In the few weeks since the launch of Switch’s beta, we’ve spoken to many aspiring developers and designers about their goals, motivations, and concerns when it comes to their coding education. In these conversations, we’ve found that while interest in immersive bootcamps and online courses has grown, some prospective students continue to see the bootcamp as a black box. Just what does it mean to attend a bootcamp? What’s different between bootcamps? How can we distinguish what’s different between bootcamps? With price tags that can go up to five figures, these uncertainties are no longer trivial.
Enter Joanne. Her journey to learn to code began a year ago, when she had the idea for a food tracking web app. Today, the former marketer is a three-time alumnus of intensive coding courses, having begun with Bloc’s online web development program diving headlong into full-time immersive bootcamps at Maker Square and Refactor U. We spoke to Joanne about her learning experiences, the differences between the various schools’ approaches, and advice for bootcamps as well as future students.
Joanne, why did you choose to attend a coding bootcamp?
I didn't feel like I was learning fast enough just doing it part-time via Bloc. Also, it was hard to work full time and still find enough energy and time to learn to code. If you’re dedicated and smart, I think Bloc’s course is sufficient enough to become a developer.
I didn’t take Maker Square’s web development program right away - around 9 months later after finishing Bloc.
What drew you to Maker Square initially?
I watched a video of Harsh [Patel, the co-founder of Maker Square] talking about how they were trying to get more women to code. I liked their initiative.
What did you learn at Maker Square? Did your time there meet your expectations?
Still, I felt that it was a lot to squeeze into 10 weeks. I would've like a longer bootcamp. My advice to prospective students would be to work hard on your pre-work, because that'll help you get a good headstart.
After Maker Square, why did you decide to attend RefactorU’s immersion program?
What did you learn at Refactor U? Did your time there meet your expectations?
Yes, my time there met my expectations.
Favorite parts at Refactor U: We all had a peer group that we belonged to (4 - 5 people) and at the end of each day, we would meet up with our group and talk about what went well that day. This enhanced the experience since I get to talk to people about my experience as it happened.
Also, there were breakout groups where the teachers would go over a few topics voted by the class in smaller groups. This was great because it made it easier to ask stupid questions. I also heard that for the 2nd cohort, they have been doing the lecture style a lot differently - 20 min lectures broken up with in-class challenges. And they’re doing even more breakout groups which is a positive change.
Improvements: Longer bootcamp and more TAs to help us out during the last week while we're working on finishing our final projects. I would've liked a mentorship program as well.
For prospective students: Ask a lot of questions during the bootcamp since you'll be surrounded by the BEST and MOST PATIENT teachers.
What are some of the major differences you experienced between the two programs?
The after-class talks are more technical and practical at Maker Square. At Refactor U, the talks are more general and spiritual like emotional intelligence, how startups work, etc.
Refactor U had breakout sessions to review concepts that the students voted on. The smaller group format was helpful because it made it easier to ask stupid questions. RefactorU also had peer groups which I really enjoyed because it made the experience more social and fun.
At Maker Square, there was no assigned seating, so you can sit wherever you'd like.
At Refactor U, we had assigned seating. I preferred this format since I could customize the computer to my liking.
What are you doing now, and how did your time at each bootcamp prepare you for it?
As someone with more bootcamp experience than most, what are your thoughts on the bootcamp industry as a whole? Is this the education system of the future, or at least a part of the education system of the future?
I think it's a great way to learn, but I would like to see more programs that are longer and include CS fundamentals (recursion, algorithm, etc.). I think this is a good education system of the future until CS programs can offer the same.
The Maker Square Campus in Austin, TX
Pros: Great food. Maker Square was downtown (a happening spot) and had a nice spacious classroom.
Cons: Too hot.
The Refactor U Campus in Boulder, CO
Pros: Healthy food (best burgers at Larkburger), great views of the Flatirons, and great weather. Free snacks at Refactor U!
Cons: Classroom was on the outskirts of town, not around the hip areas where the startups are.
Why did you keep attending bootcamps? Did they deliver what you wanted?
The main reason I kept taking them is because I joined all of these bootcamps in their first cohort. Bloc’s first cohort was not as good as it is now. They have developed their curriculum so much now. It’s a totally different experience - way better than what I had.
So the lesson learned is to be ready to be a guinea pig if you’re the first cohort of any bootcamp.
Are you taking a new course while working full time as a web developer?
No, but I do read a ton on my own and attend meetups to continue my learning.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in learning to become a web developer, if at all?
Don’t join bootcamps in their first cohort. Study more on my own before I start.
This interview has been edited for clarity.