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Is a coding bootcamp for you?

By Sam Kim

It’s no rumor that coding bootcamps can yield successful outcomes for their students.  I went to a 12-week coding bootcamp that concluded at the end of May 2016, then started my first coding job three months later.  My experience seems convincing enough for everyone to enroll in coding bootcamps, doesn’t it? Well, if you’re thinking about signing up, I recommend asking yourself the following questions questions first:

Do you currently enjoy or think you will enjoy coding?

The most obvious thing is to try it first!  Go to any “learn to code for free” website and fire up a tutorial.  After an hour or two, think about how you feel. Are you feeling excited?  Stressed? Defeated? All of the above? While there is no wrong reaction, know that whatever you’re feeling is likely to come back frequently and throughout this career path.

Why do you really want to go to a bootcamp?

This question seems unnecessary but I am wary of those who’d say that they “just want a new career.”  Such a response often makes me think that people are interested in a coding career for the statistically well-paid job opportunities.  I’m not saying that this isn’t a good reason.  But I do believe that career satisfaction plays a big role in achieving long-term success and happiness.  Remember -- completing bootcamp does not guarantee any job offer. So, do you really want a new career in coding?  

How will you pay for it?

First, take a step back and think about if spending $10,000+ on coding bootcamp makes sense for you.  For those without access to immediate and sufficient funding, a loan may be required.  Is borrowing from family, friends, or a bank with reasonable interest possible?

Working (full-time) during bootcamp is not advised.  The rigors of bootcamp curricula will require 60+ hours of your time per week throughout the program.  Competing priorities while trying to maintain even a part time job also may not allow you to take full advantage of the program.  You need to be able to focus, learn, and mature your skills. In other words, make sure your experiences are worth the $10,000+!

Which bootcamp should you attend?

Many US cities have multiple options to choose from.  Every bootcamp has its own curriculum and technology stack focus.  Take the time to do the research. Talk to current and former teachers and students to ask about their experiences.  Do everything that you can to find the best fit.

My story and Radius Networks

What about me?  My only coding experience before bootcamp was from a computer science introductory course in college.  Afterwards, I was working in the restaurant industry to make ends meet. One night, while catching up with an old friend, he told me he was going to a coding bootcamp in Denver for seven months.  Our conversation reminded me of how much I enjoyed coding in the introductory course. At the same time, I didn’t want to return to school for traditional learning. So I started researching coding bootcamps in my city.

I found one program called “Back End Engineering with Ruby on Rails.”  I wasn’t familiar with Ruby or Rails, but quickly learned more about it through codecademy's website.  I felt so much excitement while completing a tutorial and immediately wanted to learn more.  Soon I found myself applying for a spot and interviewing with the campus director. Then I waited patiently to hear back, and received an acceptance email.

While I was thrilled to be accepted, I also had to somehow find $12,000 quickly to lock in my spot.  I began hoarding my paychecks and looked up many of the lending services suggested by the bootcamp. Unfortunately, the loans I was preapproved for had very high interest rates ( > 20%).  Punching out the numbers was very demoralizing, as the $12,000 loan that I needed turned into a $20,000 burden. Luckily, I found a loan that gave me an APR I felt comfortable with, plus a bonus special with zero origination fees.  I submitted my paperwork, and soon I was on my way to become a coder!

Reality hit fast and furiously after bootcamp.  Loan repayment started right after graduation, so I needed a decent income ASAP.  I had to resort to working part-time at a restaurant, taking night and weekend shifts, while spending my days looking for jobs and improving my coding skills.  I waited patiently for callbacks and interviews but they were few and far between. At the time, I felt like my bootcamp experience wasn’t worth the time or money.  Fortunately for me, successful networking and maintaining relationships with my classmates and instructor even after bootcamp really started to pay off. My bootcamp instructor continued to help me until I found my first coding job.  My fellow campers and I kept one another motivated and helped each other through our unique experiences with our first jobs out of bootcamp.

I hit a wall at my first coding job. We did not have a senior engineer above me and felt my progress was becoming more and more stagnant.  I was able to reach back out to my instructor, who helped me find the job posting for “Junior Engineer” at Radius Networks.  I was eager to try something new and reached out.  Radius Networks has the product, engineering team, and room for growth that convinced me to jump ship.  Starting with a brief stint in support, I am now fully immersed in our code for the flagship product. Here, I am encouraged to be collaborative and assigned tasks that are sensible, challenging, and relevant.

Closing thoughts

Given my story, it’s easy to say that attending a coding bootcamp was the right decision for me.  However, it was not a seamless experience. In your decision-making process, think about the above questions (and my experiences) when considering a coding bootcamp.  There are no right or wrong answers and reactions. If you are able to mentally and financially prepared, enjoy coding, and love to learn and want to grow in this technology sector, then coding bootcamp could be a good path for you.