In this Live Alumni Q&A, the panel answered real questions from the audience like:
Why did you choose your particular bootcamp over all the others?
Mike: I looked at a lot of different data science bootcamps. What attracted me to NYC Data Science Academy was that they focused entirely on data science and they offered an opportunity to meet the instructors before attending.
Logan: The first program I looked at was Codesmith and I fell in love with it immediately! Codesmith offers free introductory workshops where you can participate and get an in-depth review of how certain aspects of code work. I was so inspired by the program and instructors that I jumped in with both feet without looking at any other programs!
Hanna: Springboard’s fully-remote, self-paced bootcamp included a weekly meeting with an industry professional mentor, which was my main draw. My mentor had experience working with junior developers and he offered valuable feedback on areas of improvement. We had conversations that were bigger than what I was working on and he’s the one that told me when I was ready to start applying for jobs and gave me the confidence to go out and get one!
Christina: I chose Tech Elevator for a number of reasons, including the fantastic reviews from their alumni, all of which were 5-stars. I also attended an Open House and saw their job-placement and graduation rates were both in the 90s. Half the bootcamp was focused on career coaching - called the Pathway Program - which I felt I really needed, having been in academia for decades prior.
Jess: I began my research talking to several other bootcamps and what stood out to me about Code Fellows was their focus on what comes after the bootcamp. Leading into higher ed, the focus was always on getting the grades and scholarships to get to college, but there wasn’t a conversation about what happens after college and the ROI down the road. Code Fellows entered the conversation asking about my goals after bootcamp and how they could assist me in getting there. I took advantage of their Career Accelerator Program, which offered resume review and 1:1 interview prep. Since they’re Seattle-based, Code Fellows alumni are connected with big names in tech, like Microsoft. It was also really cool to see their focus on uplifting diversity in tech; in many of my classes the women outnumbered the men! I loved my time at Code Fellows.
Michelle: I loved the process of getting to know General Assembly as a company before enrolling. I talked to the admissions rep who answered all my questions honestly and was realistic about the process of going into a bootcamp and job-searching post-bootcamp. There was a flow in the conversation that made me confident to attend General Assembly.
Hanna, what did you do for bootcamp prep? How did you prepare yourself for your bootcamp's entrance exam?
Anyone want to share their favorite free resources to prep for a bootcamp?
Christina: freeCodeCamp is a great free resource!
Mike: NYC Data Science Academy offered a free curriculum for before the bootcamp started.
Jess: Code Fellows doesn’t require an entry test since they believe they can teach people from scratch. I entered Code Fellows having never coded a day in my life and I am now working full-time in this industry! They also offer one-day courses that give potential bootcampers an idea of what it’s like attending a bootcamp. I hopped in on a Saturday hoping I would like it and I was awakened to a new passion!
Jess, now that you’ve graduated from Code Fellows and are now an engineer, do you think that the programming language you first learned was important?
Mike, you went to NYC Data Science Academy; were you looking for a curriculum that taught Python or R?
Mike: The data science field primarily uses Python. NYCDSA taught us everything twice in the beginning; we learned the curriculum first in Python and then in R. This was a great way to cement the knowledge we were learning and go deeper into the field. For anyone looking at attending a data science bootcamp, Python is worth learning first.
Did any of you consider outcomes reports/CIRR reports/ or ask to see data around job placement?
Christina: When I attended the Tech Elevator open house, they were fully transparent about their graduation and job placement rates being around 90%. If you go to Tech Elevator, do the work, and trust the process, your chances of getting a job are pretty damn high.
Mike: NYCDSA offered a job placement percentage, which definitely affected my choice in attending. I know that NYCDA is accredited by the State of NY as a professional development school, which requires them to meet certain numbers to maintain their accreditation.
Did anyone receive any workforce development funding or scholarships because of COVID-19? Any tips that you can give future bootcampers about where to look for funding?
Christina: It was not COVID-19 related, but I was awarded the Represent Tech Scholarship from Tech Elevator, which covered about 85% of my tuition! Tech Elevator established this scholarship right before I started, as part of their $1 million commitment to increase access to careers in tech for people from traditionally underrepresented groups.
Jess: I’m a military spouse, so I was able to use the GI Bill. There is such a phenomenal push for military spouses in tech right now, as people have awakened to the fact that you can take tech jobs with you when you get re-stationed. The government is eager to pay for your bootcamp. Get in touch if you can’t find resources!
