Holberton School is a two-year software engineering school based in San Francisco that trains individuals to become fullstack engineers. Named for Betty Holberton who worked on the ENIAC Programmers Project (the first programmable computer), the school's mission is to train the next generation of software developers through 100% hands-on learning. Upon completion of the program, students complete a 6-month internship.
The curriculum adopts a project-based, peer learning approach. In lieu of formal classes, students solve increasingly complicated programming challenges with minimal instruction. Students will develop resourcefulness as they search for the tools they need to solve these challenges while working with their peers. Rather than focusing on tools and frameworks, students at Holberton "learn to learn" and develop problem solving skills. Througout the course of the program students work on industry-level projects and build their own applications.
The admission process is divided into 4 levels and requires prospective students to complete the first part of the curriculum. Level 0 is a short online application, Level 1 is a series of short coding challenges and tests, Level 2 requires students to create a website and Level 3 is an in-person or video interview. Admission to Holberton School is based solely on the interviews and coding challenges and is open to all ages and backgrounds, with no formal experience or education required.
Recent Holberton School News
- June 2017 Coding Bootcamp News Roundup + Podcast
- How the Curriculum at Holberton Helped Justin Get Hired
- Alumni Spotlight: Mason Fish of Holberton School
Recent Holberton School Reviews: Rating 5.0
Project-based alternative to college for the next generation of software engineers
Holberton School offers a two-year higher-education program in San Francisco, to become a highly skilled software and operations engineer, through project-based and peer learning. The combination of project-based learning and peer learning makes Holberton School more engaging for students. They are always hands-on, focusing on building actual applications and solving modern day challenges. The curriculum is designed for intelligent, passionate, dedicated and open-minded students. It is both intense and exciting. At Holberton School, students develop hundreds of small to complex applications, scripts and systems, in many different languages, and on different devices, operating systems, and clouds. Here are a few examples of technical and non-technical projects: - Clone Twitter and a service of your choice such as Airbnb - Build a search engine - Code your own shell - Create a computer virus - Contribute to an open source project - Build secure and scalable infrastructures that support your applications - Organize meetups - Interview industry leaders - Student projects are open-sourced online on the project host of their choice. During their second year, students have the option of working part-time at a company or on their own project / startup.
- Minimum Skill Level
- No experience required
- Prep Work
- Students complete first part of curriculum as application process
Holberton School Reviews
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I looked for a very long time to find a program with the curriculum, community, and culture that would result in long term success. Although I've only just started my experience, I have had both excellent results and resource access.
The staff, mentors, and community push you to always do better while extending the support and tools needed. They have somehow found a powerful balance between empowering students to be self-reliant within a collaborative, cooperative context.
I can't believe how much I've learned already; more than that, how I have started to perceive problems throughout my life and day differently on account of the immersive nature of the program and it's culture.
The student body is wonderfully diverse, creative, and bright with a lot of expertise to share - tech related or otherwise - and the mentor pool and support is impressive/authentic. I've never had so many people professionally extend help, encouragement, and time.
It is not a program suited for someone that wants to coast along or "get by"; however, if you want to learn to think critically, professionally, and creatively as a software engineer, I couldn't imagine a better environment in which to do that.
One of the best parts?! If you have questions or curiosity, just reach out to them. They will be honest and straightforward as you find the right fit in your journey into tech. I, for one, was surprised at how candid they all were during my application and interview process; it was refreshing given a lot of manufactured answers I had received from other programs.
Nutshell: if you are serious about wanting to learn how to learn, and if you want to live, breath, and dream tech....consider Holberton.
The job assistance and job preparation that I saw here was phenominal. Having come from a conventional four-year university that had its own department for job placement, I thought Holberton was way more effective. If you are hoping that attending this school will lead to a job, the work and effort that you invest here will definitely pay off.
I've been lucky to be a part of the first experimental batch of Holberton school. I had some previous programming experience, but not enough to pursue a career in coding, and certainly not enough to fall in love with programming.
As someone who has been passionate about coding and how computers actually work, I've found that the problem with learning on your own is not that there is no information out there -- the problem is that there is too much information. There are so many resources that it becomes difficult to assess what you need to know. Holberton School has surprised me in cutting through the noise.
From the start, the founders of this program have gotten the fundamentals right: enforcing good learning practices and coding habits. I think it's these fundamentals that make this program unlike anything else out there.
While I personally can speak more to the low-level programming track, my personal experience has allowed me to form a few theories as to why this program is so successful. In my opinion, here are the few key features that I think differentiate the Holberton program:
First, it has a structured learning approach: it tests you and ensures that you are actually learning, as opposed to coding things you don’t thoroughly understand. As soon as your code is being reviewed, the faculty goes to very great lengths to push your code to the limits and find a way to break it. Evidence of your code not being perfect could be evidence of you not learning. Double pointers? INT_MIN / INT_MAX edge cases? If there is a hole in your understanding, it is the goal of the faculty to find it -- and they will create checks and test cases that will fail when running checks against your code. I think this is a big reason why I personally never felt bored and why I never felt unchallenged through this program, even when I pushed to learn more.
Second, I was never challenged so much that I felt that I couldn't overcome each challenge. Even someone without experience can learn from what happens in memory as your code gets compiled by the GCC compiler on a Linux kernel. The teaching assumes no background in CS whatsoever, and yet, supports you with challenges at the more advanced levels of depth that you can get (there are optional “more advanced” tasks, that have the full support of the faculty). How the school has managed to strike this delicate balance -- I don't know. But I think it has something to do with their strong culture of learning, which I think is their third strong point.
The school has a very strong culture of learning, and the way I see it, I think it is due to its spirit of effective communication and cooperation with your peers, coupled with very strong learning fundamentals. These fundamentals include: "don't write any code you don't understand”; “don’t write any code your peers won’t understand”; “write code in a way that your future self will understand”; “understand what you are doing first, and then code later”; “comment your code”; “keep your functions short”; “your code should follow a certain style” (they've even automated a surprisingly robust style code checker -- codenamed "Betty", named after Betty Holberton -- that enforces good program structure and checks to make sure your C code doesn't become a whole mess!)
Fourth, depending on how you look at it, this one can be seen as a con, or as a pro, of the program: the program is young. This means that there can sometimes be minor errors / typos, and other inconsistencies in the tasks and projects. If you decide to look at whether the program and its curriculum is in its "final" form, you will not find that here. At least as of this writing, the curriculum is the aggregate of all the project assignments, and the solutions that its students post on GitHub. While the curriculum is not formally defined, in my opinion, the faculty more than makes up for this; the tasks, the projects, and the learning materials iterate and get more advanced based on feedback from the students. This means that there is a very rapid feedback loop; it is common for projects to get clarified or updated in real time as you work on them (the faculty always notifies you of these changes on Slack though). In fact, you could argue that the culture at Holberton is that there is no "final" form -- learning evolves. I guess it is up to each individual to decide if this is a con or a pro. In my personal practical learning experience, this has been very much a pro.
And fifth, for the last thing, and perhaps also one of the most important, this program teaches you how to learn. How to ask for help. What kinds of questions are “Google-able”. How to look something up without knowing the answer. It gives you that intuition somehow. There is so much to write that I think that it will not be possible for me to cover everything in this review, but I can definitely tell you that this program successfully and effectively tailors education to each student’s background and learning style. In short, this culture of learning has made me fall in love with programming.
To sum it all up in a nutshell, this program aims to give you the learning experience you need to start a career in Computer Science. It my experience so far, it has exceeded my expectations.
Two years may seem like an eternity, but the first few months have raced by in a flurry of challenging learning experiences that were not just about software and the curriculum set by the founders, but were also personal. I am not the person I was when I started at Holberton School.
Four months ago I was a novice, working alone in my house and struggling to transform online tutorials into real World projects. Today I am surrounded by people on a similar journey, belonging to a class of peers whose collaboration & camaraderie makes learning an enjoyable process.
It is not without its challenges. You have to work hard and study hard and allow yourself to go through the process of growing into your skills. 'Growing pains' are not called pains for nothing. However, because there is so much support from mentors who are industry professionals, we are finding success in our different fields of interest.
Holberton School sometimes also feels like a startup because we're all invested in the success of the school. We're involved in marketing, dev-ops, new innovative projects for the school that are outside the curriculum, and building the community at large.
The idea of becoming a full-stack software engineer can be daunting, and with technology racing at break neck speed, we all worry that our skills will be obsolete in a few years. This is the reason why Holberton School is the investment you want to make. Learning how to learn - a skill that will take you far into an uncertain future.
The Holberton School Curriculum is unique. It s great alternative for Bootcamps ( quite short, and focused on only one technology) and CS College (often too much theoretical, not industry oriented). They offer a 2 year program (9 months on site in SF, then 6 months internship and finally 9 months remote) to trained the next generation of software engineers.
The education is project based, there are no formal teachers. But the students and the team are much closer because there is only 30 students per batch and the projects are peer-reviewed. Moreover they offer something unique: a very strong community of industry experts. Many projects and Meet-ups are given by mentors, giving technical but also professional advices to the students.
This program is not free but the students only have to pay the tuition after the 2 years (after having a job). The mission of the school is clear: allow anyone to become a professional software developer whatever his or her background. It is not a light statement: the three founders of the Holberton School are very driven and have created a great program to help everyone achieve their goal.
I am currently a student at Holberton School. Holberton is a full-stack software engineering school. The aim of the school is to emulate the workplace as much as possible to ready us for careers in software engineering. The space is set up like a startup - one main open space that makes collaboration easy and accessible. Everything is project based - allowing us to get a feel for what its like to work with deadlines. We are given limited guidance which forces us to use our resources, work with each other, and ultimately learn how to learn. This industry changes so quickly, it is no longer sufficient to learn a single langue or framework. We need to be agile and if we learn the fundamentals, new technologies that come along will be easy to pick up.
The founders are honestly one of my favorite parts of this school. They are hard working and dedicated to this place. Each one of them has come from reputable companies like Apple, Linkedin, and Docker. They come with real world knowledge and have been able to transfer that knowledge to the projects that they have personally curated. They are passionate about what they do, and it makes this school a great place to come every day. Seeing how hard they worked to get where they are today, makes us want to work all that much harder.
The school is located in the heart of the finical district in downtown San Francisco. I can’t think of a better place to learn this industry, and than amongst some of the most reputable tech companies of our generation.
Lots of fun; each day is usually dedicated to tackling a project. Achieving the project tasks feels a lot like solving puzzle challenges, and you have peers tackling the same puzzles along side you, so if you get stuck you can start conferring with them. More like "doing" than "studying."
During my time at Holberton I felt ownership over every day, since I had so much freedom about how to approach each project. If you're a self-directed individual, this school might be for you.
Since you spend so much time with your peers, you end up with a strong sense of community that you take with you once you graduate. Your peers serve as your support network.
A few caveats: it helps if you have some familiarity with basic programming conventions when you enter the program (if, else if, else conditions; for and while loops) since those can be hard to grasp at first and the curriculum moves quickly. More vital is basic problem solving skills - if you don't have those, you have to get them down in the first few months, otherwise you'll be stuck with a lot of projects you don't know how to tackle. If you have an instinct to decompose a problem into smaller task, you can identify knowledge gaps to resolve, and you can break down information from the Internet, you should be good.
If you're able to keep up with the curriculum, you'll get trained up to be a successful software engineer, you'll get a deeper understanding of the industry than any bootcamp/college grad, and you'll have a lot of (career) opportunities you wouldn't have otherwise via the mentor network. So go for it if you think the project-based methodology suits you.
