Since graduating from the Software Craftsmanship Guild’s Java cohort in March, I have been receiving lots of emails with questions about the bootcamp experience and asking for job hunting tips. Since I’ve become quite the fire-breathing evangelist for coding bootcamps, I love answering these questions and welcome them, but I thought it would be nice to compile the questions I’ve already received into an FAQ page. Here’s the first round of questions:
How do you feel about the quality of instruction and the teaching styles of the instructors?
I am very happy with the quality of instruction I received, as well as the projects and exercises. I came into the program without any programming background at all. It is common for those of us with little to no programming experience to feel overwhelmed at times, but that is because the program is scalable to account for differing background and abilities. Our group consisted of three people with no programming experience and non-technical backgrounds and two with some programming experience who had just left engineering jobs. There was enough to keep them busy and challenged. The others of us just did what we could, but it was still plenty to give us the experience and skills to bring to our first jobs. I can’t say I was especially surprised by anything within the program. I had pretty realistic expectations because I had done my homework beforehand. Perhaps the only surprise was that I did as well as I did and got hired as quickly as I did. I was extremely happy with both instructors, as well as their teaching styles. Both Eric Wise (the owner and .NET instructor) and Eric Ward (Java instructor) are committed, passionate, and accessible.
What personal qualities and practices does it take to be successful in the program?
To be successful in the program, it definitely takes passion. You eat, sleep, and breathe programming for twelve weeks. You have to be OK with feeling overwhelmed and out of your comfort zone, but that’s part of the learning process. It really is immersive. There is a lot of info, but if you remember the two-week rule (it takes about two weeks for new concepts to fully sink in) then it will “click” and make sense. Two other tips I used when I was in the program were “look for the pattern” and “repeat-repeat-repeat.” If something didn’t immediately make sense to me, I kept going over it and looked for commonalities with other concepts we had already covered.
That said, if you are solely motivated by finding a high-paying job, this is not the program for you. You must love it or you will not make it through. They have rejected applicants who didn’t have the right motivations, or who appeared to be in it only for the money.
Several of my fellow apprentices left six-figure incomes to follow their dream of becoming a developer. Passion matters. I was told after I was hired that my company was impressed with my degree of commitment. I had left comfortable life, my husband, and family for twelve weeks to dedicate myself to making this career change. They liked that.
I’ve heard about how intense these programs are and that they are frequently described as “drinking out of a fire house” Will I get overwhelmed?
It wasn’t that the material was too difficult or anything, it was more the quantity. Due to different experience levels and aptitudes, the course load needs to meet the needs of all of us at the same time. Eric provided enough to keep the guys with more experience from getting bored, but it’s more than the ones with less experience can keep up with. There are hundreds of assignments, drills, and exercises to reinforce the concepts we learn. It’s great material, but I don’t think any of us completed everything. That’s where the “overwhelmed” feeling comes in. We had two guys with previous programming experience. One of them had been programming since he was five. I do not think they ever felt overwhelmed, but I got to a point where I realized I had to prioritize the assignments to make sure I got sufficient practice in the important concepts. It was still more than enough. We covered an incredible amount of material. More than we could assimilate in such a short of time, but after three months on the job, I’m still having concepts I didn’t fully understand click into place suddenly.
Bootcamp has been described as “drinking from a fire hose.” This is certainly true. I got to a point where I set a schedule and decided anything that didn’t get done just didn’t get done. I would leave the guild offices each day around 4:30, grab dinner, chat with my roommates, and maybe work out. Then I would code, either alone or with the other apprentices, until 11 pm. Then I just didn’t sweat anything I couldn’t complete. I have a family that I would go home to see every weekend. I would spend 6-8 hours per day coding on the weekends, too, but there were several weekends I didn’t get anything done.
How was the job-hunting process overall?
The job-hunting process went smoothly. All five of us in the winter Java cohort had job offers within 1 week of the cohort’s end. Three of us had multiple offers. We all got nice offers that were actually a little higher than the range Eric told us we could expect. Three of us are in Columbus and got the jobs on our own. The other two got jobs in Cleveland through their hiring network. The hiring network is a nice touch, but you can still get a job without it. Columbus pays just slightly higher than companies in Cleveland, and the cost of living is basically the same.
What challenges did you face marketing yourself to potential employers unfamiliar with the bootcamp concept?
For context, I have a bachelor’s in art history, although I did study mechanical engineering for the first three years of college. I had no programming background prior to the Guild. Most employers hiring junior devs are receiving applications from recent computer science graduates. That is your competition.