Did anyone attend bootcamp without a formal degree?
Hanna: You DO NOT need a degree to attend a bootcamp or get a job in software development. I am an art school dropout and I am fully employed now! So many bootcamps offer a job placement guarantee. The general trend in the industry is that it is not necessary to have a degree, so long as you can show on your resume that you’ve done projects, and can speak with confidence about how your work applies to your new role. Even if a job posting says, “bachelor’s required”, there’s no penalty for applying to that job without a bachelor’s degree.
Logan: I went in with a strong math and physics degree, but what was more important than that was the program’s focus on narrative, confidence in speaking about projects, and how you relate your life experiences to an engineering mindset. How can you translate your previous work experience to your new workforce? For example, if you owned a restaurant, what skills would apply to engineering?
Mike: I have a master’s degree in applied math. The data science space may be different from software engineering. I wouldn’t recommend using a bootcamp in lieu of an undergraduate or graduate degree to get into data science. It seems to be more of a requirement, generally, to get into that space.
Have you found the remote learning environment to be better or worse for your learning experience in the bootcamp and how has it affected finding work afterwards?
Logan: I am a full-time parent to three kids. Most of the bootcamps I looked at were full-time immersive, 12-hours a day for three months. As COVID shifted the way we work, that actually made my career switch possible, because I could organize my home life and manage time to fit in participating in the work. Likewise, afterward, with getting the job, it’s made that family/work life balance so much more of a possibility. It’s helped with homeschooling kids during COVID. That whole shift made it a reality for me.
Did you find it easy to connect to your instructors, mentors, and other classmates in your cohort?
Hanna: It’s so valuable to go to a bootcamp that allows you to interact with others in your cohort and work on group projects together. That’s a soft skill that you can use to sell yourself, because there are definitely people who will apply for those same jobs that do not have those skills. I didn’t experience this at Springboard because they are remote and self-paced, but other bootcamps do have that.
Michelle: Our cohort consisted of nine people including myself, plus two instructors. I would highly suggest for anyone thinking of enrolling in a bootcamp to bring up those questions in your admissions interview. Ask how big your cohort will be, how many instructors you’ll have access to, and how much help will be provided after school hours.
Was anyone particularly proud of their final project?
Logan: The final project at Codesmith is premised on designing a solution to a problem that current engineers in the workforce are struggling with. We built a dev tool that’s currently in production for a new state management library, in a React ecosystem, and I’m still actively maintaining it to this day! A lot of love went into diving into the engineering world, trying to find a problem, then develop a solution for it. Plus, it’s a valued solution and we started it from research to an actual project implementation that’s being used today. I’m very fond and proud of it!
Mike: At NYDSA, we had the option of conducting our final projects partnered with real companies. This was highly valuable because we worked with real data from the company and understood in what context it would be used for. It was better to use this real-world experience when discussing projects in interviews (compared to a Kaggle project).
What was the one most impactful part of the careers curriculum?
Michelle: The most impactful part of the careers curriculum during my time at General Assembly was definitely being provided a career coach. We each had weekly 1:1 meetings with her, plus she helped us set up our resume, conduct mock interviews, and practice our elevator pitch. She ensured we felt comfortable entering the job search.
Logan: The part-time program is over nine months instead of three months and Codesmith dedicates the entire last third portion to career development. We worked on our resume, practiced tech interviews, and prepared for system design interviews. Our resumes went through several iterations of revisions, from different people, including a hiring support team. Codesmith also has a continued alumni support for career development to access, even after you’ve landed your first job in a career switch, if you need advice on revising your resume or your narrative, or salary negotiations. They’re a connected, empathetic support network that helped build confidence in myself to leverage my minimal engineering experience.
Jess: At Code Fellows, we had an entire track every day for 10 weeks about data structures and algorithms. They supported us as we failed and tried again. To graduate Code Fellows, you have to pass a whiteboard in front of an instructor that is not your instructor. As someone who came from an art background and doesn’t have a CS degree, whiteboarding made me stronger and more competitive. The alumni at Code Fellows have been around for so long that it’s come full circle - some of our alumni are now hiring managers and senior devs! Someone in the alumni channel is dropping in a job lead daily. I appreciate that it is such an active community.
Did any of your bootcamps move your employer networking events or did you do those online as well?