Our latest on Holberton School
Missed any news about coding bootcamps from June 2017? Course Report is here for you! We’ve compiled the most important news and developments in this blog post and podcast. In June, we heard John Oliver and Megyn Kelly talk about bootcamps, we read about new investments in bootcamps, a number of newspapers wrote about the impact bootcamps are having at a local level, and we were excited to hear about more diversity initiatives and scholarships. Plus we round up all the new campuses and new coding bootcamps around the world.Continue Reading →
Justin Marsh enjoyed traveling the world as a professional poker player, but when he hit 30, he wanted to transition to a more settled career in software engineering. After attempting to teach himself, Justin felt he needed more guidance when he got stuck, so he enrolled in Holberton School in San Francisco. Now he’s landed a coveted apprenticeship at LinkedIn, and credits Holberton’s project-based learning for his success. We asked Justin and Holberton Chief Engineer Julien Cyr to explain how the curriculum is designed to prepare students to keep learning on the job.
Justin, what is your pre-bootcamp story?
Justin: I was a professional poker player. Last summer, I realized I was ready to settle down and start a new career. Before starting my poker career, I was interested in all aspects of computing, from the hardware to the software. But as a 30 year old, it’s hard to think about how to start a new career, and get into software engineering. I was inspired by someone in the poker community who left poker and through alternative education, got the skills to get a job in the tech industry in California. That sparked my interest. I realized that I didn’t need a 4-year degree or a Master’s degree to get an opportunity in tech; I just needed to be good enough to prove my abilities and that would open the door for me.
My original plan was to use all of the amazing online resources to teach myself to code. But after a month or two I realized that going it alone is very tough because when you get stuck, you don’t have any guidance. I felt capable in my ability to learn, but I needed a program that would help prepare me for a career. It was in that process that I found Holberton. I found the program interesting because you learn through projects, which is what I was attempting to do while teaching myself, except Holberton offers more guidance. I applied, got accepted, and moved to San Francisco for Holberton.
Did you research coding bootcamps or CS degree programs, and what made you choose Holberton?
Justin: I did look at a lot of different bootcamps. Cost was a major blocker for me – a lot of programs were very expensive, and there was no assurance that I would get a job from those bootcamps. However, at Holberton, deferred payment means that the school doesn’t get paid until I get a job, so my goals (getting a job) are in line with Holberton’s goals (profiting from my success). That made me confident that the Holberton team would have my best interests at heart.
Secondly, 12-week coding bootcamps didn’t seem long enough. I’m confident in my ability to learn, but I didn’t feel that three months would be enough time to go from being an amateur to being good enough at coding to get a professional job. The longer, 2-year length at Holberton was very attractive to me.
How many people were in your cohort? How diverse was it?
Justin: We started with 29 people in my cohort. What struck me about the students at Holberton were the people's backgrounds – not just who they were but where they came from. I don’t think anybody in my cohort had the same background story. What they studied in college, if they went to college at all, their age – that level of diversity really stood out.
What was the learning experience like at Holberton – can you give me an example of a typical day?
Justin: The typical morning started by checking for new material or assignments. I would get up early, have a coffee, and spend an hour reading about what we were going to work on that day. I’d spend the early morning working through problems, and solving tasks. If I got stuck that was ok, I’d move on, come back to it later, or ask peers for help.
Every day we had a stand up at 11:30am, to touch base with everyone and make sure we were on the same page. I spent the afternoon overcoming challenges I’d faced in the morning, interacting with peers a lot more, and working on the hardest parts of my assignments. If we had two-week long projects, we’d do a lot of that peer work until about 5pm or 6pm, when people would start going home. Sometimes an assignment would grip us and we'd stay working until midnight. I lived very close to school so I had the flexibility to work when I was ready to work and take breaks when it made sense.
Julien, as the Chief Engineer at Holberton, why did your team design the curriculum in this way? How does this style of learning prepare students for the workforce?
Julien: The point of Holberton School is not to teach specific programming languages to students; it’s to teach them how to learn. If you want to have a successful career in tech, then you need to be able to learn new techniques by yourself. You can’t go back to school or attend a new coding bootcamp every few years just to be up to date with market needs. We want students to be able to learn by themselves so that they can pursue a good and lasting career.
Every day, we assign projects to students. They have to work together and help each other as a team. When students eventually enter a company, they will need to work together in teams, so we want our students to work together on projects at school.
Our students learn at different paces, so we actually provide optional extra projects for students who want to go further. Students who finish their projects before noon get advanced tasks to work on for the rest of the day. People who are learning more slowly still get a good foundation and understanding of the fundamentals. There are also optional group projects coming in from the industry, managed by mentors. Those allow our students to work on real projects like white papers, R&D, or building tools.
Does Holberton School’s curriculum cover specific programming languages?
Justin: At the beginning we focused on C, Python, SQL, and a few other technologies. There were technology requirements for every task, and some of them were more specific than others. The important part for me was having an understanding of basic concepts, then moving on to new things. I’ve found that if I’m working on a new language, I can relate pieces of that language to the fundamentals I’ve learned. For example, if I have to dive into object-oriented design in Java, the fact that we learned object-oriented design in Python means it’s easy to go back and see how Python and Java are similar, and how Java and C are similar.
Julien: The fields of computer science and computer engineering are moving really fast; there are new technologies emerging all the time, but the fundamentals have been the same for years. Algorithms, data structures, the rules of programming – they never change – and we will always need them. We want students to understand those fundamentals very well. At Holberton School, it’s mandatory to be able to program in C, and to be able to solve some complex algorithms. But for optional projects, students can choose which technologies to use.
Justin, what do you think of this project-based learning approach compared with your previous learning experiences?
Justin: Project-based learning was always my preference. At university, you’re given specific lessons to memorize, which is not the same as putting those concepts into use. Software engineering is actually a very creative field; you’re not simply following instructions. You need to be able to see a problem, design a solution, and then build that solution using code. Knowing how each tool works and fits together is really important in finding the right solution.
Here’s an analogy: I know about a lot of different carpentry tools. However, simply knowing what those tools do, doesn’t mean I can use them. I have to get in there, use the languages, use the technologies, and teach myself how to use them.
How often did you interact with Holberton staff or mentors when you had a question or a problem?
Justin: I probably interacted with mentors or staff every day or every other day. That resource is there specifically for when you can’t figure a problem out by yourself, or if your classmate doesn’t know what's wrong. Removing those blockers is the major reason that this type of learning was successful for me.
How does the mentor system at Holberton School work?
Julien: There are multiple ways to interact with mentors at Holberton School. Mentors come to the school to give presentations or fireside chats on topics around technical topics, how to work well in a company, how to find a job, or how to kill an interview. Students can also meet one-on-one with mentors or communicate via Slack channels. Mentors sometimes bring in optional projects for students, and a group of students will work together remotely and on-site around those projects. Many of our mentors work nearby in the city and will stop by the school and help students if they need it. Students can also meet mentors for a tour of their office or for lunch.
Justin: From a student’s perspective, I quickly realized that mentors are effective because they love the technologies they use and are really passionate about them. When we were working on building up our shell, I could reach out to the mentors for advice on a difficult problem, and that was the most valuable use of the mentorship. The mentors were very willing to help – if someone reaches out to you and they want to know more about what you do or how you do it, you’re going to be really open to connecting with that person. That’s how I experienced mentorship at its best at Holberton.
How did Holberton prepare you for job hunting?
Justin: We had regular mock interviews, which made the actual interview process much more comfortable. At the time, I thought the value of the mock interviews would be getting me better at answering interview questions or whiteboarding problems. And that was part of our training, but what I realized in actual job interviews, was that those mock interviews helped me tell my story. I think that’s the reason I got my current job, because they wanted to know more about me. I knew what my story was, I knew what to talk about, and I knew who I was, because I’d been asked those questions before at Holberton.
Congratulations on your job at LinkedIn! Can you tell us how you found the job and what your role is?
Justin: I found the role through another Holberton alum. It’s a six-month apprenticeship at LinkedIn in the engineering department. I started at the beginning of April. A lot of people in my class were excited about it and applied for it.
Did Holberton teach you everything you needed for your new job?
Justin: I’ve had to learn a lot of new technology, and that’s basically what the Holberton model prepared me for – you go into the job, you might not know all the technologies and languages they use, but you can get onboarded and up to speed fast. During my entire first month at LinkedIn, I was implementing what I learned from Holberton to get up to speed.
I wasn’t required to know anything specific for the interview, I just had to show that I knew how to write software, and knew how to solve problems.
Julien: What companies basically want to know is if you are able to learn new things, on your own, really quickly to be able to work in a team as soon as possible. After nine months at Holberton, you get the fundamentals and the ability to learn by yourself, and that helps you to get a job.
Justin, what other aspects of the Holberton curriculum have helped you in your job?
Justin: Working with other people on a team is super important in tech. You need to be able to ask questions when you’re stuck, work with other people to come to conclusions about design, and how to approach problems. Software engineering isn’t a solo job; it’s a team effort. If you can’t work with other people, you won’t get far. My day-to-day at LinkedIn is very similar to Holberton – I’m working with other people, asking questions, and getting feedback.
Justin, when you look back over the last year learning to code, do you think you could have got the role at LinkedIn without Holberton if you had continued teaching yourself?
Justin: I wouldn’t have this position if I didn’t go to Holberton. I may have eventually achieved success, but I wouldn’t be here without Holberton School.
Julien, do you have a feedback loop with alumni/employers about the curriculum? What kind of feedback do you hear?
Julien: Our entire model is based on feedback, and our mentors are always helping us keep the curriculum updated. We try to build partnerships with companies where our students are working, and get feedback from them.
For each batch of students we improve and provide more up to date content. For example, companies will look at the tools we are teaching, tell us when they’re outdated, and suggest what we should use instead. For the very first batch, we taught some soft skills, and the first feedback from companies was, “your students are great technically, but when they interact with people, they need more empathy.” So we have now implemented more training around empathy and team dynamics.
Justin, do you plan to go back to Holberton for the 9-month specialization track?
Justin: That’s to be determined. I’m definitely considering it; there are so many things I want to learn so it’s hard to limit yourself to only a few things.
Julien, why do you offer the 9-month specialization track? And how popular is it with students? Do they usually return for it?
Julien: Even after nine months, you may be good at your job and you know how to learn, but you probably haven’t been able to dive really deep into some topics. So we offer specialization in topics that we didn’t cover in the main program such as AI, and deeper programming knowledge in the back end or front end. Even though it’s possible to learn by yourself, it will be quicker and easier to learn the specialization with your peers and mentors.
It’s hard to get students back to the school, because they get settled at companies, and they are well paid. There are people who really want to study, and do come back, and there are also people who want to keep their job but learn more, so we offer a part-time option. If a student is learning full-time, then they can choose multiple specialties. If they’re learning part-time, then they choose one specialty.
Justin, What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code?
Justin: My biggest roadblock is that I’m really excited about a lot of new technologies, so I find myself trying them all, when it’s probably better to focus on a few that are most important. When I initially started out I was learning five languages at the same time, so I knew a little bit of each, but I didn’t know any of them well enough to be efficient. Now I’m trying to focus on one or two things per week, and make sure I understand those things so that when I come back to them, I’ll actually understand how to use them.
How do you stay involved with Holberton? Have you kept in touch with other alumni?
