An Important Note:
I got my first dev job thanks to Claim Academy. By all accounts, everything worked out. My peers who had less coding experience coming into the course used their time wisely and got a lot of work done. They learned a lot and would all make great developers. This review is only meant to do one thing. To let people know that they have better options and why those options may be better. Making the choice to attend any school is an important one. Consider every option you have. Take this review with a grain of salt, as well as everything else. Choosing how and where you learn to code is a personal one and should be yours alone.
There were plenty of warning signs that I should not have ignored before choosing to go to Claim Academy. I came through VetTec which also gave me the opportunity to go to Sabio which probably would have been the better choice.
I came from out of state to go here. I told Claim multiple times that I wanted to do the online course because I was out of state. First, they would just tell me it’s a bad idea, then they would tell me that the class is full. I later agreed to attend in person and found that a lot of people had the same problem. The reasons as to why they weren’t letting them take the advertised online courses were all different and contradicting. We had people in our class that were working full-time jobs and coming into lectures, even they were not allowed to take online classes.
After I finished the interview process I asked how housing would work for the 3-months that I would be attending. I was told that they “had a building” and that they would get back to me. They never did, I asked again just before leaving my state and I finally got a response on the day I was leaving on my drive to St. Louis, “We have you covered and your accommodation details will be forwarded to you before you leave. We are putting the final touches to your room and getting everyone situated.” I assumed I was meant to pay for whatever this building/room was supposed to be but without a price, I also made sure to have a backup plan by looking around at available AirBnB’s… which I would need.
The next day (two days before the first class), I get a call from Cityview Apartments where I’m asked to stop by and sign a lease. I would have to pay $1,025/month with a roommate. I immediately responded and said I’d be looking for something else. Claim Academy told me about “a building,” then “a room.” But I was not expecting it to turn into an apartment. The apartment manager told me it was no problem, she understood that I was only just receiving the information and wished me luck.
The next day that same manager tells me that Claim Academy had prepaid the fees to the building and room. She said that Claim had secured the room in my name
. She was basically telling me that I would have to pay. Again, there was never any agreement here. I talked to multiple people who had come from out of state. With the exception of one person who called daily to ask multiple questions to finally get some answers, nobody knew the details of this “arrangement.”
I told Claim and CityView that I was never informed on this, never signed off on anything, and had already booked my own stay at an AirBnB. When I got to the school, nobody even wanted to talk about it. When I brought it up, I was just told, “I think you're good, let’s not stir up the hornet’s nest.” The apartment manager said a stay had never been canceled, Claim was making these arrangements without student permissions, and it sounds like they were mad that this whole side deal backfired on them.
It was only towards the end of the course that we finally got into this issue. I told them that I had been prepared to escalate the whole issue externally had they pushed forward on trying to make me pay for this apartment. They said they were going to shut down the housing program entirely.
I mentioned that for a school I had attended for a different career, during the interview process I was given an entire breakdown of how every period in my training would go. “You’ll be staying in a hotel that we cover, there’s free breakfast, rooms are cleaned on Wednesday, please drive because there are no shuttles to the school and without a car, you’ll have to get a ride from other students. Lunch is at 1:00 PM and also provided. The day starts at this time, ends at this time. We’ll email you an entire itinerary.” I mentioned this as a great example. Even if Claim isn’t nearly big enough to afford those kinds of accommodations, all they have to do is tell anyone who wants to attend how things will work before they show up. But these are points the staff at Claim didn’t seem to want to consider.
Even on the simplest issue of parking, nobody had said a word about how it would work. I assumed this was a small enough issue that I should get that taken care of for myself. I bought a month of parking just behind the building. On the first day, a lot of people were asking about this, if there was any parking. They said they would be providing parking and that they’d get stickers to everyone eventually. We had quite a few people who had to leave every 3-hours to feed meters, as suggested by the staff. Again, easily something that should have been planned for and taken care of. This is something people need to be informed of and asked to get their sticker and repark first thing in the morning.
What Will You Learn?
The Claim Academy website does not provide a lot of information in terms of what the course covers. Vague course titles like “Full Stack Java Developer” is all you get. For the Java course, the stack is Java, Spring, and JSP. This is an old stack. Java and Spring are still very popular due to the amount of companies that have adopted it and have yet to dedicate the huge amount of time and resources to replace it. For new programmers, Java or C is the way to go. They are lingua francas and great for getting started. Just realize that everyone starts with either these or Python. Standing out with these can be difficult. Which brings us to React.
On the first day, I asked what they meant by “Full Stack Java,” because it’s a little contentious among some developers about whether that’s a legitimate title. (As many things are with developers.) They said Java, Spring, and React with some HTML/CSS.
