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10 Takeaways: What I Wish I Knew Before a Coding Bootcamp

By Liz Eggleston
Last Updated June 29, 2022

Learn what these five bootcampers wish they had known before they went to a bootcamp – how expectations met reality, how they actually got their first jobs, what surprised them about the teaching style, and whether the experience at Coding Temple, General Assembly, Sabio, DigitalCrafts, and Springboard was worth it to these graduates.

Meet Our Panel of Bootcamp Alumni:

  • Zach studied Russian in college, spent 10 years in the service industry, and worked for Whole Foods in Chicago for over six years as a Department Manager before enrolling at Coding Temple in 2021. Zach now works as a Software Engineer at Charter Communications
  • Sterling Merryweather (Meri) was in the Marine Corps for eight years. After his time in the service, he attended college during Covid, left for an SAE bootcamp based in California. Meri now works as a Software Engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Thom worked in a jewelry store, at a local art school, and as a bartender before he enrolled in General Assembly, and is currently working at Slalom as a Salesforce Developer. 
  • Nick spent four years in a professional kitchen while being mentored by a chef, when he discovered his love for learning. Nick applied that same work ethic while at DigitalCrafts, which he graduated from in February 2022. Now he’s working at Amsite as a Junior Software Developer!
  • Harrison completed a service mission in New England aiding African refugees and asylum seekers in search of a better life, when he realized he wanted to focus on creating tech that increases the quality of life of those who need it most. Harrison graduated from Springboard and is now a Software Engineer at Rock Solid Internet Shipping!

#1 Every bootcamper has different career goals

There’s a misconception that you have to know your exact career path or even the company you want to work for. But our panelists had many different career goals. Harrison wanted to work on technology that aligned with his values; Meri was looking for a solid salary and flexibility; and Thom didn’t want to do a bootcamp in order to earn more money – he simply wanted to learn how to build things. 

The one thing all of our panelists had in common? They decided a bootcamp would be the fastest way to achieve their goals.

#2 Past education doesn’t matter at a bootcamp

As Nick points out, “I don’t have a college degree, nobody at DigitalCrafts ever asked me for a college degree, and it hasn't hindered me from getting a job as a software engineer.”

More important than formal education? Teaching yourself a bit of programming before you start the bootcamp! Nick recommends FreeCodeCamp and Zach recommends W3Schools.

#3 You won’t know everything…ever!

Zach, a Coding Temple graduate, put this best:

“No matter what your experience level is, everyone will find something difficult to grasp. Some folks in my cohort already had a computer science degree, others had done some web development in the past, but everyone else is going to find something that they're gonna have trouble understanding. There will be a concept they have trouble learning or putting in the application. Embrace that and understand that everyone is going through that! It's best to be open and communicative with your cohort members as well as your instructors about what's giving you trouble because that's how you're gonna get the support that you need individually. It’s also rewarding when someone else is voicing an issue that they're having, and you can reach out and help them, which is great practice for when you’re in the actual work environment.” 

#4 Expect to learn at a bootcamp like you’re on the job

Meri says that Sabio mimicked the startup environment very well. “We worked for a startup for the last two months of my training there, and that actually exposed me to a lot of topics early on. By the time I went into my role at AWS, I had already been exposed to a lot of what they do, so the learning curve was not steep.” 

And Thom pointed out that he “didn’t appreciate it at the time because I was so focused on the General Assembly course, but now that I’m a year out of it, I’m continually surprised by something I encounter in my job that I have already been exposed to thanks to my amazing teachers and TAs.”

#5 Learning how to learn is the most important skill

Harrison, Zach, and Meri all said they didn’t expect how important self-teaching and learning how to lean would be. They credit their bootcamps with teaching them this skill. 

Harrison comares this style to high school: “When I was in high school, I hated school so much and I thought it was so dumb, how we had to take all these different classes for things we just did not want to do with our lives. I appreciated that Springboard offered the opportunity to develop that self-teaching skill through their self-paced bootcamp. Once you learn how to learn, once you learn how to teach yourself, the world is your oyster, you can learn anything! Some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met were software engineers and were self-taught. Every engineer is self-taught because you're only in school for so long, and so you really do need to learn those lessons of how to learn.”

Zach says “Coding Temple tolds us early on that at the end of the course we will not be an expert and that’s still true. I used a lot of the same things I used at bootcamp in my current job and I’m definitely still not an expert. You're just always gonna be learning. Don't worry if you're struggling with something, it's just a part of the process.”