Justin: I’m actually finishing up my final project right now. I formed a team with my classmates, and I work on our project on Saturdays and Sundays. I keep in touch with them on Slack.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
Justin: If you’re passionate and you think you can do it, you definitely can!
Julien: There is not just one way to approach education. There are different ways to achieve your goal, so think carefully when making your decision. There are bootcamps which are quick and efficient, there are universities, and there are also programs like Holberton School which teach you how to learn. Regardless, it’s a big commitment, so carefully research which program you really want to attend. There is no right answer, there is a personal preference for everybody.
Mason had been a musician for five years when he taught himself to build a website for his guitar ensemble. He really enjoyed the process, and realized that coding could complement his music career. Living in San Francisco, Mason had a lot of coding education options, but chose Holberton School for its length and depth. We asked Mason how he enjoyed Holberton School’s self-learning style, how his music skills and coding overlap, and all about his new software engineering job at Docker!
What's your educational and career background before you wanted to learn to code?
I have a bachelor's and master's degree in music performance from two different music conservatories. I’d been pursuing a performance career for five years before I joined Holberton School. My day job was teaching Suzuki classical guitar performance. My evenings and weekends, and really the heart of my entire passion of music, was spent with an ensemble that I had formed– a guitar trio.
That's basically what I was doing for the five years after graduation and up until Holberton. That's also the way I was introduced to computer science because my ensemble needed a website. I'm a very DIY sort of person, so I thought, "All right, I'll build it." I think it seemed less daunting to me because my family is basically made up of software engineers and musicians. Now I fit in with everybody!
How did you teach yourself to build the ensemble website?
Why did you decide to make coding more than a hobby and go to Holberton School?
I’d been living in San Francisco since I moved here for my music education. There are a lot of bootcamps and opportunities to study computer science in a non-traditional manner here. I thought, "I enjoy this, I'm in an area where I can easily educate myself in this field, and I can get hired more easily doing this work." I was in a key location to make that happen.
I started looking into bootcamps and different educational resources I wanted to take advantage of. I considered getting a second master's degree in software development but it may have been necessary to take some other pre-requisite classes before that.
What made you choose Holberton School over other options?
I looked at more traditional bootcamps where you learn Ruby on Rails or a handful of practical technologies in a very short amount of time, like Hack Reactor and App Academy. I stopped my search at Holberton School because of its substantial curriculum and there was also no up-front tuition.
I received a very traditional classical music education, so I’ve always had a deep appreciation for fundamentals and technique. Holberton is a two-year program, and I felt like going to a shorter, 12-week bootcamp that was only focused on a handful of technologies wouldn't offer me that in-depth experience. At the same time, going back to college was going to take longer and cost way more.
So Holberton seemed to be a really wonderful balance. It’s something in my life I could manage while still pursuing music on a performance level. I gave up my guitar teaching as soon as I started Holberton, but continued performing with my ensemble.
What attracted you to the Holberton curriculum? Did it seem more in depth than other offerings?
Holberton’s curriculum focuses on applied computer science by teaching specific technologies but also puts a very heavy emphasis on theory and lower level programming. We would learn C to get a good understanding of how machines work and process code behind the scenes. Almost a third of the initial nine month period was going to be spent on traditional theory like data structures and algorithms. My own family members had really encouraged me to learn that kind of theory so I realized Holberton was a better option.
I know Holberton has a rather lengthy application process. Can you tell me what stood out in the application process?
It has four levels. The initial few levels are what you would expect, just entering information about yourself. The first request of the application process that seemed a little bit unusual, was making a one-minute video where you describe yourself and why you want to learn to code. I think a lot of people stopped at that phase in the application. You have to really want it in order to put in the time to make a video that's very representative of yourself.
One of the most interesting parts of the application was right before the interview, where you have to build a website. It was the second website I had built. They provide you with some starter resources, but you’re on your own. You don't have a teacher to give you the answers. I spent almost two weeks trying to create a website that follows the restrictions, but was creative within those bounds. That step of the process is as hard as you make it on yourself, which is a statement you can make about the entire Holberton curriculum.
Once you got to Holberton School, how many people were in your cohort and was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, and career backgrounds?
There were 32 students when we started, and 29 by the end of the initial nine-month period. The cohort was the single most diverse group of people I've ever been around, hands down. The fact that I came from different music schools, that tend to attract diverse groups of people from many countries, gives that statement even more meaning. Part of the reason for that is that the selection process didn’t really have any human engagement in it until the interview at the end. So to end up with such a broad range of genders, races, and even political belief systems, based on successful application completion time alone, is awesome.
Can you tell me about the learning experience at Holberton School? What was a typical day like?
On a typical day at Holberton, we’d always have stand-up, which is a meeting exactly like what I have at work now. The whole school was modeled after a startup – you're there working on your own, and you meet up with other people on problem-solving activities. For some projects, you might be interacting with other students to try and problem solve together. If it’s a team project, you could be doing paired programming, or discussing the design so you can divide up labor then work on your part on your own. Then you meet later to debrief. There would also be a live coding of a previous week’s project that would be done by former students or by the Holberton team, made up of the founders, Julien and Sylvain.
On top of that, you could have a variety of other events as a part of a school day, including workshops where our mentors would give a talk on a particular technology. It could be on React.js, or on a concept like regular expressions, or on an entire field of computer science like machine learning. The closest thing to a recurring class that we had at Holberton was a three-part workshop series on deep learning given by two mentors in the field.
Did you like that learning style where you're left to work through the materials with the help of your peers and not so much interaction with instructors?
Very much so, especially coming from my background practicing music. I went into music not because I loved to perform, that was something that I had to learn to appreciate, but because I love to practice, and I like the study of it. Every musician has to study on their own. There can be an instruction process where somebody shows things to you, but you've got to walk through the door yourself. You have to do the work. If you don't do your homework, you're not going to learn. So that paradigm of self-study was something I was very familiar with, appreciative, and receptive towards.
How many instructors or mentors did you have available to interact with?
The Holberton team was on site every day taking questions. But before you could ask them a question, you had to google it, and try to use the internet to answer a question. If you couldn't find it that way, then you’d ask your peer. It’s a laid out algorithm for trying to figure out an answer to any question: step one, Google it, step two, ask a peer, step three, ask a mentor, then step four, ask the Holberton team. Using research skills, knowing what keywords to Google, and being able to read through somebody's answer and understand whether it applies to you or not, are important.
We could also contact our mentors through Slack at any time. The mentors were all working professionals. You just ask the question in a channel and someone would answer– they were all very helpful. In some cases, mentors would even be too helpful, and just give you the answer, so it was better when mentors were like, "Let me help you help yourself instead of just giving you the answer." That's a huge part of the Holberton culture.
What would you say was the biggest challenge for you while you were studying at Holberton?
I still perform very regularly with my music ensemble. We are professionally managed and tour internationally. We played in England and Germany while I was attending Holberton, so the biggest challenge was keeping that in my life as I was pursuing my software education at Holberton. I feel very lucky because I have the best part of everything I've ever pursued with music which is my ensemble, and now I've got this other awesome passion in computer science. They complement each other. One can support the other without dominating it.
In what ways do you think music and coding overlap? Are there many shared skills that you noticed that helped you learn to code?
Absolutely. It’s difficult to describe. A lot of people associate coding and computer science as left-brained analytical activities, and they think of music as a very creative right-brained activity. I think both of those statements are true, but music is also a very analytical activity where, as a performer, you are taking music, which is a blueprint or a design specification, and you are implementing it. You are finding a way to bring it into reality. To do that, you need to program your body to move in a certain way. There are a lot of little problems to solve to figure that out so it can be a very analytical endeavor. Likewise, programming also uses both sides of your brain and is a much more creative activity than people give it credit for. I think that's a common misunderstanding; thinking of music and/or computer science as one-dimensional.
They are also both iterative processes. The idea that somebody sits down to learn a new piece of music and plays it perfectly the first time is silly. That's not how it works. Likewise, if you sit down to write out your entire project in code, you won’t get it right the first time. You'll iterate, make a mistake, run it, see where the problems are, look at the problem, solve it, and run it again. You keep going over and over, and repeating, just like music practice.
What was your favorite project at Holberton?
There are two projects that I love a lot, and I would not sleep so I could work on these projects. For one of them we coded a Linux shell using the C programming language, modeling the bash shell. That was wonderful. Before that, a lot of projects were to build specific functions to solve a particular problem. When we did the shell, that was one of the first times where we were writing a very large program, and as it grew you needed to refactor your code to continue to grow. That was really cool.
The second project was one of the last ones I did, where we coded a raycaster. It’s like those old-style games Doom or Wolfenstein where it's in 3D, you're moving through a map, and there are walls like a maze. I never got around to adding enemies or a way of shooting them, but I have a YouTube video I recorded to showcase it. It was a fun project. Originally it was supposed to be in C, but at that point, I knew I was joining Docker, so I learned Golang for this project because that’s one of the technologies Docker uses. Having gone through the bulk of the initial Holberton curriculum, I was able to teach myself enough Golang to complete the project in a week, then spent another week actually doing the project.
What kind of preparation or guidance did Holberton School give you for finding your first role as a developer?
In terms of the interview process, and finding interviews, Holberton was very helpful. To prepare for interviews, all the students would meet each week to work on common algorithm questions. Everybody would think about it on their own for 20 to 30 minutes, then we would go over it together. The Holberton team would sometimes participate and chime in on a different aspect of the problem and how an interviewer would want you to solve it.
Then there were organized events. An engineer from Google came in and did a live interview demo with me in front of the whole class, which was nerve-racking, but wonderful. I was very appreciative of mock interviews because performance is so different from practice. I know so many incredible musicians who never really learned how to perform. And that is a separate skill, just like interviewing. You can be a great programmer, but you don't know how to interview because you get nervous and can't represent yourself faithfully. And that sucks.
How did you find your internship and job at Docker?
The Holberton School team worked very hard to connect people to different interviews. They don't line up internships for you just blindly, but they line up interviews where you can earn an internship. So that's what happened with me. There were a few other students who also interviewed at Docker from Holberton. I got the internship and started mid-October. It was originally supposed to be a six-month internship, but they actually cut it short to hire me on full-time, which was the best reason to cut it short.
What's your role and what kind of projects are you working on?
Officially, my title is Software Engineer, I'm doing full-stack software engineering. I am on the Docker Store team. It's a relatively new offering, but it's the gateway to all of Docker’s products and from an engineering perspective, it is a very challenging project to build correctly so that it can scale appropriately. The last six weeks has had more emphasis on front-end, but I typically bounce back and forth often and my manager is always trying to help people fill out their understanding of the entire architecture. So I'm about to start a new back-end project that should take a couple of weeks.
How big is your team at Docker?
It's about eight engineers, an engineering manager, a designer, and a couple of product managers, so about 13 or 14 people. I work regularly with the engineers, then during certain meetings, the product managers will help highlight higher level descriptions of the products we're working on, then we figure out the implementation details from this new knowledge.
Can you give me a really quick overview of what Docker does?
Docker is the champion of software containers which wrap up applications into an isolated virtual environment so they may run in a more consistent, reliable, and even portable fashion. Containers are virtualized on an operating system level so, for example, you may have a hardware server which hosts three virtual machines, then within each of those virtual machines you may have 10 containers running at the same time, each serving a different web property or running another process. Anytime an application fails, you can just tear it down and put it right back up because you've got a blueprint image that is a snapshot of what the container is supposed to look like when everything is working correctly. In an era of cloud computing and distributed architectures, Docker is an incredibly useful tool.