On HTML we were given a link to one YouTube video. On CSS we were told to copy/paste Bootstrap templates. That was it. I understand these two can come across as simple. Coding HTML properly is mostly an issue of Search Engine Optimization and Web Accessibility (making sure the web app is readable by bots and people with disabilities), bad HTML runs just fine. Developers don’t often care about the look and feel so happily use CSS templates. If a company has a UI/UX team, that is better off passed to them so frontend developers can focus on functionality. This isn’t something I minded personally, but don’t go in thinking you’ll actually learn HTML/CSS and be prepared to learn it on your own. They are important basics to get down.
On React, we only got two days of instruction on it. This seems to be my only complaint that Claim Academy seemed concerned about. As legally, according to the Missouri Department of Education, they are required to do 5 days of React in order to be considered a “full-stack course.” Five days is what is on their curriculum. They are only doing the minimum to get by here. And otherwise wasting time on having students build a JSP project that no employers seem to be interested in. Even those hiring Java developers on older stacks are at least using some form of HTML templating such as Apache Velocity.
There’s a final project that Claim asks you to make on your own to present at the end of the course. It’s a great idea, adding the element of presenting it to your peers is a welcome addition to the course. Presenting it to employers who are invited to stop by is also pretty cool. But the whole thing is handled very oddly.
For your application, you’re asked to build something that solves a problem. Fair enough. It’s the presentation template you’re asked to give that’s a bit strange. This seems to be the brainchild of Claim Academy’s CEO, Ola. The whole style of it is more similar to pitching an app to investors. Which you are not doing. To understand this, you’d have to meet Ola. He’s the kind of guy who’s been to one too many Tony Robbins seminars. If he weren’t selling careers in programming, he’d be selling careers in real estate. This unhealthy sales personality he has seems to bleed over into the entire program. For the most part, students take what they can from it and ignore the rest.
For our presentations, we sat down one on one with companies in a round-robin style. Instead of each person presenting to every employer at once. This worked to our advantage. Half of the employers couldn’t care less about the presentations. I was able to gauge things where I could. If the employer representative worked in HR, they were more interested in learning about you. If they were a developer, they wanted to see the code. More than once I was asked to skip straight to the code which is excellent for the students. That can easily be turned into something more similar to an interview than an investment pitch.
Not all classes will have this experience. For the most part, they seem to try to default to presenting to a room and giving an investment pitch about an app, how much money it could produce, and what you'll be adding in the future. The entire thing feels out of place for both the students and the employers.
The Day to Day
The school itself is cobbled together with cheap wooden chairs and tables in a big open space with two small classrooms in the back. There’s not much heat so you have to stay bundled up in the winter. I’m not trying to paint a picture of shivers and seeing your own breath. But bring a coat if you attend when it’s cold. They say they have a new building, but I have no idea if this ever happened.‘You spend 3 hours in class every day. There are a few labs to work on, but they won’t help you much. For the other 6 hours of “school time,” you sit around with your laptop learning everything on your own. This is the part that they call “paired programming.” Basically they just make sure everyone sits with one other person and that’s it. Paired programming. You and the people in your class are the ones that are going to make this time productive. It can be helpful, but this really isn’t much different than when an online course provides a slack channel for the course.
And of course, having to work on your laptop with no proper monitors is a great hindrance when you’re trying to look at an IDE, console, browser, developer tools, and video all at once.
The Teaching Staff
Of the three teachers I had here, two were mediocre, and one simply did not want to be there. That third teacher is the one who taught Spring. He didn’t answer questions, could not figure out how to get his own code set up, and spent every class trying to figure out how to make anything work. He spent a lot of time asking the students, “Does anybody know…?” on his own code.
At some point, students were walking out of the class pretty regularly. I’m not blaming them, there was no point being there. It got to the point that there were very few people left at the end of every day. For those who stayed, we worked on our own projects because there was nothing to be gained from him.
He didn’t mind any of this, never addressed any of it. He just came in every day, turned on his laptop, started copy-pasting code he got from somewhere else, and spent the entire time trying to figure out why it was broken. After 3-hours, on the dot, he would say, “Any questions?” Of the few times someone bothered to ask, he answered, “It’s past our time, I’ll cover that tomorrow.”
Of the other two teachers, I’ve taken enough online courses to recognize what they were covering to the T. I’m not saying there’s plagiarizing going on. (Although I did find some exact results by copy-pasting a document with problems on it into Google.) But these courses aren’t well put together, nor well prepared. Half of the time, it was obviously made up the night before and the teachers were not able to track where we were at and what we were meant to learn next. This often led to fractured teaching where we would jump around between subjects and never get full coverage on any one thing.
The overall experience at Claim was so bad it may warrant a report to the Missouri Department of Education and VetTec but as Claim goes out of their way to only meet minimum requirements I don’t think there is anything to be done there.
