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What were your career and education backgrounds before you started the Thinkful bootcamp?
Sean: I am a scientist. I have a bachelor's disagree in biochemistry and a master's degree in materials science. When I graduated I took part in three different research studies – one at Arizona State University, one at a Local Lab, and one in South Korea.
I have been interested in learning to code since I was young, because my dad worked at Intel. He would often bring home spare computers for me to toy around with. I was always interested in computers but I had never tried making it my profession. Last year while I was working at a lab, I saw what a brilliant scientist my supervisor was, and how much passion he had for science. I realized I probably wouldn’t be as passionate as he is in 20 or 30 years and I should find something I have always been interested in. So I started learning how to code on the side, doing Codecademy and Udacity courses. I just got really into it.
Simon: I don't think I could be more different. I started out as a musician in my early days in the UK and did that through to university. I tried to be a musician and make that as my living, but didn't work out for various reasons. Eventually I needed something different, so I did a lot of random jobs from legal services in the government, to banking, to pub management.
Coding is one of the things I did in my spare time because I like problem-solving. I'm a bit of a Rubik's cube addict. I'm a member of Treehouse, and I did that just for fun – it's a great resource. Then I moved to San Francisco, and it was just the best place I could be to do coding. So I was like, “I enjoy it, why not see if I can do it for a living?" So that's when I started shopping around for courses and ended up on Thinkful.
Where are you both located right now?
Simon: I'm from Leeds (England) originally, but I'm in San Francisco.
Sean: I'm in Chandler, Arizona right now.
What time zone is the Thinkful program in?
Sean: For me, it goes from 7am until 2:30pm PT
Simon: We are the first cohort to go through it, so it's on New York time. It starts at 6am for me. They bumped the cohort start to an hour later for cohorts after us.
Are you both dedicating all your time now to Thinkful or are you able to have a job?
Simon: For me personally, no I don't have a job. Thankfully, I've got a wife who has a good job, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It does take up a lot of your time.
Sean: I'm spending pretty much the whole day on this because I just got married two months ago, and my wife is still in Korea while she waits for her visa. I was thinking about what I could do on my own – I've had so much free time, so I decided to do this full-time course.
What made you guys choose Thinkful over any other programs you’ve come across?
Simon: I actually did another bootcamp when I first moved to San Francisco 18 months ago. It was pretty terrible. It was a very similar concept of online learning where you have exercises and a mentor. But the course content was ripped from online documentation of things like Ruby on Rails so you could have done it on your own. It was a lot of money, and it put me off to going to bootcamps completely.
The reason I eventually settled on Thinkful, was after a discussion with my wife I realized, "I still love it, I still want to do it.” After looking around, I was between Thinkful and Bloc IO. And I think the clincher for me for Thinkful was I went on the website, entered my email address and phone number, and they got back to me instantly. I got a call within half an hour from a guy called Noel who is a liaison. He ran me through the whole course and said, "This would really suit you.” He was just so enthusiastic, and wanted to help me.
Sean: Originally, I wanted to join Hack Reactor in San Francisco so I applied for the remote program because living in San Francisco can be really expensive. And they told me I got conditionally accepted. After my wedding, I took their remote prep course which was four weeks long. Then after four weeks I had a second interview, and again they said I was conditionally accepted, and “feel free to reapply a few months later.” I was on a time constraint because my wife is arriving soon, and I wanted to be job-ready when she arrives.
Then, like Simon, I was looking at other options, and a friend who was in the Hack Reactor prep course with me, recommended the Thinkful Full Time Career Path, and told me to reach out to them. And then, like Simon said, they replied within less than an hour. I realized, "When I email Hack Reactor it takes them three weeks to reply, then Thinkful replies in 30 minutes. Maybe this is a better course for me." So that's why I decided to join Thinkful.
Did either of you consider in-person bootcamps?
Sean: Yes at first, I was thinking about Hack Reactor’s onsite program. A close friend told me, "You should consider onsite over online because you can get a much better experience that way." I was thinking, "You know what? The whole finding a place to live and the living cost would actually interfere with my study.”