You mentioned you had to learn Golang for this job. What kind of onboarding and training did you get when you started the job?
It was a very project-based onboarding. There are always little bugs, features, and tasks that we're tracking within our ticketing system that are very simple one or three-line fixes. For me, they curated a series of those tickets – simple little changes that they wanted to make to the app. The hardest part was learning how to navigate to the right spot through the codebase. So with enough of those, I started to get very comfortable with where things were, then I could start to create things.
The first couple of months of my internship, I was reading way more code than I was writing. Over time you start to see repeated patterns, then you don't need to spend as much time trying to understand it. I was very pleased that Docker was using so many technologies that I had already used at Holberton. That made onboarding much more achievable for me.
Holberton has another part of the course where you go back after your internship and choose a specialization. Are you planning to do that?
What advice do you have for other people considering an intensive program to learn to code?
I think it's very important in developing software that you are able to teach yourself because there is so much to learn. There's so much technology – it's moving at a rate that nobody can keep up with and you are always going to encounter things you don't know. So if you don't know how to teach yourself the things you need to learn when you encounter them, you're going to run into issues that you don't know, problems you don't know how to solve, and have a much harder time. It's very important that you're comfortable teaching yourself.
How do you get a job after coding bootcamp if you have no relevant, real-world work experience? Only 1.4% of bootcampers have worked as developers in the past, but most career-changers have little – if any– client experience when they start looking for a developer job. Some bootcamps help students overcome this hurdle by offering opportunities to work for the bootcamp itself, or with real clients through projects, internships, and apprenticeships. These opportunities can give students substantial experience to add to their portfolios and resumes, and kickstart the job hunt.Continue Reading →
Steven Garcia has had an interest in coding since he was deconstructing his Playstation at age 14, so when he saw Holberton School in the news, he knew that the two-year program was next step for him. See why Steven opted out of the traditional computer science degree to attend Holberton School’s two-year program, how he stays motivated while coding 10 hours per day, and learn about his software engineering internship at Medsleuth!
What were you up to before Holberton School? What was your educational background and your last career path?
I was studying general education at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, CA. I was in my last semester, and was looking to transfer to a four-year university. I was also working full-time at the Apple store in retail, so I was doing both work and school full-time.
I earned an associate’s degree in general studies geared towards computer science. It was a lot of math and a lot of science courses, but it didn’t teach me full-on how to code. It was mostly preparing me for a four-year computer science degree since I was looking at transferring to either UC Berkeley or UC Davis.
Right before I sent in my transfer applications, I came across the Holberton School application. I decided to apply to Holberton School first because they would give me a much faster answer.
When did you start having the idea that you wanted to learn coding?
I think it all began when I was around 14 years old. I realized I wanted to learn to code because my parents gave me a PlayStation 2 for my birthday. I got really bored of playing the video games, and wanted to know how the thing worked inside. So I kept taking it apart constantly until it broke. That's when I realized that I wanted to know how technology worked. Flash forward to college, when I had the opportunity to take an intro class to realize what programming can do. That fascinated me and geared me toward this path.
Did you research other coding bootcamps or software engineering schools? How did you hear about Holberton School?
I did not. I only knew of a few coding bootcamps, but wasn't really attracted to them, mostly because that type of education was unfamiliar to me. I wasn’t used to it, and it was just different.
When I found out about Holberton School, I was reading the news. It happened to be the first day they released the application, and I started applying that day. I did not do a lot of research even though I did not know much about bootcamps. I thought to myself, "I'm at a crossroads here where I'm either going to go to a four-year university or maybe I can try something different." So I choose Holberton School.
Were there any specific factors that you were looking for at Holberton School in terms of price, location, and the languages taught?
Not really. The thing that attracted me the most was the networking opportunities. It seemed that most other places didn't offer that as much, even colleges and universities. Holberton School provides networking opportunities with people that are in the field that can give you good advice and possibly be your mentor. It was a huge selling point for me to be able to interact with these people. In the past nine months, I’ve experienced a lot of interactions with these mentors, and I've learned a lot from them.
What was your Holberton School application and interview process like?
To give perspective, I was one of the first official students at Holberton School. The process towards the end was a little bit different, but let me explain. The first step was to sign up for the application. Then you go through a really small challenge to determine if you know how to Google things and find answers on your own. I remember one of the questions was about Betty Holberton, who they named the school after, and things like that. It's not like you had to have the knowledge of everything, but mostly they were looking to see how you find answers.
The third stage was actually an interview. Because I was one of the first applicants, I was a guinea pig for that stage. They also tested my knowledge of the website I built in the second stage of the interview. We then chatted to see why I was interested in computer science, what made me decide to attend a software engineering school, and we talked about my website and why I picked the topic I did.
How many people are currently in your cohort? Is your cohort diverse in terms of gender, race, and career backgrounds?
I started in January 2016 and my cohort started with 32 students. We now have about 30 students and about 40% are women. I'm Latino, and there are two Latinos. So yeah, there's diversity. I’ve noticed that everybody comes from a different background which was great.
Have you had a different perspective as a person of Latino developer within the tech world and learning at Holberton School?
I don't think any challenges per se. The only thing that I really notice, and I don't know if it's because I don't go to enough meetups, is that the type of networking is not the same. I haven't really met a lot of Latino engineers, and that's something that I think about. I feel like there are not a lot of people that can talk to me about the experiences that I might be having. I haven't met someone in-person who is Latino and an engineer.
How's the learning experience at Holberton School? I'd love to know what a normal day looks like for you.
I actually had the same process every day. I'll be working a project and really stressed out for half the day because I don't know what’s happening. In the first stage, I’m freaking out. In the second stage I think, "Okay. I need to stop freaking out and start learning new things." Then in the third stage of the day I’m thinking, "That was hard, but it was fun." I broke it down and basically every day for the first six months was like that.
I try to get there around 7am but isn’t a required start time. I’d start working on a project from the night before or that had just been released that morning, and would work until standup which was at 11:30am. During standup we talk about what's going on in the school and one student will take 5 minutes to talk about a topic that they were interested in to practice presenting in front of a group.
After standup, most people will take lunch and then work the rest of the day on projects. Sometimes we'll have meetups that usually happened in the afternoon around 4pm. Those meetups were mostly with mentors, and they will either teach a subject, talk about their experiences in the tech industry, or they'll talk about what they’re working on. Most people leave around 6pm, but I'd stay until about 9pm, go home, and then do it all over again.
How do you like the Holberton School teaching style? Since you took some computer science classes in college, how does the learning style compare or contrast?
I liked the teaching style, but it took some time to get used to because instructors don't tell you, "read page 5 of this one book and the answers will be there." You have to find those answers by yourself. It's actually been really useful now that I'm working. Holberton School’s teaching style works, and eventually I got used to it, so I like it now.
Holberton School differs from my learning experience in college because my classes were more theoretical, so we didn’t learn anything that you can really apply to the real world. You wouldn't really have to struggle and think things through.
Now that I'm working, I realize that the Holberton teaching style has been really helpful because every day at work I have to find answers that aren’t in a textbook.
That's great that you feel prepared for your current role! What was your favorite project at Holberton School?
There are a couple of favorites, but I think the one that I had more fun with was building an iOS app. It was a really simple game where a user has 60 seconds to tap a coin, and the app records how many times you tap it, and then gives you a score. I really enjoyed that project because I was always curious about mobile apps and how the interaction with the touch screen worked with the keyboard. We used Xcode and Swift, so that was pretty cool.
Another one of my favorites was one of the last projects we did where we built an Airbnb clone. I built an API, so basically storing data into a server and setting up databases. That project was fascinating because it put everything together for me. You can check it out on my GitHub.
We know that students are required to take an internship position during their studies or opt to start working full-time and finish Holberton remotely. Which route did you take?
I was deciding between skipping the internship and reviewing everything that I'd learned to start my own project. I was lucky enough to be offered an internship, so I ended up going that route.
Tell me about your internship position and how you got the role. What was the interview process like?
Everything started with Julien Barbier, who is one of the founders of the school. He sent an email to all the students introducing us to the CTO of Medsleuth. We talked on the phone for about an hour, about what the company does, and what they're looking for. He was also really interested in knowing what I was interested in, my experiences, and my background.
After that, he sent me an email with a coding challenge to translate XML into a JSON format, and I had to do that in Python. It was a really simple coding challenge; he was looking to see if I would reinvent the wheel or if I would use tools that were already available to me. After that he gave me an offer, we renegotiated for a little bit and then I accepted the position.
Congratulations! When did you start at Medsleuth and how long is the position?
I started about two months ago and it's a six-month internship. My manager did say that based on how I perform throughout the internship, and if I wanted to come back after I finish Holberton, they will most likely welcome me back.
Would you possibly consider not going back to Holberton to stay at your position now?
At this point, I think I'm really set on going back to Holberton School. I've been thinking about talking to my company to ask if they would like me to work part-time or on small projects, but I would really like to go back and finish Holberton School.
Tell us about MedSleuth and the types of projects you’re working on.
Medsleuth creates questionnaires for organ donation. So if someone wants to donate a liver, the questionnaire that they fill out is managed by us. Major hospitals hire us, and we build the application and integrate it into their system.
What technologies are you using currently?
I'm using a lot of Amazon Web Service (AWS) tools like Code Pipeline, Code Deploy, ec2, Lambda also other automation tools like Jenkins, and I write most of my code in Python and Bash.
When interviewing with Medsleuth, did you bring up your computer science experience from your associate's degree or did you mainly focus on your Holberton portfolio?
I mostly focused on my Holberton portfolio. I briefly mentioned my college experience, but like I said, it wasn't really much. I learned more at Holberton in the first three months than I learned at college in a year.
Is this software engineering position what you expected out of an internship?
It is different. Our company is small, so there are only seven trained engineers in the company. My job is really hands on all the time. I have my own projects and I have the liberty to suggest a lot of changes. So I can make my voice heard because it’s a small company and they value my opinion, even though I'm an intern, which is great. I was not expecting that from an internship, because in a bigger company I don't think you can affect the main product as much.
What I'm really focusing on at the moment is how the automation process works. I’m handling the part from where all the engineers write their code to be put in the production and development environment. It's really stressful when there is a release because I’m responsible if anything doesn't go through. It's a great experience because it's teaching me a lot of responsibility from a very early point of my career.
Have you had to learn any new programming languages since being in your internship?
I haven’t had to learn any new languages as I had already started learning Python and Bash. I've gone deeper into both of those languages at this point. I’ve learned a lot, and most of the new tools I'm using are the AWS tools. Holberton taught us a little bit about AWS, but not that much, so I didn't really touch Jenkins at all before my internship, which is an automation tool.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learning to code?
Even though coding is my passion and a hobby in general, it is hard staying motivated. At Holberton I was coding for over 10 hours a day, every day, Monday through Sunday. Keeping that pace up, it burns you out at a faster rate.
The biggest challenge is not overdoing it too much. Try to have a life as well. Holberton School gives students free time. We'll have our deadlines so we can organize our time, so it was mostly me because I wanted to experience more. I really needed to step back a little and say “okay, I'm going to go work out at the gym or I'm going to go and hang out with friends.” I needed to do something different than coding.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about making a career change or thinking about attending a coding bootcamp or software engineering school?
Look for a school that will teach you how to learn new things. Because if you only know one topic, the next year that same topic might not be relevant anymore.
Look for a school that doesn’t teach you one subject, but they teach you how to learn new things. It is true that in technology, everything keeps changing. Don't settle for knowing one thing, but strive to learn how to learn many things.
