RefactorU is a selective, 10-week, hands-on, immersive web application development bootcamp in Boulder, CO. Students will create applications and build a portfolio of projects to share with employers while developing a peer and advisor network for life. RefactorU collaborates with students to find jobs they love. Before, during, and after students' 10-week experience, RefactorU's career team works very hard to introduce students to hiring managers in the Denver/Boulder area as well as in other technology hotspots across the country.
RefactorU's curriculum is composed of a combination of front end, back end, and other technologies, tools, and skills. Graduates of the program will leave having mastered HTML5, CSS3, AngularJS, Node.js, JS, Sockets, MongoDB, JSON, command line skills, source control, deployment, pair progamming, Agile/Scrum, behavior-driven development, Sublime Text, interviewing, and more.
As of February 2016, RefactorU now offers Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits.
* These outcomes are not audited by Course Report. In some cases, data is audited by a third party.
RefactorU has an acceptance rate of 31%, of which 82% of accepted students enroll in a course. Of the students who enroll at RefactorU, 96% graduate. 96% are hired in technical roles within 120 days and report an average income of $64,140.
Job Seeking Graduates Placed:
After 120 days
Notes & Caveats:
Recent RefactorU News
- Episode 9: November 2016 News Roundup + Podcast
- Alumni Spotlight: Jon Dyson of RefactorU
- Am I the Right Candidate for a Coding Bootcamp?
Recent RefactorU Reviews: Rating 4.1
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My LinkedIn profile is visible and I will happily connect with any that have additional questions. I will send my personal email there if requested.
First and foremost, as I believe this particular factor distinguishes me from many that have/will attend a coding bootcamp - I attended two. The first bootcamp I attended was Turing which was, with the exception of a handful of friends I still stay in touch with, a dreadful experience. Their curriculum was taught out of order there in my opinion, you won't truly receive what you pay for, almost zero transparency upfront, and almost out of the gate it exudes a cult-like presence that became highly distracting. The owner of Turing, Jeff, effectively admitted to that he "chose me" to be a social experiment. He's shy above a common thief in my mind.
But I digress, it's been a year since I attending Turing.
When I approached RefactorU, it was on the recommendation of a former student. I didn't feel as though 6 months of my life could be spent without gainful employment as I'd just spent almost 5 with little to show for it. I request and was able to speak with Sean Daken directly.
He was extremely transparent with me and even walked me through entertaining not attending (as they're more catered to a complete beginner). After speaking with him in-depth about how the curriculum is organized, what their aim is and their philosophy in general I decided to pull the trigger.
Instructors: I can only speak for myself when I say I would love (for anything I'm trying to learn/master) to have the 1:1, Mr. Miyagi-style approach. Expectation vs. Reality? With RefactorU it was probably about as close as I could get. My instructors were Brandon Jiminez and Rob Camp. They were both extremely available and only meeting them would do justice to my description of their passion. I sincerely felt like they wanted to see everyone be successful that was putting in the work. This was a marked departure from my last bootcamp experience where it was, 'you figure it out or you can't be in our cult.' Works for me - I paid the money I did to learn to code not to drink any kool-aid.
Overall Experience: As with anything you get out what you put in. I completely ignored their 50-ish hours approach (as I would suggest anyone seeking employment in the industry to do). While I appreciated that time frame and felt it is the proper approach from a coding perspective, I attended no less than 2 Meetups per week. I spent no less than 1 day per weekend on a personal project, and I actively emailed & marketed myself over my lunch hours and in the evenings when I'd accomplished my tasks for class. I also worked out 3-5 days a week and chose to abstain from drinking. When it's 10 weeks and not 6 + months you can immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel. When you have a supportive cast it makes the time go by faster. I still speak weekly to many people from my cohort.
Job Assistance: This one was a little tough to throw 4 stars at, but Patty Kettle - their community manager is second to none. She's incredibly dedicated to what she does, if there's something that she can be doing but isn't yet - she's on it. Hands down incredible experience on that front. They also worked with me so that I was able to graduate two weeks early (with my final project completed) so that I could accept and begin my new job in development. However, my caveat on this point would be - I don't buy real estate under sea level. Meaning to say, oh wow! 98% placement in 3 months or less!?!?! Well that's just too good to be true. Oh yeah, it is. But Refactor/Sean leveled with me and told me what I already knew. It is up to YOU to get a job. Patty will do everything in her power shy of interviewing for you to try to help that process, but if you've never been to a meetup? Never cold-called or emailed a company on your own behalf? Sorry - the junior dev market is just too flooded. You're not a diamond in the rough, but you do possess a newly honed set of skills. Market them.
Here's the deal: Prior to the pursuit of web development I was in technology staffing for 5 years. I saw the curb appeal, enjoyed the challenge, and (finally) made the switch. I can't even begin to describe how humiliating, emotional draining, and frustrating my first bootcamp experience was. The lies that they tell while under the protection of "non-profit" and "social-justice focused" let them get away with murder (figuratively speaking). They've sent non-disclosure agreements to students they've "removed" so that they can continue their narrative as doing good for the world - or some trumped up cult-like SJ cause.
Fact is, I knew I'd be taking a pay cut for a bit in order to make this change. I didn't (still don't) need a cult, a club, or hazing rituals in a dungeon to feel accomplished. Non-profit or for-profit bootcamps are a business. As a student you are a customer. As a customer you have the right to demand the product and service you pay for. Instruction within set hours in a week, as much help and guidance as possible, and while positivity isn't necessarily on the menu it helps a whole hell of a lot. My first bootcamp was a bait-and-switch and mind-boggling what they've gotten away with. I'm very pleased I attended RefactorU.
Feel free to connect with me on linkedin.com/in/drewconly if you have any other questions. It can be a daunting decision; especially at over 10k no matter where you attend.
I like to think of myself as the average student that RefactorU was designed for and advertises to the public. RefactorU is designed for people who have zero web development experience, looking for a career transition. Admittedly, I was a bit thrown off when I began my cohort's boot camp as a number of my peers came to refresh their own knowledge of coding or to confirm the knowledge they had in order to pursue development. The biggest lesson I learned within those first few weeks is that I can't possibly compare myself to anyone else as a developer.
We're all constantly learning. The most I can do is to have compassion for myself and continue to use the resources at my disposal to build on my small foundation of knowledge that I gained from RefactorU. RefactorU is not designed to give anyone more than a base level understanding of web development, so that additional knowledge can be added over the course of a career. Understanding this going in will go a long way in being at ease with the process. Before starting in May, I hadn't seriously entertained the idea of a career in web development for more than a few months. This fact surprised many people, and I hope goes a long way in helping prospective students realize that pursuing this level of education is possible and obtainable, without much if any prior knowledge. Virtually all I did, aside from researching and interviewing mid-senior level web developers, was completing the pre-work.
Throughout my cohort's boot camp, I noticed a wide variety of participation, which was understandable. Coding is not for everyone, as much as it is advertised to be the case. It takes a certain amount of determination and aptitude and is not desingned for the faint of heart. I in particular definitely felt the frustrations that most of us have with such a fast immersive program, in fact I cried a number of times out of stress. Perserverance is key in order to not let the stress totally consume you.
One of my greatest allies was a peer in my cohort. He said many things that really hit home and made me feel confident. One of them was that the program was designed not to force us into becoming developers, but instead to inspire and help us succeed. Also, that it is up to us to take advantage of the resources at hand. Those resources that we pay for are the instructors and each other/our peers. This is the difference between teaching ourselves online or via other means and actually investing and paying for these boot camps. Sharing each other's knowledge is paramount to success. As an aside for legitimacy, this friend is now working with Twitter on his own project, that they are backing.
It is also worth noting that while each person learns differently, I beleive that I am proof that it is possible to be successful and get the most out of the program by working only within the 8 hour Monday through Friday schedule. During my off hours, I spent that time resuming my usual routine, ie keeping myself active, spending time with friends, making time for myself. I only spent around 5-10 hours outside of class, and that was during finals.
I couldn't be more pleased with my decision, which was quite abrupt, to choose RefactorU. I had the option to choose the other two boot camps here in Boulder and frankly hurriedly landed on RefactorU. There were definite noticeable gripes from all of my peers over the duration of the program, but the way I see it is that nothing is perfect. In order to succeed, at the end of the day, it's on you as the individual to make it happen... no one will hand you a job/career on a silver platter. You have to put in the work, the effort, to make it happen.
That is not to say that there weren't certain aspects of the program that were a bit disappointing. RefactorU boasts a strong career services program, which was honestly more than a bit inaccurate. Our career services "team" consisted of a third party who was only in house for the 30+ students one day a week and was ineffective as far as prioritizing helping students succeed and be prepared for entering the work force. I was also under the impression that RefactorU had a stronger name and standing with the local community of employers, as they boasted an employer network, and then admitted to not having a strong when at the start of my cohort's program.
RefactorU has since stepped up it's game and as of mid July, now has an impressive in house career team adamant to make a change in not only RefactorU's local reputation but also in helping students and alumni succeed professionally post graduating.
To recap a bit here... RefactorU and pursuing a career as a web developer is not for the faint of heart. It is wildly challenging and demands ample personal drive. Nothing will be handed to you on silver platter, not even when you land your first job. Your success or failure is totally up to you. Do your research, determine if this is the right move. It is not a get rich quick scheme, as many people seem to think, based on the way boot camps are advertised. Do the work, come to class, and learn from your peers and instructors that you pay for. Upon graduation, build your network. Take it easy on yourself, but make sure to put yourself out there... reach out to those companies that excite you and be confident, and yet not cocky about your new skill set, as you will have only scratched the surface as a boot camp grad.
Less than two months after graduating, I landed my first job and I am beginning my third week as a Junior Front End Web Developer, and yet I feel that I have barely scratched the surface. I am proud and excited to see where this leads. I started at RefactorU with zero knowledge of coding. If I can do that, you can too.
After researching several coding bootcamps, RefactorU fit my timeframe, location, and cost. Why did I have a positive experience? For one, I was already familiar with basic web design practices, HTML, & CSS. If you've never fiddled with Google Web Dev Tools or started CodeAcademy the weekend before starting any developer program, then you should probably ask yourself if you're going succeed at the level you want to.
Not to reiterate on several other reviews, but if anyone thought they would walk out of a 10 week course being able to spit out the next UBER, then your comically mistaken. Whether you're looking to get a degree or certificate, you still need to work your ass off to understand the concepts and drill it into your brain. It was a fun experience, but when I hit walls of getting some of the languages down, it was up to me to ask for help or find a way to get my "left-brain" to grasp it. Some students expressed they "weren't getting it" during some areas, yet during lecture or code time, I rarely heard them ask a question. Whether you're going to RefactorU, Galvanize or Touring, put your ego or self-consiousness aside and open your mouth. That's how it works in college and in a work environment. You're paying for it, right?
The instructors were great, and two of the TA's were a huge part of my "lightbulb moments" with several of the frameworks. I enjoyed how the day was divided up into a few hours of lecture and then coding. I honestly can't believe how far I've come in 10 weeks; especially after hours of personal time on YouTube and Lynda.com, you can't compare it to having an guidance and explanation at your fingertips.
What the program could improve on:
1. We spent about 4-5 weeks on the front-end. Personally, I needed more time on the back-end. The last few weeks were a bit of a blur. If I was introduced a bit earlier to Nodejs & MongoDB, I think I could have excelled and taken advantage of the curriculum during my time there.
2. Utilize the white board more during lecture. Especially, when building on new frameworks. Drawings, pictures, flowcharts, etc.
3. I don't think 'everyone' should be accepted into these programs. If you don't have basic coding concepts, no clue what "div" is or unaware there are keyboard shortcuts, then you're experience is not going to be what you hope.
Overall, it was what I had expected and great experience.
I did extensive research on Bootcamps before deciding on RefactorU. I chose RefactorU over others in the area because:
1. I love their Boulder location
2. Their program length is short (if I can learn what I need in 10 weeks, why would I pay more to be out of work for a longer period of time?)
3. Previous graduates recommended the program - the two I found and spoke with are extremely happy in their new jobs that they've had for years now
4. The cost seemed reasonable when comapred with the cost, length, and quality of education of other bootcamps
5. I sat in on a lecture and I liked the atmosphere and felt that the instructors knew what they were talking about
Now having graduated just over a month ago, here are my pros and cons:
1. I learned a ton of information in 10 weeks, which is exactly what I wanted.
2. I completed a single-page full-stack web application that I am proud of and is a huge resume booster.
3. I grew as a person. Was it easy? No. Did others in my class fail? Yes. Changing careers is difficult. You will have to do a lot of work and no matter how much you pay someone, that fact is not going to change.
4. I had a good work-life balance throughout. What they say is true - you get out what you put in. I worked hard, but I did not drown.
5. I was able to add on to the curriculum by teaching myself d3.js and fiddling with a hardware component to my project. The instructors and TA's were willing and able to help me where they could, but I took it on of my own accord.
6. Fun outings and events sponsored by RefactorU made for great group cohesion and fun! Pattie is awesome and geninuinely listens and cares.
7. Tony (no longer with RefactorU) and Rob were really great instructors! They were really engaging and knew how to convey the topic so we could easily understand. The TA's were also really helpful. I was able to ask questions when I was stuck and have it very quickly resolved, which was awesome!
1. The facilities were not quite what I was hoping for or expected considering the cost of the program. Especially after touring the cool, hip tech spaces of their competitors, it was a bit of a let-down. (Examples: The projector and screen had an issue that should have been an easy fix and yet was never fixed the entire 10-weeks even though we all complained. There is a violin studio next door as well as an accupuncturist so we had to deal with violin noise and the smell of Moxa burning - an annoying and bad smell in my opinion.)
2. RefactorU seems to be in a state of flux as a company. They did lose one of their very best instructors towards the end of my program. They have hired on new instructors and TA's so they are growing, but like I said, in a state of flux. They also seem to be outgrowing their space, and, since the facility is really sub-par, hopefully they are planning to upgrade in the near future.
Overall, I genuinely learned a lot and had a ton of fun! I've had interviews and a job offer, so things are looking up! Finding a job in a new field is hard (especially because I am being very picky!). Ten weeks is not a lot of time to learn a new topic, so unless you have previous coding experience, you should expect to be a Junior Developer starting out and maybe even consider taking an internship, just to get your foot in the door. (I also think the starting salary RefactorU boasts is a little inflated, so keep that in mind.) After you get a little experience, your salary will soar (or so I'm told).
Best wishes in your decision.
