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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RefactorU provided an unforgettable experience during my time there. They offer a one of kind learning environment with extremely knowledgable and helpful instructors and staff. Their support is second to none in providing students with everything they need to be succesful regardless of their knowledge coming into the program.
The location in Boulder also offers plenty of non-coding amenities like hiking, great restaurants and lots of brewery’s. I would highly recommend anyone interested in furthering their programming knowledge or looking for career in web development to consider RefactorU.
I could not imagine the course being more comprehensive and astronomically useful. I left Boulder with a formidable arsenal of knowledge that has drastically changed the landscape of my career. I am returning to a position I already held with a confidence I did not fully expect, and the ability to fulfill so many roles in my day to day.
The course was phenomenal, but the staff was paramount to the experience as well. The assistants were tirelessly helpful, patient and excelled at guiding the students and promoting the most nurturing learning environment this side of any educational establishment. The instructors, armed with boundless wealths of knowledge, were always approachable, accessible and encouraging as well.
While I am one of very few who did't seek job placement immediately after graduating, the resources and help they provided for those who were looking seemed above and beyond what I would have expected.
I can't endorse RefactorU enough. What I thought would be a good course to help me learn rudimentary web development proved to be nothing short of a life-changing experience, while making lifelong connections with some great people in the lovely city of Boulder.
Amazing curriclum with great instructors. After 10 weeks at RefactorU I have a better paying and more fulfilling job than I did after 4 years of college. RefactorU gets your there quick, but doesnt take shortcuts. In my opinion there is no reason to spend 6+ months at other bootcamps when Refactor can help you reach your goal (getting a job) in 10 weeks.
- Get your feet wet and a basis of what it takes to create websites
- Totally disorganized
- No job support after you graduate
- Poor TAs
- No accountability (you can ignore all the exercises and activities and no one will probably notice or care)
- Accepts students who probably shouldnt have been accepted (In the last two weeks of the cohort there was a student in our class who still couldnt write basic html.. and he wasn't getting any help.)
There was a TA that was supposed to show up once to help on a weekend and they just never showed up. They didn't have a style guide that they followed so certain instructors didnt know how to read the code in particular styles. During the final project where you were told that there was going to be prospective companies looking to hire there were no company recruiters that showed up. The job fair at the end of the cohort was a joke. There were only 5 companies there. Not all of them were even hiring.
Response From: Ed Powers of RefactorU
The job fair we hosted on June 16 was disappointing for all of us. We had over a dozen companies confirmed to attend, but many canceled at the last minute or simply didn’t show. The same was true for job seekers. Our career fairs typically draw 20-25 employers and 100-200 prospective employees from around the area, so these results were a surprise. We concluded that several factors impacted attendance at this event, most notably the timing during a popular summer vacation period, and the steady increase in competing requests for employers to participate. In response, we have renewed our strategy to hold fewer, larger job fairs and to collaborate with other partners (including bootcamp competitors) to produce them. For example, unlike the June event, the recent Denver Start-up Week job fair we promoted and co-sponsored was a tremendous success.
It’s important to note that simply attending career fairs, like responding to online postings, has limited effectiveness. We stress during every cohort that attending Meetups, networking, and directly approaching potential employers tend to be much more productive.
To address an increasingly competitive job market we have made strategic investments to help our students and alumni be more successful. We recently hired Gary Boley and Scott Bowman, veteran Career Services professionals with over 17 years of collective experience with schools like Arizona State, University of Wisconsin, and Florida Institute of Technology. They’ve revamped our Career Services education program and now provide 1:1 coaching from classroom to hire. They also support (at no additional fee) all RefactorU alumni desiring a change to tune up their resumes or brush up on interviewing skills. In addition, Gary and Scott are reaching out and building relationships with employers, large and small, to develop and implement faster, more effective ways to tap RefactorU’s talent pool.
You can reach our Career Services team here:
Gary Boley, Director of Career Services
Scott Bowman, Career Services Coordinator
Regarding one of your other comments, we’d like to underscore another key point. RefactorU is not a traditional school. It’s self-directed, adult education in which students are accountable for their own learning. We provide quality instruction, challenging exercises, and comprehensive learning assistance. Unlike other coding bootcamps, we don’t “cut” students who fail to meet arbitrary criteria along the way. All students must meet our admissions criteria and final graduation requirements, but each gets gets out of the experience what they invest in it. The final project, which demonstrates the skills the student has acquired, matters most. When it’s a well-designed, technically innovative solution to a problem, employers take notice. When students meet only minimum criteria, employers are unimpressed. Once again, the choice is up to the student, as are the consequences that result from the decision.
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.
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.