Before The Bootcamp: How Prep Courses Are a Window to The World of Software Engineering
As coding bootcamps gain traction as a viable alternative to Computer Science degrees, a new trend is emerging. More and more schools now offer prep programs; courses designed to equip novice and junior coders with the chops necessary to tackle a full-immersion, senior-level bootcamp. What is it about this trial phase that seems increasingly necessary? And why are more bootcamps using prep programs to attract and educate the next wave of software engineering students?
Muhammad Meigooni is Head of Prep for Hack Reactor, one of the bootcamp industry's founding schools. We sat down with him to get his take on why prep programs seem to be growing, and why more bootcamps are embracing the idea that prep programs are a crucial step for prospective students.
Why are prep programs on the rise as a way to prepare students for today's coding bootcamps? We didn't see this prep program model five years ago.
Muhammad: As you know, the industry is relatively new; only about five years old. And as with any new and compelling product or service, you will see early adopters that jump right in. In our case, those early adopters had been dabbling in code for years; in some cases before coding bootcamps were even a thing. When our immersive bootcamp first came out, we were able to tap into those early adopters; people that naturally had a higher level of preparedness to take on our bootcamp with little ramp-up time. Now that bootcamps are breaking the mainstream, the type of student has broadened. Not every student has 6-18 months of self-education under their belt.
Our decision to add a prep program is a mission-oriented change. We're interested in expanding Hack Reactor's accessibility for people of all backgrounds. You can see it with the scholarships we offer. You can see it with the focus we place on diversity and inclusion. Now, we can also point to prep as a way to embrace students of all backgrounds and experience levels. The pricing reflects that, too. We want to get as many people as possible exposed to the Hack Reactor magic and the possibility of software engineering.
Why is it important for students to be at a certain level of competency before starting a coding bootcamp?
Muhammad: In an immersive, the speed and amount of learning a student can achieve depends on the competency of the student body in general. When you have a group of students who are all bright, driven and ready to learn, the outcomes are dramatically better than a non-vetted group of learners.
Not all schools require students to have a certain level of competency before starting their bootcamp. Schools that are more about pursuing programming as an interest instead of a career often have no admissions process or a minimal admissions process. At Hack Reactor, for example, we are known as a "20-120" program where you have to achieve some foundational knowledge before being admitted to the immersive. Our primary focus is outcomes-based education and developing strong staff-level engineers. We don't want our students to barely pass the hiring bar; we want them to knock it out of the park. That's why we have a rigorous admissions process, and we push students hard in our immersive program.
Becoming a professional programmer is a long process. Prep is the first 100-200 hours of that. A good prep program helps students build a solid foundation for the immersive, which then acts as a super-accelerator for your learning process.
How should someone considering a bootcamp decide on the various prep programs out there? What's the best advice they can receive when starting out to understand what the best option is for them?
Muhammad: Since a prep program should be a window to the school that's running it, the prep program you pick should reflect the bootcamp you want to get into. My advice: pick a program that encourages you to become an active learner and offers you support without spoon feeding you the answers. The goal of Hack Reactor's prep programs is mastery; not just proficiency. We want our students to be able to reproduce an outcome at a very stressful, fast pace. We build muscle memory, and that's the biggest difference.
Why does Hack Reactor offer the portfolio of prep programs it does?
Muhammad: We realize people are coming into the world of code from all angles. Some have day jobs, some are eager to jump in, some need the flexibility to move at their own pace. We've diversified our offering in a way that makes sense to today's diverse lifestyles.
Hack Reactor offers 100% of its prep curriculum online for free. If you want a mentor to help you get unstuck, we have a prep offering, Premium Prep, that connects you a technical advisor to help you manage your progress. The option most students find the most effective is our live prep class, known as our Structured Study Program (SSP), where we have regular class times and meeting times. It's not the classic model of lecture, homework, quiz, text. It's a more open, guided study hall where we give you access to content, hold breakout sessions, and have individual teaching staff managing groups of students.
Do you think prep programs are necessary for all incoming students?
Muhammad: Not necessarily. But even if you have dabbled in code for a while, it's still worth jumping into a free self-paced prep program because, no matter how good you are, you're unaware of where your holes are.
At Hack Reactor, around half of our students prepare using our free self-paced prep program. The other half takes SSP, our live prep class. Over 100 hours of live learning really helps to build muscle memory, and highlight areas that you didn't know you didn't know. Over a thousand students have gone through our live prep program and over 95% say they would recommend it to a friend!
Hack Reactor is an industry-leading school for software engineering, led by engineering leaders and former hiring managers. In the last five years, Hack Reactor has graduated over 3,000 highly successful students. The vast majority of them find full-time work as software engineers within six months of graduating.
Their immersive program is available in full-time, part-time, in-person and live online formats. Start learning today and get accepted to Hack Reactor with our Structured Study Program, a concentrated learning program designed to take participants from beginners to Hack Reactor Immersive ready through over 100 hours of live supported learning. The class is conducted entirely remotely using various online tools. Learn more here or check out Hack Reactor on SwitchUp.