These reviews are always a tricky thing and quite frankly I always take them with a grain of salt. In all my years I've never written a review of anything online. Unfortunately when it comes to my writing style it's sort of a "go big or go home" style so I appologize for verbosity up front.
As far as the learning to code goes I have zero regrets in my performance. If you go through the learning process and aren't faced with challenges, halted by obstacles, driven to frustration, but in the end coming away with more answers than questions, you didn’t try hard enough. I was proud to of hit all of those metrics in my experience and walk away smarter. To quote a mentor and founding father of it all:
"Writing software is a very intense, very personal thing. You have to have time to work your way through it, to understand it. Then debug it."- Vint Cerf
So why the rating levels?
To be clear this is not a "it didn’t work, woe is me review". By RefactorU standards I'm statistically a success story of their program. Most of it had to do with the expectations going into the camp. Most of those expectations are set by the marketing used by RefactorU. Marketing sets both tone and expectations of the customer segment you’re marketing to, in my case they failed on an egregious and costly level. VETERANS and GI BILL APPLICANTS LISTEN UP
EXPECTATIONS OF OVERALL EXPERIENCE:
- 1 star (Job Placement) This one I wasn't really to concerned about going in, I wasn't banking on RefactorU for the "%96 job placement in 12 weeks" but it certainly gave me a warm and fuzzy. Especially considering I was coming from the east coast. My expectation was that I had pretty good odds on getting a job in new area if I so desired to stay in Colorado. But there’s something I take issue with in their statistical reporting and it's in the fine print under the pie chart in the link above. For integrity sake it is displayed as of the date of this review:
The sample size of that %96 percent is based on
*Population size: N = 122
122 graduates as of the year 2015. Great, so we're talking roughly 117 people getting jobs within 3 months right? Wrong!
*Sample size: n = 49 (40% response rate)
40 percent!? Yeah, let that sink in for a minute. RefactorU pulled a Bryan Fantana. How does %40 of 122 graduates equate to %96 percent? At best what you can state accurately is
*of 122 graduates for year 2015 49 responded with employment inside 12 weeks
* %40 of graduates respond with job placement in 12 weeks
I'm not going to comb through all the stats but the numbers simply don't add up even when factoring percentage of the 82 graduates listed on LInkedin that include 2016 grads, or those that went on to start their own firms. I get that RefactorU is at the end of the day a for profit business so marketing has to err on the side of value proposition. But again the expectation from my experience was set months prior to me stepping in the classroom. Sure I saw the website, and maybe those numbers in fine print were there but it isn’t very clear even during the blatant sales funnel that is the pre student screening process either. For a point of comparison on transparency in graduate reporting of coding boot camps, here is a pretty good example from a not for profit code school in the Denver area. There is a lot more I can say about the red flags in this category during my time at RefactorU, including but not limited to the current ratio of employed grad from my cohort almost 12 weeks later (hint: not %96), the cohort prior to mine (18 weeks after graduation) or the number of graduates I met from cohorts as far back as 2015 at Job fairs, Boulder Startup week, meetups, tech conferences, or corporate open house. At the end of the day the issue I take with this is that this is a very risky game that RefactorU is playing with. If you market such an expectation and predicate your business on this standard, then by definition your business is offering a service that fails customers roughly %60 of the time. Even on this site where less than %15 percent of RefactorU graduates reporting, results are still markedly and numerically biased from a third party.
---------------------------------VETERANS MUST READ----------------------------------
-2 star (RefactorU accepts GIBill) This hurt the most. As I said earlier on the day of graduation I had no regret. Two weeks later however, I did and it had everything to do with RefactorU's handling of the GIBill. But let’s take a step back. I know how frustrating the GiBill and VA benefit process can be for so many, civilian, dependent, and veteran alike. For the GIBill there are some misconceptions that need to be cleared because they directly impact how you use them with institutions like RefactorU or codes schools in general.
- Myth - The GI Bill is given to all veterans of the us Armed Forces.
This is false and if you are of this mindset you are part of the problem. Chapters 30 and 33 of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 are known as the Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI Bill respectively. They are a voluntary financial investment asset requiring a termed payment of approximately 1 year of military pay with an optional "kicker" bonus payment after said term for US service men and women to invest. This investment asset is backed by the US Government. Rate of return is guaranteed to equal a set number of disbursements over the course of 36 months of educational training after several years of investment maturity. Meaning even after a veteran must pay into the asset it can’t be touched for several years until service members are qualified to access the benefits on its rate of return. Very much like a college 509 savings plan, or loosely based you can think of it as 401k for education but with a higher ROI. Point is, I paid an investment over time, it sits, I received a matured return on my investment that is still owned by me but controlled by the VA. I mention this to make the point that when I say I paid the insane amount I did for RefactorU it was not the amount agreed to with RefactorU. As a veteran I was not the only one victimized.
How does this apply to RefactorU's 2-month training course that they so graciously offer a %20 military discount totaling an alleged cost of $10,800?
It gets tricky but stay with me. RefactorU is not an accredited degree granting institution. As a result, disbursements are disproportional to the typical cost of semester based training. This allows, for profit, vocational institutions to file as "non traditional" Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) with the VA. In the case of RefactorU I sent my COE paperwork in early March asking what their filing status with the VA was since they were not listed on the VA WEAMS List of Institutions as of 02/16. My goal, like most VA students who file ahead of class start date, was to have my Post/911 Chapter 33 paperwork cleared prior to April 2nd start date so that disbursement would coincide with the class/training schedule. Coming from out of state I needed to rent a place to stay and that monthly stipend for living expenses was the expected offset.
In gathering my paperwork I realized that RefactorU's %20 discount as an IHL qualifies them very clearly as a candidate for the GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program. Again RefactorU would not disclose if they were an IHL at the time and only responded by saying "we do guarantee acceptance of the GI Bill and we are listed and registered with the Colorado Department of Higher Education" this was a red flag from the start. I pressed forward in the assumption that they would be operating as an IHL considering the CDHE registration and the dubious "U" of RefactorU.
Furthermore, I noticed that RefactorU was not listed as a Colorado Yellow Ribbon Participant (a provision within the Post 9/11 Gi Bill) ironically hurting their bottom line by doing so. To participate schools need to fill out VA Form 22-0839 and submit to VA electronically. I sent this form with the instructions, corresponding information, and volunteered to file it with the VA myself on behalf of the school in my early March email. Unfortunately, it went without response.
Upon arrival of day 1 and meeting the other veterans in my cohort (%30 of our class were vets), we all realized the school had yet to file with the VA. Anybody who deals with the VA knows the wait times. So all of us expecting that $1,800 housing stipend scheduled on the 1st of each month during training realized it wasn’t coming and we would be lucky to receive it all during the course of the 10-week training. According to the schools VA cost calculator there is clear distinction in cost between Montgomery and Post 9/11 benefits. After several joint phone calls to the VA we realized the school had not submitted the documentation to the VA until week 2 of class! As a result, we didn’t receive our benefits until 7 weeks into our 10 week class. Leaving many of us to rely on out of pocket expenses and credit during unemployment to cover living expenses. Of course this only adds to the stress of the class but it was unnecessary and easily avoidable. When it was all said and done, I later learned that not only I but the other vets in the class were charged for 8 months ($14,056) of our annual $21,085 entitlement for a 2 month class that should, even with military discount, be $10,800. Clearly there is a problem here and quite frankly it's not entirely RefactorU's fault, this is also systemically erroneous on the part of the VA, however RefacorU chose to wing it in an area they clearly weren’t qualified or experienced to handle. Most schools have a trained POC for VA administration. The fact that RefacorU decided against that and filed, while misrepresenting their status as an institution of higher learning with the VA is negligence. When your marketing roughly 8 cohorts a year with an average class size of 20-30 students which should be 200 but let’s just stick with the 122 documented as graduates at a rate of roughly $13k per student, as business you have well over 1.5 million in annual revenue to invest in a certifying official with experience in the VA but RefactorU doesn’t and I would call that Gross Negligence!
So what is the cost of RefactorU to veterans under the Post 9/11 GiBill?
- Over $14,056. dollars. Or roughly 8 months of your 12 month $21,085 annual allotment. This for a course that is 2 months at marketed cost of $10,500 to veterans.
How does a 2 month course marketed at a cost of $10,800 to veterans cost more than the actual $13,500.00 price of admission to regular students?
- This comes down to the fact that after graduation in June it was later listed and disclosed that RefactorU was registered as a "non college degree" program vs. IHL or even Trade School on the Job Vocational. Which was expected and known there was a lack of college degree but not all IHL's offer college degrees under the GI Bill and RefactorU marketed themselves as such.
The take away here is that veterans using the GI Bill pay a "premium" above the $13,500 cost to attend RefactorU.
This is ultimately why schools like ITT Tech, University of Phoenix and the several other for profit "institutions of higher learning" get mired in scandal. A result of negligent financial practices that are predatory to government backed student financial assets. Schools like RefactorU do not take the due diligence to understand the VA system and only recognize it as "guaranteed money" to the school without disclosing impact and true cost to the students.
Your best bet as a vet is to take the %20 discount and finance that through a third party which RefactorU does offer. Do not use your GI Bill with RefactorU. Or better yet, as one of the vets in our class did after realizing RefactorU was not meeting his expectations, enroll at Flatiron Community College and get a certificate from them over the course of one semester at a cost less than %60 what RefactorU charges. Except where he went to apply his Gi Bill benefit in that program the VA informed he had no more money left because RefactorU cost depleted his money unexpectedly.
EXPERIENCE OF INSTRUCTORS
-1 star (world class instructors): To be honest, I liked everyone of their instructors as people. I respect their skills as developers and they are without question brilliant folks. However, when I interviewed with schools in most cases I spoke directly with the instructor designated for the class I would be in. In almost all case they had decades of experience, multiple advanced degrees and even in the case of Iron Yard my instructor to be was former VP of Google's product development. RefactorU is growing so more talent is added to the team every day but again this is a review of my experience that exposed me to 3 instructors. The two leads, who I absolutely appreciated and respected are not world class developer or instructors for that matter. They both have, on paper, less than 5 years of documented experience as devs and are both RefactorU alumni. A company that started in 2013. So assuming they had years of experience prior to attending RefactorU, which seems prohibitive, they are by definition in any other technical trade “journeyman” level developers. Not craftsmen level, let alone master level, certainly not world class compared to other code schools. I would have been fine with this except that again in the marketing when you say you have word class instructors (and it seems to be redacted now) you set an expectation. In comparison to other code schools and my own experience in the IT sector, world class actually means something.
I was looking forward to at least a published SME, or even CIS major. 1 of the 3 actually was but he was leading another cohort and generally unavailable. He later left the company but they have been hiring great replacements that are true craftsmen of thier trade and arguably master level since!
-2 stars (classroom management and availability) As a former instructor in the military and corporate trainer I know something about classroom management. Ask any college educator or public school teacher for that matter and they will explain to you what this entails. The facilities RefactorU is housed, in combination with the lack of instructor (I’m not saying developer in this case but their experience as "instructors") ability made classroom management difficult and presented distractions throughout the 10 weeks. They recognized, attempted to fix it, but failed, as advertised, as they were learning on the job.
Availability was an issue because not only were instructors limited to about 1.5-3 hours at most of lecture in an 8-hour day, the other 5 hours of the day were generally spent playing video games or going to off-site lunches and corporate stand-up meetings during designated student hours. Again swell folks all around but not up to my expectations as advertised "world class". Even by Gladwell logic of 10k hours to achieve mastery these folks have only been "instructors" (again referencing experience as instructors not developers) for a couple years at best in a non-accredited institution that adopts zero VARK style learning modalities or education standards. "Coding Coaches" would be a more appropriatte marketing term. The TA's on the other hand I would argue are world class developers with some having 20+ years of experience but again they aren't the instructors. Huge discredit is done by underutilizing the TA's who are some of the most brilliant minds in the building.
EXPERIENCE OF CURRICULUM
- Most of curriculum was cut and paste from free open sourced learning platforms such as codecademy, udemy, audacity, codeschool, hackerank, and various other platforms I explored prior to arrival. At a cost of several thousand dollars I was expecting more proprietary and unique to RefactorU
- Clear lack of continuity between cohorts. You do and are encouraged to learn and collaborate with the other cohorts while you are there. Something that was very clear was that all of the cohorts I spoke with had varying coverage of topics. Nothing was standardized even by RefactorU's staff. You have one instructor teaching from a set IDE in one class on day 1 and the another in our class starting with a different one. Differences in using Immediately Invoked Functions, or how to setup routing in an express server should be standardized in house. Sure you're all free to choose what tools you prefer but when following along with instructors in lecture it is much easier to use the tools and practices they demo on and thusly vary the learning experience.
- Not covering all technologies advertised seems petty but look my class never covered templating or spoke about Gulp even when asked it was simply a "here’s the website with the documentation". I didn’t pay $14,500+ to be given a hyperlink. Its advertised on the front of the website and when you do learn Gulp it takes your development abilities to the next level. Additionally I was looking forward to pair programming exercises and againas advertised out of the 400+ hours I spent in class our cohort performed no less than 2 total hours of pair programming. I don't mean pair projects or group breakouts. I mean true blue Driver/Navigator pair programming. Galvanize excels at this. Again RefactorU markets this and doesnt deliver on expectation. It's disengenious at best to market something that constitutes less than %1 of your curriculum
- Lack of standards or best practices was disappointing to me. No discussion of industry best practices such as testing let alone TDD. It blew my mind that nobody once mentioned SDLC when talking about application development. Full disclosure, I tested for my CISSP in Feb and of the 8 domains I tested, I failed by 50 points in the area of application security. I knew this was because of my coding abilities and the primary driver behind choosing a code school. Secure Set was where I felt I should have been but they didn’t offer GI Bill, and I only needed to review application development, not the other 7 domains I tested fine in. In week 8 when we did start to cover authentication, even cryptography down to the use of MD5 hashing I was ecstatic and all my faith was restored. Until total subject of secure coding practices discussed in class lasted for a total of 2 hours. These are not topics you blaze through lightly. I even pulled out very basic and commonly used industry best practices such as NIST SP 800 guides. As a former NIST Guest Researcher and consultant who helped fortune 500, federal, and private sector dev teams meet these standards I think RefactorU is doing a huge disservice to themselves by not raising the bar and saying that graduates are versed in these because I was very briefly exposed to them even in RefactorU even for a fraction of the time and the instructors didnt even realize what great value they were adding. Their world class instructors simply are not familiar with such best practices due to lack of experience and even when shown to them couldn’t decipher them in plaintext.