Mike: I went to NYC Data Science Academy over the summer of 2020, the second remote cohort. They used to have a big Career Fair, but they canceled that and didn’t replace it until well after I graduated. The career coaching they did remotely was done well, to get a sense of networking and get interviews, but I missed out on experiencing the Career Fair.
How long did it take you to find a job after you completed the bootcamp?
Christina: I had three job offers by graduation day, and all three were employers who came to Tech Elevator’s matchmaking event.
Hanna: Because I’ve done two bootcamps, the first bootcamp I didn’t get any offers, but by the time I was ⅔ of the way done with Springboard, I had already signed an offer! So, depending on how I look at it, it took me one year, or I got a job before I even finished Springboard.
Mike: NYCDSA always keeps on a student or two from the previous cohort to help the next cohort as a teacher’s assistant (TA). I started looking for jobs after being a TA for three months, and it took me a month and a half.
Logan: Similarly, at Codesmith they call that TA role a Fellowship, and I did two sessions for a total of six months. As soon as my LinkedIn profile was polished, I heard from 3-4 recruiters a week. To practice my interviewing skills, I accepted some of them, and about halfway through my second Fellowship, one of those recruiters and I connected and it just happened! Not including the Fellowship it took about 4.5 months, but it was pretty common throughout the cohort of 30 people for 30% of them to receive offers in that 2-3 week period, then about 70% will have offers within the first 1-2 months after graduating.
Jess: I got two offers in five weeks. I’d never had to handle a competing offer. I got an offer from a UK development team and one from a US company. The UK company had my heart because they were the makers of the game WarHammer, and I highly recommend them if you have the opportunity to work with them. Other graduates in my cohort went to work for Zillow, Microsoft, and others who leveraged their past experiences to get into tech. I didn’t get hired because I know everything about code; I’m a junior - a toddler with a machete hacking through code. I got hired because I had other skills I could leverage in addition to being a great developer.
Michelle: At two months I signed an offer and by 2.5 months I was getting onboarded. Be gentle with yourselves; it’s going to vary by person. As long as you keep trying, you’ll land at a company and in a role you enjoy. The right job will come to you, it’s not all about how fast you get hired.
Michelle, you’re a Software Engineer at Infostretch, what are you working on?
I just wrapped up my first project in mobile development, where I learned a lot of frontend tools like TypeScript and ReactNative, and I was working with their menu management. My second project is backend focused, so I’m learning C#, .NET, and Web APIs.
Jess, you’re now working at FortyAU as a Software Engineer, what types of projects do you work on these days?
FortyAU is a consultancy, so we dabble in a lot - everything from social media to mobile apps and games for pet owners. I’m on the web development team. I do a lot of API integrations, especially payment integrations, and frontend work. We also run our servers and have a lot of legacy code come in, so I have been diving into that. I got hired to write a language I didn’t know, PHP. So the fact that I was able to dive into new territory with this great foundation speaks well to how comfortable I felt to show them I was able to learn what I didn’t know.
Mike, you’re a Data Scientist at Anheuser-Busch, what are you working on?
I’m a part of the tech arm of Anheuser-Busch called Beer Tech, which I started working on a year ago. My team is primarily doing store segmentation, essentially generating labels for all the places that sell beer in North America, to help marketing and sales teams make decisions.
Christina, you’re now a Software Engineer at Path Robotics, what kinds of projects are you working with?
At Path, we develop technology that powers autonomous welding robots for the manufacturing industry. These days, the team I’m on is working on refactors in the GUI and API to improve our workflow and make our application run better. We’re also adding new functionality which will allow our system to weld really big parts that have hundreds of features, so my team’s called Big Part.
Hanna, you’re at Bugcrowd as a Software Engineer, what are you working on?
Logan, you’re a Software Engineer with K2 Partnering Solutions at Facebook, what are you working on these days?
Like all other giant companies that have an enormous code base, they have an entire internal ecosystem; tools that teams within the teams use to process their own information or their own data, or protect their own data. The team I work on processes applications between third parties. Most of what I learned was React and the whole MERN stack. PHP, GraphQL, and Relay were all new technologies to me, which are the core internal tools they use.
Any thoughts on freelance web dev?
Christina: We were advised against it at Tech Elevator, since we’d just be too green.
What are your thoughts on companies like Wix taking jobs from web developers? Has anyone encountered this being a challenge?
