To Bootcamp or Not to Bootcamp
There won’t be a new episode of Junior Developer Toolbox this week. But fret not! Dave and I are taking a break to recharge and plan upcoming show content. Dave is soaking up some rays on a cruise with his family (I’m jealous), but we wanted to make sure our listeners still received some great content this week. So I wrote this blog post to accompany the series on software bootcamps we’ve been working on recently.
Over the last few episodes, we’ve talked about factors to consider when determining whether a software development bootcamp is the best choice for your situation (Episode 34), how to stay encouraged through the “pit of despair” during the program (Episode 35), what the job search is like after completing a bootcamp program (Episode 36), and everything in between. I want to share my decision making process and also mention some things I wish I had known, or planned better for before enrolling in Nashville Software School, my NSS bootcamp experience, and what my job search post NSS graduation was like.
If you’ve been listening to the show for a while, you know that I didn’t go to college for software development/computer science. I stumbled upon it about a year into my first job after college and started learning from free online resources for a few months before attending meetups where others introduced me to Nashville Software School and the concept of a software bootcamp. I started doing some research and talking to folks who had gone through the program themselves and what they were doing at their jobs post bootcamp graduation. I had also looked into another local software bootcamp program (Ironyard - all locations have since closed), as well as online bootcamp programs, such as Thinkful. What ultimately made me choose NSS over the others was the availability of onsite instructors and mentors, program cost to time ratio, and support available when it came time to look for my first development job. About 90-95% of the people I talked to who had gone through NSS’s program had a positive experience throughout the program and with finding a job afterward. One thing they all said though: It will be difficult. The common metaphor used was “it was like drinking water from a fire hose” in terms of all the information you get exposed to over the 6 month long program and trying to adequately process it all.
Lesson 1: Be prepared for a difficult, but rewarding journey.
During the program, there are at least 2 points where you will start to panic and realize the extent of things that you do not know. They are the “valley” and “pits” of despair. Everyone goes through them, nearly everyone overcomes them. One thing that really helps is support from your peers, instructors, family, anyone who can provide encouragement. You will get lost and not understand things. You will feel like Jon Snow (you know nothing), at times, but you will make it. You will have light bulb moments when things start to click and you see the bigger picture. And it’s the best feeling and encourages you to keep learning.
Lesson 2: Keep the “Little Engine That Could” mantra and just keep chugging away at your learning.
But also, take breaks when you need them! And don’t forget to sleep! Both are important for processing and retaining new material.
Now for the post-graduation job search. I started networking from the get-go, even before starting the program and started to look for jobs shortly after we started the second half of the program. But almost everyone at that point feels that they don’t know enough to start seriously talking with or interviewing with companies, including me. But you can start reaching out to folks on LinkedIn, at meetups, etc. and ask them if they’d be willing to do an informational or mock interview with you. Getting exposure to what software development is like across different industries and what different team structures and workflows are like will only be beneficial when you do finally start going on job interviews. It will give you a better idea of what questions to ask of the hiring manager about the company and team set up. Remember, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.
But, that’s easy to forget if you’re in a position of desperation after graduation: you’re running out of money and just need a job to pay the bills, like I was. I graduated and was hoping to land a job within a month. It ended up taking me 59 days, and 6-7 company interviews before I finally got a single offer. It wasn’t an ideal position for me, but seeing as my savings were nearly depleted and I was borrowing money from my mom to make my car payments, I didn’t have much choice at the time, so I accepted the position.
It’s easy to get discouraged when it seems like all your classmates are landing jobs left and right, and you haven’t received an offer yet. Believe me, I’ve been there. But it’s impossible to know what the companies you’re interviewing with are really looking for. So don’t go in trying to appear to be the “perfect” candidate on every job interview, because that’s impossible. Just be your true, authentic self, answer the questions truthfully and thoughtfully, and the right match will come up when the timing and opportunity is right. (Hey, sounds just like dating, right?)
Lesson 3: Before beginning the program, make sure you have at least 9+ months of living expenses saved up.
It will help you be in a better negotiating position when it comes time to look for your first job. And it will allow you to not have to work during the program so that you can focus your time and energy on learning to code.
Now, your first job may still not be ideal, but you will at least have your foot in the door and be learning and actively contributing to code base and application/website being used in a professional capacity. And yes, earning money to make rent, put food on the table, and otherwise live your life. And as anyone will tell you, having more than 0 months of professional experience makes it much easier to find your next job.
To summarize, software bootcamps may not be the right choice for you depending on all kinds of factors and your personal situation. But if you are able, it’s such a challenging and rewarding experience, both in terms of what it can do for your learning, your career, as well as the people you meet and get to know along the way. Have you been through a software bootcamp program? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear about it, so leave us a comment, send us an e-mail, or @ us on social media! Keep an ear out for our next episode releasing on March 26th, where we’ll be interviewing NSS head coach and lead instructor - Steve Brownlee!
Note: the below links no longer work since we’re no longer paying for hosting for the JuniorDeveloperToolbox website
Haven’t listened to our Bootcamp Experience episodes yet? Check them out here:
Episode 34 – The Bootcamp Experience: First Steps with Sarah Weatherbee
Episode 35 – The Bootcamp Experience: In the Trenches with Lesley Boyd
Episode 36 – The Bootcamp Experience: Landing the Job with Jonathan Edwards
This blog post was originally posted on JuniorDeveloperToolbox.com on March. 12, 2019. Authored by Erin Orstrom.
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