Rona Chong studied sociology at college, and enjoyed interning in the IT department, but when she graduated she wasn’t sure what career she wanted. Rona had enjoyed dabbling with code as a child, so when her twin sister told her about Holberton School’s two-year program in San Francisco, they both applied and were accepted. Rona has finished the first nine-month on-site learning curriculum, and is now in the six-month internship/job phase before finishing up with a nine-month remote specialization. Rona tells us about the engaging Holberton School application, the freedom of learning at her own pace, and how Holberton School’s connections helped her get a job as a Site Reliability Engineer at Dropbox!
What were you up to before you decided to go to Holberton School?
I went to Scripps College for women, and I bounced around with different majors. I started out in STEM, but not computer science. I then ended up switching from biology to sociology which was a very big shift.
I loved sociology, but career-wise, I wasn’t sure how to implement that knowledge. So when I graduated, I had to think about what sort of profession to pursue. Web development was always a prospect for me because I liked to play with HTML and CSS when I was younger, so it was always on my mind and I liked the idea of web development.
I did an internship towards the end of my undergrad degree at the Scripps College IT department, and continued for a month or two after the end of my classes.
Did you learn any coding while you were working in the IT department at Scripps?
During my downtime, one of the staff members who was a programmer encouraged me to learn some coding, and I spent time learning on ShayHowe and CSS Dog because my mind was still on the idea of web development specifically. Most of my time there was handling tickets and setting up computers. I did a little bit of self-study, but not as much as I wanted.
Did you look at other coding bootcamps around San Francisco before you chose Holberton School?
I actually wasn’t looking at coding bootcamps at the time. It just so happened that when Holberton School opened, my twin sister happened to be subscribed to the publication ZDNet and sent me an article about Holberton School. Because the first cohort was free, I started thinking, "This makes it accessible, and something I would actually consider."
I knew that other bootcamps were $10,000-$20,000 and I wasn't prepared to make that big of an investment. Once the price was taken out of the equation, I was excited to go to a structured program that would accelerate how much I learn.
Holberton School has a deferred tuition program now right?
Yes, it’s 17% of your income for three years.
Did you want to learn a specific programming language? Was that part of your decision making?
When I read about the Holberton School curriculum, which included C and a couple of other languages, I thought it was cool they covered a low-level programming language. Up until that point, I didn't have specific languages in mind other than front end languages.
Did you consider going back to college and studying computer science instead of doing a bootcamp?
Not really. In my mind, a bootcamp is more focused on learning the skills you need to work in the industry. At college you learn a lot more theory, and I wanted to be able to jump right into the industry once I graduated.
What did you think of the Holberton School interview and application process? I've heard it's quite interesting and fun.
It was great, and engaging the whole time. You start off answering a couple questions about information that you have to find online. Or you had to find out how to do small tasks like encrypting a string with a certain cipher. Once you could demonstrate that you could do that much, you had to share more about yourself, write an essay, and create a video.
In the third stage, you're given access to a forum and asked to work on a website. While working on the website, you had to share your process with other applicants. You could interact with the other people who were applying to Holberton who might end up attending the program with you. I thought that was really cool because it made the application more social, and gave us a sense of community. So that was a very positive experience for me.
I also enjoyed the general process of creating something and having a project at the end of the application where you have a lot of freedom to decide what it looks like. That made it very fun for me. I think it took me about a month in total.
Was your class quite diverse in terms of gender, race, age, life and career backgrounds?
I think it was quite diverse. Students came from many different places and backgrounds than me, so Holberton was an interesting and fun way to meet people from backgrounds that I wasn’t familiar with.
A third of our cohort was female. I’m used to all females because I went to a women's college, but I know that's a higher percentage than other bootcamps, and it was definitely nice to have other women to talk to. We also had people from all sorts of racial backgrounds, which I appreciated.
What was the actual learning experience like at Holberton? Give me an example of a typical day and style of learning.
Standup is at 11:30am, which is when I generally arrived. Early on, we got a new project every day. Later on, when we had longer projects, we got a new project about every three days. You can tackle your project however you want. For the most part, you research on the internet about the concept for that project, learn about it, then start to tackle the tasks. Staff members are on site to answer any questions the students might have about projects, and available to do live coding sessions to help clarify particularly difficult concepts.
I enjoyed that style of learning a lot because it felt like you had a puzzle to solve. You're trying to figure out the solution, what information you need, and if you understand the concept properly. Sometimes you might get stuck and ask your peers. I appreciated the Holberton philosophy about not asking for the answer, but asking, "What about my process or my understanding is right and what about it is wrong, and how can I proceed from there?" That way, you weren't just told how to do things. I think it's more gratifying to figure it out yourself. There was a lot of freedom to approach things at your own pace. You want to keep up with the curriculum, but you can decide how to handle the whole day for yourself.
What was your favorite project that you worked on at Holberton?
The one that sticks out to me was setting up our own DNS servers. I had never heard about the underlying process for domain name resolution before so I found it interesting. To make sure your server is actually working, you have to think about what instructions you implemented and if it’s working as intended. So it tested my understanding a lot.
I was able to figure it out at each step, and that was really satisfying for me to see myself move from one place of understanding to another in the process of setting it up. A lot of us had to struggle a little with it, so when I was able to get it to work, I was really happy about it.
I did all the work to make that magically happen.
After nine months of learning, you look for a job or internship, right? What sort of preparation or career guidance did Holberton School give you for t hat?
In a way, it felt like the whole nine months were preparation because the founders, Julien Barbier and Sylvain Kalache, are very focused on the type of skills that employers in the tech industry are looking for.
For the interview and job search process specifically, Holberton brought in three or four recruiters from different companies such as Palantir and Dropbox. They talked about what they look for in a new hire, what they expect from candidates, and the relationship between a recruiter and a recruitee.
Holberton also started asking us whiteboarding questions that you might get asked in an interview. A couple of them were logic puzzles, and a couple of them were more focused on coding. Holberton wanted us to get practice solving a problem on demand like in an interview. We also had Refineries, which are days devoted to making sure you understand concepts that have been covered in the class, and during those exercises you are also expected to talk through every piece of code you write, like you would in an interview
Holberton also did quite a bit of networking for us and then connected a lot of us to interviews and jobs.
Is that how you found your role at Dropbox?
Yes, definitely. We were asked to apply to jobs on our own, and also apply to any positions that Holberton found that we were interested in. Sylvain reached out to me and a couple of other students who he knew or imagined would be able to do well in the Dropbox interview. Of course, I was interested!
Then Holberton’s contact at Dropbox, Tammy, brought a group of students to the Dropbox office for lunch and we got to meet their team and some people who would likely interview us. We learned about the company and talked to them about ourselves in an informal context. It was a nice way to work out whether we were interested in this opportunity or not, and experience their culture. We then had a week to study a couple of topics to prepare for the on-site interview.
On on-site day, we spent the day at Dropbox being interviewed by several different people, with a different exercise to do in each segment. We all had a very positive experience from that. I think Dropbox spent a lot of time making that interview process engaging and accessible regardless of our experience, while also still finding out if you have the qualities that they're looking for. After that, we had a take-home exercise where we had to create a daemon-like process that monitored log files and produced a report or a summary of the most recent stats every 10 seconds. That was fun and also similar to the problems we were asked to figure out at Holberton. Holberton is unique in that they have one portion of the curriculum focused on Sys Admin/DevOps. I'm not aware of any other program that has that domain in their curriculum.
What are you working on at Dropbox – tell us about the role!
So far, I’ve been in Dropbox’s 4-6 week residency onboarding program. We’ve had a lot of presentations on the architecture of Dropbox software, infrastructure, product, and the company organization.
I'm on the databases team, specifically as a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE), which means I am helping make databases more reliable, more durable, and more accessible. I have a mentor who has been giving me sessions where he focuses on giving me more context about how databases work, how MySQL works, and how Dropbox approaches database and data storage.
Once I’m ramped up on those topics, I'll start on a couple of interesting tasks. One is optimizing the process for backing up data, which is a pretty interesting problem. Then, I can make my first code deployments and learn how code is deployed at Dropbox. It's all been busy but cool.
Have you had to learn many new technologies or programming languages since you started at Dropbox?
Yes, new in the sense that I haven't dealt with it as extensively until now. For my infrastructure onboarding project, they're asking us to code in Go, which I’ve barely used until now. I have been reading about it, trying to understand how it works and trying it out, which is great for me. At Holberton, we had workshops to familiarize ourselves with a couple of different languages. We had one “Discover Go” workshop. For me, it's like revisiting the language and then getting much more hands-on experience with it.
In terms of technology, Dropbox has a lot of different internal tools. They have a specific workflow, so there's a lot for me to learn.
What are your plans for the future? Will you stay at Dropbox full-time or go back to Holberton to continue studying?
The Holberton School curriculum is ideal for me, because after this six-month period in the workforce, there is an optional track to go back to specialize in a certain topic at Holberton, like higher-level learning, systems administration or low-level systems. Dropbox expects employees to build up a lot of technical expertise, so continuing to study with Holberton is another way for me to work up to that.
The Holberton School founders want to make sure that we can participate at Holberton and work at the same time. I definitely plan on going through the extra nine months of specialization, but I'll be working at Dropbox at the same time. I’m on a six-month contract at Dropbox, and then if all goes well, I’ll get hired as a full-time Dropbox employee. My position at Dropbox is a really good opportunity for me to learn and develop expertise on a topic that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. There are lots of experienced mentors who I can draw from while working on interesting technological problems.
If you continue studying with Holberton School after six months will you do that remotely, part-time while you're working?
I think I will study remotely, part-time with Holberton, but there’s also the option to go back on-site. Holberton is similar to a lot of tech companies in that you're given quite a bit of freedom in how and when you work.
Did you enjoy learning with your twin sister at Holberton School?
My sister and I share a lot of interests. We went to the same college, so it was just like a continuation of that pattern. She was actually hired before me, and was one of the first students to get hired. It’s funny because she got hired at another storage solutions company called Scality, so we ended up being in these similar niche industries. It's a much smaller company, so we get to trade our experiences and compare, which is a lot of fun.
Now that you're in this job, are you able to stay in touch with the other Holberton students?
Since I started working, I've been really busy, but we’re a tight community – we just spent nine months around each other full-time. We still text each other, we invite each other to events. We're all on Slack, which is how we communicated at Holberton. We also participate in hackathons together and see each other at Holberton events.
What is your advice for someone who's thinking about making a career change and going to a coding bootcamp?
If they're hesitating because they're not sure about outcomes, remember that the tech industry has such a high demand for qualified developers right now. If you have time and persistence to keep plugging away at it, this is definitely an industry that you can enter.
To make that transition easier, it's helpful to spend time learning and coding a little bit before actually starting a coding bootcamp. The process of not understanding a concept, then breaking it down and resolving any information you don't know, is useful. Because that's actually a lot of your experience at a program like Holberton, and when you're on the job. I feel that if you get familiar with that process, anyone can do this.
Should I do a coding bootcamp? This is a question we hear all the time, and for good reason. As more coding bootcamps launch (not to mention the rising media coverage), you’re probably wondering, “should I jump on the bandwagon and learn to code?” A recent TechCrunch article implored you not to learn to code unless you’re ready to put in the work to be great, whereas President Obama wants every student to learn computer science in high school. So what types of people are opting for coding bootcamps? And should you be one of them?Continue Reading →
After interviewing Holberton School students, we noticed a trend: they actually enjoyed the application process for the San Francisco-based bootcamp! We wanted to find out what makes the Holberton application special and unbiased, so we sat down with co-founder Julien Barbier to get the scoop. Here, we share what we learned: what to watch out for during the 3-level application process, why it’s designed for beginners, and how the founders created an application that removes bias to promote a diverse student body.