EXPERIENCE OF JOB ASSISTANCE
- 1 star My liaison for recruiting and career counseling was often late for scheduled meetings. Things happen I get that but it can be a hindrance to balance coding time and assignment deadlines like finals when switching gears. The other red flag was when reviewing my resume, the liaison explained that mine was "to technical" in verbiage despite applying for technical roles. Top it all off with the fact the liaison was switched half way through the course and again after graduation.
-1 star This partly ties back to the statistic of %96 but also includes the sheer volume of previous cohort members I even had to compete against for jobs I applied to. In many cases I felt bad for that they had gone so long without employment and simply looked elsewhere but often found Refactor grads from several months prior out there being proactive but struggling to find work. This directly impacted my level of competiveness in the local labor pool.
WHAT WENT WELL?
The community manager Pattie Kettle is by far the hardest working person in that building and will bend over backwards, at times to her own sacrifice, to make sure your experience is successful.
Shirrone went out of her way to assist with lodging prior to my arrival since the of the 4 bedrooms in housing they offer for a marketed class size of 20-30 people you have about a %15 chance to get in there. Regardless Shirrone provided several well researched and viable alternatives. I respected that from RefactorU
Again I do respect my instructors and there’s no way I come out positive in this but I didn't spend $14K+ to make friends. Regardless Rob Camp is amazingly gifted in the area of patience when coding can be such a frustrating task. You need an even keel on hand to guide you through. Rob is that keel, refreshingly so.
My final project left something to be desired on demo day in my mind and this mostly had to do with cranial burnout from coding for close to 52 hours in the classroom the weekend before final trying to tweak and then having my web server compromised the day before final. But I didn’t really mind come demo day because quite frankly I knew the level of effort I put into it and where I could take the app as a concept to help others. Even after graduation I've done that and now a federal cyber lab I've worked with in the past picked up the concept and I will be submitting comment on the federal registrar for it. You can read more about it hear. I owe that much to my experience at RefactorU and the folks I met in Boulder.
The ingredients are there for RefactorU to be great institution. Unfortunately, like most startups, it susceptible to startup fallacies and I will say RefactorU is constantly changing and working to address its shortcomings even as they were pointed out to them on-site. I do respect the dynamic of their position but the facts are facts as stated above in my experience. More than likely you will not have this type of experience in the future with RefactorU because they are ever changing. The Devry partnership is a great step forward. their job assistance program was later completely overhauled. But unfortunately my experience left me very disappointed in expectations at such a high cost to me. For what I paid and what certainly other GIBILL vets will pay, along with the expectations that were set by RefactorU the value simply wasn’t there.
Response From: Ed Powers of RefactorU
- Job Placement. As you state, we’ve recently overhauled our Career Services. The job market is getting tougher, which is why we brought on two superb resources, Gary Boley and Scott Bowman, who have a combined 17 years of experience in this field working with many higher education institutions. Through new workshops, greater employer outreach, and increased 1:1 attention, students and graduates now have far better support than they’ve ever had before. Although you have a terrific new web development job, Gary and Scott will be available to you and all RefactorU alumni, free of charge, any time you make a career change in the future.
- Outcome Statistics. We calculated our results in 2015 based on surveys to our 200+ alumni. As you point out, when compared with a census approach, random sampling can produce errors. Until recently, however, sampling was the only practical way for us to collect outcome statistics, and we computed our statistics correctly based on the observations we received. It’s important to note, however, that all coding bootcamps calculate their outcomes differently. For example, some disregard withdrawals in their numbers while others do not, and counting one student differently in a cohort of 25 can change the result by 4%. That’s why we joined forces in an outcome measurement standardization initiative to ensure prospective students can make more accurate, informed choices. You can read more about our participation at: http://blog.refactoru.com/apples-to-apples-refactoru-helps-define-industry-standards/ Along with our competitors, we are scheduled to begin reporting standarized metrics in October.
- GI Bill. We are pleased veterans can use their GI Bill benefits at RefactorU should they choose (and some don’t). While we are not required to do so, we offer all veterans a 20% discount, regardless of how they pay. We are registered as a certificate program under Chapter 33 and make no representations otherwise. We share many of the same frustrations veterans have working with the VA, however, the VA is VERY SPECIFIC that all questions about individual benefits go to them directly--we are not to be involved. What you consider “effective” cost in light of your benefits candidly doesn’t pertain to us since we’re only paid the amount we’re approved to collect ($10,800). Note that whenever we are informed of benefits funding shortfalls, we work with individual veterans to loan or finance the difference. That’s true even when veterans need help with living expenses if the VA pays at a later time or only a portion of the full amount.
- Experienced Instructors. A chronic problem facing all coding bootcamps is finding instructors with adequate work experience, know the particular stack, want to teach and are good at it. We are regulated by the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools and we meet state requirements for industry experience with all of our instructors. Many of our TAs, as you point out, also have extensive software development backgrounds. Of course, experience does not always make for a good instructor, which is why the task of finding the right people is so difficult. We’re happy to report that we’ve recently added four new instructors who have over 70 years of software development experience between them: Brandon Jimenez, Robert Edmonson, Charles Martin and Steve Lanaghen. All have exceptional talent and we’re excited at what the future holds.
Let us know if there’s anything else we can do for you.
I attended the May 2016 Cohort. Just finished up a couple of weeks ago.
I had an overall great experience. Perfect? No. Please, nothing is. However, I feel there are things every student at least should do: 1) Show up to class 2) Collaborate with the instructors and fellow classmates 3) Do the work 4) Show up with a final project and present something. Anything. For those who are critiquing: if you have not completed any of these? Then your evaluation of the school is shall I say fairly meaningless. I mean really. Lets move on.
I think the pace and content of a 10 week bootcamp can be intense. Rewarding, but intense. I personally have a software programming background and I was very happy for that. It helped me immensely - for me to not feel overwhelmed and to work through the exercises with a bit of confidence. My personal recommendation is if you are not technical and have zero background, either prepare very well in advance or perhaps a 6-month bootcamp is for you.
You will go through a great deal of material quickly. It seems to speed up after the mid-point. There are times when something is presented once, twice and then there is an exercise. That's it. You certainly can ask an instructor to revisit something and they will. But, really you are on the next thing and your brain is getting full. Refactor does have "break-out" groups once/week which students can pretty much ask anything (part of the curriculum or not) and you spend a couple of hours talking and going over these random topics. It is a nice review perhaps or a maybe a side topic you might want to integrate into one of your projects.
RefactorU points out that a work/life balance is very important. I love that aspect of the school. However, prepare to work a bit at night and perhaps a little on the weekends. From what I have heard, this is still nothing compared to some other bootcamps. Just remember, you will have a full stack working app by your final. That alone is a great linkedin, resume & github selling point.
Most of the instructors were great. Super approachable, knowledgeable and always willing to answer a question. My recommendation to RefactorU is to continue to hire and keep top-notch instructors with at least some industry experience.
Pattie, the communications director was always working for us, letting us know when applicable Meetups were happening around town and checking in asking us if we needed anything. She is always willing to meet and chat and has great ideas revolved around companies in the area and how to network.
RefactorU now has a dedicated full time job assistance team who thus far are awesome. They are an asset. Keep up the good work! No, they are getting you a job. You have to do the work. However, they will assist with your resume, linkedin page and job interview.
I love to study and learn new things. If I could, I would go to school for a longer time than 10 weeks. However, that is just not feasible for me. The tuition at RefactorU was lower than some. But, if you divide the tuition by the number weeks and compare to other schools, maybe it is more.
I will check back in with ya'all about my job search and job landing to give you a perspective on how companies are viewing bootcamp grads.
Thanks for reading.
I was in the May 2016 cohort with Steve Halase and Michael McBride, featured below. First, I will address my personal experience at RefactorU, then go into more detail about the strengths and weaknesses of the course.
I will come right out and say that I enjoyed my ten weeks at RefactorU. I enjoyed the pace, I met some great people, and I learned more interesting, applicable knowledge in ten weeks than I did in any one of the eight semesters I spent at a university. The facilities leave much to be desired, sure. I forgave that on account of being a startup and the stringent relocation restrictions involved in being accepted by the GI bill, but I can see how others would be disappointed. The instructors were knowledgable and approachable. If they don't know an answer (which happens. They aren't a bunch of graybeards who have worked in depth with every language, framework and library in existence) they will guide you toward resources which may have the answer, or, more often than not, do the research themselves and get back to you later in the day. That resonated with me.
In terms of the pace, I was comfortably challenged. Outside of midterm and final prep, there's new material virtually every day; sometimes two brand new topics in one day. At no point did I feel my head was completely above water. That's how I learn best. If you like your hand to be held every step of the way, consider other options. The principle at RefactorU is to teach you as much as you need in order to teach yourself the rest. I liken it to "Here's A, B, and C. Got it? Good. Now here's an assignment for each, and two for D and F." I find that far more useful than step by step instructions. You will have at least 10 visits to StackOverflow a day, but with the baseline knowledge in place to know what's useful and pertinent. Again, if you can't find the answer, ask an instructor and they will nudge you in the right direction a few times before walking you through it if you truly are stuck.
So here's the synopsis:
- Not free
Do with this what you will. I liked it. You might not. Bootcamps aren't for everyone.
Warning: I was a grunt in the military, I'm not going to beat around the bush.
So I'm going to get a little personal here. Some people showed up for almost every day of the class (me) and others showed up for less than a week total, most of those days leaving by noon (Michael Mcbride). It might be in bad taste to name names, but I'm a pretty direct person and you're being a scumbag and misleading. I'm not sure how anyone can expect to go to a 10-week full-time course and literally show up for less than 10% of the days and expect to have learned anything. You made poor decisions and instead of owning up to them like a man, you choose to blame others. I'm a vet (as are quite a few of the other students) and I find your work ethic is troubling.
Now for an actual review:
- Very fast-paced learning that sometimes left some students feeling like they did not have adequete time to digest the material.
- There were noticable time gaps of scheduled instruction that did not actually end up happening.
- Some disconnect with styles of coding and conflicts between how one instructor would solve a problem vs another (I didn't think this was a con, as this is exactly the nature of programming. It did however confuse some of the students).
For me, those were the only problems I really saw with the course. Other students did voice concerns over the lack of teaching concepts like Test Driven Development, among other things. However, it's not like the school did not provide you with a course syllabus ("whhhaaatttt"). Guess what though, they even catered to those concerns and provided a block of instruction addressing it, even though it wasn't part of the course outline.
- If you are willing to put in the time that one would expect to put into a fast-paced 10-week immersive course you'll learn a ton. (You get out what you put in, like anything else in life.)
- Instructors were very knowledgeable, with answers to almost every question I asked. There were some fringe cases that they weren't able to answer on the spot, but did get back to me on.
- I personally liked the variation of teaching and coding styles a lot. Seeing a problem hit from different angles of attack helps you understand the nuances of the problem itself.
Overall I would recommend this course given a couple of things:
- First and foremost, expect to put in a full-time amount of work into the course. (40-50 hours a week, apparently some people don't understand what that means)
- Come ready to learn and be challenged. You will be confused at times. You will feel like suplexing your grandmother through a table at times. Figuring out solutions to abstract and open-ended problems is what coding is all about.
- Do some research on the basic concepts of computer science. They will help you tremendously in understanding how to attack problems during the course.
What I learned:
The worst $13,500 investment of my life! That doesn't even include all the hidden financing fees. The curriculum is so bad that many people in class were paying Udemy and other online learning sites to learn the concepts.
If you are looking for a code school, do not be attracted to the 10 weeks. It is a marketing ploy.
Internet crashes and slow connections would making it impossible to learn in class.
Nearly half the class stopped coming because the instructors and curriculum were so bad.
No job guarentee.
Facilities are garbage.
Don't complain or they will cut off your job assistance and slack access.
Response From: Sean Daken of RefactorU
Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate your candor regarding the challenges you experienced.
Your feedback is not typical of our graduates and we would like to better understand what happened and how we can remedy the situation.
I've emailed you directly and I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
Founder & CEO
I was in the same cohort as "My Takeway? Confused." and I second everything from that review.
I applied to RefactorU in part because I wanted a shorter school and faster turnaround time to working. RefactorU's program is ten weeks, most similar programs are between twelve and fourteen. I assumed RefactorU had a killer curriculum that taught the same material but in less time. Wrong. Ten weeks is a business decision. In the final week a few of us students were talking to an instructor and the CEO and we said we wish we had more time in class; the CEO and instructor both confirmed that previous cohorts also wanted the course to be two weeks longer. So why don't they extend the course? I quote: "Because if RefactorU was twelve weeks it would cost the same as every other bootcamp." Think about that! That's essentially saying "We don't offer a better product than our competitors, we're just cheaper, because we give you less product." This really upsets me because it is an educational institution making a business decision that actually harms their educational product. That's prioritizing your advertising over your educational outcomes.
The oft-repeated phrase that RefactorU will turn you into a "world-class entry-level developer" is nothing but a slogan and an outright falsehood. You will not be a world-class entry-level developer, you will be an entry-level developer with serious holes in your game. You probably won't want to show your final project to prospective employers until you can put more time into it. A lot of us didn't fully grasp or know how to implement core aspects of web development; for me it was authentication, which I had to teach myself after graduation. Unit testing is another important tool in the field but we only had one cursory lecture explaining what it is. I either have to invest my own time - when I'm not earning any income - in teaching myself these things or I have to walk into interviews and say "No, I don't know how to do that."
I think the school/front-office has a general problem with soliciting genuine feedback and acting on it. The first instance of educational feedback came in week seven (of a ten-week program) because the intern happened to come outside while we were venting about the previous lecture. There was a feedback session on Monday of the final week because the front office had become aware of what a nightmare week nine was. The presentation was pretty tense. It felt more like damage control than soul-searching. I asked the CEO "In week eight students were skipping class, instructors weren't being asked for help, and then in week nine everybody is desperate for help and the instructors are slammed. I don't know how to fix that, but isn't that something to be concerned about?" The response was "Those students who have been missing class need to show up or they won't graduate." (Everyone graduated.)
In the month since graduation I've been teaching myself web development and working on my final project. I have not yet applied to any jobs. I think I gained a good foundation from RefactorU but it could have been better. My cohort probably had one of the worst experiences in school history, but it seems like those problems were there to begin with and the stress of having 1.5 full cohorts at the same time only made it worse. I don't know what other code bootcamps are like but this was my experience at RefactorU.
