I had a great experience at Grace Hopper at Fullstack Academy and I learned a lot. It is expensive but is a good investment in your education. Overall I would recommend, but it’s not perfect.
Grace Hopper vs. Fullstack Academy of Code
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One great thing about Fullstack/Grace Hopper is they are constantly improving/changing their curriculum as technologies change. While I was there we learned Node.js and express on the backend and React with Redux on the front end. We used a sql database (PostgreSQL) for our database. They really take seriously feedback on what works and what doesn’t and are constantly improving/changing the curriculum. I think React with Redux is a good choice for the front end.
Computer science concepts (data structures, algorithms etc.) were incorporated throughout the curriculum, which I really liked.
Junior Phase: The first 6 weeks of the program is junior phase. This consists of lectures followed by “labs” which are short solo practice assignments and “workshops” which are longer structured assignments completed in assigned pairs. Pair programming is an essential part of the curriculum, and while not every pair will be a positive experience, overall I think it really does help one learn. In junior phase we also had readings/videos to review at home and weekly homework assignments. There were also two tests and a project to help evaluate student progress.
In my cohort there were 5 fellows (teaching assistants who have recently graduated from the program). The fellows answer questions during workshops, help with grading, have office hours, and hold group lunches once a week. The fellows did great work and were a big part of the program being so good. The teachers were also quite good - they varied from pretty good to extremely excellent. Usually you have two teachers for junior phase, but because one of ours had a vacation scheduled we had some “subs” (other instructors in the program) who ended up being excellent.
The students varied in background and I thought the program did a pretty good job accommodating this. There was optional lectures and optional extra work if you wanted to dig deeper into the curriculum, and there were extra study sessions (by invitation) on Saturdays for students who could benefit from more practice. However, if you wanted to slack you could, you need to be self-motivated to get the most out of the program. For the most part the other students in my cohort worked hard and it was a good culture of learning.
Review week: The schedule varies slightly cohort to cohort, but while I was there we had our final exam the first day of “review week” and has the remaining 4 days off. I would have liked if they had been more clear about the schedule upfront. The stated purpose of review week is to review any materials you are weak on, but it is essentially a vacation as you aren’t required to be on campus (although I would recommend doing some review work during this period). During review week the instructors determine which students are ready to move on to “Senior Phase”. If you aren’t ready, you are invited to redo Junior phase (you are charged extra tuition which is also deferred), they call this “replaying”. In my cohort 1 student dropped out in the middle of Junior phase, 1 dropped out between junior and senior phase, and three “replayed”.
Senior Phase: Senior phase is project based. Working on projects is a great way to learn. The instructors did include a few lectures which were good, and I would have liked a few more. The first project is an e-commerce site group project, the second is a solo 4 day “hackathon” project and the last is a 2.5 week capstone project completed in groups. Except for the first project the topic and technology is up to you/your group. I found that in this section of the course you had to be especially self motivated - the resources were there, but if you wanted help from an instructor you had to make sure to request it. I thought the code reviews by the instructors were helpful. Each day in senior phase we also had “REACTOs” which are white boarding practice in pairs. They were great practice although they were different/more difficult than anything I was asked in an interview.
The program does a good job packing in a lot of material in a short time, but I felt that the last week and a half was a bit light in content. They focus on making videos for demo day, which are more of an ad for the school then anything useful for one’s portfolio, and on getting ready for launch day.
The program is expensive.
In terms of an investment, in my opinion it is worth it, you will likely make back the cost of the program in a year (or less) at your first job (not counting the cost of taking time off for the program and the job search).
As compared to other education options I would say the cost is slightly higher but the quality is better. Grace Hopper is a bit more expensive than other bootcamps, but is not the most expensive bootcamp. It costs about the same as a semester at a private college, but prepares you for the workforce better in my opinion. So the price is probably inflated just as most education is these days, in my opinion.
An aside: free bootcamp options
In an effort to increase diversity in software engineering there are some free bootcamp options for people who qualify. Here’s three I have heard of, and I’m sure there’s more.
If you are a New York City resident check out whether you are eligible for the NYC Web Development Fellowship (and whether the city is still funding this program). This is a tuition free program at one of 3 partner schools one of which is Fullstack Academy of Code. While I was at Grace Hopper there was a cohort of Web Development Fellows. They had the same curriculum as Grace Hopper/Fullstack, although there are some (mostly small) differences in the program because it is funded by the city. There aren’t new cohorts as frequently as in Grace Hopper/Fullstack. But basically it is a Fullstack Academy of Code education without the cost.
2. If you are looking for an all women’s experience and would be interested in living in Seattle and pursuing a longer program check out Ada Developers Academy which is tuition free.
The Job Search
I found that the program had prepared me pretty well for technical interviews, although I did continue to study. I was mostly applying to small and medium sized companies.
Career counselors: Our cohort had a dedicated career counselor. I found her advice (during and after the program) to be helpful, although at times a little generic. I really appreciated that I had someone in my court who I could message on Slack or arrange a call with if i needed advice on what to say to a potential employer in a particular situation, whether an offer was good, how to negotiate, etc. She was very responsive and I really felt that she was in my corner. It made me feel much more comfortable during the negotiation and decision making process. We also each had a remote career counselor who helped us polish our resumes and our “pitches”. Mine was a bit helpful, but I didn’t rely on him very much.
Job search curriculum: The career search portion of the curriculum was ok. The advice on resumes was really helpful - the format they suggested worked for me! The advice for LinkedIn profiles and Github profiles was also helpful. The advice they gave in person was better than the out of date advice in the ‘workshop’ which they admitted needed an update. They put a big emphasis on writing technical blog posts. I think this is the kind of thing that might help you if you do it but isn’t going to hurt you if you don’t (I didn’t).
Launch Day: Launch day (formerly called hiring day) is a career-fair style day to introduce ourselves to companies in New York City. It is combined with the Fullstack cohort. Each student has ten minute interviews with at least 3 companies. The companies are assigned to you. At the end there is a networking session where you can talk to any company you would like to. Because I was primarily looking for jobs in Boston I treated this as a chance to beta test my resume and pitch which was helpful. My classmates who were looking for jobs at Launch Day were somewhat disappointed by the quality and selection of the companies. Our launch day was Labor Day Weekend so that may have made it harder to get top notch companies there. I believe that some people did get jobs from launch day, but not the majority.
Overall Grace Hopper/Fullstack’s network with employers in not strong. Unless you get a job offer from launch day, they are not going to find you a job, or find you jobs to apply to. That is up to you. But they are helpful with advice on how to perform the search, prepare for interviews and negotiate an offer.
They don’t provide a directory of alumni, but they do invite you to a slack channel for alumni once you graduate, which is pretty active. Among other things, alumni post job openings, many of these require a few years of experience, but some are looking for junior developers. I found this to be very helpful. I also met up with a few alums in the Boston area in person.
Before I chose and attended a bootcamp I had a really clear idea of the gaps in my knowledge that I wished to fill and I found a bootcamp that targeted what I wanted to learn. This helped me get the most out of my experience. As you look for your entry into software engineering I would start by considering what you know and what skills and projects you already have under your belt, and choose a course of study (whether a bootcamp, studying on your own, pursuing a CS degree, working on projects, or something else) that compliments what you know and fills in the gaps. Employers care about what you know and what projects you have made, they don’t care whether you are self taught or went to a bootcamp.
Feel free to find me on LinkedIn if you have any specific questions about Fullstack Academy or Grace Hopper.