Ok, maybe not “the” scoop. But it’s my scoop. After connecting with several DBC grads via email, Facebook, and Twitter, I know what to expect from Dev Bootcamp. At least I think I do.
This post marks the gripping conclusion of the search I started in this other post. Check the comments in that one for answers, too. Dave Hoover, who runs the Chicago DBC, stopped by to provide some helpful numbers and guidance.
To get my information, I tapped family networks for knowledgeable contacts, talked to people who have hired (and rejected) applicants with a Dev Bootcamp pedigree, asked DBC admissions staff to introduce me to boots, scoured the blogosphere for grads with current contact info, pestered Twitter users with DBC credentials in their profiles, and used an app called BootieTracker, created by a team of boots, to locate Chicago-area students and message them on Facebook with my questions.
I asked a ton of questions.
I wanted to know if the life-changing experience touted on the website was for real, if I would get help when I needed it, if the journey would be worth the effort.
I wanted to know whether people really went from 0 to 60 with no prior programming experience, whether a lot of people were getting kicked out to inflate graduation rates, whether DBC’s stats – 85% hired at $75K per year on average – were accurate.
I wanted to know how people handled the grueling pace of the program, how they felt about pair programming, how they struggled and overcame their setbacks, how they fared after graduation.
I wanted to know what boots wished they had known going in, what the program looked and felt like, what tech companies thought of Dev Bootcamp graduates, what grads took away from the experience as a whole.
I wanted to know everything. That’s what I generally tend to want. And I never get it. But I can get close. And I feel like I got close with this round of research. Close enough that I’ll be plunking down my deposit this week and focusing all my energy on Phase 0 prep. Let’s go over the info that cemented my decision.
Bullet points? Bullet points…
- Most boots graduate. Everyone I spoke with reinforced Dev Bootcamp’s claim that the overwhelming majority of boots complete the program. Though a few do get asked to leave, and others drop out, those are the exceptions that prove the rule. In general, if Dev Bootcamp thinks you’re passionate enough to get accepted, you’ll be passionate enough to see things through. (This only applies to Phases 1-3, which take place onsite. The in-home Phase 0 might have a higher drop rate, but the nature of my search made it impossible for me to figure that out. And I was less interested in doing so, because losing steam at the start isn’t too costly; if you drop within the first three weeks of the intro phase, you get all your tuition back except for the deposit.)
- Apprentices get paid, too. When I first looked at DBC, the path to becoming a junior developer sounded like this: 1) Apply. 2) Get in. 3) Work hard. 4) Poof! 5) You’re a junior developer. Nope. Not even close. The reality is more like this: 1) Apply. 2) Get in, start learning. 3) Work as hard as you can. 4) Learn as much as you can on your own time. 5) Get a job where you can keep learning on the clock. 6) Learn at work, after work, and on weekends for several months. 7) Somewhere in there, you become a junior developer. For a lot of graduates, step 5 means starting out as an apprentice, someone who does very basic stuff for the company while learning more complex stuff for themselves over 3 to 6 months, after which they either say goodbye (repeat step 5) or stick around as a real developer (step 7 completed, now do step 6 for the rest of your life). The good news is that apprentices in Chicago still make a living wage, anywhere from $40,000-$55,000 a year. Not a bad gig for a fresh-faced boot.
- Repeating phases is a thing. Buried beneath the “Intensive 9-Week Program” branding is a deep desire to see boots succeed. Students invest a lot in DBC, and it looks like the investment is mutual. These guys really don’t want you to fail. So if you’re faltering at the end of a phase, you can retake it one more time to lock it in. Boots repeat Phase 2 the most. Phase 3 can’t be repeated, because it’s the final project and career planning phase, less about pure learning and more about applying principles in real-world terms. Some boots recommended that I budget extra time and money in case I need to rerun a phase or two. I’m glad I got this information before I settled on a rent arrangement for my stay in Chicago!
- The command line is your best frienemy. When grads gave me advice about how to prep for Phase 0, learning the command line (Terminal on my MacBook) was the most emphatic recommendation. I need to practice navigating and managing folders and files, calling up help screens and manuals, and learning shortcuts to streamline my time. Since this work is all about the code, and the code is running in the command line, I must choose to befriend it or fight it every step of the way. Those I spoke with couldn’t stress it enough to me; I can’t stress it enough to anyone reading this for help.
- Pair programming can help…and hurt. Working in tandem is a great way to accelerate your growth, if you and your partner have similar proficiency and learning styles. If not, the imbalance can be a hurdle. Working with someone who leaves you in the dust could inspire you to push yourself that much harder. But it could be discouraging, and someone used to functioning at a faster pace may not take the time to reach back and help you get on their level. Working with someone much slower than you might feel like a drag on your time and energy, though teaching a concept is often the best way to learn it. However you feel about pair programming, it’s going to happen, so be prepared to work empathetically with other human beings. And remember to speak up if you feel yourself floundering, because…
- Asking for help is good. And necessary. Dev Bootcamp says this, current students say this, graduates say this, employers say this. Knowing when you’re stuck, and looking outside yourself to get unstuck, is a crucial habit to develop. Use Google, Stack Overflow, GitHub, teachers, mentors, peers, whatever you have at your disposal. The students who knew how to swallow pride and ask for help grasped concepts faster and got more done each day. Being humble is always better than staying in the dark.