To be honest, this isn't even my full list of grievances with the school. I was there for ten weeks, I TA'd there another two weeks, I talked a lot with students in my cohort and the one after, I talked with staff members off the record... During finals and even weeks after graduation I'd end up in hour-long conversations with different classmates about RefactorU, about the problems, potential solutions, trying to figure out why these problems are there in the first place. I tried to keep my review limited to the school's educational experience and leave out the other nonsense.
I wanted this to be a wonderful experience and to have a really great relationship with the school, but this is how it turned out. I would rather have written a glowing review.
When the "My takeway?" review was posted everyone in the cohort got a phone call from the school. Mine went to voicemail; it was message that Fluid Consulting was still available if we wanted assistance with our job search.
Response From: Ed Powers of RefactorU
To be honest, I'm not sure what to think of my experience at RefactorU. The program started off on a high note. Then the bumps began.
Like, having TAs who didn't know Angular, or anything really. That lasted the entire cohort and seems unlikely to change. From what I've learned there is no process that vets TAs. They will literally hire them right upon graduation or just allowed people's friends to come in help out. That being said, there are a few TAs who are amazing.
During our midterm and final project we had to fight for the chance to get help on our projects. There were 27 of us and two instructors. During our midterms there were not enough TAs. During the finals, there are a decent amount but due to a lot of them being incompetent this really didn't help. The newer cohorts have 11 and 9 people so clearly this won't be/isn't an issue for them.
I believe in week six is when the new cohort started. We got to be guinea pigs for the doubling up of cohorts. While some cohort had to be, it really really sucked. They hired a new instructor and we never got the benefit of having him lecture for us. Some days there would be two instructors with the newer cohort (of 11 people) and one instructor for the 27 of us!
I'd say one of the biggest failure of this program is the supposed teaching of the back end. Truly, we got about a week and a half of learning it. They either need to spend more time teaching it or scrap it all together. For example, one lecture instead of learning useful information, we learning how to "hack" websites. A cool topic, but not necessary for us to learn in our limited time there. We got about seven weeks of lectures, which in a ten week program is not enough! I think they should bump it up to 12 weeks total, with ten weeks of lectures.
The job assistance... they're trying? They've partnered with Fluid Consulting. Which could be helpful if you've never held any sort of job before. The career advice we got was basic and about as generic as it comes. The two women who work for Fluid, while nice people, never agreed with each other. Contradicting advice is confusing when switching fields. Their one on one resume and cover letter prep was great but the lunch time lecture were totally useless. There was no techincal interview prep or whiteboard prep. Both of which have let me feeling helpless.
Overall, I'd say I got a good foundation but I don't feel like it was strong enough to prepare me. Which means, I'll be doing a lot of studying on my own. So, for $13,500 I feel a bit ripped off. Would I do it again? Knowing what I know now, I'm not sure.
I would like to preface this review by stating that this bootcamp offers rewards for graduating students who write reviews online. I am not accepting an award or compensation for writing this review. RefactorU is an interesting experience. Some of the instructors are excellent and some of them are not excellent. There were only three instructors for our class of 20 something students. The lessons and curriculum was well considered and thorough. I felt that a lot of effort and planning went into designing the curriculum itself, the technologies we learned were "hip" and popular. The bootcamp also scheduled a lot of extracurricular activities and "fun" to help students relax after stressful and difficult weeks of material. Overall I would say that I learned a great deal at RefactorU. Where they really let the ball drop was after graduation. There was one networking event and a career fair. Very little effort was given to assist in job placement. There was absolutely no follow-up or feedback from RefactorU regarding job placement. I'm not sure where they get their placement numbers of 96 %. After I graduated I felt very little was done to assist in my career search. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't something the school promised they did as part of their. I do not regret my decision to attend RefactorU as I learned a great deal and believe it will be useful in the future. I am disappointed with the lack of support after graduation and the assistance in finding career opportunities.
Learn a lot
MEAN Stack is very desirable
Cost - this is an affordable program for the amount you learn
Some instructors are excellent
Room temperature is exceedingly hot all the time
Class size is large which limits personal instruction
Lack of alumni/career support
Some instructors are not excellent
Response From: Sean Daken of RefactorU
From a career services perspective, we do not “place” graduates, nor do we guarantee jobs. In the same way we expect our students to exercise self-direction in their learning, we expect them to do the same when looking for employment.
We have recently partnered with Fluid Consulting Services, a Colorado-based technical recruiting, executive search, and candidate / career services firm. Our Career Services track offers a full suite of resources to help write resumes, update LinkedIn and GitHub profiles, prepare for technical and behavioral interviews, and shine during RefactorU-sponsored web development career fairs. These services are open to students and graduates alike. Further, we regularly and personally recommend the most promising students to our senior level contacts at Colorado tech companies.
Regarding the temperature of our classroom - yes, at the time of this writing RefactorU is located in an industrial location in Boulder, CO, and during the summer months we did experience some challenges with the A/C unit. We are actively addressing those issues. In general, our philosophy is that we'd prefer to focus on providing a great learning environment and hiring outstanding instructors rather than having the fanciest offices.
I went into RefactorU with a background in I.T. and a desire to switch careers into a more challenging and creative field. What I got was one of the best educational experiences of my life, great friends and professional connections, and the new career I was looking for. While no program can be perfect, this was pretty close.The instructors are top-notch, the administrative staff is actually to support you and the curriculum is well thought out and relevant to today's job marketplace.
The course is difficult and you have to really commit to pushing yourself but the reward for doing so is totally worth it.
For only being ten weeks long, this bootcamp transformed me from a novice developer into a fully confident full-stack web developer, without making me loose my sanity in coursework. I can now create, impliment, and deploy a fully functioning website with ease, thanks to the 10 weeks at RefactorU
The instructors can be hit or miss. During my cohort, one instructor was usually unhelpful, and tended to keep to himself instead of making himself available. The other instructor was amazing - he answered questions clearly, and helped you towards an answer rather than just give it to you.
RefactorU provides 10 weeks of intense web development training. What you put in, is what you get out of it. You are accountable for doing your own work. Having said that, the lead instructors are fantastic at helping you understand concepts throughout the whole program.
Pros: Course content/coursework: The overall structure and content of the bootcamp were fantastic.
Instructors: The lead instructors are some of the most talented and knowledgable developers out there. Furthermore, the instructors were committed to seeing you learn, understand, and succeed. Not only were they highly supportive of their students, they were consistent & thorough in their teaching of concepts.
Classmates: I have met some truly incredible people in this class, that I can confidently say will be life-long friends, and helpful peers as we dive into our professional tech careers. Since instructors were often busy assisting other students (which is great, as the instructors took all the time necessary to address individual questions/problems) I found my fellow students to be a goldmine of knowledge and it was very encouraging to see other students working together and helping each other.
Model: The number of coding bootcamps has exploded over the last couple years, and this immersive model is here to stay. As a long-time fan of alternative education, RefactorU has hit the nail on the head in terms of providing a specific high-demand skill-set to anyone with the grit and determination to become a software developer.
Location: RefactorU's location in Boulder is great for those interested in working in the start-up scene in Boulder. The Denver/Boulder metro area is an emerging tech hub and a prime gateway to enter a tech career. This was also helpful for attending the many Meetups, workshops, and conferences in the area.
Cons: Student to teacher ratio. We had three instructors for a class of 33 (we are the largest class yet). This is in contrast to 18 students in the prior cohort, and there were 11 graduates in the cohort prior to that. The classroom was far too small for this many students.
Individualized attention: while the instructors were fantastic, and true champs in terms of being overloaded with students, many of us felt that we did not receive as much individual attention as we would have hoped, and this is largely attributed to the very large class size. There simply weren't enough instructors or hours in the day to get assistance with the 1:10 ratio in our class. A huge shoutout to the instructors that showed up and gave their best every day. They were as enthusiastic about seeing us succeed in week 1 as at the very end of our program.
Class distractions: with such a large class it was an exercise in zooming in on our work and blocking out distractions. The overall classroom atmosphere was far louder and more distracting than I had anticipated. While each of us is responsible for doing whatever we needed to do in order to concentrate on learning, I was hoping for a more professional (and quieter) work/study environment.
Constructive criticism for the school: I am aware that the school plans to hold two concurrent cohorts for the next set of students, but a campus expansion/relocation would greatly serve to benefit the students, and with the high growth of RefactorU, the organization as a whole. Smaller class sizes are a must, or reducing the teacher:student ratio. I have high hopes for RefactorU moving forward, and I anticipate seeing great things from my fellow classmates.
RefactorU is an amazing resource if you know that what you want to do is web development. It is expensive, but if you dedicate yourself wholly to the experience and ask for help when you need it, you will absolutely get your money worth in education. The instructors are patient and kind, and the staff are helpful. Great place to learn!
RefactorU is a well thought out bootcamp that prepares everyone to become Full Stack Web Developer. From the lectures, lessons, coding times, and peer group sessions, to the resume assistance, recruiter tips, and class outings RefactorU taught me how to code as well as prepare me to work with other programmers. RefactorU focuses on the languages and skills that employers are looking for. The teachers and teacher assistants are excellent in their field. The ten-week course was long enough to understand the concepts and prepare me to be productive as a web developer. I would recommend RefactorU for anyone just starting out in the workforce as well as anyone in the middle of their career that wants to go in a new direction.
Everyone at RefactorU was great - the instructors, administrators, community engagement planners - they are all wonderful.
RefactorU throws a lot of information at you in a short time, but in a really well-structured way so that you actually have time to learn it all, and learn it all well. I'm astounded by how much I learned, and how dedicated the instructors were to supporting our experience: from TAs who come in on the weekends to offer help, to being responsive when not-totally-kosher sexist jokes were being made in class (hey, it's the tech industry, right?). They organize events with employers and recruiters to help you make connections. They know they only succeed when their students succeed, and they are all about that.
My only complaint is one that is probably actually being addressed - being as successful as they are, they have been growing a lot, and for my personal learning style, our class was too big. We had 33 people, and the class before us was only 13, so there were a lot more of us sharing the instructors' attention. It was also often a very loud work environment (33 people in one room), which for me usually meant having to choose between leaving and going somewhere quiet to get work done, or being in a room where I have access to help from instructors and classmates, which was a frustrating choice to have to make.
Overall, I'm glad I went and really impressed by what they accomplish as a school. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others.
RefactorU has changed my life. I've wanted to get into development for quite some time now and took the CS courses like data structures, JAVA, C++, etc. I tried to break into the field by taking them after I got a physics degree. It just wasn't enough. RefactorU changed all that.
Not only that, but the people there started to change my life. I made what I can honestly say are life long friends. A bunch of cried when RefactorU came to an end. I can't believe it had to come to an end. Learning tech surrounded by awesome, talented people was amazing.
Now on to the good part - I got a job. I am seriously so happy. The job was what I envisioned getting - a cool job in a cool startup surrounded by extremely smart people. Sean, Vally, Sharone, and Ed were a pleasure to know and converse with and the instructors, Rob and Raphael were the smartest guys I've met in a long time.
I don't just recommend this bootcamp to learn how to code - I recommend it to change your life - both socially and financially.
It has truly been one of the most life changing and gratifying experiences I have ever had. I have a Bachelor’s in Elementary education, but decided over the summer to make a mid-life career change. My family uprooted from Illinois in August so that I could attend RefactorU. We sold our home in IL and my in-laws graciously kept our 2 toddlers in AZ, and my husband traveled between IL, AZ, and CO while I was in school. It was a crazy ride, but I’ve found through it all that I love coding and can’t wait to start working in the field! The course was very intense and I learned so much. If I can make the commitment to change my life for the better, so can you!
The Curriculum was so well designed, that by week 5 we were able to develop fully responsive, fully interactive single page applications using the angular framework along with HTML5, and CSS3; Not to mention Bootstrap and Material Design to enhance our user interface. By week 8, we were equipped to complete a full stack application using NodeJs and MangoDB.
The instructors were well prepared and flexible in adapting to each student's level of understanding. They combined lectures and practice sessions while fostering an environment of camaraderie and peer-to-peer support that was conducive to effective learning.
Students became friends and supportive of each other. The fact that the curriculum and instructors emphasized collaboration over competition, pushed everyone to give their best by recognizing each others strength and encouraging it.
I highly recommend the program!
Like many of my peers, I was drawn to RefactorU because I wanted to start a higher-paying, more enjoyable career without spending years of my life earning another degree. Even a couple weeks into their ten-week, intensive boot camp, the skeptic in me feared it was too good to be true, but I graduated last Friday and can confidently say that going to RefactorU was one of the best decisions of my life. Several of my classmates had coding jobs before the course even ended, and I am absolutely amazed when I compare the skills I have now with the skills I had from several weeks of pre-bootcamp self-teaching. I can now think up and develop an entire web application on my own, from the database and server to the user interface, and, perhaps more importantly, I know that I have the resources and knowledge to learn new technologies and tackle any coding problems I may face in the future.
Not only does RefactorU manage to teach an incredible amount of material in a short amount of time, the school also structures assignments in a way that prepares students for what a real coding job is like. The vast majority of time was spent on solo projects, but the boot camp is also peppered with several pair programming projects, in which one student writes code and the other plans and coaches, and a larger group project. We also had to do three oral presentations and practice talking about code. It's crucial--and surprisingly difficult--to be able to articulate something so thought-based, and I'm glad RefactorU emphasizes this skill. The team building and communication will definitely benefit me during technical interviews and throughout my career.
Unlike many other bootcamps, RefactorU strongly emphasizes a work-life balance. While it is true that I never had to ditch my sleep, health, and social life in lieu of unreasonable amounts of stress, what the "work-life balance" translated to, for me, was: "You are responsible for your own success." Some students chose to work late hours even after the school day ended, others spent more time socializing and attending events. Whatever the case, no one would chase me down if I needed to take a break during the day or tell me I needed to work harder if a particular subject didn't make sense right away, but the staff was always there to help and encourage. We just had to do the work.
What I loved most about being a RefactorU student was the perfect balance of structure and independence. Every week, we got a list of projects to work on after lectures, but there were no grades and no deadlines (besides for the one big group project and the two major solo projects). The lack of solid structure may be a con for some people, but, for me, it was like being told, "I believe in you." Those imagined words helped me be successful at RefactorU. So did the smart and passionate teachers, who gave clear (and oftentimes entertaining!) lectures and were there to help when I got stuck. Rob has an unshakable warm, positive attitude that makes him a great teacher in addition to being a great coder, and I enjoyed Raphael's attention to detail and clear passion for the topics he lectured on.
