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Philip Bradley

Just some guy with glasses.

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A friend asked me to email her some recommendations and experiences regarding Ruby / Rails bootcamps, and rather than do that, I decided to just make a short blog post. Which means I didn’t reply to her as quickly as I should have (sorry Marcia).

The allure (perhaps I should say appeal) of these coding bootcamps is thought of fast-tracking into a decent paying job in a short time. Why spend four to five years acquring a degree that you might not be able to monetize when you can take three to four months and start bringing home a decent paycheck.

(The argument that often surfaces here is that one does not acquire a college education solely in order to find work but rather to broaden horizons, networks, and simply better one’s self. Yeah, I get that, and I’d be all for it–except it happens to cost $60-$100K, on average to get, and usually that is borrowed. Real people have real responsibilities (rent) and so they need real jobs. And guess what–when you make $100K per year, you discover options to…wait for it…broaden horizons, networks, and better yourself. It’s a little thing called “leisure time” which is hard to find when you are an incredibly literate barista with a thousand dollar loan payment)

Anyway, I’m for these bootcamps, and if I were a younger man with any knack or even aspiration to write code and create things, I would dive right in. Unfortunately, I had to earn my stripes from Georgia Tech (my soul still bears the scars).

I’ve had direct experience with only three bootcamps–, The Iron Yard, and The Firehose Project, where I am currently a mentor.

There a LOT of bootcamps and more are on the way, so I can’t list them here. More or less your participation is either remote or on-site, with the remote bootcamps offering a much cheaper option (usually about 1/3 of the on-site alternative). Some bootcamps offer both options.

I’ve helped seven people through three of these bootcamps. Four through Bloc, one through the Iron Yard, and two through Firehose.

Bloc cost about $5,000 per person, my friend who attended Iron Yard paid $15,000 (it was on-site, here in Atlanta), and the Firehose students paid between $4500 and $7000 (Firehose has just extended their program to 24 weeks instead of 15, hence the higher cost).

The strongest conclusion I’ve made is that whatever benefit you gain from on-site attendance is probably not worth the extra cost. The weakest mentoring and personal attention came from The Iron Yard (perhaps the thought is that the classroom obviates the need for it?)

At Bloc, my four coworkers received mediocre to excellent mentoring, but they only got 30 minutes per week. (That was over two years ago, and I’m sure the program has evolved) It seemed that since Bloc was designed from the ground up as a remote experience, that a lot more thought and thoroughness went into their curriculum.

Firehose has an amazing curriculum and at least one pretty good mentor. :) But what I appreciate the most about Firehose is the effort they make the build up a community among the students where you feel free to pair program, ask dumb questions, and have a network. Whether you are a newbie or a veteran, when you get stuck and have noone to call on for help, you are miserable. I feel Firehose does the best job of creating a “family” of learners and teachers. The slack channel is vibrant and active, and they even organize monthly “lightning talks” where students can present what they are learning and doing.

If I were taking this route, though, I might investigate something like Thinkful. I have no firsthand experience, but they have very good reviews, and their pricing structure is the most reasonable: rather than pay a large sum up front for what is largely an unknown, you can enroll and pay a monthly tuition ($300-$500) while you are in the program. I like the thought of not needing to commit large sums of money ahead of time.

I’ll end with this: these bootcamps don’t produce Jr Developers, in most cases. But they certainly can produce hireable people who can quickly become useful and valuable quickly.

One edge case for bootcamps that I’ve seen often is participants who have no intention of writing code for a living. Why on earth are you here then, you might ask. These folks are often managers, founders, sales folks, people from all strata of professional life. They are there to learn the language and the culture of software development so they can be more effective in their non-coding roles. Whether they are “translating” product requirements for a software team or commissioning original work, they exit the bootcamp with a solid A-Z sense of what is involved in software development, and become able to straddle the various departments in their organization. This is an often overlooked benefit of participating in a coding bootcamp.