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In our Cracking the Bootcamp Application series, we’re diving into the admissions process at coding bootcamps around the world. Los Angeles bootcamp Sabio has a unique two-track admissions process where candidates can either take an advanced level assessment straight away, or participate in a paid, four-week pre-work course. We sat down with Sabio founder Gregorio Rojas to find out just what goes into that assessment, how the pre-work is different from other bootcamp prep programs, and why attitude and personality really matter in the Sabio vetting process.

Our takeaways:

Q&A

What can a student expect when they apply to Sabio- give us the quick and dirty overview.

When a prospective candidate approaches Sabio, there are two paths to reserve a seat. The first track is a very clean application process that you would expect from most other coding bootcamps. That consists of a three-hour assessment. If you can pass that, and you really are committed to coding at Sabio, then we will allow you to reserve a seat. There are no surprises and there is no interview during that process.

If a student can’t pass the assessment or is a complete beginner, then they can come to the campus and do our pre-work course. Orientation for that course starts on the first Monday of every month, and students work with an instructor for four weeks (two nights a week and all day Saturday) to learn the material. During those four weeks, we are actually vetting you, observing your coding skills, and seeing how seriously you’re taking this.

That pre-work is $495 a month for every month you are working on it.

How difficult is that assessment? Is it for somebody who has done Codecademy courses or is that for somebody who can actually already code?

For you to be able to pass that assessment, you have to be able to write JavaScript on a web page and interact with the web page. Most of the people who try to take the assessment straight out of the gate don't do well at all. Historically, we've passed about three people out of 50 people that have tried to do it that way. And this includes people who have done third party bootcamp prep programs. I can tell you that none of those prep programs do a good job at all.

The last two people that I gave the assessment to, they came through one of those prep programs and could not do it. After that experience, I now ask new candidates to try to take a five- to 10-minute quiz first. And if they pass that quiz, I'll let them do the three-hour assessment. But most people do not pass that 5 to 10-minute quiz.

Is that Pre-work Course almost like a bootcamp prep program?

I wouldn't compare it to a bootcamp prep program because every bootcamp prep program out there doesn't do what we do. For us, this pre-work has one intent – to prepare you for success in our bootcamp: Sabio. If you take this pre-work and you pass the assessment, that signals that you're going to be successful at Sabio. And what does that mean? It means that you're going to get a job within six weeks after graduating from the program.

Can applicants start the pre-work as complete beginners or do they need some experience in programming?

To get into the pre-work, you have to have completed the Codecademy modules on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and that's just to set a foundation.

When you hear the words “function,” “variable,” and “loop” in the pre-work course, I don't want that to be the first time you’ve heard those words. Online modules like Codecademy serve a really good purpose in giving students a vocabulary so that they aren't completely lost when we start the pre-work.

I love to use those online modules as a warmup before the pre-work, but as soon as you get into the pre-work, and especially when you get to the bootcamp, I push people away from continuing to use things like Codecademy because they don't reflect the real-world industry experience. There is too much hand-holding. In our program you need to focus on materials that we present to you and do this the way we're trying to get you to do it.

Once students have taken those four weeks of pre-work, do they still have to pass that three-hour assessment to get in?

Yes, absolutely. At the end of the pre-work, you take the assessment. If you pass, then we allow you to reserve a seat. Between the date that you pass the assessment and your start date, we'll actually deliver more content to you with more time in front of an instructor. We want to make sure you keep your skills fresh, keep learning, and try to solidify and add to that foundation that we just laid in pre-work.

What percentage of people who have done the pre-work actually pass that assessment?

About 80% to 85% of the people who have gone through the pre-work pass the assessment the first time. There's a segment of people who don't pass the first time, and then there are some people who stretch our four-week curriculum into eight weeks. That might be due to their own personal work schedule, so perhaps they can only attend on Saturdays.

You said you're vetting students throughout the pre-work. What are you looking for?

We're extremely confident in our ability to teach someone to code. You can start today after completing some lessons on Codecademy, and we know that if you show up motivated, focused, and coachable, you're going to go far and this is going to work out. Once you have the foundation of engineering, I can pile all sorts of stuff on top of that, and you're going to be successful. We know that to be a fact.

