Written By Liz Eggleston
Zeke and Granger Abuhoff are giving new meaning to the term "brogrammers." The brothers are both learning to program at competing bootcamps in New York. Granger attends the WDI program at General Assembly (he transferred from App Academy) and Zeke is almost halfway through his Mobile Development course at Flatiron School.
Granger and Zeke took a quick break from celebrating their mom's birthday to answer all of our questions about General Assembly, Flatiron School, and App Academy. Check out their advice on choosing & applying to bootcamps and how to succeed once you're in.
Give us a quick introduction- what were you doing before you applied to bootcamps?
Granger: Before General Assembly, I had graduated from law school and was taking the bar, while working for the Collegiate Water Polo Association, and was trying to do my own thing on the side with Zeke too- we were interested in making a game.
Zeke: I took game design classes when I was at NYU. I liked designing games and had been doing it since graduating. But with neither of us being programmers at that point, it was slow-going. Besides that, I had designed and published a couple of board games on my own- turns out board games are not lucrative at all. There wasn’t a ton of career momentum or job security, so when Granger told me about these bootcamps, I thought it sounded nice.
Which schools are you attending now?
Granger: In January, I started at General Assembly in the Web Development Immersive. So 9-5pm, I’m learning to be a developer. Before this, I was in an App Academy course, which didn’t work out, and then I took a night-course with GA, Fundamentals of Computer Science.
Zeke: I’m at the Flatiron School and taking their iOS course. That’s a 12-week intensive program. It started 5 weeks ago.
Granger, can you tell us about your experience at App Academy and why you transferred to GA?
I applied to App Academy first, got in, and was there for 5 weeks. They have a test that you have to pass every week to stay in the program. I failed something on authorization and had to leave the program. I had a roommate, Chris Kuruc, who was taking a night course at GA and recommended it, ended up taking an evening course, Fundamentals of Computer Science, there. The admissions person, Daniel O’Duffy, and the producer of the evening course, Charmaine Lacsina, told me that I should do the WDI.
When you started App Academy, had you just quit your job?
I had just taken the bar exam, I didn’t know if I had passed it, and I had been coaching water polo in Pennsylvania, so I quit that and moved to New York. I joined a housing program called Krash, which places people in startups or tech into a house with 12 people.
It depends who you talk to, but my experience with App Academy was that it’s a very different format from GA. Everything about them is stripped down- they provide the immediate elements to get students through a particular situation. You’re pair programming all day, there’s not much lecture. They check in with you and TAs will give you a nudge in the right direction, but in general, you’re trying to pass these tests every week- I think that the only time people failed those tests and were asked to leave was during the auth test. They were nice about it; they gave me access to materials, and obviously they didn’t charge me. Their whole model is that they charge you based on future success. They’re very different than GA- GA is much more similar to a teaching-lecture environment, as well as lots of projects.
In case anyone is thinking about App Academy or GA my advice is that it is tough to do App Academy without a background in programming.
Zeke, what was your application process like at Flatiron?
Zeke: The application process was a fairly short, initial application, then a coding challenge, and then after completing the coding challenge, I was contacted for a quick Google Hangout interview. A while later they accepted me. It wasn’t the longest or most formal application I’ve ever done, but it seemed sensible in that it involved real coding. It’s hard to say exactly how selective it was, but it’s a small class.
Are you finding that your learning style and the Flatiron teaching style sync up?
Zeke: I think so. I really like our instructor Joe, and our TA, Al. They’re really cool and good at what they’re doing. It’s a nice balance between everyone being chill and people wanting to get better. I never feel pushed too hard or totally abandoned.
What does a typical day look like at Flatiron?
Zeke: We do a morning and afternoon lecture. Other than that, we’re working on assignments that they put together for us in small groups. There are also side projects- the notion is that we’ll present those eventually. You’re expected to present these at weekly meetups, so it’s a space where you can try new things out.
Zeke, why did you choose the mobile course?
Zeke: The Web Development course is more established and has more students- we see them every day. I was curious about mobile development, maybe because of my interest in and familiarity with mobile games. Spending time with mobile games in previous projects and jobs, I was interested in that platform.
Granger, would you ever want to learn mobile development, like your brother?
Granger: I do want to learn Objective C, and getting the hang of Xcode would be good.
How much are you each paying for tuition?
Zeke: Flatiron School is $12,000, but $4,000 gets refunded if you get employed with one of the school’s hiring partners.
Granger: GA is $11,500, but also includes discounts on future GA courses. Also, my program is 12 weeks in person, whereas Zeke’s is 8 weeks in-person, then a 4-week apprenticeship.
How many people are in your cohorts?
Granger: My class at GA is 26. I have three instructors.
Zeke: There are 12 people in my class. I have one instructor and one TA.
Are you happy with the student to teacher ratio?
Name an instructor or mentor or a student who has been particularly helpful and why?
Granger: The TA from my night class, Sandeep, has been helpful with Ruby. PJ, Jeff and Peter are all great (the instructors). I like all of my instructors. I have three day time instructors and one at night. My classmates have been really helpful too. Everyone helps each other. Even once you’ve gone home people will chat online or come back to campus to work together or help troubleshoot.