What was the application process like? Was there an interview or a coding challenge when you were applying for the Thinkful full-time program?
Sean: Actually, my prep course was even shorter than two weeks because I really wanted to join the June 6th cohort, so I called Bhaumik before the end of May. He said, "You have to finish this two-week prep course in one week. We look into personality more than actual coding skills. If you finish this in a week, you have a chance of entering the full-time course.”
This Thinkful Full-Time Career Path program is very new, so I'm really interested in what the actual learning experience is like.
Sean: We're in week four right now. The first two weeks were kind of easy, because it was a lot of front end which I had experience with from Udacity and Codecademy courses. By week three, it became increasingly difficult because we were learning back end. At the same time, it was very interesting and I'm learning so much. It's very fast paced so every day, even when class is over, I can’t just go hang with my friends. You have to really commit to it and treat it like actual college. I think I’ve studied more than I did in grad school for the past four weeks. So it’s working and I love it.
And what’s the structure of the program? How do they teach you the content?
Simon: You start off the day with one hour with the Thinkful mentor, who for me is a guy called Joe. I think he's teaching you guys as well, Sean. He basically wrote the course. So we are with him for an hour in a group of six and we go over the concepts we’ll be learning that day. Then you go off and pair program. You do that for a few hours then break for lunch. Then you do another one-hour session to see how everybody has done, and show your work to each other. It doesn't matter if you don’t get it or if it was totally wrong. They want you to make mistakes, so when they go over things with you, that repetition helps cement the concepts. In the afternoon it’s back to pairing. At the end of the day, there are evening exercises, and a daily reflection about how you’ve done that day, and any comments on how to improve.
There is also the evening call with your mentor which is one-on-one. I do a one-on-one call with my mentor after class to go over today’s topics, and ways I can advance – it’s wonderful.
Sean, how many people have you got in your cohort?
Sean: Right now we have seven classmates. We're paired in two groups of twos, and one group of three and we switch back and forth, so we get to experience working with another partner and working in groups of three. What Simon said about his experience is pretty much the same for me.
Do you know where your other cohort members are from? Are they from all different parts of the States or from other countries?
Sean: I think most of them are on the East Coast because I'm the only one with the sleeping issue. I have to get up 6am in the morning and then everyone else is all fresh.
Simon: We've got four in the Bay Area – there is a group of us who are up at 5am to start at 6am. We've got another guy in Georgia, one person in LA and another in New York.
Are you getting to know your classmates quite well?
Simon: Yeah. We actually meet up regularly. They encourage you throughout the course to go to meetups and go to talks. So I've been to talks and meetups with a couple of the Bay Area people who are all on the course.
I think we're ready to do the screen share. Sean, could you share your screen with us and show us what the Thinkful platform looks like?
Sean: This is the dashboard and the pre-course materials we had to finish before starting day one. It’s pretty much self-explanatory. It tells you who your pair is for the day. I’ll jump into the room workshop and show you how that works. There's an instructor in this video room with seven other students, and then he goes through his PowerPoint slides with us.
When you're in the video room, can you see other students or just your instructor?
Sean: I can see other students as well. It's exactly like Google Hangouts. Individuals can share their screen, chat, post links etc. Usually, the instructor will go over yesterday's questions, and how everybody did on the previous project. We'll have a short presentation period where each group presents their project for two to three minutes. Then the instructor will go through his presentation slides explaining today's projects. For example, one project was building a street fighter using a jQuery, VENTS, and callbacks. It was very cool.
Is there a way to see your progress and how far through the program you are?
Sean: This is what I've done in the past four weeks. So the first two weeks was mostly working on front end projects. In our third and fourth week, we were working on spec. Right now we are working with Mongo database, Mongoose, building a server, building a virtual client, all that fun stuff. I don't have a firm grasp of it yet because it's been only a week.
If we go back to the dashboard again, over here it's got the calendar so what happens when you click on this?
Sean: Every single day is planned out. We also have a daily reflection that we can click on. This needs to be done every day. Basically, you write about what you learned today, give feedback to the course, give feedback for your pair as well. We improve as a group. I think that's the whole goal of the course.