First, tell us your role at Holberton and your role in the admissions process as the co-founder.
I'm a co-founder Holberton School. Since my team and I all worked in the tech industry for years before founding Holberton, we knew there was a problem with diversity, and wanted to build a solution into our school from the start.
As we thought about the admissions process, we wanted to create a cohort of people who have enough potential and deserve to be here. When we think about diversity in terms of quotas etc, I think we lose out in the classroom.
At the same time, we wanted to design a way to remove discrimination and human bias in the process. Bias is encoded in our DNA; as a white, 30-year-old man, you’re going to select others who look/talk/dress like you. We have three levels to our admissions process, two of which are automated, then we interview the applicants who made it through.
What exactly is automated throughout the application?
There are three levels to the application. Level One and Two are automated; Level One is a literacy test, an essay, and a video. Applicants should read and understand English (because our course is done in English). That's essentially the only prerequisite. For instance, we ask questions about the life and history of Betty Holberton.
Next, applicants write an essay on why they want to become a software engineer and why they want to specifically learn at Holberton School. Some candidates will say they watched a movie or read an article or that they know friends who are programmers; others may realize that they’re not passionate about this by simply writing the essay. We want candidates to take the time to understand why they want to do Holberton. In order to write the essay, they need to understand what Holberton School is and how it's different from other colleges or bootcamps options. Otherwise, they may realize that a Holberton is not for them; and if they choose another path thanks to the application, we're happy about it. The software also analyses your essay and calculates a score for you.
The last step in Level One is a small video of yourself between 30 seconds and one minute long so that we can know you better before you start on Level 2: the Project Phase.
How many applicants are accepted into Level Three, the interview phase?
Somewhere around 8% to 10% of the candidates.
What's Holberton School’s acceptance rate overall?
For our last class, it was below 2.5%. We got over 1,300 applications for each of our classes. But don’t be impressed by those numbers. Most of the candidates who were motivated got to Level 3.
After going through a couple of admissions rounds, have you found that your plan was effective? Did you end up getting a diverse applicant pool through to the Interview Phase?
Yes! Actually, the first class was 40% women, 44% people of color. Ages range from 17 to over 50 years old. We did not expect that at all. We especially didn’t expect to see that almost three-quarters of our students had to relocate from outside of the Bay Area.
Has this unique admissions process selected qualified students? What’s the attrition rate at Holberton?
The admissions process tends to select only people who are very motivated, so in the long run, we're going to have a much smaller dropout rate than regular colleges. I think that in America, over 50% of people never finish college. So far, we’ve had two people drop out, which is very, very low considering the intensity of the program. The program is intense, but when you are passionate about something, you’re just happy to work hard.
How long does it typically take for a student to go through the entire application process?
I've heard anywhere from 5 hours to 50 hours. The application isn’t necessarily hard, but it is very time consuming. If you like the application process, that’s also a good sign that you're going to enjoy being at Holberton and being a software engineer.
You can do Level One at your own pace. You have two weeks to finish Level Two (the project).
What kind of technical background does an applicant need before they start the Holberton Application?
Zero. Actually, more than half of our students did zero coding before applying (ie. they had never seen a terminal or used Linux before).
During Level Two, you’ll build an entire project through different steps, and for each step, we drive you towards solving it. At the very beginning, we drive a lot and then a little bit less over time so that you have to really use everything you've learned.
We’ve interviewed a few students at Holberton and they all pointed to Level Two as being a fun learning experience- I was surprised to hear that!
Our goals for the admissions process were to remove bias and tackle diversity, but also to make it fun and educational. Even if you're not admitted to Holberton School, you will have learned a lot during the application process.
At the end of the application, you can show your website to your friends and be proud of what you've built.
It sounds like Level Two is a way to give a technical coding challenge to a complete beginner that doesn't have any experience coding.
Exactly. Plus, because we don’t have traditional “teachers” at Holberton School, a project-based application gives applicants an insight into the Holberton learning environment. As an applicant, you’re learning through a project and interacting with peers- exactly how you’ll learn if you’re admitted.
Applicants interact with peers during the application process??
You interact with all the other candidates via the forum while doing the project at the same time. Once you start Level Two, you have two weeks to finish, and during those two weeks, you can ask questions and help other candidates.
What does your team look for in applicants during the Level Three interviews that indicate they’ll be a successful software engineer?
First, they need a bit of raw talent and motivation, which is usually driven by a passion for the field. For example, an accountant who realizes that their favorite part of the job is creating macros in Excel, so they start to study on the side. Passion drives motivation, and if you have the motivation, you can do anything. Even if you're super smart, without the motivation to go through this intense program, you're not going to succeed (that’s true for everything, not just Holberton School).
Level Three is meant to do what the software cannot. Before the interview, we send reading material that’s based on what they did in Level Two. The goal is to see if they actually did the work that they submitted in Level Two. Cheating is hard for software to catch (although we haven’t had any cases of cheating so far)!
The last thing we want to check during Level Three interviews is that you’re prepared to move to San Francisco and that you really have a financial plan. Hopefully, we will open Holberton School in other cities with lower costs of living, but for now, we're in San Francisco, which means you’ll need at least $1300 a month for rent and living expenses. We also remind applicants of our values.
Is there anything else special about the interview phase that our readers should know?
If possible, we invite applicants to interview at our space so they can see a face behind Holberton School. I also introduce them to our current students so that they can ask questions they would not dare ask me.
What’s new at Holberton School? What have you learned from the first cohorts?
The first Holberton class was totally free; we’re now implementing income share agreements. That means that students don't pay while they're enrolled in Holberton, which is another way we ensure a diverse class. If there is a wall around payments, then only people who can afford tuition will be able to attend. We want to offer this high-quality education to all as we believe that people from every community and background should have the opportunity to become a software engineer. Of course, it’s still in San Francisco, so the cost of living is high, but the pool of talent that can attend Holberton is much broader than any of the other colleges or bootcamps.
When does the next class start and how can people apply?
Our next class is January 30th. Applications are now open and you can start an application here.
Fresh from high school, Marine decided that the traditional university route was not for her. She took a gap year and found herself at an architectural firm in California. Marine knew that there was more to her professional story once she was introduced to coding, and decided to attend Holberton School’s two-year coding school in San Francisco. Find out how Marine is enjoying her time at Holberton School, what projects she has been working on, and her plans for the future.
What was your educational background and career trajectory before you attended Holberton School?
I actually moved to the US from France about two years ago, after finishing high school. After high school, I decided to take a gap year because I really wanted to see all of my options and I was still unfamiliar with the educational system in the US. I have dual Citizenship; my mom is American so the move was a bit easier than expected.
During my gap year, I was working in an architectural firm for about seven months. But at the same time, I really wanted to get involved in either volunteering or some coding. I got in touch with a French lady named Servane Demol who started a program to teach computer science to younger kids ‘code for fun’, and that’s when she introduced me to Holberton School. She thought I might be interested, and indeed I was. I decided to apply to Holberton School in November.
When you started looking at Holberton School, what was it about the school that made you decide to attend?
Since I took a gap year, I was really in search of what I wanted to do, so that really opened a lot of opportunities and options. Once I realized that I wanted to try coding, I tried to learn by myself. But it was really hard because I didn't know where to start, and I was intimidated.
I didn't really look at any other bootcamps after the suggestion from the woman I met. I had this sense that I didn't want to go to a regular university because I felt it would be a bit restricting. I wanted to create instead of having to take a lot of lectures. The French educational system was good because it taught me discipline, and things that I needed in order to grow myself. Yet, four years of university, for me, wouldn't have been as beneficial. My mom kept saying, "You have to pursue education, and you have to keep learning," and I agreed with her. When you open the link on their web page, you see Holberton School is a project-based alternative to college and that really put a spark within me, and I thought, "Okay, this is exactly what I'm looking for." Since the program is two years long, it was good for me because it actually forces you to be committed to the school. Now you have a two-year commitment, so you have to keep going.
Were there any other specific factors that helped sway your decision about joining Holberton like location, price, or programming languages taught?
I was sold. The fact that it is a hands-on program was meaningful for me because that's how I learn. You can teach me and tell me something 20 times, but I won't understand until I do it myself. Also, I enjoyed the fact that there are no courses and it is project based. There are some presentations in the morning, which are really helpful, but having Holberton School be project-based is really nice because you can manage your own time as you as long as you respect the project deadlines.
The other factor I liked was that the school is on site, so you actually have to be physically at school with other people. People are there to help you when you're struggling. We're a class of 32 students - some are remote, some are in different countries - but we still are very connected and help each other, which I think is great. Normally they require you to be on site, but unfortunately, it wasn't possible for some students. We have an audio visual recording system for remote students so that they can still have access to everything that's going on in the school.
Location wise, I had some struggles. I used to live in South Bay, Santa Clara so I had to do the two-hour long commute every day. It was two hours going to school and two hours going home, so it was four hours a day. And that was really, really hard because we had so many projects and deadlines. When you're losing four hours every day commuting and not doing anything, it can be really stressful. I just moved to San Carlos which is an hour away. It's a little better and it makes a huge difference here.
Describe your current program at Holberton School.
The first cohort started in January and the first nine months is intense training to become a full stack software engineer; and then there’s a six-month internship. Holberton School wants you to gain enough experience and explore what you might enjoy doing the most. They want you to have a sense of what future career you would want to pursue. Then, the last nine months are specialized for your interests and your goals for after the school.
Tell us about the structure of your day. What is a typical day like?
I try to be here at 9:00am. The projects are usually released the night before around 1:00am and if we're learning a new concept during that project, there will usually be a presentation in the morning. It’s mainly just a quick introduction into the concept so that you can go and then continue learning by yourself.
Project wise, there will be around four to five projects a week and sometimes there will be group projects for bigger tasks. In addition, we have meetups of people from the industry that will come into the school and do a quick presentation on, either their applications and how you can use it, or to teach a language that we're not aware of. It’s really nice that industry professionals are willing to come to the school to teach us and keep us updated on the latest technologies. We also have deep learning courses with school mentors.
How has this learning experience helped you? How is it different from high school?
It was really intense because I was very new to programming and computer science. So I was learning from scratch. I was really motivated and considered myself a sponge because I had to soak up everything, but it was very difficult. It really pushed me to persevere. Holberton School always tries to push you out of your comfort zone so that you keep learning, keep evolving, and keep getting stronger.
Learning by myself is what I prefer. I like to go my own pace and search for the things I need. Here at Holberton School, I’m also learning how to learn, which I know I'll need in the future. In the industry, everything keeps evolving and you have to keep learning.
Which programming languages have you really enjoyed? What are you currently working on?
Right now, we're working on a bigger project, an Airbnb Clone. We're actually doing it from scratch so we have to replicate a database and make a full web structure.
I’ve enjoyed the Twitter Clone project the best because I like being creative and I like seeing an end product.
Walk us through the interview process for Holberton School. What was that like?
The application process is three levels. Level one consists of short technical questions that are very easy. They just want to see how you would react.