I can't think of a single thing about RefactorU that would dissuade me from telling any self-motivated, technically-inclined person to go there. My only complaint is that I would have preferred more early, clear communication about the specific times, dates, and expectations of project presentations, graduation day, and events in general, but I understand that RefactorU is a new business. They're always working toward finding the best way to do things and tinkering with the course load to include what is most relevant in today's tech industry, and their 96% job placement rate shows they're doing it right. If you're ready and willing to remake yourself and to dedicate yourself to learning, you'll find, like I did, that RefactorU isn't too good to be true, at all. It's real and it works.
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Our latest on RefactorU
Jon Dyson was a Civil Affairs Operator in the US Army, and founded his own manufacturing and import business before he decided to learn to code at RefactorU. Coding had always been a hobby of Jon’s. He built the website for his business, but wanted to formalize and polish his coding knowledge. As a veteran, Jon chose RefactorU web development bootcamp in Boulder because he could use his GI Bill benefit there, and because he wanted to learn the MEAN Stack. Jon explains the process of using the GI Bill for coding bootcamps, how his military experience gave him an advantage at coding bootcamp, and what his plans are for the future.
Can you tell me about your pre-RefactorU story? What was your educational and career background?
I majored in sociology and minored in economics at the University of Connecticut. After college, I decided to join the US Army as a Civil Affairs Operator, which is essentially a liaison between the military, civilian, and government organizations.
I recently had a deployment to Africa and decided to take my savings from that deployment and try my hand at running my own small business. That was stressful, but a lot of fun. Ultimately, I decided that I really enjoyed coding, and I wanted to get deeper into the industry and more involved with tech in general. Then I found RefactorU in Boulder, which is offering support to the GI Bill, so it seemed like a natural fit.
What was the small business you were running?
It's called Lotus Import Group. It was a small manufacturing and import business where I would bring retail products from overseas into the US. I had a number of online websites set up to actually sell those items on the Internet.
Did you teach yourself a little bit of coding at that point in order to build those websites?
Yeah, it's actually been a hobby of mine since high school. I started with a fairly solid understanding of HTML, CSS, and server-side templating using Adobe ColdFusion. I was able to use what I knew to create a few production-level websites. But I felt there were holes in what I was able to learn on my own. I really needed an opportunity to formalize and polish what I knew, so a bootcamp seemed like a great option to accomplish that.
When you were trying to decide which bootcamp to go to, what factors were you considering?
Were there specific bootcamps that you looked at when you were researching?
I looked at a fair number, including, Galvanize, Hack Reactor, and Dev Bootcamp. I came away from my research with a positive view of RefactorU’s culture. Ultimately for myself, the real deciding factor was the GI Bill. The other courses that I looked at had a similar program, but it would’ve been entirely out of pocket. So I decided to actually use the benefit that I'd earned and go that route.
Did you consider going back to college and studying computer science?
I did actually. I looked at Internet security courses and I'm still considering doing a master's program. Because I have a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, I'm at a slight disadvantage. I think RefactorU gives me the credentials that I need to get that first entry-level position, and then to continue growing, I'm going to look into a master's degree.
What was your experience using the GI Bill? How did you apply for it and how were you able to use it towards your tuition?
The first step is to get a letter from Veteran Affairs (VA) and ensure that you have eligibility. Your letter of eligibility is the starting point. The VA will tell you what your benefit is, your percentage of benefit, and how many months of benefit you have remaining. At that point, you should supply your school with your letter of eligibility so that they can notify the VA of your enrollment. If my memory serves correctly, the VA will then ask you to confirm your enrollment. The school is usually the best place to start if you have any questions. There’s an approval process for programs seeking to accept the GI Bill, so they will have some understanding of the entire process. RefactorU, for example provided me with a simple checklist of the documents that they needed, and then handled much of the paperwork behind the scenes. It was surprisingly painless.
How long did that process take from the time you were applying for the letter of eligibility to the point of being able to enroll in the program?
The letter of eligibility will depend on the region. In the northeast, I was using the VA at Buffalo, New York and they came back to me within a month. For the VA, that's pretty fast. After that, I would recommend students should generally leave themselves two to three months to complete the entire process.
I requested the letter of eligibility in advance and then applied to the school. I actually put off attending the school for a few months so that I had enough time to make sure all the paperwork came through. It turns out I gave myself more time than I needed, but I'd say about three months is the window required.
Can you share how much you were able to get from GI Bill and what percentage of your tuition it covered?
The GI Bill considers these kinds of courses – the non-degree, programs – to be correspondence courses and the VA will give you a maximum dollar value that it's worth. RefactorU has been nice enough to actually offer a discount to veterans allowing for that difference. The total benefit allowed for courses like this, I believe is $10,500. That represents a 20% discount below the normal tuition for a school like RefactorU.
For me personally, my benefit was calculated based on how much time I had spent on active duty and how much time I spent on deployment. I received 50% of the benefit, so the GI Bill covered 50% of tuition and then paid a housing allowance at a rate of 50%. That equated to $900 for the housing allowance, and around $5,000 for the tuition. It was very helpful.
Do you have an opinion in general on coding bootcamps accepting the GI Bill? Do you think it's something that all coding bootcamps should be pushing for?
I think it's a difficult thing to do. The GI Bill has a maximum amount that it will pay, so it can be challenging to balance content and the duration of the course with the cost and the amount that the VA will actually pay. I think RefactorU is really trying to make the course as compact as possible so that they can offer good value for what the VA will actually cover.
In general, I think it's fantastic that bootcamps should try to offer the GI Bill. It's extremely helpful to soldiers coming back, and provides a fantastic and streamlined avenue toward a new career. Bootcamps that do offer it should be applauded.
Once you had got that letter of eligibility, what was the RefactorU interview and application process like?
What was your cohort like? Was it quite diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
It was. It was great. Because of the GI Bill, RefactorU is getting a lot more service members so my cohort was about half military and half civilian. It's very diverse in the same way that the military often is. So people came from multiple states, different backgrounds, and different ethnicities. We were fortunate enough to have some gender diversity, which is sometimes a problem in the tech industry. I think the school does a nice job of trying to recruit and balance the cohort as best they can. In my cohort, there were 12 people.
What was the learning experience like for you? Can you share a typical day?
A typical day at RefactorU starts at 9am. We meet for a lecture which lasts for a couple of hours. Lectures are very interactive where the instructors will create a coding problem and elicit feedback from the entire class as they go along. It gives an example of how to use the new technology that they’re demonstrating. That lasts for a couple of hours in the morning, then we break for personal coding time so we can practice what we've learned. In the afternoon we have a second lecture starting at 2pm, which is similar to the first lecture in the morning, and it’s sort of a capstone on that day's concept.
I’m interested in whether you and the other veterans in the class had a slightly different experience from the civilians in the class? Because you've been in the military, did you have a different perspective or way of learning?
I would have to say the intensity was not new to any of the veterans. The course is a little bit unrelenting in the amount of information you're expected to acquire in a short period of time, and that's essentially how the military teaches just about everything. It's actually a surprisingly natural fit for veterans joining the program. It's intellectually exhausting, and I think a lot of veterans are used to that.
Do you think that was an advantage for the veterans?
I think so. With this kind of program you essentially get out of it what you put into it. So if you have the intellectual stamina to put in the hours– put in the time that you need to really understand the concepts, it gives you a significant advantage.
Apart from the fast pace of the bootcamp, did you find that your military background experience has been useful while learning the actual coding material?
My prior experience was in civil affairs, which has a lot to do with cultural relations and things like that. So being adaptable, and being flexible, those are all important things that you learn. Effectively, the military teaches controlled chaos, so it makes environments that are high intensity or intellectually demanding less intimidating. I felt that no matter how complex or intellectual the problems became, I would be able to handle it.
How many instructors or mentors did you have for your class?
My class had about five instructors, and they would trade off which days they were leading instruction. Sometimes they would sit off to the side and help students who needed one-on-one assistance. We also had the benefit of teaching assistants who are usually graduates of the program, who are invited back to offer additional assistance to students. When things get busy, and the instructors are off helping someone, there's always a teaching assistant who can step in to answer questions.
While you were at RefactorU, what was your favorite project to work on?
There are two major projects. There's a midterm project and a final project. RefactorU allowed me to take my midterm and continue working on that, adding in new concepts as we went along. When I got to the end of the course, I felt like I had built a real, fully functioning application. I’ve actually started showing it to employers as a viable product.
It is a shopping cart menu system for local pizza restaurants, called TrueMenu. I wanted to give the local mom and pop shop the same technical expertise that Domino's has with their extremely easy to use application. Small pizza restaurants should have the same convenience factor that's been driving Domino’s sales for the last few years.
At RefactorU, what would you say was the biggest challenge while you were learning to code?
I think my biggest challenge was motivation. Maintaining a positive motivation even when you're extremely frustrated is challenging. The instructors try their best to keep everyone in a positive frame of mind because the moment you start to get down on yourself, you'll enter a vicious cycle where it becomes hard to just power through and continue learning. So avoiding that negative "I can't do this" kind of mindset is really one of the hardest parts.
What was your end goal after going to a bootcamp? Are you planning to start your own business or do you want to get a job as a junior developer?
My goal is to get a job as a junior developer. I've always had an entrepreneurial instinct, but I've done it enough to know that there's a lot to learn from others. I want to learn everything about the industry that I possibly can and I can't do that on my own. For me, it makes sense to pursue a junior development position rather than continue working on my own.
What kind of jobs are you applying for?
I am applying all over the world. I'm looking for something that's more than just a salary, that's interesting, exciting, and modern. I’m interested in whatever languages they're using, and in the culture of the office. I'm not particularly interested in life in a cubicle.
I've been looking at a lot of small to mid-size startups. I find they are usually using the latest and greatest technologies. They also seem to have the most open and friendly workplaces, which is one of the number one things that I'm looking for. I've been using AngelList quite a bit. I'm also looking at some consultancy firms that do a lot of travel and a lot of technology for other companies, which is an exciting, interesting way to see the entire industry.
What sort of career advice did you get at RefactorU?
A lot of what I got out of RefactorU in addition to the code, were the intangibles. I learned a lot from the instructors about what the industry is like, what junior development positions are like, and what to expect in those positions. I also got a pretty good insight as to how hiring managers approach new junior developers and what they are looking for. It was nice to have that kind of insight. Several of the instructors were hiring managers at one point or another for tech programs, so it's nice to have someone trying to give me as much information as humanly possible.
Was RefactorU able to help you with networking or any kind of introductions?
Absolutely, yeah. I remember telling the instructors I had an interest in working for Google. The instructors were talking about strategies on how to possibly get myself in front of Google and another one of the instructors came in the room and said, "Oh, you want to talk to Google. I know people there. I'll just send you an introduction." So it's a very friendly atmosphere. Everyone wants you to succeed.
Are you still in touch with RefactorU now that you’ve finished?
I am, yeah. Any question that I have I just send them a request on Slack or shoot them a quick message. RefactorU staff always gets back to me, which is really nice. After spending 10 weeks working closely with my class, we’ve all become good friends. It’s a lot of fun trading notes on tech recruiters or the interview process for companies we’ve each talked to. I expect to keep in touch with the people I met there throughout my career.
What sort of advice do you have for other veterans who are considering doing a coding bootcamp?
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 →
Jessey was a second-grade teacher in Jordan and a church children’s director before learning to code at RefactorU in Boulder, Colorado. Unfulfilled in her job, she packed up her family and moved from Illinois to Colorado for the 10-week coding bootcamp. But her family’s sacrifice was all worth it in the end, and Jessey now has a job as a QA web automation engineer! She tells us about the intensity of learning code, her internship experiences, and how hard she worked to receive a promotion and full-time job!
What was your educational background, and last career path before you decided to attend RefactorU?
I almost finished getting my bachelor's degree in 2003, I had one year left, but I ended up quitting, getting married, and then finishing the degree online in 2012.
I received a bachelor's degree in elementary education that I didn't use very much. I taught second grade overseas in Jordan, at an Islamic school, for a short while. Before RefactorU, I was a children’s director at a church.
What made you want to change your career to coding?
I was pretty unhappy in my job, and I had a friend that did Dev Bootcamp in Chicago (I'm from Illinois). He actually also had a degree in education, and hated it. "But programming," I thought, "that sounds super intriguing to me. I think I would really want to do that," so I just took the initiative to figure out how to make myself happier. I’ve always been really good at math and science so I started researching coding bootcamps. I had maybe three months of pay after I quit my job, so I thought, "I have to find a good program that's relatively quick."
What made you decide to attend RefactorU and how was that transition?
We had some friends in the Denver area, and RefactorU’s offerings made me think, "Okay, this might work." So I applied, and asked my husband, "Can we do this?!"
At the time our kids were three and four years old and we were living in Illinois. And here's where it gets a little crazy- we owned a house in Illinois, so we had to sell it. My kids moved in with my in-laws in Arizona, while my husband sold the house in Illinois, and I was learning to code in Colorado. The friends in Denver that we had met the year before, let me live in their basement! It was crazy, but it was worth it in the end.
Did you look at any other bootcamps besides RefactorU?
I looked at Dev Bootcamp, but they required about 12 weeks of pre-work, and then on-site school after that. I felt I didn’t have enough time to do that. I also applied to a bootcamp in Arizona, because that's where my in-laws lived. When I found RefactorU, it was super appealing that it was only 10 weeks long. RefactorU has pretty good job stats for graduates so I thought to myself, "Okay, 10 weeks, I can do this."
What was the RefactorU application and interview process like?
I applied, and I talked to somebody over the phone, then had a Skype interview. RefactorU focuses a lot on personality fit, and whether you can do well in the course. I had a long conversation with the CEO, Sean, and got accepted. Then I had to do pre-work. I had done a little bit of it already – I had dabbled in Codecademy and Code School before applying. The pre-work was a little overwhelming, because I didn't quite understand everything I was doing when trying to teach myself.
A popular question that we get from our readers is "how do you pay for tuition?" Would you mind sharing?
There wasn’t a scholarship at RefactorU when I attended, but I did finance a portion of my tuition through University Accounting Services, UAS.
Was your RefactorU cohort diverse in terms of gender, race, and career backgrounds?
We had around 33 people in our fullstack/MEAN development cohort. I actually think it was RefactorU’s first really large class. There were probably about eight women total and majority of the class were Caucasian. We had a few people from other countries such as Mexico and Lebanon, but majority of the cohort was already based in Boulder. The age range was from early 20’s to early 30’s.