Jess: I get paid to work with WordPress, which has a stigma, but when you find out that WordPress is powering 40% of websites, it’s an incredibly powerful tool. As far as Wix goes, people are always gonna want to customize plug-ins, which they can’t necessarily code. Drag and Drop only goes so far, the same with Bubble.io. In the code/no-code movement, somebody has to code the no-code in the background, so I don’t think web developers are going to be replaced any time soon.
Hanna: A similar situation is with Shopify, where people are buying packages, but if they want anything customized on their website and if they want their website to look like anything other than a Shopify site, they have an actual software engineer working on it. It can be worth diving into if you’re interested, because there is a huge market on UpWork for that skillset. No-code is only no-code for so long, the code comes from somewhere.
Having gone through the tech interview process, any suggestions about what we should focus/train on outside of the bootcamp?
Michelle: Since my bootcamp was an immersive program that was three months long, there wasn’t much of a heavy focus on data structure and algorithms (DSA). If you are not comfortable with DSA, I strongly recommend going through it and making sure you’re comfortable explaining the problem and then being able to explain your solution and way of thinking. Using sites such as LeetCode and AlgoExpert are helpful. Look up Code Along projects on YouTube or Udemy and make sure you’re touching up on technical skills and languages that you want to have a career in.
Can career changers over 40 find a job in tech after a bootcamp?
Christina: Yes, you can; I did! I was 42 when I went to bootcamp and I don’t think I was the oldest person in my cohort. Nobody cares how old you are. Can you do the work? Can you be comfortable being uncomfortable? Do you have a passion for it? That’s all that matters. Age doesn’t matter.
Jess: I was concerned going into the bootcamp if ageism might be an issue, and I have experienced 0%.
Was the bootcamp worth it for you? Has the bootcamp’s ROI worked out for you? Maybe you think about ROI in terms of salary or maybe in terms of quality of life.
Logan: 100%. It’s still hard to believe that this salary comes with this type of work and that it’s work that I love doing! Compared to working in a restaurant where you’re onsite or on-call 7 days a week, the ability to work in an industry that is capable of working remotely has completely altered my quality of life. I can take my computer wherever I go and can stay connected to my family.
Hanna: I wanted something sustainable. I used to work with artists, traveling the world and going to galleries. It was a dream that I’m grateful to have lived, but I knew it wasn’t going to age with me. As I’ve matured, my priorities have shifted and I now want a reliable career that will take me into future decades. This career is way more in-tune with the more adult, mature me.
Christina: Going to Tech Elevator was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It changed my life. For the second time in my life, I found a career that I’m passionate about. My salary expectations were exceeded, no question. I enjoy coming to work every day and I’m excited to solve problems. This is the work I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.
Michelle: Before becoming a software engineer I was a personal trainer, so I had no technical background knowledge. My job required me to go on-site every day and I loved interacting with and helping others. Making this career switch during COVID was definitely a lot to handle, but my time at General Assembly was 100% worth it. It’s been great to have met and stay in contact with my cohort, to be able to do this line of work, to realize my love for code, and nurturing my passion for continued learning.
Mike: I was a material scientist in an R&D department of a manufacturing company, working in a dark lab, under a hood, and alone for several hours a day. I couldn’t work remotely, was making less money, and career advancement was tough. My salary expectations have been met, I work remotely, I interact with more people… attending a bootcamp has improved my life in so many ways and I’m very happy with my decision.
What did you not like while attending your bootcamp and should be improved immediately?
Hanna: As an introvert, the way in which these bootcamps (in my experience) teach and approach networking does not work for me. I didn’t get any of my job offers from any of my networking advances. Some alumni have mentioned a continued alumni support network, someone to lend a helping hand and offer jobs you may not be exposed to otherwise. I didn’t experience this and I think it would work better for someone like me. I reached out to a lot of alumni from both my bootcamps and no one would ever reply! The job offers I got were from scouring LinkedIn, AngelList, and Dice - it was never from a referral or networking.
Any other advice or anything to watch out for?
Christina: If you’re a parent going through a bootcamp, parent guilt is real and it’s okay. You’re not gonna be as present for your kids but keep in mind why you’re doing it and that they’re part of the reason you’re doing it. It helps if you have support. I was lucky enough to have my mom come stay with us for three months to help us with our toddler. Parent guilt is real; acknowledge it, but it’s okay.
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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