- Experience matters less than passion. Some of the people I talked to had walked away from computer science majors. Some came from business or teaching backgrounds and had spent a couple years learning to code in order to solve work-specific problems. Some hadn’t touched code before they started at Dev Bootcamp. But every single grad I talked to was passionate about programming. It’s passion, not knowledge or expertise, that keeps someone on campus for 14 hours a day during the week and 10 on weekends. Dev Bootcamp gives people the tools they need to become “world-class beginners;” you don’t need to bring many tools of your own. But sharpening them takes a lot of time and effort, and passion makes the effort worth it. By the end of the three phases, those who showed the most hunger and drive were the ones who thrived.
- Success is in the struggle. I had to take some time with this one. I asked several grads, “What were some habits of successful students compared to students who struggled with the material?” One answer: “…Well, what do you mean by success vs. struggle?” Another: “Dude, success comes from the struggle. You’re thinking about it wrong.” My bad. I hadn’t let it sink in that every single person at DBC faces an uphill battle. Strike that, we’re talking mountains to climb. And the successful people are the ones who get in there and strengthen their climbing muscles, the ones who learn by slipping how to grip better, the ones who aren’t satisfied with climbing only the mountains they know they’ll scale on the first try. If I’m ready to feel helpless, hopeless, and afraid, I’m ready to push through that and get to the wisdom that lies beyond.
- You have to find your own cheese. More about the learning environment: This isn’t a classroom where you listen to lectures about mazes and cheese all day, poring over maze theory and case studies of dairy farms, and then take a test on paper with a closed book and multiple-choice questions. It’s a place where they throw a ton of information at you at the beginning of the day and then say, “We’re dropping you into a labyrinth. There’s some cheese in there. Go get it.” On some days, you’ll find it in an hour and spend the rest of the day teaching others how to find it or building a new labyrinth of your own. On others, you won’t find the cheese at all. The DBC curriculum is designed to reward experimentation and prepare students for a career where they’ll fail at things the first time, all the time. This flies in the face of an academic culture that rewards keeping your mouth shut and not opening it unless you know you know the right answer.
- If you want the work, do the work. Employers stress that successful DBC hires are self-motivated and willing to push themselves outside their comfort zone. The grads that don’t get hired are the ones who stop learning once the program ends. Dev Bootcamp gives people a blueprint for self-instruction; if a person refuses to learn Java to get their dream job at a Java shop, that’s on them. Some of the graduates I talked to spent months sending out hundreds of applications and doing dozens of interviews. The word “hustle” came up several times. In essence, if you’re the type of person who can push themselves through a 100 hour a week commitment, you can push yourself into the workplace too. But you have to keep pushing, expanding your skillset and fleshing out your understanding by creating real projects on your own time and posting them to places like GitHub.
- Learning never stops. If you want to be a programmer, there is never a point where you’re “done” educating yourself. Everyone I talked to said they spent big chunk of their free time attending programming events, tinkering with code, learning new languages, and so on. Senior-level programmers are the hot commodity in the web development world, and if you want to get there, you must several years of focus and dedication to take in all the information required to function at that level. Dev Bootcamp functions as a learning accelerator, and that function is twofold: in the coming months, I should expect to learn things faster than I ever have before, and I should expect to learn enough about how I learn to be able to teach myself new concepts as quickly as possible.
- The rewards are real. Dev Bootcamp claims that 85% of grads get hired and that most of them are making upwards of $70,000 a year. Is this true? Yes and no. Check in with someone a couple months out of school and they’re probably apprenticing somewhere, building up their coding chops. Or they’re still searching for work while attending hackathons and making apps. Wait a year and check in again, and they’re likely working a job they love for pay that skews way closer to the advertised median. It’s all about who you ask, and when. Again, significant work is required to get significant results, but the results are easily achievable. It’s worth mentioning that people also felt their experiences represented those of their cohorts. There’s not a lot of variation in the stories I was told, which leads me to believe that no one’s BSing here.
Whew. That pretty much sums up what I’ve learned from my search. I’ll have plenty of firsthand information to share in due time, but you’ll have to settle for secondhand until I actually start my phases. The lessons I learned are pretty high-level; take away the first six points and this isn’t just advice about Dev Bootcamp. It’s about life. Which is why I’m so excited about it. Everyone I talked to said DBC changed their lives for the better. And no one had lost their passion for learning; if anything, passion intensified once boots graduated.
I love to learn. If I could choose any superpower, I’d want this one right here. If Dev Bootcamp can help me get a tiny bit closer to that level, then I’m in. Let’s do this.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wrap my mind around recursion. Time to struggle.
April O’Neil, out.*
tl;dr It’s for real, it’s super difficult, and it’s worth every penny of the $12K tuition if you’re willing to invest the time as well as the money. But only if you love programming. If it’s all about the financial upside for you, get out while you still can.
*Don’t ever do a Google Image search for April O’Neil. Please trust me on this, and enjoy the default post image for now.