Level two was where you actually have to build a website using Linux, HTML and CSS. That was a lot of fun because again, you can use your creativity and come up with something that you like, and then you can show it to other people. Once I started creating my website, I was just hooked on wanting to attend Holberton School. I was so happy when I submitted it. They replied back to me asking me for an onsite interview, so that was level three. During the interview, they ask you questions about yourself to see if you're a good fit. Then ask you a technical question, which puts you to a nice type of stress when trying to answer. They sent me an email again, saying that I was accepted for their January cohort. I was very happy with how the process went.
You said you started to learn a little code on your own. What resources were you using?
I used Codecademy and Open Classrooms. There was also a French resource that I was familiar with. Oh, and I used a lot of YouTube tutorials videos.
Tell us about your cohort at Holberton School. What were the demographics and how was your experience?
We're 32 students and we all have different backgrounds and ethnicities. I think Holberton School did a great job of creating a group that is so diverse because it makes us very strong- we get along very well. There are students at various ages as well. I'm only 19 because I started this program after high school, but it’s great to see that there are other students around my age, and then there are some students who are older. In addition, there are people from different countries who are learning remotely.
Does Holberton School have conversations about women in coding?
Yes. We have had conversations for women in coding, and have had meetups to meet women in the industry. Being a woman learning code is very nice because we don't feel excluded at all. We feel powerful, and we feel like we have a presence in this industry. It’s super helpful when you see how many women are strong, and really want to make a difference. You’re able to see that you're not alone, and you begin to think, "Okay, I can do this too."
Tell us about the instructors and mentors at Holberton School.
I'm not sure of how many mentors there are total, but there's a lot of them in the industry that are willing to grab a quick lunch and discuss ideas. Some students have a personal mentor, someone that will be assigned to help them when they have questions. There are also mentors that come to do presentations.
We have four people on site every day with us. So if we have questions, even though we should always ask our peers first, mentors are always here no matter what. If you have any questions besides what's going on in your project, then you can always talk to someone which is really nice.
What has been the biggest challenge for you at Holberton School?
You really need a lot of mental strength and perseverance because especially with coding, it's not going to work the first time. So you have to continue to try, even when you don’t feel like it, and that's definitely challenging.
Has Holberton School started doing any prep for job or internship searching?
Yes. We’ve done a lot of training/interview prep for the internship section of the program. We had mentors come in, such as one from Google, who gave presentations on how to prepare yourself for an interview, and how to tackle technical interview questions. We have a lot of help in that direction. Holberton School staff tell us that if we do feel confident about getting a job, then just go for it and take the job. If you have a good job opportunity, and that's what you're looking for, just take it. They’re really open to students doing what’s best for them.
What do you plan to pursue once you finish Holberton School?
I joined the program to help me learn coding because I was learning by myself and realized that I needed help. I needed structure, something to guide me. I joined Holberton School with that mentality and now that I am learning and gaining these new skills, I see what the industry is looking for and it makes me more confident in pursuing a career even right after the school. You do learn a lot! It's amazing how much I’ve learned in such a short amount of time, and I almost feel ready for the internship. I'm pretty sure after the internship, I'll have a pretty good idea of what direction I want to go in.
Before Holberton School, I tried to learn mobile development in order to make mobile apps. We have learned a little bit of mobile at school and that’s what I was leaning towards mobile development.
Any last thoughts on your experience attending Holberton School?
I think because it's a new school, and it's very fast pace, and motivating. And also the pricing of the school, the financial system of the school – I think it's a very good system.
There’s no upfront tuition, but you repay 17% of your salary for at least three years after you get the job. And that's only if you get a job. If you don't get a job, you don't pay back the school.
Welcome to the July 2016 Course Report monthly coding bootcamp news roundup! Each month we look at all the happenings from the coding bootcamp world from new bootcamps to big fundraising announcements, to interesting trends. This month the biggest trends this month are initiatives to increase the diversity in tech, some huge investments in various bootcamps, and more tech giants launching their own coding classes. Read below or listen to our latest Coding Bootcamp News Roundup Podcast!Continue Reading →
At age 18, Josh opted out of university in the UK and moved to San Francisco to learn to code at Holberton School. Now he's five months in and about to launch his own app. We spoke to Josh to find out why he decided to do a two-year intensive coding bootcamp, instead of a four-year computer science degree, how he’s adjusting to a new city, and all about his new company!
What was your educational background before you decided to go to Holberton School?
I was about to go to a traditional university in the UK (where I’m from). I'd always been interested in technology. I've been building computers and coding since 11 years old.
I was looking for an excuse to dedicate all of my time to coding, and I had talks with my parents about leaving school. We talked about learning on my own and not going to university because I really didn't like the way the education system worked. My mum wasn't so keen about the idea of me just leaving, but I never felt that I really fit in. I really didn't see myself going to university and studying computer science there, quite frankly because the curriculum just isn't very good. I heard about Holberton through a friend, applied and then a couple of months later, here I am in San Francisco.
How much coding did you know before attending Holberton?
I already knew a couple of programming languages before I came to Holberton. I had been really into computer hardware and then it transitioned over into software. I taught myself Python, and I was working on some projects on the side. Holberton was more of a way to formalize my learning and dive deeper- there are subjects we're covering which I probably would not have been able to unlock on my own.
Did you look at any other coding bootcamps in the UK before deciding on Holberton School?
No, I wasn’t looking at other schools. I heard about General Assembly on Twitter and applied. But once I found out the cost, I decided that I really wasn't looking to pay any money upfront for a bootcamp. That’s also one of the biggest reasons I didn’t want to go to university. I didn't want to end up in a huge amount of debt.
Was the deferred tuition option at Holberton a big part of your decision in terms of cost?
That was a huge part of the decision. I really didn't want to have to take out any loans or spend any of my money or my family's money on the course. Holberton School was a much cheaper option. I was very keen to come to San Francisco. I already had some friends here and they were an active part of Holberton School. One of my friends is a mentor here, so that was another reason why I decided to come.
When you were making the decision to come to Holberton, was it important for you to learn a specific programming language or stack?
At the beginning they didn't exactly tell us the complete core programming languages we were covering. Instead, they focus on making you a full stack engineer who knows a lot of programming languages through projects. They almost said, "Whatever you want to be proficient in, that's up to you, and we're going to help you get to that stage."
What attracted you to a two-year program rather than a 12-week program? There are quite a few other coding bootcamps that offer shorter programs.
I was worried about the level of knowledge you could acquire in a shorter program as opposed to two years because if you spend two years learning, as you can imagine, it’s going to be more in-depth. I just think you would obviously learn more over two years.
How did you find the Holberton School application and interview process?
The application and interview process was split into three stages. The first stage was an essay. The second stage was to create an entire website in any language of your choice. We had to setup our own server and install the website from there, then write some HTML, CSS, and basically create what we needed from scratch. Stage three was just a Skype interview. I thought it was a good way to approach the interview, especially to filter out applicants for the school.
Compared with admission for a university, I knew just from the application process whether I would fit in at Holberton, and what I was going to learn.
For people who are interested but not sure how they're going to get on and how they're going to learn, the Holberton application can help answer those questions. And it's also fun!
I think it should be really important to have a huge interest in programming if it’s going to be your career. If you’re not passionate and interested in it, and doing it in your spare time, you're going to struggle to become the best engineer as you can be. It does require a lot of time.
What's your class like at Holberton?
We're from all over, and the age range is also varied. I am not the youngest; I've got a friend who's 17 and one who is 19. The average age is probably around 25 to 30. My cohort is made up of all nationalities, people from different countries, and different ages.
How have you found the learning experience so far? What is it like learning in this environment?
Holberton School teaches you how to learn. They give you projects; we had one on SQL recently. A mentor would tell us, "Okay, you need to add a person to this database and then you have to go to Google and research how to do that." They give you a project or a task, and then it's up to you to figure out how to go and do it. That's the way it's taught, but we also do have recaps, and we cover key topics together. In the morning, we may cover object-oriented programming in Python for example, or sometimes we've had machine learning meetups where it's a four-hour intensive learning course on machine learning, or a big presentation lead by some industry experts on iOS.
What do you think of this project-based peer learning approach compared with your own experience of learning before, for example when you were at high school?
I definitely prefer it because I'm in charge of what I decide to learn and the way I decide to do it. There are infinite ways and means as to how you want to learn. We recently had a hackathon, and I think this is probably one of the best ways to learn; where you have an idea or you get on a project, and you have to figure out how to build it over a certain amount of time.
A couple of years ago I wanted to make a bitcoin lottery, so I figured it out. I went from having no knowledge of it to figuring out how to do it. And in doing that, I learned three programming languages. I think project-based peer learning is one of the most powerful ways in which we can learn.
I know that you don't have formal teachers at Holberton, but I'm interested in how often you do actually interact with Holberton staff and mentors.
It's more open. It's not on a schedule. If you have a question, you just go over and ask; but only if you can't figure it out yourself. We interact with mentors as much as we need or want to, but there are dedicated time slots for mentors. Mentors will do a meetup at the school or a presentation. We had someone from Uber come in and do a presentation about how Uber managed to scale their backend to reach 99% uptime. I don't think I've ever been at Holberton, unless it's super late or super early, when the founders or mentors weren’t there.
What has been the biggest challenge for you at Holberton so far?
I'd say, perhaps the biggest challenge is learning to fit in with others in my group and learning the soft skills elements. I had to learn how to help someone with their own problem, while seeing their perspective. Holberton School created this unique demographic of people that you wouldn't get if you went to university. It creates an environment where people learn in very different ways, and opens your eyes to other ways of doing things.
Do you work together a lot with the other people in the class?
As much as you want to. If you need help, then you could probably go to anyone in the class and work with them. Sometimes, students do walkthroughs or presentations on technology for others. I could do a live coding session or something on the whiteboard, and everyone could join if they want.
Do you have a way of giving feedback about the program if you have problems?
We have a captain's log. Every Sunday we have to fill in a smiley face- happy, neutral, or sad- to reflect our learning experience. We give feedback on what we learned this week, our biggest breakthrough, etc. Then hopefully they're going to take into account.
What is your favorite project that you've worked on so far at Holberton?
For me it was the hackathon that we did recently. My teammate and I came up with the idea to build an API which could work with Arduinos in your home so anyone could automate their home. And for me, that was one of the coolest things because although we had to use Docker, it was almost completely open as to what we wanted to build and how we wanted to build it, and I learned a lot that way. That was the most exciting to me.
Holberton has an internship section. Are you going to be able to participate in that?
No, I won't be able to do that in the US with my visa, but I could do it in the UK. I'm working on my own app at the moment, so it's likely that I might want to spend the six-month internship developing my own app. Holberton said that rather than doing an internship, you can also do your own startup. So that's another aspect to look at, and I could actually do that here under this visa. Holberton School is generally quite flexible with this kind of things, so it's nice.
What's your overall plan for what you want to do when you graduate from Holberton? Do you want to get a job as a developer?
I'm more likely to start something myself. I'm not too interested in working for someone else in a job. That’s one of the biggest reasons why Holberton was so attractive to me: it was a different way of learning and it allowed for this entrepreneurial type of trajectory.
And are you able to tell us about your app idea or is it a secret?
I've been working on this for four months and we're just finishing it now. The app is called Loop and the idea is that you can send photos or videos to individual areas. If you think of Snapchat and then sending it to a person or story, but instead you're sending it to an area. So if I'm in San Francisco and I've got a party going on, or if I'm at a school like Stanford, and I'm taking a picture of something funny, I can send it to the Stanford loop. Then everyone who's subscribed to that loop can see the post in there. We're very, very close to finishing. My co-founder is creating the Android app. We're both working on the iOS app, and I'm making the API.