What was the learning experience like at RefactorU? Describe a normal day.
So I would drive an hour each way to get to Boulder because the friends I was staying with lived in Denver. Class would start at 9am and end at 6pm, but I was probably studying until 9 or 10pm every night. I was also practicing all day on the weekends. It was very intense because it’s a lot of information and you have to be in the mindset ready to do that kind of work.
We had lectures pretty much every day; there was a morning lecture, and then work time, and then an afternoon lecture and then work time. We also had midterm projects where we worked on projects most of the week.
Describe your instructors and the feedback you would receive at RefactorU.
We had two great instructors, Rob and Raphael, and if I needed help, they were there to give it. Raphael was quieter, and people didn't approach him as much, so I knew, "Okay, he's my guy. I'm grabbing him, and he's going to help me whenever I need help." I had to be proactive in asking for help because I’d never done coding before. So if I wasn't understanding something, I needed to make sure I got help right then, and the RefactorU instructors were more than willing to answer my questions.
What was the project that you worked on throughout the course?
Our mid-week project was a front end project, making a website, focusing on design and basic functionality. Our final project was creating a fully functioning website. Many came to RefactorU with an idea, but didn't work on it until that week. But in my case, I did the front end project for my midterm, and then I used that same site, and I finished it for the end.
Did you have a favorite project that you worked on?
Yeah. I built a site for teachers and parents for when you have leftover craft supplies, you could go in and input what craft supplies you had. You could select from three or four drop downs the different supplies you had, and then it would spit out crafts that you could create with your students.
How did RefactorU prepare students for the job search?
I think RefactorU was still figuring out their solid job prep program. They really encouraged us to go to meetups in order to make connections with others in the field. And RefactorU had someone come in to help us with improving our resumes. We also had help from recruiters. RefactorU was just starting to form these relationships when I was attending so I think they now work with recruiters on a regular basis. Recruiters would do lunchtime lectures giving us advice on how to present ourselves, and what information we should tell the hiring manager. I feel like RefactorU was in the process of making some really good long term connections with professionals in order to help students. So we did get help with our job search, but they were in their first stages of mapping out their program.
Were there conversations at RefactorU about being a woman in tech?
I've been pretty lucky in terms of how I’ve been treated and landing a job. There were stories of other female classmates who hadn't been treated so well in their workplace, so they were hyper-aware of being a woman in tech. But I wasn't too concerned about it. I had friends who would say, "I will be a super hot commodity in the tech business because people are really trying to build up their female employment rate." Overall, I have felt super valued so far.
I went to a tech in education conference a while back, and I went to a lecture about girls in programming.They were talking about how women are really pushed towards education degrees. I don't exactly remember the stats, but it was in the 90 percentile; at least 90% of elementary education bachelor's degrees are held by women.
My whole life people told me, "Oh, you would be a good teacher. You're great with kids." And that is why I got my education degree, not because I wanted to. I wanted to switch to photography but I was told how unreliable that would be. I was into math and science, but nobody pushed me towards engineering or anything like that. It's a little depressing to think about. But in my adult life, I haven’t experienced a lot of prejudice as a woman.
Describe your transition out of RefactorU. How was your job search?
Our class ended in the first week of November 2015, and I don't think we had a job fair until December. So I wanted to land something soon after the course ended; I probably applied for 60 jobs. I landed, unfortunately, an unpaid internship first. I thought, "I might as well do this while I'm looking for a job so that I don't forget everything that I learned."
My friends Joanie, Dave, and I all got unpaid positions at this web development company and at first, we were learning testing. We wrote tests to test the developers’ work and made sure the sites were working. They had a program where you work for 4 to 6 weeks, then transition into a paid intern. Then after another 4 to 6 weeks, you transition into a junior developer. We hung on as long as we could after more than 6 weeks of unpaid work but finally, they let us all go.
What did you do after that web development internship?
So I got the internship and started at the end of February. My first paid job was probably 15 weeks after I finished RefactorU. I did a 10-week paid internship with MakeMusic and worked my butt off because I knew there was a full-time position open on the team. In May they hired me full-time as a QA web automation engineer.
How was your transition from intern to full-time web engineer? How was that ramp up period of learning with this new team?
I have an awesome team with great people and an excellent boss who is honest and supportive. As an intern, I had a great mentor, Ashley, who was full of knowledge, and always willing to help me out if I didn't know something. Also, I can work 7:30am to 3:30pm which is nice so I can get out early for my children. As long as I work hard, and get the work done, Make Music is flexible.
I tried really hard to learn how to write the tests that I needed, in the language that was required of me, while I was an intern. Not much changed from the actual internship into the job. But now I've been there a bit longer, I feel like I can speak up more. When I feel like something's not working with the team or if I need help with something, I totally speak up. And even though it might be awkward, it's going to help us grow and be a better team. I feel like I have that freedom, which is nice. It's a really great place to work.
To be honest, I was very stressed from the time school ended to when I got a job. My family moved here when I got done with school, and we are paying rent that is four times higher than it is where we're from in Illinois. It was stressful, but now I would say it was all totally worth it.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock on your journey to learning code?
There are just so many things to know. In my new job, I don't only have to know C#, but I have to know how additional programs work. Selenium is what runs my test, and I have to know another language as well so I can build the steps out to my tests. I also have to know SQL and how to search for things in the database, which is totally different than C#. Learning all the things that encompass software development has been a challenge.
Do you have any tips for people who are thinking about making a career change to learn coding?
Know that it's going to be pretty intense, and you’ll be learning a lot. You can’t be afraid to ask questions. I used to be afraid to ask questions and thought, "Okay, I'll just figure it out on my own." But there's no time for that when you're at bootcamp. I had to change my usual ways and raise my hand if I didn’t understand something. Because if I don't understand it, and we run something else that builds on top of that, I'm in trouble!
And I would say, if someone really thinks it's something they want to do, just go for it. If they read my story, notice that I have a whole family and we decided to move across the country just so I could do this, maybe they will believe they can do it too. It might be scary, but if you think it's worth it, just do it.
Diversity in Tech
Only 16% of people working in computing and mathematical jobs identify as black, African American or Latino, and only 25% are women. There is a huge disparity in this industry, and edtech companies like RefactorU are taking steps to change this.
“We know that for everyone who does succeed, there are often many more who do not, despite similar skills, talents, and hard work,” RefactorU CEO Sean Daken says. “Being born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, into a set of circumstances completely beyond one’s control should not define a person’s life and career, but it often does.”
That’s why RefactorU is offering a diversity scholarship for people who are underrepresented in tech.
“We recognize that structural inequality exists, and we are committed to reducing that inequality,” Sean says.
There are three diversity scholarships awarded per RefactorU cohort. One for $4000, and two for $1300. RefactorU tuition costs $13,500.
RefactorU believes creative people make the best coders, so they are looking for people with creativity, resilience, and a passion for building things.
What it takes
- You identify as a woman and/or minority per the U.S. federal definition: all persons classified as Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and Asian or Pacific Islander.
- Apply for and gain acceptance into RefactorU’s full-stack immersive bootcamp
- Submit a 1000-word essay on an assigned topic
- Submit a 500-word personal statement including samples of how you have overcome personal and professional obstacles in the past.
- The winner of the essay competition will receive a $4,000 RefactorU and two runners-up will receive $1,300.
- Applications, essays, and personal statements will be judged by a panel of to-be-determined judges.
- You must be accepted into the RefactorU program before you apply for this scholarship
Why We Think It’s Awesome
We have talked to many RefactorU graduates (like Clayton and Ilana) who have gone on to get great jobs and really change their lives. This new scholarship is opening up that opportunity to more people who may not have taken the plunge and gone to bootcamp if they’d had to pay full price. We hope that this helps to balance the current inequalities in the tech industry.
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 →
Clayton had a career in hospitality and real-estate, when he decided to rekindle the passion for coding he’d had as a youngster. After trying to teach himself to code, and attending unhelpful courses, he enrolled at RefactorU’s Boulder, CO coding bootcamp to learn MEAN stack. Now Clayton is excited to be working as a junior developer for real-estate social media website Bigger Pockets. He tells us about why he chose RefactorU, the learning experience at the bootcamp, and how his final project helped him get a job.
What’s your pre-RefactorU story? Your education and career background before you started the bootcamp?
For most of my adult life, I managed restaurants for a small restaurant group, then I switched to working in real estate. While that's been fun, I'd always had the idea of learning how to program in the back of my mind. I went to school many years ago for computer science at the University of Colorado. But I never completed that degree and that was a long-standing regret of mine.
I considered the time commitment and financial commitment of going back to finish my computer science degree. But at my age, it didn't make sense logistically. The coding bootcamp model offered a short path back to the possibility of programming as a career. I did as much research as I could; I used Course Report, read reviews, and visited local schools. It allowed me to rekindle a passion I had for programming and working with computers which I had as a youngster.
Was there something in particular that inspired you to do it at this moment in your life or was it just the fact that you found out that coding bootcamps existed?
It's a mixture of both. It had been on the back of my mind for many years, and I did not know about coding bootcamps. I had tried to do some courses, I bought books, but I always found that life got in the way of trying to learn on my own. I'd had the inclination and motivation to do this for years, but I didn't know how to get there. Once I found out about coding bootcamps, I kicked around the idea with some friends, and I knew someone who went through a bootcamp successfully. That motivated me to try to make it a reality. After a year of hemming and hawing, I did it.
Did you look at any other coding bootcamps or just RefactorU?
I actually attended a different bootcamp in Denver prior to RefactorU, and it was a subpar experience. It didn't live up to the promises and I did not think it was worth my money or time. I initially was turned off of bootcamps after that first experience. But I had been in contact with RefactorU in the beginning of my search, and they stayed in contact with me over the course of my first program. When I expressed an interest again in attending RefactorU, they were very accommodating, and I wound up going to them after doing about half of the other bootcamp.
Were you able to get a refund when you left the previous bootcamp?
Yes. I left with a group of students in my cohort, and we got a partial refund. I think we started with 12 students, and maybe one or two finished the program.
After experiencing another coding bootcamp, what stood out to you about RefactorU?
It was a combination of things. I had been in touch with RefactorU founders Sean and Ed, and they came off as very genuine, and seemed like people who actually cared about my success and the success of the school. RefactorU has graduated about 11 cohorts, so they've been successful at what they've done. And the course content seemed tailored to the types of junior level jobs available on the market right now. Being able to learn MEAN Stack was a huge opportunity for me, and I really valued the curriculum they put together. The third thing that got me invested there was one of the head instructors, Rob Camp. I chatted with him a couple of times before starting my cohort, and he was just fantastic.
You mentioned that you were excited to learn MEAN Stack. Did you learn any computer languages back when you started your computer science degree? Was that helpful at RefactorU?
Yes, I did, but it's quite different than a shortened program focusing on web development. In college I did C and C++, and a lot of theory. But it does help in understanding the concepts of object-oriented programming, and some of the broader concepts we learned at RefactorU. But as far as direct application to what I learned and the job I’m doing today, there isn’t much overlap.
How you did you pay for the RefactorU cost of tuition? Did you use a financing partner or anything like that?
I did. I funded it through a lender called Pave. I think they're building relationships with more and more bootcamps. They offered me financing when some other places would not, so I'm very grateful to them. I worked with Pave twice. First for my initial loan for the first bootcamp, and then I had to open up a second loan for the next bootcamp. They were very accommodating. I will give Pave my full endorsement, two thumbs up. I also have wonderful friends and family who have been very supportive.
What was the RefactorU application and interview process like? Did you have to do a coding challenge?
It wasn't very technical, but instead it was a longer interview dealing with personality fit. I had some programming experience from the previous bootcamp, so that probably reflected well in my motivations for going in. They were more concerned about whether I would be a good fit, whether I could learn the material at the rate it’s presented, and how motivated I was to sticking all the way through and finding a job at the end. They don't assume a high level of computer programming knowledge going in.
What was your cohort like in terms of diversity like gender, different races, ages, and backgrounds?
We had about 30 people. I think we had 6 women, so I wouldn't say it was notably diverse. Ages ranged from the early 20s, and I'm 36, so I think I was near the upper end of the age range.
Our cohort was made up of people from different states in the US which was neat, and people came from all sorts of different backgrounds, different jobs, and different life experiences. One of the best experiences of attending these bootcamps is being able to meet people that I probably would not have met otherwise.
What was the student:teacher ratio? How many instructors did your class have?
We had two full-time instructors and a couple of TAs. Recently they've hired some more instructors and some more TAs to get the ratio down more.
What was your learning experience like at RefactorU? Can you give me an example of a typical day and the teaching style?
There is a morning lecture every day, and often times there is an after lunch lecture as well. The morning lecture would be one to two hours long where they go over a new concept, build on previous lectures and previous concepts, and walk us through some code examples up on the projectors and on the monitors. From there we're assigned homework for the week which we then go through on our own or in pairs after the lecture to apply what we've just learned.
What sort of projects did you work on at RefactorU and did you had a particular favorite?
I was particularly interested in my final project, and I was pleased the way it turned out. It's actually something that I'm continuing to work on right now. It was a property searching mobile app using data from the MLS database, Google Maps, and some neat software to build an iPhone app. It was a fun project to work on because I initially felt it was beyond the scope of my abilities to complete in a short period of time. But the instructors were very helpful in pointing me towards the technologies I needed to put together my mobile app and get everything up and running. I was very pleased with the way it came out, and I feel that having a good final project helped me get my first job as a developer.
How else did RefactorU prepare you for job hunting? What kind of career coaching did they give you?
They had some consultants come in every week and give people a quick lesson on a different topic. They focus on resume writing, cover letters, LinkedIn, and building out your online presence so employers can find you. We listened to recordings of example interviews and we talked about interview questions. They touched upon meetups, being social, and meeting as many people as possible, getting out there, and putting your name out there.
What are you up to now?
I just started at a company called BiggerPockets. It’s a real estate forum and social website for investors who want to meet with people who are selling homes, and it also offers courseware and books for people to go to the next level in their real estate investment.
What's your role at BiggerPockets and what do you do day-to-day?
Day-to-day, I'm working with the software engineering team. I'm in a probationary period working as an intern for the first couple of months. I work under the head of engineering, and I'm assigned tickets that come through our system for software bugs, features that need to be implemented, and any feedback that other groups in the company have about what we should implement. And I do my best to solve the bugs or implement the features as requested. It's been a great learning experience so far, and it's been very exciting to work with these guys.
What programming languages are you using at Bigger Pockets? Do you code in MEAN Stack like you learned at RefactorU?
