On Developer Bootcamps and Changing to a Tech Career

by Brittany Martin


As you know, I graduated from Bloc.io in February and switched jobs in April by becoming a Rails Support Engineer at Ninefold. I have a great relationship with the Bloc team since they are right up street from me in San Francisco and I often find excuses to visit (hey, Juline, Andy, Clint, Dave, Prasid and Samantha!). 

Proud of my time with Bloc

Proud of my time with Bloc

Bloc will often send prospective students my way to talk about my experience, how I was able to switch careers and how they can do the same. I get this question so often - from prospective Bloc students to perfect strangers - that I wanted to put some tips together on how you can leverage a developer bootcamp to jumpstart a technical career. 

Setting Expectations

Have you ever written a single line of code in your life? A lot of times I speak with protective students who don't even know if this is what they want to do with their life. They hear the buzz that there are a lot of jobs and that learning to code will be an easy to earn a living. What baffles me about this is that while the bootcamps will accelerate your learning, you need to have a genuine passion in building solutions to solve problems. A bootcamp sounds too good to be true: 3 months and you can compete for a job that a college graduate would compete for. That's not quite true. 

First, see if you even enjoy coding. Try some great course like Codeacademy, Coursera or. Rails for Zombies. You'll soon learn that bugs are terrible but a clean build is a great high. The credible developer bootcamps will want to see that you have tried coding out before you apply or start. 

There is a massive need for technical help. Software (and hardware) is eating the world but this does not mean that employers will hand you a job as soon as you complete your apprenticeship. Career Days are hit n' miss and should be considered a bonus in your career search. What a bootcamp can do is enhance your current skills with coding knowledge. Have a CPA and can code? Great, you would be perfect for financial software company. Are you a former teacher and can now code? Perfect, there is an education startup looking for you. 

Students that are looking to supplement their technical chops (I met a PHP dev who wanted to learn Rails quickly) are in an even better position to be successful. I also love the stories of founders that get so frustrated trying to lure a CTO to her company that she learns to code herself. Go you!

Job Location 

This might seem simple but is something that a lot of students don't consider. A lot of people will travel to the Bay Area to attend a dev bootcamp and then return back to their city. Or like Bloc, they will take classes online in their hometown. What can happen is that graduates will realize that their skills don't match what the city is looking for. For example, a Pittsburgh student went to a dev bootcamp in SF and learned Python. Great but now when she goes to find a job in Pittsburgh, she will be faced with companies wanting iOS, C# or PHP skills. Always match your coursework to the needed skill set in your area. 

Picking the Right Bootcamp

I am (slightly) biased because I loved my time at Bloc and am glad it solves the problem of having a solid bootcamp experience in smaller tech cities. Bloc enables you to be anywhere and have access to an amazing mentor that is dedicated to your success. San Francisco boasts quite a lot of bootcamps (too many if you ask me) and it can be hard to choose the one that works for you. 

Here is some criteria that I looked at:

  • Reputation - is the bootcamp able to point to students that I can relate to that had success? Aside from Bloc, I know some really successful developers from DevBootcamp and AppAcademy - both SF based intensive bootcamps. 
  • Scheduling - the dedicated bootcamps that push you to code 90 hours a week looked amazing -- but it meant I would have had to quit my job. I sought out a part time program that required me to learn ~40 per week while balancing my job. 
  • Mentorship - I love to ask alums if they still stay in touch with their mentor. Your mentor (or mentors) will end up spending significant time with you. It was important to me that my chosen bootcamp was a teacher who didn't just teach. I wanted a mentor that was successful (and relevant) in their own career that I could look up to.  
  • Cost - sure, there are programs out there for $99 and they are great for teaching one specific aspect of coding. If you want a truly immersive program, expect to spend between $4k - $12k. This is not small change and that is why I urge you to be careful with your selection.

Bloc just debuted a great visual comparison that you can check out here.

Networking

There are so many opportunities to find people that are learning to code or experienced developers who want to mentor new developers. Take a quick look at Meetup. I found Women Who Code and started attending the meetings once I started to learn Rails. The tech companies are eager to host any sort of tech meetup because they are all eagerly hiring. So not only are you meeting other developers who work at hiring companies but the host that feeding you is looking talent too. It really is a win-win situation. Try to find as many niche meetups as possible because you know the companies involved are interested in talent  like you. 

The inaugural YCHacks!

The inaugural YCHacks!

Hackathons + Shipping Code

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love hackathons. It all started with my first Startup Weekend in Pittsburgh (marketing then) to my most recent hackathon at the first ever YCHacks (as a developer! woot!). Hackathons are a wonderful thing because you mix together really smart people, hiring sponsors, a short deadline, great food, abundant caffeine and creative solutions. Hackathons are a great way for dev bootcamp students and graduates to flex their coding muscles. 

Aside from hackathons, graduates should take every opportunity to practice their skills as they are looking for regular work. Finding freelance work, completing tutorials (you're not an expert yet!), donating your skills to non-profits, contributing to open source and pair programming with experienced developers are great ways to add to your coding history. 

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I hope you found my advice helpful. Please comment any questions or thoughts you have. I'd love to append this post with more advice from developer bootcamp graduates. Good luck in your coding career!

A little bonus: if you want to score a $100 off, Bloc lets me give you this referral link: https://www.bloc.io/?ref_token=NjIzOTY3