You said that you are planning to do your own business when you graduate, but do you know if Holberton provides any help with job searching?
I'm sure they do because the network that the founders have is vast. I speak to the founders quite regularly about my app, and they're always helpful. They tell me that if I want help or need them to put me into contact with the VCs, even the VCs that are investing in Holberton then they are happy to do that. They're definitely going to help you try to get a job.
What has it been like so far, moving countries and living in San Francisco?
I love it really. It was definitely one of the biggest factors in moving here. Moving to San Francisco is like going from a world where I was the only one who was working in tech to then walking down the street, and there's a guy next to you talking about APIs. If you’re in line at Starbucks, it’s almost guaranteed that the guy behind you works in tech. That's really awesome. It's also nice to be away from parents and have your own freedom to do what you want.
What advice do you have for people who are considering going to an intensive bootcamp to learn how to code?
Coming to Holberton has made me realize how much people really don't care about degrees and how much you can learn by yourself. Employers don't really need to see a degree to know how good you are in tech. If this is what you want, then don't worry about going down an untraditional route.
As a technical writer for 12 years, Zee Adams had always loved new technology, but when she decided to start her own business she realized she needed to learn to code. Now Zee is four months into the two-year, full-time full stack program at Holberton School in San Francisco, CA. The program is made up of nine months of learning on site, a six-month internship, then another nine months of remote learning. We spoke to Zee about why she chose a long form program over a 12-week bootcamp, how her fellow classmates are teaching and learning from each other, and how much she’s enjoyed the Holberton experience right down to the application process!
What’s your pre-bootcamp story? What were you up to until you started Holberton School?
I've been a technical writer for over 12 years and have always found it interesting. It was a great challenge to learn about new things and have to write about them, which is how I kept myself engaged in the tech world. I wrote software manuals, how-tos, study guides, etc.
I've also always been interested in starting my own company. I'm a bit of a techie, and love to follow new tech trends. I found myself with a business partner and a good EdTech idea but no technical skills. We realized we needed to learn how to program.
What did you study at college originally?
My undergraduate degree is in Sociology from the University of Ottawa. After years of working in the tech field as a technical writer, I got a Master's degree in Engineering for Technology Innovation Management at Carleton University.
Did you try to learn to code on your own at all before you thought about a coding bootcamp?
I tried to teach myself on and off for about two and a half years. I did Code Academy, Coursera, Stack Social, and I registered in several online MOOCS. I found that they expected me to have some level of experience. It’s difficult to know what you're getting wrong and how to correct it in an online course.
Because of my college coursework and working full time, I didn't have much time to dedicate to learning online. When you’re learning to code, it's difficult to pinpoint where to begin and how everything is connected. Since I started Holberton School four months ago, I feel like I've learned more in the last four months than those two years of trying to hack away at online courses on my own.
As you researched coding bootcamps, what stood out to you about Holberton School?
When I started researching, I still lived in Canada, so I looked at Lighthouse Labs and I also looked at Make School.
The Holberton application was incredible – it challenged me to actually create a project as part of the application process. I spent about 50 to 60 hours applying for the school. I also liked the way the founders connected and engaged with me - which I found other schools didn’t do.
The opportunity Holberton School provides is something I'd be foolish not to pursue. The learning environment is incredible, but the support system is what really attracted me the most. They have such a strong, vibrant mentor network. When I was first accepted, the students were added to a Slack group with all the mentors. I also like the fact that Holberton School is project-based learning, as opposed to the very formal system you see at university.
Why did you decide on a two-year program over a shorter, 10-12 week coding bootcamp?
I personally needed a more in-depth learning experience with access to a full stack curriculum. I’m learning front end, back end, low-level programming, high-level programming, and gaining soft skills for a technical environment. These things are difficult to teach in a short time period.
Holberton School also includes the opportunity for a six-month internship, which allows you to get firsthand experience. Then you come back to the school to work further on what interests you. It’s hard to put a value on that experience, because you're taking all the cool things you want to do and really getting the chance to focus on them.
Did you ever consider a four-year computer science degree instead of two-year bootcamp?
I did. And my only issue was I already had an undergrad and masters degrees. Many of the courses that fulfill the degree requirements for Computer Science felt like fillers to me. The core courses would not have taken four years to complete.
It seemed too redundant. Whereas at Holberton, I'm focusing on learning the core tech skills I need, but not having to take unnecessary courses.
Holberton School offers a deferred tuition model where you pay your tuition at the end as a percentage of your salary. Was that part of your decision?
Absolutely. A lot of bootcamps ask for $10-15,000 upfront, which is prohibitive, especially if you have to relocate. Plus, it's not cheap to live in San Francisco. The deferred tuition model also shows that Holberton School really believes in the school because they believe you will get a high paying job after graduating. You can't really go wrong with somebody who believes that much in their product.
You mentioned spending 50-60 hours on the Holberton application. What else can you tell us about the interview process?
The first part of the application is a short quiz to see how you handle basic UNIX commands. Then you write a Medium article of why you want to be a student at Holberton School, where you came from, and why you want to be a software engineer.
The second level project is building your own site from scratch. It's pretty intense. They gave us just enough information to be able to use Google sufficiently and links to information like W3Schools, but I had to learn a lot by myself. They wanted us to really understand what's behind each of the technologies we're using.
Then you make a one-minute YouTube video explaining something really cool about yourself. Finally, you have an interview, which is intense because they give you a 20-minute test, and a 20-minute interview.
That sounds like a really intense application process.
It really was. Although it’s easy to dread applications, but we kept telling each other in the Slack channel, "I've never had so much fun applying for something."
How large is your class right now at Holberton? Is it diverse in terms of age, gender, race and backgrounds?
Our cohort is 32 students. Ages range from 17 to 50+. 40% are women, which has been really amazing, and about 44% are minorities or people of color. We've got just about every background here: some have just graduated from high school, others dropped out of college, some studied computer science, and others were in sales and customer service.
The founders of Holberton School truly believe in equality and inclusion. They want the concept of diversity to be the norm. The blind selection process, where candidates go through a number of levels before the interview, showed them that women were quite successful and diversity naturally exists when we remove bias.
The magic of Holberton is that they don’t require any prior knowledge of coding, so it attracted diverse people from diverse backgrounds. It makes for a very rich environment. We have good strong debates, and when we are problem solving, everybody has a different way of looking at a problem.
Where is the Holberton School campus and what is it like?
It's in downtown San Francisco's financial district and it's incredible. We're walking distance to many of the tech offices that I visited. It's central, which means that mentors can drop in because they work nearby. We have a single floor location and it's outfitted with all of our computers, a nice kitchen area, meeting rooms, and the administration area.
What's the learning experience like at Holberton School? Tell us about a typical day!
We start our mornings working on the current project. If there is no project available, you expand your knowledge base by researching and learning on your own. Occasionally we have a quick group review of a certain topic if a lot of students have questions. If some students understand a topic better, they can teach others. When somebody has had a really difficult time with a certain topic, they take that learning experience and share it with the group by inviting everyone to a live coding session.
We also host meetups at the school – one of those is with our two artificial intelligence mentors and industry titans, Gregory Renard and Louis Monier. Louis Monier is pretty much the father of the search engine – he created AltaVista. We have fireside chats with different mentors to learn what made them successful in the industry.
Which programming language or technology stack does Holberton use in their curriculum?
I read that Holberton School doesn't have formal teachers. How does that work for you as a student?
We have an intranet where our projects get posted, which is updated in the morning. Each project has a small summary at the top with what documents you need to read, helpful links, a bit of a background, and tasks. We ask for help through the same Intranet. If we get stuck on a task, other students can see who needs assistance. Plus we have our Slack forum to keep track of each other and communicate.
What is your favorite project you've worked on? Did you work on your own or in a group?
My favorite project so far is my Twitter Clone. We usually work on individual projects, but for this we worked as a team and it was a great way to learn the syntax. We also just finished a shell project where we built our own Unix-like shell which was insanely difficult but fun. Some of us did it in a group of two people and others did it on their own.
How many hours do you normally commit to Holberton School each week?
We study six days a week, 8-14 hours per day. Most of the time is spent learning concepts but it's also spent interacting with our classmates to try to build our knowledge base. It's very intense and I think people should know that once you start, all of your time is committed to Holberton.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
The biggest challenge is shifting my mentality out of academia. I’m used to having a syllabus, a book to read, a professor who tells me exactly how I should learn, and a very controlled environment. Here, it's the opposite. I am given instruction in terms of what I need for the project, but there's a lot of value in making my own learning decisions. I decide which information seems really important, and I’m forced to ask questions when I don't know enough. The peer learning process is showing us the difference between giving somebody an answer versus giving somebody a direction to look for the answer.
You’re four months through the nine-month course, and then you’ll go onto an internship. Are you assigned an internship?
From the start, Holberton School is getting us comfortable with networking. We have meetups at the school, and we also do company site visits. I've visited Google, Uber, LinkedIn, Docker, SalesForce, and Github. The mentors tell us which companies have opportunities, and provide a support system to be able to start securing our internship positions in the next two to three months. Internships start at the end of September.
What preparation do you get from Holberton School to help with job hunting?
We stay as engaged as possible online with mentors, people in the industry, and things that are interesting to us. If I'm interested in machine learning, then I would seek out people in that community. We also work on our LinkedIn profiles to ensure they are up to date, and on our social media presence.
We are encouraged to attend meetups in the community on topics that interest us so we can find contacts and create networks. We are also being taught how to interview, to be confident in expressing our skills so we can tell people with confidence about what we've learned.
Is your goal still to start your own business when you graduate? What’s your idea?
I'm really interested in edtech. One of my biggest passions is to be able to expand the potential for edtech in under-served areas, creating technologies to facilitate development of education in third world countries.
And we have the option to also work on our startup and get support in helping us build it if that's what we choose to do, while we're at school, after the first nine months and internship. Holberton is very supportive in that regard. The internship will give me the necessary experience to go out and actually use what I've been learning. I am really intent on pursuing my interest of becoming a startup founder, but I expect to be working as well. Once I'm in a position of having to work full time, my startup will be my part-time passion.
If you choose to start your own company, how does the deferred tuition work?
If you are pursuing a startup, the agreement here is you would be paying a percentage of your salary from the startup equal to the agreed upon amount.
What advice do you have for people who are considering a coding bootcamp or a longer program like Holberton School?
My best advice for anybody researching bootcamps is to look for something specific. Do you want a quick program to get some technical skills to enter into the workforce immediately? Or do you want to have a longer, in-depth learning experience?
Also, be okay with not being good at coding and not knowing enough. If you're a complete beginner, perseverance is the name of the game. You have to overcome your personal demons of feeling like coding isn’t for you. You'll realize very quickly that you have great days and terrible days, but the great days will always outweigh the terrible days. Now that I'm four months into Holberton, I’m having less and less difficult days and more and more great days.
Is there anything else you wanted to add about Holberton School?
I want to emphasize how important the attitude of the founders has been in really creating this environment for us. They've fostered something really special here.
While programming bootcamps can offer a high return on investment, the average tuition at code school is ~$10,000, which is no small sacrifice. A number of not-for-profit and well-organized programs offer free coding bootcamps. Some of these bootcamps are funded by job placement and referral fees; others are fueled by community support and volunteers. Expect rigorous application processes and competitively low acceptance rates, but for the right applicants, there is so much to gain at these free coding bootcamps.Continue Reading →