The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Written by Bennett on November 01, 2016

Back in May of 2015, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Iron Yard. I’ll share my experiences, give some helpful advice and offer up some alternatives if the bootcamp route is not for you. Before I jump in, here’s a little backdrop.

I graduated in December of 2014 with my B.S., in Business Administration. The only “computer” class I’d taken was a Data Files & Database Management class, where we learned about databases and how to access their information writing SQL queries. Other than that, I completed a handful of courses on Codecademy, read most of a “Learn to Program” book and completed the exercises (they were all focused on Ruby) and I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and tried my best to follow along.

The Good

The best part about attending The Iron Yard had to be the people I was surrounded by. There were eleven of us. One campus director, one instructor and nine students including myself. We were all so very different, but the fact that we had chosen to take a big leap of faith made us very similar in many ways. Just after the first week, it felt like we had known each other for years. The conversations we had never ceased to amaze me. We’d talk about our past, our struggles, our passions and what we expected to get out of the program. When it came to us helping one another out, we were all willing to go above and beyond just so no one would get behind on assignments. I can’t even count the number of times when I witnessed someone stop what they were working on, just to help the next person out. For the twelve weeks that we all were at TIY, we spent more time with one another than we did with our families and friends, so I’m grateful that everyone was so down-to-earth.

Our campus director didn’t just do her job, she did the job of about three people. During the twelve weeks, there was never a time when I didn’t know what was going on, or where I had to be on a certain day. She scheduled everything. Even the happy hours that we attended after a long week of pushing our brains to the limit. We had everything synced to our calendars and we would receive constant reminders even on the day of the event. If we were falling behind, we’d hear it from her. If we had any worries or fears about not being where we thought we should when it came to learning the material, she’d be the one to motivate us and reassure us that we made the right decision. She did a lot behind the scenes for us, and that allowed us to pour all of our focus into learning and completing the material. My instructor had about 20+ years in the industry, and I felt like he pretty knew all there was when it came to the web. There wasn’t a problem that he didn’t solve or guide us through when we asked for his help. Whenever we would have group discussions he would always give a very well thought-out answer. It was always honest and unbiased. He always kept it real with all of us and he didn’t sugar coat anything. Just like my campus director, he too went above and beyond.

The Bad

Before I even set foot on The Iron Yard’s campus, I had Skype session with who I thought would be my instructor during the twelve weeks. I can’t remember when, or even if I was notified that he got fired and someone else would be teaching the course. That’s not really important though. The first couple of weeks were definitely a learning phase for us and our instructor. Although he had been around The Iron Yard before, it was his first time teaching a course. The curriculum wasn’t set in stone, but our instructor tried his best to plan ahead. As time went on, he eventually told us what we’d be working on for about a five-week period, but still, it was very loose and could change any day. During more than a handful of lectures, there’d be times when we could all tell that the lesson wasn’t very well planned. This became an occurring theme during the twelve weeks.

I often found myself trying to play catch up because the pace was so rigorous. Each week a new topic was introduced, and with each new topic came a handful of new assignments. There was never enough time to dive deep into a subject, and I always felt like I never knew enough to move on successfully. This became problematic over time because I was trying to play catch up each week. This was a common experience that we all shared until we were told to focus on the assignment at hand. Once I completed the program, I came to the realization that I didn’t actually learn how to program. Instead, I learned how to scaffold an entire Rails app and add a little bootstrap to make it look decent. I want to say the reason they offered a Rails Engineering class is because Rails is somewhat beginner friendly, and you can get something up and running relatively quickly without knowing what you’re actually doing. We often had guest speakers come in and talk to us about their company and what it was like working in the industry. The annoying part was that none of them were even hiring junior developers or even considering bootcamp grads. It would’ve made sense if they were in my opinion.

The Ugly

Going back to my first day I remember just sitting there thinking, “this is it… After I finish these twelve weeks, it’s nothing but smooth sailing.” Why was I so confident you ask? Because that’s how The Iron Yard gets you thinking. From the time you go on their website, go to a campus near you and talk to a campus director. They tell you that their ways are tried and true. They tell you about the many students that came before you that have had success. They tell you about the attractive salary that you’ll earn once you complete the program and get a job. They also tell you that you can come in with zero experience and be successful after twelve weeks. I tend to compare everything with sports because I played in high school and college. Since when can you just put on a pair of cleats and be the next Asante Samuel? (best cornerback to ever play the game). They don’t tell you that you’re going to have to hustle just to get your first job (although you should already know this) and that still might not be enough. You might have to look into getting an internship or an apprenticeship because you just don’t have the right amount of experience yet.

During my twelve weeks at The Iron Yard, we never discussed or learned about the fundamentals of programming. When it came to career prep, we had about four days for mock interviews, looking over our resumes and other career prep stuff. Not one technical interview was given. Too much emphasis was placed on having a great looking resume. We were never told that a code sample and a link to your most recent blog post works just as good as a resume. We started out with nine students and one dropped out of the program, so that left us with eight. Out of that eight, not one of us got a job as a Rails Developer. To add insult to injury, there were basically no companies that were hiring Rails developers in the area. The ones that were hiring were looking for more senior positions. I don’t think they should’ve even had a Rails Engineering program give the local job market. When we completed the course, we would often get job postings in our Slack channel. The only problem is they would be for a .NET developer or a PHP developer, never for a Rails developer. One of my last “uglies,” is that The Iron Yard doesn’t offer any concrete stats or offer any mutual accountability when it comes to job placement.

Sound advice

Thinking about attending a coding bootcamp? Here are some things I wish I’d known, done, or asked before making my decision.

Does the bootcamp offer tuition reimbursement? Some bootcamps actually offer tuition reimbursement if you don’t find a job within a certain number of days after graduating (Usually 180).

Do they offer any statistics on their website other than the “95% Job Placement rate?” If not ask them why?

Attend some meetups and talk to some of the developers there and ask their opinions on the coding bootcamp you’re thinking about attending.

Do your research! Not just about the bootcamp, but about the job market in the area where you’ll be applying for jobs when you finish.

Make a decent sized list of companies in the area and start reaching out to them. Yes, even before you make your decision. Ask them what skills they look for when it comes to hiring junior developers. Write these down and make sure they align with what you’ll be learning at your bootcamp.

Alternatives to bootcamps

  1. 1. freeCodeCamp - It’s an open source community that helps people learn to code. They have a handful of certifications you can earn (Front End, Back End, Data Visualization, etc) and they help you build a portfolio while you’re learning.
  2. 2. Internships or Apprenticeships (Make sure it’s paid). You can easily do a Google search or even reach out to a certain company and ask if they’re looking for an eager learner to take on. A handful of paid apprenticeship opportunities can be found here.
  3. 3. Not really an alternative but make sure you attend meetups and get your face noticed. Build relationships with members of the tech community and network.

Whichever route you choose to take, share your experiences so that you can help others find their way more easily. Pay it forward.