So you’ve got all the different steps on the left-hand side there? And the ones that don't have text next to them, are these ones that you haven't completed yet?
Sean: These ones are not checked because you're supposed to submit your project, but we're doing that on GitHub anyway. Our instructors like to let us work with GitHub more than the actual course website because that better prepares you for the industry. This is my GitHub account. I have worked on 34 repositories over four weeks.
This is one of my projects. I'm a big soccer fan, so I made a Soccer Hub using a soccer API. You can search for any league. I can click on a team and it shows the player stats and highlights. If you click on YouTube videos, they will play right away. It took me a day and a half to make this at the end of the second week. It was fun!
I'm interested in how you're finding this learning style different compared to free online resources like Codecademy?
Simon: I still occasionally refer to Codecademy and Treehouse. But it's the structure of Thinkful that really makes you better. You've got one-on-one tutors, you've got your friends in the cohort, who you can ask questions, and you use Slack constantly to communicate with everyone. I think it’s the idea that you're not alone – even though I'm by myself in my studio flat, I don't feel alone. With Codecademy and Treehouse, if you don't get the concept, you’ve got to start looking things up and go further and beyond, which isn't a bad thing. But with Thinkful, you don't have to. You've got people there to answer your question straight away.
Sean: I took Codecademy, a little bit of Code School, and Udacity. The reason I wanted to join a bootcamp is probably for the security and network. Security meaning that the more I pay, the more dedicated I am. That's just me. I dedicate myself more when I make a payment commitment. I paid $12,000 to Thinkful, and it's a full-time course. I'm committed to it 100%. I’ve got multiple TAs helping me out, mentors, and a network of developers. That provided me more security in terms of, "Okay, I could probably get a job after this bootcamp."
When do you expect to graduate from this program?
Simon: It’s four months in total, so I've got another month and I graduate on August 5th. Once the course content is finished, you're working with the career team who I've already spoken to multiple occasions. You constantly work with them from that point, and they suggest the next frameworks or technologies to learn. You meet with them twice a week until they find you a job.
Have they started doing job preparation stuff with you?
Simon: They've done quite a lot with me personally. They get you at a level where you’re comfortable learning the concepts and then start working with you to update your CV, organize your GitHub repo, and all the bits you need in your portfolio. Then you’ll have a meeting with the head of placement, and talk through everything. He gets to know you personally and says, “Okay, you have this kind of personality so you need to do that, or improve on that.” It's quite intense. It's like all the things you need to do to get ahead.
I'm interested in what your plans are when you graduate. What kind of jobs are you hoping to get when you graduate?
Sean: I haven’t really thought about what type of coding job I'm looking for. When you start the course your one-on-one mentor looks at your background and tries to figure out what job might be suitable for you. He said to me something like, "You've studied science for many years, you probably want to look at a data science jobs.”
Simon: I'm very focused towards more frontend things, and Thinkful is frontend focused, but there is enough backend to get you through interviews, do whiteboarding, and algorithms. But I'm still more of a frontend kind of person. I wouldn’t go knock on Google’s door. But a lot of startups are looking for the exact things that these code bootcamps are teaching – React and things like that. I’ll likely end up in a startup, or a mid-level company.
What advice do you have for people who are considering an online bootcamp?
Sean: First of all, read a lot of a Course Report reviews. I probably read about a hundred of those before deciding which bootcamp to choose. It's really about which bootcamp fits you and your needs. Think about your current situation, think about your finances, if you have a time constraint like I do, then consider that. And think about your learning habits – do you learn better onsite or online? Just consider every single point and figure out which bootcamp is best for you. Gather up as much information as possible, then make the decision.
Simon: Be prepared to work a lot if you're going to do one of these full-time programs. If you have the financial ability to be able to not work, then I recommend that. A girl on our course had a part time job at first, but she had to give it up. I think if you want to prepare ahead of time, use things like Codecademy and other online resources. I can't recommend Treehouse enough because something like that is really going to pull you ahead. So just go through what you can and if you really love it, just do it. Totally worth it.