have to be okay with that, because it’s just like anything else. All you need is one “yes”. And that’s the key to remember for people who want to break in – you’re going to hear “no” a lot, and it’s going to be a little bit sad, and there are going to be times when you feel like you made the wrong decision, but it will work out.
I had a really good friend from the program, and we were accountability buddies – so we would talk to each other about why we felt that way and we would encourage each other in the job hunt. She got her job before me and it lit a fire – if she could do this I could do this. Neither one of us had any programming experience before we went into it, so I hit the ground running again, I got my first job with a small startup.
I didn’t want to try and take on jobs and work from home. I wanted to be around people and learn from others as well. And so I started going to events where I would meet people who were hiring, and that’s how I found my first job. I met a representative from Catch New York City at a Dev Bootcamp event in December and I started in January.
Of course, once you land the job, it’s a whole new world.
There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of learning by making mistakes, which was fine. Of course in the moment I felt down and out about it but people responded very positively to my making small strides. I was not given a lot of projects to start, but now, I have a few different websites that I continue to work on and develop.
It took a couple months to settle in and really feel confident that I was part of the company. I also didn’t have a workflow yet. Had it been a theater job, I would have had my own way of doing things but this was my first developer job so I was still figuring out how to approach these problems. Just how to sit at a computer all day. I started Googling “how to do exercises at your desk”. There were other factors that I never really thought about.
And if you want to succeed, you can’t stop learning.
Those first couple weeks I definitely did a lot of Googling, there was a lot of looking stuff up. It’s intense – you’re learning a new language or a new framework or how to go through their file systems, but Dev Bootcamp prepares you for that.
The biggest gift they give you is the ability to teach yourself. So you learn how to learn and you can learn anything and by the time you’re done you have a fearlessness about going into anything else. There are people who graduate from Dev Bootcamp and go into Swift development and iOS, and we don’t learn that. But as long as they can prove in the interview that they know Swift and C, they can do it.
Since Dev Bootcamp, I’ve taught myself Swift on my own time, React, multiple languages and frameworks, just because I’m interested in it and I want to do it.
Being adaptable, flexible, willing to learn new technologies, they’re really essential to succeeding. I had to learn a new IDE [integrated development environment] on my first job, I had to learn Scala as well as some PHP. Two out of those three things I never had to work with before. You just have to be willing to adapt and learn.
Some employers are reluctant to hire a coding bootcamp graduate, but that stigma is ending.
In my interviewing process, sometimes there was definitely a bias. They would ask “Do you have a CS degree? Because the job title asks for that.” But I would say, “If you want to see me live code, I can show you how I can do this.”
Most of the job descriptions have weird things that don’t even exist. They’ll ask for ten years of HTML5 and CSS3 experience, but those haven’t even existed for ten years. During career week, the Dev Bootcamp careers team members tell you not to pay attention to how many years experience they ask for. If it says junior level you know what you need to know. Even if it’s mid-level, some people can do that.
I was worried that if I came out as a bootcamp grad, people were going to look at me and think. “You’re not real, you cheated.” That’s something I think the industry still needs to get over, but it’s definitely getting better. I put in the hours, the talent and the drive are still there. If you’ve graduated from a bootcamp, you’ve proven that you have the skills you need.
Dev Bootcamp has campuses in San Francisco, New York, San Diego, Chicago, Seattle, Washington DC, and Austin. You can learn more about them right here.