Would you say that you’ve achieved your goal in going to a coding bootcamp?
Yes, this was 100% my goal, and I'm very excited that it has worked out so far, and I'm excited about the future. It's an opportunity that a year ago I thought was a pipe dream. And now I get to wake up every day and go into a job that I love.
How do you think you're going to be staying involved with ReactorU? Are you keeping in touch with alumni?
I've been in touch with many of my classmates through Facebook and through Slack. Everyone has been checking in with each other every once in a while, and as people get jobs, it's exciting to see.
What advice do you have for people who have already had a reasonably long career, and want to make a complete change and become a software developer?
My advice would be to pick a good coding bootcamp, do your research, read the reviews, talk with the people in the bootcamp, make sure you get a good feeling from them, and trust your gut. Do as much pre-course work as possible. Devote as much time to the bootcamp as you can, because you get out of it what you put into it. You could go through a bootcamp and do the minimum required amount of work, and you'd still get to put, "I completed a bootcamp," on your resume, but you will be cheating yourself ultimately if you don't go above and beyond.
The resources are there within the bootcamps, and they’ll let you put in as much time as you want. At RefactorU, we were coming in on weekends, and there would always be instructors or TAs for us. If you had questions or wanted to review what had gone on that week, they were available. The last thing is, do all the homework. They assign it for a reason. There are two components to learning, that’s the lecture, being presented the materials, and then there's repetition, where you as a student are applying those lessons to as many projects as you can.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience?
Yeah. It worked out the way I had hoped, although the journey wasn't exactly what I anticipated in getting here. I feel lucky to have attended RefactorU. And I feel very fortunate to have gotten a job which is related to my prior career in real estate. I can keep my real estate license, which is one of the interests that I have, and also work as a software developer. Everything worked out better than I possibly could have hoped.
Rob Camp graduated from the first cohort of RefactorU and got two years of experience at a dev agency before circling back and becoming an integral part of the RefactorU team. Now, as an instructor, Rob is involved in curriculum planning, lecturing and supporting students. We chatted about his journey into web development, his teaching style, and what students can expect from their 10 weeks at this Boulder MEAN stack bootcamp.
You were a graduate of RefactorU before you were an instructor. Back up and tell us what you did before you attended to RefactorU?
I was a bank teller at PNC Bank. I worked there for a little over a year before deciding to go to RefactorU. I actually moved out to Colorado from Florida to attend the bootcamp.
My undergrad was in sociology- nothing even remotely technical.
How did you learn about bootcamps and a career as a web developer?
Programming was something I was always interested in. Even when I was little, I would edit configuration files for video games. One of my best friends in college was a computer engineering major so I saw a lot of the programs he was working on. I was always a bit jealous but never really had the guts to switch everything and start over halfway through college.
I read an article in a newspaper about bootcamps in San Francisco and started doing research. Then did a blast of applications around the country and finally decided on RefactorU.
I was in the very first RefactorU cohort which started in fall 2013.
How did you decide to move states to go to RefactorU?
Another big factor was I could do a Skype interview with Sean Daken the CEO. Most of the other bootcamps were impersonal online applications, saying “We’ll call you when we can.”
Did you get a job as a developer after graduating or did you go straight into teaching?
I got a job as a developer. We graduated at the end of the 10th week and I started work on Monday of the following week, so I had a two-day break between bootcamp and a full-time job.
Where did you work when you graduated?
It was a small design and dev agency in Boulder called Human Design. We did a lot of work for a number of different organizations like Nike, Adidas, and the Racing Extinction documentary. I was there for a year and eight months.
What languages and frameworks did you use there?
Was it a good first job out of bootcamp? Were they helpful in providing mentoring?
It was really small when I joined. I was employee number four. There was only one other developer and he was a founder, so for the first few months I was there, I got to work a lot with him one on one. It helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of when you’re first starting out. Then as we had more projects come in, we grew to about 14 or 15 by the time I left. Now I think they have over 30 employees.
Has Human Design hired any other RefactorU students?
Yes, I think they’ve probably hired or at least given internships to somewhere between 10 to 12 RefactorU grads.
Something we’ve found is that a lot of the companies which hire our grads, continuously hire our grads. This is something that’s neat to see, because it builds like a network in those other companies in the Boulder/Denver area of not only RefactorU grads but also is a professional network for both employers and RefactorU students.
How important was that first job after you graduated?
Extremely important. A lot of the things you do in the bootcamp are kind of canned; you’re doing exercises or projects. Once you start working on full production-level code, the volume of code is enormous. So I was learning how to deal with larger code bases, how to interact with designers, how to sit in on client meetings, and interact with clients. Within my first four or five months, I probably learned three times as much as I had at bootcamp.
When did you decide you wanted to be teaching and what was the process like to get the job at RefactorU?
After I graduated from RefactorU, I was doing regular weekend hours as a TA. I heard RefactorU was looking for another instructor so I reached out to Sean. I’d always enjoyed being a TA on the weekends and going over concepts with people. I started in July of 2015.
Does RefactorU have policies about hiring instructors? Did you have to have work experience after you graduated to come back and teach full time?
Yes, we’re regulated by the board of education so all of our instructors, if they come from RefactorU, have to have 4000 hours of relevant work experience or a total of 10,000 hours if they’re coming from outside of RefactorU. So we won’t hire a graduate that graduated three days ago and slap him in an instructor role.
At RefactorU, what’s the difference between a TA and an instructor?
The major difference is the instructors give all of the formal lectures. Our TAs provide support for the students. One day a week, we have informal lectures called breakout groups which the TAs do if we need to divide the class up. But for the most part, our TAs are here as individual resources for the students when they’re learning material, going through exercises.
As an instructor do you contribute to the bootcamp curriculum at all and how iterative is the RefactorU curriculum?
We definitely make changes as we see necessary. We switched from a Node/JS/Express back end and a front end using JQuery, to MEAN stack about six months ago. It was a pretty major overhaul of our curriculum that I and the other instructor worked on to convert things over, and create new lecture content and exercises.
You said you were regulated by the DPOS. Do you have to submit a new curriculum to them and do they care when you change something like that?
There is very loose curriculum regulation. I think it’s more for if we change from a web development bootcamp to a basket weaving bootcamp; then we would have to submit. But within the confines of the way our curriculum is generally described, even a significant technology change is okay.
How did you decide you needed to switch to focus more on MEAN stack? Was it because of employment or because you had a pulse on trends in the community?
Do you notice MEAN stack is transferable in terms of if somebody graduates with a MEAN stack background, can they get a job as a Rails or Python developer?
RefactorU is 10 weeks. In any other city that would be average but in Denver and in Colorado, you’ve got this crazy spectrum between 9 weeks and 40 – so why did RefactorU settle on 10 weeks?
We think 10 weeks is the optimum amount of time to learn the language, get used it on both front end and back end, and have the tools necessary to come out as a successful junior dev. The other thing we consider is, it’s a lot of work and it’s a fast-paced program, so 10 weeks is also to avoid burnout. I’ve heard people talk about longer bootcamps and how by the end, they sometimes feel really burned out and feel like they need a break before starting a job.
There’s also that opportunity cost where you’re at a bootcamp for X number of weeks then job hunting. The idea is to switch your career, so we want to give people a fast option and something that won’t cost you $40,000, plus six, seven or eight months of your time.
Is that the general demographic you see take RefactorU? Is it mostly career changers who want to get a job as a junior developer?
Yes, I’d say most of our students are coming in to change careers. We have also had students with CS degrees who just don’t know web development, so not a huge shift for them. We had a student finish high school early so he could meet the deadline for a cohort to take our course rather than CS at college. At 17, he was the youngest student to do RefactorU and got an internship when he graduated.
Are you doing rolling starts? What’s the classroom like?
For this year 2016, we have rolling starts every six weeks, so we’ll have a total of eight cohorts going through our bootcamp. Last year we did four cohorts, and those were pretty full so we’re expanding the number to accommodate more people. This year we have two classrooms. One can hold between 30 and 35 and the other can hold between 20 and 24.
The cohort that’s going in right now has 29 students. The last one for 2015 had 33.
How many instructors do you have for a class?
We have two lead instructors, myself and another instructor, and plus two full-time TAs. If we think a week will be content heavy and the students need more help, we’ll bring more TAs on board.
Do you have any hand in the admissions process? Do you have a say in who gets accepted to the bootcamp?
We don’t as instructors, but we’re starting to be more involved. We’ve done a little bit of arm’s length stuff where we’ve come up with some pre-work or objectives that students should apply.
Once people are accepted, we’ll reach out to them by email or phone to answer any questions, and discuss any fears or worries about coming to the bootcamp. But final decisions of who’s getting in are up to our admissions staff.
Who is the ideal student for RefactorU in terms of experience, background, knowledge?
I definitely think the students who are the most curious probably end up doing the best, and oftentimes are the most interesting students to work with. They’re the ones going out there and finding stuff that’s not part of the core curriculum, asking questions, and trying to integrate these new things into what they’re working on.
Something we try to drive home is you get out what you put in – work smartly and utilize instructors. The students who are willing to do that are the ones who excel.
Does that correlate to hours per week they’re putting in? Do people spend a typical amount of time in the classroom or does it vary?
Our core hours are 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., then all of our students have 24-hour access to the classroom. I don’t know if success directly correlates to number of hours. I think there might be a loose correlation there. It also drops off very quickly once you hit 50 or 60 hours a week because your brain can only take so much.
What is your personal teaching style? Are you hands on, do you like to lecture, do you let people get stuck and figure things on their own?
A large part of our curriculum is lecture so I think that’s something that is necessary but isn’t the most interactive way to go about teaching. We do live coding on projectors so students see it as it’s happening, then we post it on our Github so they keep it for later reference.
There are some things we try to integrate into lectures where we can, like in-class challenges, which gives everybody a way to practice. During lectures, I often get ideas for examples from the students to make it more interesting. It wakes people up and gets them more engaged.
When we’re helping students working on exercises, I try to prod them in the right direction rather than saying “here’s how you do it.” It’s important they learn how to think their way out of coding problems and to learn on their own.
Do you give assessments or tests at RefactorU and if so, what do they look like?
We don’t do tests or assessments. We are a bootcamp that will not cut a student. From week two onwards, we do code reviews twice a week where one student presents their code, other students ask questions and instructors provide feedback. It’s a discussion about what they did and how they solved problems or had issues, and is helpful for everybody.
What are your student employment statistics?
From an employment perspective, 96% of our grads get jobs within the first three or four months. That’s one of the first impressions people have about bootcamps. The first thing they look at is are the graduates actually getting jobs when they get out? Bootcamps are expensive and people want to have that security.
Do you have favorite meetups in the area that you recommend to people who are beginners and aspiring bootcampers?
Most meetups are beginner friendly and welcoming. Even if the subject matter goes over their heads, it’s great being able to meet people and talk to people in the industry. In Boulder and Denver, JS meetups are well attended and you can meet a lot of people. We host the Meteor JS meetup which is welcoming and encouraging.
How much do coding bootcamps cost? From students looking for free coding bootcamps to those wondering if an $18,000 bootcamp is worth it, we understand that cost is important to future bootcampers! While the average full-time programming bootcamp in the US costs $11,451, bootcamp tuition can range from $9,000 to $21,000, and some coding bootcamps have deferred tuition. So how do you decide what to budget for? Here, we break down the costs of coding bootcamps from around the USA.
When coding bootcamps started gaining popularity, we wondered if tension would arise between traditional universities and these alternative education providers. On the contrary, a trend arose and universities have now been partnering with coding bootcamps for a few years now. When the Department of Education announced the EQUIP Initiative in October 2015, these collaborations were formalized by the US government; but EQUIP is just one example amongst the myriad of strategic and independent partnerships between universities and coding bootcamps.
Updated April 27, 2017Continue Reading →
Ilana Horowitz decided to take the leap and attend RefactorU coding bootcamp after feeling burnt out in her job as a legal assistant. She had to decide between doing a CS degree or a coding bootcamp, but after starting the degree, she chose to switch to a bootcamp, allowing her to upskill very quickly. Ilana tells us about her path to starting a bootcamp and why she chose RefactorU over other bootcamps.
What were you up to before you went to RefactorU?
I got my undergraduate degree in gerontology and anthropology at the State University of New York College, at Oneonta in 2011. I had planned to get a master’s in gerontology, which is the study of seniors and the aging population, because a lot of the jobs I was looking at required master’s degrees. But in spring break of senior year, I kind of had a mini crisis and realized I was not 100% sure about the master’s, so I didn’t go ahead with it. I graduated and looked at jobs, but the job market wasn’t great. I couldn’t get hired without either having a lot of experience, or a master’s degree. So gerontology sadly fell to the wayside.
Through that process of struggling to find a job, my dad suggested I get a paralegal certificate. I looked into it; it was pretty simple so I did that, then got hired in the field. I worked as a paralegal on the East Coast and then in Denver, before I started at RefactorU.
Did you ever take a CS class in your undergrad or had you ever played around with web development before?
In middle school, a friend and I would build really horrible websites and try to design Livejournal layouts. Then in my undergraduate program, I took an intro to web design course, using mostly HTML.
When did you decide to start thinking about web development or about tech as a career?
I got burnt out working as a legal assistant. At my last job, I had asked for more work or bigger projects or stuff like that and they showed no initiative to keep me on board or to keep me engaged in what I was doing. Half the time, I was just sitting there 40 hours a week doing nothing. You don’t realize how bad it is until you’re just sitting there doing nothing.
I’d always known becoming a paralegal wasn’t going to be my end all career goal. My boyfriend is a software engineer, and seeing him in this job he loves, I realized I wanted to be in a field where I have projects I can do myself, where I’m proud of what I’m accomplishing, doing real work, and seeing what I’m doing in real time.
Did you try out coding on your own using Codecademy or did you go straight into thinking about a bootcamp?
I had completed Codecademy’s HTML, CSS, and Command Line courses on my own beforehand, and had dabbled in the Ruby and Python courses.
Did you look at bootcamps other than RefactorU? How did you make that decision?
I actually started looking at online bachelor’s programs for CS before I had heard of bootcamps. I found one through Oregon State University; I applied, got in and I did one semester. But it didn’t work for me because it was hundreds of pages of reading while I was working a 40-hour a week job. It was too much reading, not enough doing. So I put the bachelor’s on hold to see what my other options were.
I applied to Galvanize and didn’t get in, but I asked what I could do better, and they told me to practice as much as I could, which was obvious to me.
