Daniel was studying computer science at Brandeis when he realized that he wanted the intense hands-on coding experience he could get from a coding bootcamp like Fullstack Academy. Daniel traded in his theory-heavy college courses for more technical training and interactive projects and doesn’t regret it at all. Daniel discusses his motivation to put his traditional academics on hold, his experiences thus far in a coding bootcamp, and how he's adjusting to New York City by living at Common.
Tell us what you were up to before you started at Fullstack Academy.
Last year, I was a freshman at Brandeis University, studying Computer Science. When Brandeis accepted me, they also invited me to participate in a Leader-Scholar Community focused on media and politics. We had a big final project that required us to do something connecting media and politics. My team decided to found an initiative to share the stories of individuals facing homelessness in the Boston region. As part of the initiative, we built a website from the ground up that is fundamentally similar to Humans of New York but has a particular focus on the homeless population.
Did you do the coding for it? Did you teach yourself enough to build it?
Yeah, it didn’t require a lot because it was just HTML and CSS but it was enough to get me interested in programming and building products more generally.
On the first day of Fullstack, our instructor explained that programming and Computer Science are not the same thing.You can be a fantastic programmer without being a fantastic computer scientist, and you can be a fantastic computer scientist without being a fantastic programmer. However, it happens that knowing CS and understanding the fundamentals can help make you a better programmer.
I hadn’t heard the CS vs programming distinction articulated until I came to Fullstack, although I think I had an inkling of it when I started building the website I mentioned earlier.
So you were studying Computer Science but didn’t realize that you wanted to pursue programming until you actually built something.
That got me interested in a summer program at Brandeis, which was focused on building web and mobile applications. I loved that program, it was exactly what I wanted.
Did you get credit for that summer bootcamp?
It wasn’t a bootcamp, actually. It was a 12-credit suite of courses, and it was great. During the program, I discovered I had developed a real passion for programming and building. Going back to regular college classes with PowerPoints and lectures -- none of the hands-on building I enjoyed so much -- was going to just kill my passion for programming.
A friend who had gone to Hack Reactor told me about coding bootcamps. It was then that I decided to take a semester or year off and pursue that route of education.
Did you tell Brandeis you were going to do a coding bootcamp? Was it a difficult process?
It was easy to take the leave of absence. Brandeis knew about the coding bootcamp only because I inquired whether I could get credit for the work. That would be the perfect situation.
Wow, this sounds like the perfect argument for EQUIP (The Department of Education’s new initiative for collaboration between four-year institutions and bootcamps).
I could not be more on board with that. That would make a CS degree a lot more compelling for a lot of people who are less interested in theory and algorithms than they are in making stuff. While some theory is necessary, it’s become apparent to me how different theory is from building real things.
People who have great imaginations and come up with cool ideas would be able to explore and discover their passion for building.
How far are you through Fullstack right now?
We are about to finish our junior phase, which is the first six weeks. My cohort is a little different from others in that we get a month-long break in December, but typically, a cohort has six weeks of class, then a review week with assessments, then a six-week senior phase that is more project-oriented.
Has there been overlap between the Computer Science fundamentals that you were learning at Brandeis and the curriculum at Fullstack?
Yeah, definitely.We learned some CS fundamentals in the first week at Fullstack. They want you to have some background in theory, so during the first week, you learn different algorithms like sorting – material that I didn’t find very engaging and enthralling at either Brandeis or Fullstack, but I definitely appreciate that some theory will be helpful further down the line. For people who haven’t have any CS background, Fullstack will definitely get you to a good starting place.
Were your parents supportive of you taking a semester off?
They were surprisingly supportive. It’s cheesy to say but they’ve always been behind me and been my biggest supporters. I told them. “Mom, Dad, I’m not enjoying either what I’m learning or the way I’m learning in school.” I told them about the bootcamps and how I was excited by their method of teaching They were very skeptical at first, as most parents would be --especially my parents, who are very academia-oriented. My dad is a professor who has a PhD and my mom has a Master’s Degree, and both highly value a liberal arts education. Given that, I was expecting a lot of pushback. But after I’d researched the programs I was interested in and discussed my thoughts with them they were on board.
You don’t think you’ll go back to school when you’re done with Fullstack Academy?
I’m considering multiple options right now, and over my winter break, I plan to apply as a transfer student to schools with a more project-based and hands-on CS curriculum. I’m still not sure exactly where that’ll be, but I want to generate an array of possibilities for when I graduate from Fullstack and get ready to take my next step..
What other bootcamps did you research?
In Boston, I looked at General Assembly and Launch Academy. Some teach the MEAN stack, others teach Ruby on Rails; I was most interested in learning the MEAN stack.After talking to people in the industry, it seemed to me like, while a lot of companies use Rails, the MEAN stack is going to be the next big thing. I didn’t actually hear about Fullstack until a month into my search for a bootcamp, but once I found it, it seemed like this amazing place. I remember reading a question on Quora from someone who got accepted to both Fullstack and Hack Reactor. The answer was:“You’ve gotten into Harvard and Yale; you can’t go wrong.” I also read a lot of reviews and testimonials from people who had gone to Fullstack, and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. After doing that research, I was confident that it was a good school to apply to.