Marketing myself to employers who weren’t familiar with the bootcamp concept required a different approach and probably caused a few to overlook my resume, but it wasn’t nearly as much of an obstacle as I had thought it might be. The technical interviews were geared toward recent computer science graduates and asked theoretical questions or questions related to deprecated technology rather than concentrating on practical, hands-on skills relevant to today’s employer needs. Some employers got it right away and were intrigued with the concept. I applied with eleven companies in Columbus, was interviewed by four and received two job offers in week eleven. These stats are pretty typical of the other apprentices, too. I work for a consulting company as a front-end Java developer contracted to a major educational publisher. The offer was more than I was told I could expect in this market.
The important thing is to stress to potential employers that you have practical experience building actual web apps that use the same technology as today’s businesses use on the job every day. Your average CS grad usually has little to no practical experience; just a lot of theoretical book knowledge.
How did the bootcamp prepare you for the technical interviews?
As far as technical interviews go, I blew the first one because he asked lots of computer science questions. Fortunately, he believed in the program enough to give me some resources to study and scheduled a second interview for two weeks later. I eventually passed a second and third technical interview, a “get-to-know-you interview” with the owner, and was offered a job, which I declined because I got a better offer.
What’s the best way to prepare for technical interviews?
As far as preparing for the tech interviews, review lists of common Java interview questions that are all over the web. Both Erics have lists of questions as well. Be familiar with the concepts in this book–the 3rd edition is a free PDF download. With your technical skills learned in the program and the concepts here, and if you practice interviewing, you will have multiple offers in any of the major metropolitan areas.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had to do the program over again?
Personally, I started looking for a job too early. It distracted me from the last three weeks of the program. Once you put your resume out there, you are bombarded with phone calls, emails, and interviewing. I took several days off to drive to Columbus for interviews. If I could do it differently, I would have waited so I could have a week or two off before jumping into employment. I had to start my new job Tuesday following the end of the cohort and they were unwavering on the start date. Coupled with moving and being generally exhausted after the pace of the last 12 weeks, it was too soon.
What is the job market like in the midwest/Ohio?
In Cleveland, the usual starting salary for a junior dev is in the $40,000 range; in Columbus, it’s in the $50,000 range. Indy is probably similar, while Chicago will be a lot higher due to cost of living. Several cohort grads who had ambitions of moving to Chicago or California stayed in Cleveland and Columbus because they were impressed by the low cost of living and the culture.
Within 3-4 years, you should be moving into a middle-level role. The salary grows significantly at that point. In the Ohio market, salaries jump to $70,000 to $90,000 for mid-levels, from what I have been told.
The Guild does have a nice hiring network. You really won’t need it but it’s nice as backup. I’ll tell you something they won’t though. There is a company in Cleveland that is part of the hiring network and pays the tuition of those they hire. The starting salary is really low, probably to offset the cost of them paying your tuition if they hire you. It’s not a bad deal, but other companies that don’t reimburse tuition tend to pay more, so you’re really not coming out ahead, at least if you stay at least a year.
What if I want to work somewhere besides Ohio after I graduate?
You will be prepared to find a job in any major market, although you will face quite a bit of competition if you are headed to Silicone Valley. Please don’t discount Ohio’s major cities. Cleveland and Columbus are bulging with technical opportunities and growing every day. Many of the men and women who have come to Akron with the intention of finding jobs in Chicago or California stayed once they realized that Columbus and Cleveland offer lots of cultural opportunities, an active night life, beautiful natural parks and attractions, and a lower cost of living that will have you living quite well on a beginning developer’s salary. Some of my fellow grads found apartments with a view of Lake Erie within walking distance of their jobs. Personally, I am partial to Columbus for many of the same reasons (minus the lake view), but particularly because it’s close to the Hocking Hills region, with its caves, waterfalls, and incredible hiking and recreational opportunities, like ziplining and rappelling.
What about issues of race, age, and gender in the hiring process?
I had these concerns when I started. I am in my mid-40’s and I am female. Another apprentice in the .NET cohort is an African-American female. We talked about this a lot during the process, and I think we kind of bonded because there are so few women in this profession. It turned out to be a non-issue when hiring came up. It probably does exist to some extent, but I don’t think these issues matter nearly as much as we’ve been led to believe.
I also talked with Jennie (one of the partners and a business owner) about age-ism in particular when she conducted my mock interview. She said that presentation wins. If I was a fuddy-duddy, middle-aged looking, dowdy woman, it might be an issue during the interview process. But I look and act younger than I actually am, I physically take care of myself, I try to dress stylishly, and have a young-ish attitude. I’m definitely not saying be immature, but embrace the positive qualities of the younger generation: flexibility, enthusiasm, passion. Employers definitely like these qualities, which is why they are attracted to younger applicants. Show them during the interview that you have these, as well. Don’t be jaded or negative.
On an interesting side note, my current job is on a team of five developers, and four of us are women!