The other thing we're looking for is, “are you a nice person?” We make a long-term commitment to our fellows. We know that we're going to see you regularly, we want to see you, and we want you engaged in the community. We don't care what kind of music you like, or what your politics are. But if you’re just not a nice person, and don't talk to people nicely, we will actually have to dismiss those people.

If it was just a 12-week engagement, then personality wouldn’t matter so much. But we make a five-year commitment to our Sabio Fellows. When we do hackathons and monthly meetups, we don't want people to dread working with you. We filter out any budding brogrammers. We won’t tolerate an attitude like that.

Regardless which track you take, if you make it into the 12-week bootcamp and you're disruptive or messing with the dynamics of the group, we'll kick you out. That long-term commitment is something that you have to earn. You have to represent yourself well and be respectful of others if you're going to continue being part of the community.

From the students that I've talked with from Sabio, it sounds like most students do stay really involved in the community.

That's a long-term benefit. Now there are a good number of people who have graduated over the years. Why wouldn't you want a helpful resource like that alumni network?

Why have you taken the time to develop an application process that's longer and more high touch? Why not just give a hard coding challenge and only accept students who can pass it?

The subject material at Sabio is very intimidating, and that’s one reason why there aren't enough developers. Why make it more intimidating? It doesn't make sense.

This intimidation is actually part of the culture in tech, and it’s not good. The imposter syndrome attitude says, "You're not good enough to do this, that this was not meant for you, this is not the type of work that you should do, you're too old, you are a woman." There are all these things that say you shouldn't do this, and all of that is just not true.

Are there students who would not have been able to get into Sabio using a traditional application?

I can tell you that most of the people who successfully do the pre-work would not have been able to pass Sabio’s assessment before that. And even folks who have come to us from other bootcamp prep programs are not ready to pass the assessments. They might be able to solve a specific algorithm or problems they’ve seen in a book, but that’s it.

How is the Sabio pre-work different from a bootcamp prep program?

The curricula of those prep programs are all from the same playbook. There's a lot of duplication of efforts - creating a quick and dirty clone of popular apps using a ton of boilerplate code or the same tired “toy problems” that you never do outside of the interview process. We focus on getting you to recognize that code is just a tool. A tool that you use to build something that adds value to a user. To that end we focus on JavaScript making pages interactive and a server side MVC application that introduces the server-side paradigm.

People come to us who have not been successful at getting into other coding bootcamps, and then become successful here. And why is that? It’s because we help them. We do the hard part of taking someone who doesn't know how to program and teaching them fundamentals that allow them to build and become a software developer. That's what our job is – to take someone who just did a Codecademy JavaScript module and actually get them to be a JavaScript developer.

Sabio has a partnership with Antioch University- does this admissions process apply to that course as well?

For the Antioch program, instead of having a four-week pre-work, it's actually a 12-week, full-time engagement. You actually get a lot more material, and a lot more instruction time, and the same vetting process happens. In academic terms, the pre-work is considered a prerequisite class that you have to finish before going to the main bootcamp.

And another reason students choose the Antioch program is that you get access to federal loans and grants through the university, and depending on your situation you might be able to get college credit out of it as well.

That's really cool. Who are the instructors teaching the pre-work session?

Our pre-work instructors are professional, seasoned developers who have been doing software development for years. As we have developed a larger need for pre-work instructors, we have started getting our experienced past fellows to teach as well. For example, we have one Fellow who's helping us out a lot in Orange County with the pre-work course after working in the industry for about a year and a half. We love having him teach the pre-work, but we would not have Fellows teaching at the actual bootcamp. Those instructors will always be people who are working professionally as a true senior level developer, not someone who's just graduated from our program. I don't think that's appropriate.

That sounds like a great way to let those alumni stay involved.

Yeah. Fellows appreciate the rewarding aspect of it, and for us it's nice to have that energy in the classroom. But we do our best to make sure that long term instructors have a lot of experience, so that if a student came up with some random question, they could actually answer it without going back to look at the curriculum.

How else is Sabio’s admissions process different from other coding bootcamps?

The other thing I want to stress is that being accepted into other bootcamps seems to be a significant achievement and some type of goal. Getting accepted is not an achievement. That's nothing to brag about it. Can you get a job? That's what we're about. When you graduate and get a job, that's fantastic. We do the hard work and then we celebrate. And we promote those job outcomes like crazy.

Find out more and read Sabio reviews on Course Report. Check out the Sabio website.

About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students considering a coding bootcamp. 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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