And as Meri reminded us, “If it was solved before it would just be solved. It's up to you to figure out the problem for whatever company you're working for and solve it, so not knowing is good and it’s a learning opportunity!”

#6 Watch out for ISAs

Harrison chose Springboard, which offers Deferred Tuition. But he was sure to do his research about ISAs. Harrison explains: “Determine if an ISA is right for you. An ISA is an Income Share Agreement that means you don’t pay for tuition up front, but once you graduate and get a job, you pay them 10%, 15%, 20% of your income for up to four years, sometimes even longer. When you do the math, that can get expensive! ISA can be potentially dangerous if you’re not cautious.”

#7 Not everyone will communicate in the same way

Nick advises: “Not everybody's gonna communicate the same way as you, so be prepared for that. Be prepared to ask questions that might sound stupid because there might be someone else who is having the exact same problem, that is too afraid to ask, or they think they're gonna figure it out on their own and burn out spinning their wheels. Communication is one of the more pivotal points to work on in a bootcamp.”

#8 There are multiple approaches to land your first job

Everyone on our panel described their job search differently – from networking to LinkedIn to cold emails to warm alumni intros.

Meri was connected to Amazon Web Services through the Sabio alumni network. He reached out to a couple of alumni who got AWS entry-level jobs and apprenticeships and asked them how they got their first role. They gave Meri the road map.

Zach did a lot of networking through LinkedIn and gives credit to the Coding Temple Alumni Director, Marlene: “She holds meetings every week after you graduate to give advice on: how to network, how to dress up your resume, and what to say in certain situations - if you're talking to recruiters or if you're in interviews. Networking was my key to getting a position. I was also lucky. I happened to talk to a recruiter who had just posted a job, and he happened to send me a response, which doesn’t always happen! It was a quick process - just one screening with the recruiter and one interview with the company and that was it.”

Nick points out that after DigitalCrafts, landing a job was a numbers game for him. “I came from blue collar, dropped out of college, applied for over 130 positions in seven weeks, and got three or four interviews, two of which lasted almost two months! I got one of those jobs.”

For Harrison, the winning method was cold emailing after Springboard. “Look up companies you want to work for on LinkedIn, search their leadership and hiring team – HR, technical developer manager, VP of Engineering, CTO. Look up email formats and send emails to as many people as you can. I was surprised by how well cold emailing works.”

And for Thom, cold calling and cold emailing just didn’t work. Instead, he got his first contract job through a General Assembly job board post

#9 You may realize that you don’t want to work as a software engineer

As Nick describes, “Attending DigitalCrafts has been a really positive experience. I live a completely different life than I did a year ago, and it's because of the decisions that I made and the bootcamp that I went to. I'm grateful for everyone at DigitalCrafts. I still keep in contact with many of them.

I knew that I wanted to be a software developer or software engineer, but there were several people in my cohort that got positions working as project managers, solutions engineers, and roles outside of just being a software engineer. All thanks to working in the environment and learning methodologies that are applicable to a tech company that you're taught in the course. I would 100% do it again.”

#10 It’s possible to balance a bootcamp with a job or parenting – but requires flexibility

Meri is a father of two kids and said that people at Sabio were from all walks of life. “Some people were 18, 19 years old just out of high school, while others were in their late 40s, early 50s and we all made it through. You might be in a class with some young folks, but it’s not like college. A lot of people who go to a bootcamp have already had a previous career and are making a switch. They already have life experiences, they’ve done their taxes a few times already before they got to this point.”

Harrison “was working construction full-time while attending Springboard and it was tough! I would fill concrete for 14 hours a day, balancing the self-paced Springboard Software Engineering Career Track coding bootcamp. Springboard is amazing because of the people. The Director of Springboard’s students for the software engineering cohort was so accommodating when I needed more time to finish some assignments. It was refreshing to be in a learning environment where they did everything they could to support students to graduate. While it was challenging at times, it was deeply worth it because I knew I was going to achieve a better job and a better quality of life afterwards. For a little bit of pain in the beginning it was so worth changing the course of my life.”

Nick balanced the DigitalCrafts 26-week part-time bootcamp with a full-time, 40 hours a week at a men’s clothing store in Atlanta. I was able to balance the two, and I think that most people can.

This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Digital Crafts, General Assembly, Sabio, Coding Temple, and Springboard.

About The Author

Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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