My boyfriend actually told me about RefactorU and I applied on a whim. They got back to me really quickly and it was actually only a week before the start of their January program. The COO Ed Powers made time the same day to talk to me. It felt like a very personal experience – they were interested in me as a person and not as another number to fill a seat.
It’s interesting that you get to compare the experience of an online bachelor’s degree versus a bootcamp.
I find I much prefer applying what I’ve learned by building a program or doing code, rather than just reading about it, because sure, you can understand it but you’re not applying it to real world scenarios.
What was the application process like at RefactorU?
There were a number of steps and tasks, including questions about problem solving and teamwork. For example, they asked me to tell them about a difficult problem I had had to solve and how I solved it. We also had to build a function called Optimus Prime.
Were you able to build the function on your own?
I was at a point where I was able to do it on my own. I had a one-hour window to complete step three of the interview process. Thankfully, I knew what I was doing.
Did you ever think about leaving Denver for a bootcamp or was location important to you?
I did consider it, but at the same time, I live in Denver and there are so many great coding bootcamps here. Why would I go somewhere like New York when there are great opportunities here?
What was the first week at RefactorU like?
I started on Friday, January 8. On the first day we did orientation. We got to meet everybody else in the cohort and did some activities to get to know our classmates. On Monday, we started lectures and coding. The instructors did a quick review of HTML and CSS, then gave us an assignment using 3D animation in CSS. Throughout the week, we had lectures on CSS and open coding time as well.
Overall, RefactorU consists of four or five modules or assignments they’d like us to get through each week. So during open coding time we take what we learned in the lectures and apply it to those assignments.
Did you have to do a pre-work curriculum before you got to the first day?
Did you feel overwhelmed in the first week of the bootcamp?
On the second day, I hit a speed bump where I was coding, and I think I started off on bad footing. By the time I realized what was wrong, I was really deep into what I was doing so I came out of Tuesday feeling very discouraged. I had to sit myself down when I got home and say, “Look; it’s the second day, everybody’s going to have these issues, this is the real world.” Any job has some days which are great and others which aren’t. I went back in on Wednesday and since then, everything’s been fine. I haven’t felt overwhelmed yet.
What is the mix of students in your cohort like? Are people at the same technical level?
I think there’s 27 of us. There are five women including myself. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I knew there wouldn’t be a ton of women. But there’s enough that I don’t feel so isolated. RefactorU told us they are really looking to make sure they are diversified. They understand the importance of getting women and minorities into the field.
Everybody seems for the most part to be on the same level. Some people have been bouncing ideas off of each other and working well with each other, so that’s been nice. I don’t feel like I’m struggling or that everyone else has surpassed me.
What backgrounds do the other students have?
The majority of people I’ve talked to are career changers. It seems that most of us have come from all different fields. One guy was in the IT field, but no one else that I’m aware of had any other prior tech experience.
Who are the instructors?
We have two instructors, Rob Camp and Raphael Serota, plus two or three TAs. Our TA Jenn Vance is a RefactorU graduate.
In your first week of RefactorU – what were you most excited about for the next couple of months ahead?
For me, going from a career where I felt I was doing nothing and had nothing to show for myself, to building a project, website or an app is what I’m most excited about. It’s exciting for me to feel I’m accomplishing things every day. I haven’t been in school for a while so I like the environment of learning something new every day and applying it.
Do you have a career goal after you graduate? Do you want to work for a specific kind of company or do you have a dream job?
I honestly don’t. Some of the students here know what they want. I came into it without a concrete plan after graduation, because I’m not sure what will really end up being the most fascinating for me – maybe front end, maybe back end? I want to learn more before making a decision. That being said, I don’t think I’d necessarily want to work in a huge company. I guess I’m looking for a mid-size company right now until I feel more comfortable on my own. I want a company with a great culture fit for me.
Does Refactor U have a job guarantee?
They have a 96% job placement rate with their students 12 weeks after graduation. I do realize not everybody’s going to get a job instantly. There is a career team who we can make personalized sessions with and they’ll do sessions with us weekly. Talking to them, it sounds like they have great networks so I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to get hired after this.
Since you went through two different application processes for two different bootcamps, what advice do you have for people when they’re just starting to apply to bootcamps?
I think you should really do your research. Sure, the majority of them are going to be great programs but that said, each one is a little bit different. There might be different learning styles, teaching techniques, the length of time, job placement rate or even what languages you’re learning. I think you need to know what you’re looking for out of this. If you get the opportunity, go to an open house and meet the instructors, previous students, and staff.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience at RefactorU?
One thing I’ve noticed is that the team here understands the importance of having a life outside of a coding bootcamp. RefactorU’s bootcamp is 40 hours a week and then you have study time on your own. People might have kids, they might want to work out, or they have other interests. They’ve been really good about balancing work time. Some programs are up to six months long, but a lot of people can’t be out of work for that long. Ten weeks is manageable when you’re looking to change your career. Also, the instructors, TAs, and staff are awesome!
Tell us your story- how did you end up in the coding school industry?
I don’t have a background in education per se. I got the idea for starting Refactor U about a year and a half ago. I was running an Angel-funded startup in Boulder and trying to build a development team and we were having a hard time finding talented junior level developers.
I realized this was a big problem and started looking around at some of the other markets and saw that the opportunity was there; I looked at boot camps that had just kind of sprung up and a couple of others and asked myself is this something that could work in Colorado, could it work in Boulder? I did the math and decided that this is something that’s necessary and something that would probably work. I ended up talking to tech CEOs in the area and several of them said that they don’t hire computer science graduates because CS degrees don’t provide the skill set that the market is looking for. It made a lot of sense to me. I have a minor in computer science but it’s ancient now and totally irrelevant.
I’ve always been interested in education to some degree. I ran the Quickbooks training products business 8 years ago so I’m familiar with that world. My masters degree is in Strategic Foresight so I’m really interested in change and how markets unfold and the dynamics of change in various industries. Education is one of those areas that is changing so rapidly and I really wanted to be a part of it.
Lastly, I enjoy helping people pivot their careers to doing what they want to do – and I have no intention of being a career counselor but I really enjoy helping people take that next step in their career. Everything came together and made sense.
When was the first RefactorU cohort?
September of 2013. There were 19 students in the first cohort and 33 in the current cohort.
Is the Web Development course the one you started with?
Yeah, that’s our focus right now. Really, I want to be less of a web application development boot camp and more of a learning experience for companies where we focus on relevant technologies and helping people become creators and makers, not just in web development but in other emerging areas.
In terms of the web development course, what are students learning in their 10 weeks at Refactor U?
Would you expect that after going through Refactor U’s program that somebody would be able to teach themselves Rails?
Yes. That’s actually the intent. It’s really less about what you learn in class. It’s more about the fact that you’ve got a broad framework to draw from. We have students who are in a variety of situations and they’re teaching themselves.
What is the Boulder like as a tech city? Where are you located?
We are on the east side of Boulder in our own 3300 sq. foot space not far from Upslope Brewing Company or Fate Brewing Company which is really nice. Boulder is one of our differentiators. We have more startups per capita than any other city in the country. Obviously, New York and the Bay Area probably have more but per capita, we have something like 200 – 300 startups in a city of 150,00 people. You can’t walk into a coffee shop without having an army of coders in the place.
There’s Tech Stars, there’s the Unreasonable Institute, a bunch of VCs that are top gear. There’s the university where there’s National Laboratories, National Institute for Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic Administration, the Renewable Energy Lab, a ton of amazing federal science research labs and on top of that, we have Oracle and IBM, plus the startup ecosystem.
What’s also great about it the weather. It’s 60 degrees right now, I’m in short sleeves staring at snow-covered mountains and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. That’s pretty awesome.
What are you looking for in potential applicants for your web development course?
We look for a few specific skills and traits but we don’t actually require that people have a lot of coding experience prior to attending. What we look for is a combination of raw general intelligence, the intellectual horsepower to be able to learn quickly. That’s typically assessed by what they’ve done in the past, the fields they’ve worked in, the programs that they’ve come out of prior to doing Refactor U.
We also look for tenacity and grit; people who don’t give up easily and who really can push through frustration and get through those tough challenges because without that you’re never going to succeed.
The other thing is emotional intelligence; being able to work well with others, being able to work in teams, being able to express oneself in a way that is effective and tactful. Really knowing themselves, understanding their own strengths and weaknesses and what their thresholds are. Having great writing skills, being able to present, being able to articulate their thoughts and ideas verbally in a way that’s effective. They’re obviously critical to get a job. I really look at people through the lens of the hiring manager. I’ve hired developers before, I’ve led teams and I look for someone that I would want to hire as a developer.
That’s a great way to think about it- that you’re looking through the lens of a hiring manager.
We’re always refining the process- it’s different now than it was 3 months ago and it’ll be different in 3 months than it is now. We don’t focus so much on doing challenges and having people whiteboard stuff on the fly. The greatest particular success in one’s career is not the ability to do that. It’s not how smart someone is or how great a coder they are, it’s really the softer skills.
I’ve hired amazing developers that are very talented but they don’t last because they couldn’t get along with anyone else or they couldn’t communicate.
How many instructors do you have per class?
Our ratio is roughly 6:1. We typically have two full-time instructors in the class at all times. On any given day, we could have a range of 1 to 3 TAs. If certain people are having more challenges than others or of the whole class is lost, we’ll bring in more TAs. There’s never a time when somebody has a question that they’re stuck on for hours and hours and can’t get help. But we do encourage people to not raise their hand immediately, try to solve a problem on their own and if they get stuck, then turn to their neighbor or find an instructor.
Of the 140 or so students that you’ve had in your program, how many have been male versus female? Are you doing outreach towards females and unrepresented minorities to get them involved?
Yes, absolutely. We're at about 20% women overall. We'd really like to get it to 30%.
We are working on developing scholarship opportunities for underrepresented groups, which is an ongoing process, and we actually provide a 20% discount for military personnel (active, retired, and spouses).
Once a student has been accepted to Refactor U, what kind of pre-work is required?
Can you give us a quick rundown of the teaching style?
It depends on the day, but a typical day might start at 8:30 in the morning, grab some coffee and snacks and sit down. A lot of times, the day will kick off with a quick meeting with people’s peer groups of 4 to 5 people.
There’s typically a lecture in the morning, which may last up to an hour. If it looks like it’s going to be a longer lecture then it’ll typically be broken up into multiple parts with an in-class coding challenge in between. You go to the lecture, you do the code, you have a challenge that you have to do then everybody does it then everybody regroups for the solution sess. and talks through it together.
Typically, people break for the second half of the morning and you’re either working on an individual assignment, that may be done individually or in pairs. There’s a ton of pair programming and we reassign pairs each week, so you work with a new person each week that’s typically outside of your peer group. So you get to experience not only being the driver and the navigator within that peer group but also working with different people, with different styles; it’s really simulating what it would be like in the real world.
Lunch is an hour and a half; gives people a chance to clear their minds, go to the gym, whatever they want to do.
Then the afternoon is similar; it may be a follow up lecture or it may be coding all the way through. We have a ton of speakers that come in so each week. We’ve had weeks that there are 3 guest speakers. There are sometimes events in the evening that we host, like local coding meet-ups, code for America meetings, etc. So it just really depends on the week.
How does RefactorU help students find jobs once they’ve graduated?
In the first cohort, we had a meet and greet at a local hotel which was an informal social gathering for the local hiring managers to meet our students. We had more hiring managers and recruiters than we had students, which was great. We have an open house every quarter, so bring in the community, let people meet and greet. We encourage people to attend meet-ups, that kind of thing.
We have recruiters come in from local companies, from recruiting firms, we have hiring managers come in, we have local developers come in and talk about their experiences. Today we have someone coming in from a local company to basically review people’s resumes. The director of talent at a local tech company came in and spoke for two hours. We’re constantly building relationships with the companies not only in Boulder, but we’ve got companies we’re working with nationwide. We’re probably actively engaging with upwards of a hundred organizations. We share all that information with the students.
If a company hires one of your students do they pay you a recruiting fee?
No; and that’s a really key point. What I care most about is students doing what they want to do after boot camp. So if they want to get a job, we’re going to help them get a job. If they want to start a company, I’m actually planning to start an incubator to help people bootstrap their ideas but that’s another conversation.
We invite anybody and everybody who's interested in hiring people with the skills that our graduates have. Our advice to students is to go wherever they feel impassioned about, do what you feel will continue to help you grow in learning your career. We don't ever prevent people who have an interest in our students from making those connections.
Have most of the students who have come through your program been looking actively for a job or do you get a lot of entrepreneurs that want to start their own business?
I would say it’s 80 – 20. Most people want to get a job. A lot of people say, “I’d like to work for a couple of years but then I want to go do my own thing..” In every group there are a couple of people who say, “I don’t want to get a job, I want to go freelance” or “I want to go travel after this cause I’m already taking 10 weeks off and moving across the country…” The statistics on a lot of these boot camps are kind of suspect because not everybody wants to take that path. I’m happy to accept someone who doesn’t want a job right afterwards… that’s okay!
I’m not here to trash other schools – but there are other schools that have kicked out students. I have a no kick-out student policy. Unless there’s behavioral issues, if someone is struggling, I am not going to kick them out just because they’re struggling. What we end up doing is just throwing more resources at them.
I just think that if you’re going to put your life on hold and move across the country and pay $13,500, getting kicked after 2 weeks because you’re a little bit too far behind or you’re not keeping up with some artificial benchmark, is not the right thing to do.
Do you have a refund policy for students who may realize that they can’t finish the course?
That’s a really good question and it’s very much in flux. We do have a firm refund policy right now in our contract. Typically, it’s kind of a case by case basis. A lot of these schools are now being scrutinized by their states’ regulatory frameworks. In Colorado, we are now on the radar of the state regulatory/ statutory framework. We’re doing all that we can to comply as an educational institution. We don’t really agree with the fact we’re being regulated but at the same time, it’s the right thing to do.
So because of that, from a refund perspective, we have to comply with the state’s rules and those rules are much different than our current practice up to this point. There have been no students that have asked for refunds. There have been a couple of students that have signed the contract and said they were coming and didn’t show up and they paid our deposit and they want a refund – which by the way, makes it really hard if we can’t keep that money; it makes it really hard to run a business.
Anything you’d like to add, Sean?
I’m really trying to not identify Refactor U as solely a boot camp. My vision for the organization is much broader – and we’re always going to have our boot camp – but it’s much broader than just being a web application development boot camp.
What I want to do is really empower people who want to pivot their careers.