Like a lot of bootcamps, they really push you to leave a review on sites like Course Report and SwitchUp. You can even find a review of Claim Academy where someone reports that Claim tried to force him to write a review, or he would not receive his certificate. He escalated this issue to a third-party and the issue was resolved. Claim can NOT require you to write a review. But they can annoy the hell out of you about it.
On the last day, just after graduation, is the day they ask you to sit down and write a review. This is a fun tactic. Not only can they have someone walk around and bother you about getting a review on 5 different websites, but by doing it in person and on the day you’re feeling most hopeful about what happens next, they can influence more positive reviews. As long as you lazily click 4-5 stars and hit submit, they’ll leave you alone. Sure, you can leave a bad review, but it’s less likely to happen in this situation.
Learning code is one of those industries. There are a lot of bad bootcamps out there. A lot of awful Udemy courses. You can lose a lot of money trying to get ahead. Most people are out to get your money and don’t really care about what happens to you afterward. And nobody speaks up because they want to sing praises about what they’ve learned to get the attention of employers.
I got a job out of this deal. It’s just starting, I don't know how well it will go, but I’m grateful for it. A recruiter that stopped by Claim Academy did a great job in identifying my strengths and finding interested employers. That’s the value of bootcamps. Taking advantage of the network. But I can’t recommend them for any other reason. Bootcamps have awful reputations related to poor teaching, overselling their courses, and manipulating placement numbers.
I had been coding for many years on my own before going to Claim but never really tried to turn it into a career. I learned Java, algorithms, and PHP stacks from textbooks. During Claim I learned React and GraphQL from a very famous course by Wes Bos. (I’ll list that below.) It’s difficult to recommend a particular path for anyone. First, because everyone is different. Second, there’s so much crap to get through to find the hidden gems in terms of where to learn.
Before considering a bootcamp, consider the items I’m listing here. And before considering Claim, try to find another option. I like doing in-person classes, but I am very lucky that this hasn’t yet created total financial ruin for me. VetTec paid for my school but it was very expensive to move to another state, pay rent in two places, and feed myself for 3-months of school + 3-months of looking for a job.
Wes Bos - This guy is legit. He’s well respected among developers, he was one of the larger code-related podcasts, and he’s an amazing teacher. His course “Fullstack Advanced React and GraphQL” is a flagship product. When he announced recently that he was going to re-record the course to update it, it was less than one minute before a few thousand likes landed on that announcement in the private course slack channel. People adore that course. All of his courses are great, but the React/GraphQL mix is already popular on the west coast and gaining traction fast everywhere else. If you want to be a dev, you gotta learn it now. (Note that as of 5/29/2020 the course is still awaiting Apollo Client 3 to leave beta before it gets a new recording. And has been waiting since the end of last year. Many of the packages used for the course are outdated, but it’s still doable.)
RealToughCandy - This is a great YouTube channel with code course reviews (including bootcamps) and general news and tips on getting hired. It’s honest, no sales pitches, and worth keeping up to date with.
App Academy Open - This is another well-respected course. It’s an online, 100% free full-stack course. There is a downside. They teach Ruby on Rails. This was a popular backend framework for a while but it burned hot and crashed. There are Ruby jobs out there. But it’s not very popular. Popular enough to learn, but not the best. There’s nothing wrong with starting with it and having this free bootcamp that goes over every minor detail including data structures, algorithms, whiteboarding, and job searching… this is probably well worth your time.
Springboard Software Engineering Bootcamp - Like Wes Bos, Colt Steele is a rockstar in the dev world. He’s another guy that can put together courses that people absolutely adore. He’s recently put out a new course that is online and guarantees a job or your money back. It teaches Python, Flask, SQL, Node, Express, React, and Redux. This is a powerful stack that is very attractive to employers. I haven’t been able to review this course myself yet, but like everything above, the reputation speaks for itself.
So I got a job, things are starting to work out for me. Why post all of this? Because there were better options that I naively ignored. I feel like I got very, very lucky by getting any success out of this. It was thanks to a recruiter and my own work. The only positive I got out of Claim personally was that spending the money and sitting down inside a school with a laptop every day allowed me to get more work done. I could have accomplished that anywhere.
Before considering Claim please consider all of your options. If that just means leaving a job for a while to sit at home and code with App Academy or Springboard, that’s really not much different than a bootcamp. In fact, you’re going to get a far greater quality experience out of that.
Other than that, find legitimate recruiting companies and get a resume professionally reviewed. LinkedIn offers resume reviews and interview prep. App Academy and Springboard will help you with getting hired as well. I believe these options will provide you with a much smoother, better experience than Claim Academy is able to handle.