Developer boot camp – Part 3: Lessons learned from developer boot camp
Editor’s Note: In October 2013, Felix Thea had been working at MediaMath for 4.5 years and was ready for a career transition. He informed his manager that he was resigning from his position as Product Manager in order to attend App Academy, where he would train to become a developer. MediaMath wasn’t about to let Felix go without a fight Instead of an outright resignation, MediaMath and Felix agreed that upon successful completion of the course, Felix would interview for a role on the UI & Apps Team. On January 27, 2014, after 12 weeks of intensive study, Felix rejoined MediaMath’s ranks. This time as developer on the Apps Team. This blog post is about his experience in App Academy, a 12-week developer boot camp in New York City.
A version of this post originally appeared on Felix’s personal blog.
Part 1: Why I chose to go to developer boot camp.
Part 2: What I learned & what I built at developer boot camp.
HOW TO SURVIVE THE COURSE
App Academy issued one assessment a week to make sure that students were staying apace. They also have a rule that if you fail more than two assessments, you will be asked to leave the course. Out of about 25 students, four left (three were kicked out, and one voluntarily left). We were told that four was the most of all the cohorts.
The teaching style is not for everyone as it is very hands on and moves quickly. I think the key to getting the most out of the course is to try your best to continue doing whatever you were doing before that gave you energy and kept you from burning out. These are anecdotal, but here’s what helped me:
- Keep a rigid schedule and routine. I woke up and went to bed pretty much at the same time, each day, during the entire course, including weekends. This really helped combat the tiredness I felt from being locked in and learning for 10+ hours a day. If you go to bed at 3am and wake up at 11am on the weekends, your body is going to be in for a shock when it has to wake up at 7am come Monday.
- Take care of your body (exercise and diet). The first three weeks I totally dropped my workout regimen because I thought that it would distract me from my studying, and would waste precious time. However, once I started my regimen back up by working out for about 45 minutes every day 5 days a week, I really saw a marked improvement in my energy levels. That really helps when you’re trying to retain and process a ton of information. I think the 45-minutes (+ 30 minute shower, etc.) were worth it. I also really tried to eat light for breakfast and lunch, so that I wouldn’t feel like a zombie after a meal.
- Don’t waste time. It’s only 9 weeks long, and only 7 weeks of actual studying. Use your commute and weekends wisely to get in as much reading as possible. I had a two-hour commute every day, which was probably my biggest mistake, but I tried to make the best of it by doing all my required readings during the commute.
DID IT MEET MY EXPECTATIONS?
Before the boot camp, I would have said, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Now I know a good deal more of what I don’t know. I think this is the “basecamp” that all aspiring developers want to get to, because from here, you can start to chart your own path. I can now work as a web developer and I know enough to start developing some web apps.
In terms of employment, I returned to my previous company (MediaMath), but as a junior web application developer. Two weeks after the end of the hiring boot camp, five of my classmates were employed.
App Academy recommends that you plan out about one to two months of post-course runway for your job search. In speaking with previous students, I found that most people were able to find a job within one month.
COULD I GET TO WHERE I AM WITHOUT THE CLASS?
If you’re self-studying, you have the confidence in the program/curriculum/tutorial you’re using, you make learning your #1 priority, and you have the time, you can learn on your own. I do think I could have gotten to the basecamp on my own, but it would have taken me much longer than a couple months. I was willing to put out the funds to get the momentum going in my web development career, saving time and energy that would have been much more significant if I were to learn on my own.
There are articles coming out now that speak against the efficacy of these boot camps for getting student jobs. I think with any skill you’re developing, you have to have a plan on how you want to use the skills you reap. Nothing is guaranteed.
WHAT I COULD HAVE IMPROVED
- All the projects we worked on had solutions, so I should have spent more time reading the solutions. It would have exposed me to new and likely more elegant implementations and would also teach me the art of reading other people’s code. Now that I am working with a team of developers, I realize how important it is to be able to read code that was written by someone else a long time ago.
- If you can afford it, live close to the class location.
- Use the teaching assistants more. There were two TAs, and they were both super smart and pretty much had an answer to every question we had. I tended to wait until I was stuck for 15 minutes or more before calling over a TA.