Zeke: I like everyone, I don’t want to pick favorites, but I really like the instructors. Joe is helpful and personable. I feel like I can go to him with dumb questions, and he doesn’t make fun of me. Our TA Al is always available and ready to help out. They have a nice policy of trying to help you do something the way you intended to do it, without just trying to force another process on you. It’s nice to get help in a way that doesn’t suggest that your instincts were wrong.
What are your classrooms like?
Granger: We are in one particular room at GA West. It’s a bunch of tables with a dry erase surface; we’re all looking at a board in the center. It’s pretty big, but sometimes we’ll do things at other GA locations. There’s a kitchen and work areas next to the main classroom.
Zeke: At Flatiron, we have a big open space where everyone is on tables. There are a couple classrooms for lecture, but we pretty much stay in this main space that is reminiscent of an open-concept office.
What’s your advice to someone applying to a bootcamp?
Granger: My advice is to look at local bootcamps and if you’re in the area, go in person to visit. Get a sense for how things go throughout the day. I asked a lot of questions, but the people you’re talking to are generally not the instructors, so it’s good to be there in person. Sometimes it’s hard to get real answers on what their job-placement process is like- both App Academy and GA have been vague, but the more questions you ask, the more they open up. You’re the customer, so eventually they will help you out. I think they’re reluctant to get into the details because it’s hard to assess what the outcomes will be.
Zeke: It’s important to not split up your time between bootcamp and other responsibilities. Whenever I have outside responsibilities, it can be frustrating because of how demanding the course is. In the same vein: really nail the prework before you come in. There’s a difference between needing to have everything explained to you on day 1 and just hitting the ground running.
Should people be selective in the bootcamps that they apply to? Or should they play a numbers game and apply to a bunch?
Zeke: I only applied to one.
Granger: I applied to three; I was in the application process for Flatiron and I was accepted to GA. I would only apply to a couple at a time. In all three situations, there were coding challenges, which you want to be able to focus on.
Tell us one thing you would improve if you started your own bootcamp.
Granger: I don’t think I want to compete with these bootcamps, but I might have more of a framework set up in the day. Our instructors were so enthusiastic in the beginning of the course, and they talk to us about the emotional curve, but they ended up hitting the emotional curve at Week 6 or 7. It’s important to take regular breaks.
Zeke: I might get rid of afternoon lectures. It’s hard to focus on a speaker at that time of day.
How much are outcomes emphasized at GA and at Flatiron? Do you feel like you’re being prepared for interviews and job placement?
Granger: I think there is a set structure for that, and they try to shield us from some of it because they don’t want to distract our class from learning. We’ve had check-ins where they talk to us about the process. We just had a Q&A with recent WDI grads, talking about their experiences and their advice. That being said, this is all outcomes-based for me. I want to get a job, preferably full-stack or back-end, in New York.
Zeke: For me, I want to get a job, that’s important. I wonder what the tech scene is like in other places- not San Francisco, because it’s kind of a mess. The approach I’ve seen is that on the first day, they tell you not to worry about getting a great job. From then on, you’re shielded. It’s important that you are focusing on the material and developing a passion for coding, because that’s what really helps you. At Flatiron, the last four weeks of my 12 week program is working on a capstone project for a company that we partner with. We’re building something for a real company, and I look forward to that. The thought is that we’ll meet with the client to check in, but do the work at Flatiron.
Granger, are you interested in the GA apprenticeship program?
Granger: I am, but the apprenticeship program isn’t taken by everyone. It seems like there’s a period of time where you’re not really active once the course finishes, which is really scary to me, so I would look forward to something like the apprenticeship program.
Zeke: Sometimes I do feel nervous, because you want to get all of the information you can about finding a job at the end of this, especially because I’ve never tried to get a developer job before. At Flatiron, there’s a fairly new program called Flatiron Labs. It seems to be an in-house dev team at Flatiron who does small projects for clients. That’s one way they try to take care of alumni and stay connected with various companies in the city.
Flatiron has a job placement offer, where students who accept jobs with one of their hiring partners gets a $4000 tuition refund. Granger, do you wish that there was a similar refund policy at GA?
Granger: I think they’re definitely trying to protect our best interests, I trust the team there. I actually don’t like the “Finder’s Fee” model because of my experience at App Academy. It sounds like a good idea because they’re motivated to get you placed, but the focus should be on the education. If a finder’s fee gets the staff motivated to place students in jobs, that’s fine, but I’m fully confident in GA helping me get a job.
Zeke: I don’t have strong feelings about the Finders Fee system, but it’s at least assuring to me that the school does prioritize you getting a job. Getting a job’s not all I care about, but it’s a welcome change from going to NYU, which charges way more and then starts asking for donations. I’m glad to see an organization that’s a little more cognizant of what’s going on in the economy. I am grateful for my experience at NYU, and there is something cool about a program that isn’t “outcomes focused,” but as a grownup, I’m also concerned with my return on investment.
Liz Eggleston is co-founder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students choosing a coding bootcamp.
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