I applied to Hack Reactor, MakerSquare, Coding Dojo, Launch Academy, Fullstack Academy and General Assembly.
Originally, Hack Reactor was my top choice, but I didn’t get in. In retrospect, I can see why -- I didn’t understand a lot of the material at the time of my interview. It was my first interview, which was a big mistake because I think they’re one of the most selective bootcamps. I was unbelievably nervous going into the interview and I think that that, together with its being my first interview, wasn’t a good mix. But I actually found the Fullstack Academy interview significantly harder than the Hack Reactor one.
Was there a technical coding challenge in the interview for Fullstack Academy?
Yes. The entire application process for Fullstack is a little bit different from a lot of other bootcamp application processes. They have a relatively lengthy written application that you have to submit before you can do anything else. If they like your application, they’ll get back to you and send you an online test to complete. If you do well enough on that test, they’ll reach out to you and schedule a technical interview. If you do well on the technical interview, they’ll accept you into the program.
Did you have to complete the online coding challenge in a certain programming language?
Nope, I recall them asking me to complete the challenge in whatever language I preferred.
Are you working harder than you did in college?
I’m working harder than I did in college but I’m also significantly happier with the type of work that I’m doing. I’m excited to go to school in the morning and I’m excited to come home and continue working. In college, I wasn’t nearly as engaged in my classes -- I wasn’t very excited about their content, and I wasn’t as excited as I wanted to be about doing the work for them.
Even though I’m excited about what I’m learning, the time commitment is still tough. Still, I don’t find it too hard to find motivation to do the work for it.
How did you find out about Common as a housing option?
Through Fullstack, actually. I have two family members in New York and had zero friends here and I had no idea where to live. I had heard horror stories about living in New York and finding a place and it just seemed like a very stressful situation. So I asked Charlotte and she recommended Krash, Founder House and Common. Common just seemed like the best option from the get-go.
Is everybody in the Common house in tech?
I think that the majority of my housemates are in some aspect of tech. The only non-technical people I can think of offhand are one person who works as a copywriter for a startup and one person works for the UN. Those might be the least techy people in the houseI think that almost everyone else is doing really cool stuff in the tech industry; everyone’s doing cool stuff.
Are there other coding bootcampers at Common?
There are two others besides me. One is studying UX Design at General Assembly. The other bootcamper is in my class at Fullstack, which is great. It means we can study at home sometimes and talk through problems that we encounter during classes. It’s kind of like living in a college dorm except significantly nicer.
Right- you just came from your freshman year at college! Is this like living in a dorm?
It’s a much better version of a dorm. It’s living with people who have a common interest, much more freedom, much more privacy, and much nicer accommodations. Walking into Common makes me a little bit happier every day; it’s just such a beautiful space.
Do you feel like you’re connecting to the tech scene in New York at all?
Not at this point. Most of my extra-curricular activities are oriented more towards social events. Both Common and Fullstack Academy host lots of events. At Fullstack, each cohort appoints a social chair that schedules your “Sunday Fun-Day” activity. In addition to whatever’s planned for Sunday, we have happy hour/studying every Thursday (Thirsty Thursdays), and a lot of impromptu games of Avalon. Common hosts a lot of events as well. There’s a communal dinner once every two weeks and we have weekly events. But if I don’t have work, I like to catch up on sleep!
Who’s your instructor at Fullstack Academy right now?
We have three instructors: Joe, Gabe and Ayana, who are all phenomenal. I think that all three graduated from Fullstack a year and a half ago, were Fullstack Fellows, and are now full-fledged instructors. Joe, the instructor who’ll come through to senior phase with us, is a self-taught programmer, a very cool person, and a phenomenal teacher.
The teachers at Fullstack motivate you and inspire you; they want you to learn and succeed.
Have you done a project yet?
Yep. We just finished the longest workshop of the junior curriculum. We built a Spotify clone during a five-day workshop. We started from a very basic skeleton of the app and added functionality to make it a complete web application built on the entire MEAN stack. That was our introduction to Angular.
That was my favorite project so far. It seemed like something that I would actually want to build.
I’m going into each of these projects with the desire to learn how to learn. I want to be able to look at a new technology and know how to start using it.
I think Fullstack is going to help me get there. Their curriculum is designed to teach you how to learn, not just teach you the MEAN stack, which I think is essential in the tech field.
Is there anything we skipped over that you want to make sure our readers know about Fullstack Academy or bootcamps in general?
Overall, bootcamps are really cool. You learn a lot, you meet a lot of really cool people while doing it and even if you don’t walk away with some high-paying developer job, you walk away having learned a huge skillset...
Have your friends from Brandeis asked if they should follow in your footsteps?
I haven’t been approached by anyone but if I were, I would definitely encourage them to take a look at Fullstack.