Do I quit my job and do a web development bootcamp?
May 6, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I graduated three years ago, and have spent most of the time since in healthcare/pharmaceutical PR. I loathe it. I want to sign up for an intensive Rails course, but I'm not sure if I should make the leap!

I think I'm done with the world of PR -- high stress, very hierarchical companies, and fundamentally boring work. It doesn't challenge me, and I want out.

I've been looking at web development bootcamps -- the sort of thing that involves three months of intensive, hands-on coding experience to get you a 'junior developer' position. Specifically, I've been looking at Makers Academy in London (which is where I live). I'd love to do something like App Academy (which you only pay for if you get a junior dev job), but they don't offer that payment plan for international students (who may end up not being able to work in the US, after all).

Makers Academy is £7200 total if you pay upfront. They claim a 100% placement rate for their ~125 alumni so far. It looks like a great programme. I've completed the Codecademy Ruby track and a couple of beginner's Rails tutorials and have really enjoyed it -- and I'm a very technical type, proficient with the command line, have a few DigitalOcean droplets running, and so on, so it's not as though software development is beyond my grasp (and I have a good idea that I'd enjoy it).

I have the money, and would be happy to invest it in myself. But it's still a huge amount for something that technically isn't even a qualification, and I've no real way of knowing if it's worth it.

The alternative is teaching myself Rails in my free time and trying to get a job out of it. But I've not done terribly well with that so far, and I'd have to invest a huge amount of time outside of work to get any good, I suspect -- which would be fine if I didn't hate my job. I'm not willing to spend another 9-12 months here while working on Rails in my evenings. I'm also not confident I'd be able to get a development job at the end of it -- the connections that Makers Academy have are of huge help in finding a job at the end of it, I imagine.

What are everyone's thoughts on these kind of bootcamps, and how do I assess if this is the right move for me?

Thanks! Throwaway email address:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I am a professional software engineer who studied in a university computer science program, but I have a friend who has recently done the same thing you are considering. He was in real estate and wanted to get into something else, so he took a very similar course as the one you're describing (but in the Silicon Valley region). After he finished he was looking for work, and I helped him find a contract job through a friend that was hiring a temporary web developer for a three month contract. Since the three month contract job has ended, he's been getting contract work on and off, but fairly regularly. This is only over the last 6 months or so, and he is finding some work though nothing full-time yet. Still, the combination of the course and professional connections he mad through the course and the professional community at large looks like it is paying off for him, I have no doubt that he will eventually find a full-time web dev job from one of the companies he's contracting for.

So, anecdotally, I think this can work, though you're still going to have to invest the time and effort into completing the work and then pursuing jobs afterwards.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:48 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might want to give this interview with Dee Gill a listen - she discusses the Dev Bootcamp she did as part of her career transition. Positive experience from her, and you might gain some information from it.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you ultimately decide to do this (I don't have any information to help you make that choice), could you simply take a leave of absence to do this? Then you've something to return to if you have not found placement after this session.
posted by tilde at 1:12 PM on May 6, 2014

The dirty little "secret" of most certification programs, especially in tech, is that they're essentially rent-seeking nonsense imposed to make money for the certifying body rather than some way to keep a standard of knowledge or skill in the industry.

DevBootcamps are sort of the opposite of a professional certification in that respect.

I've worked with Ruby devs who learned programming like this before and I wouldn't hesitate to hire or work with one in the future. It's a really good way to get started in the industry.

If you want to be a software developer (and I would be double sure on this point) and you can afford both to pay for the bootcamp and to not have income for that period of time, I would not hesitate to do it.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:18 PM on May 6, 2014

If you have the money to cover the course and your living expenses for 6-9 months, I'd do it. Life is too short. I wouldn't do it now that I have a family, (I'd need a much larger/longer buffer savings) but if I was single and could take the risk and was young? Sure. Do it smart. If things don't pan out, have a backup plan. Or 5.
posted by PlutoniumX at 1:19 PM on May 6, 2014

You don't have to stay in a job you don't like. If you think that this skill will lead to a job, I'd say go for it.

I'm all about learning new skills. I think the fee is steep, talk to folks who took the course and ask them if they're happy with what they learned and the jobs they were able to get after the course.

If you feel comfortable, go for it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on May 6, 2014

A word of caution about Rails and the Rails "community" (based on experience in California, but I can't see it being much different in the UK):

People who do Rails tend to be very very convinced that Rails is the one true Way and the Light of programming and all other languages are inferior and outdated. They also go in for hero worship of certain personalities, who they will call by first name as if they were cult leaders.

I'm not saying don't take these Academies, my feeling would be if they're hooked into this "community" they can indeed get you a job with some of their fellow believers. I just wanted to caution that it might be kind of a cul-de-sac long-term, as trendy languages come and go, and the experience will probably be quite different from working with computer scientists who view programming languages as tools, not vectors for messianic conversion crusades.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:54 PM on May 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

I came very close to doing one of these bootcamps last year and ultimately decided to go in another direction, but based on your question I'd encourage you to do it. However, I'll add a few suggestions:

-First, be sure talk to some recent alumni of the specific program you're interested in and ask about the quality of instruction and how many of their classmates were placed in full-time jobs. In my experience, some of the placement stats were fudged by counting graduates that found internships or part-time work as employed. Ask how many students flunked out or were asked to leave, and why.

-Second, if you do go to a bootcamp be aware that the current crazy demand for ruby developers may not persist (though who knows, maybe it will). That supply/demand imbalance is the only reason people can go to a 10 week bootcamp and come out with well-paying jobs. You don't want to be unemployed five years from now because all you know is ruby and nobody is coding in ruby anymore. Continue to build your programming chops, learn other languages, techniques, etc. so that you are more than just a ruby dev.
posted by btkuhn at 6:09 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

It seems a lot of money for a three month course. Compare the fees for degree courses at around £9000 for a full academic year... If it gets you where you want to be quickly then maybe it's worth it, but that depends on how good the course is and how successful it really is at getting its alumni jobs.

If you can afford to pay for this, and not to work for that period, then an alternative would be to spend that time studying on your own. You would then still have the £7,200 that you could use to continue the self study for even longer. Set yourself an achievable project (or more) that you can make public, to show what you can do. Find ruby-related events and go to those.

Self study can be difficult though - with the best of intentions it can be really hard to motivate yourself every day. But it's just a thought, given how much this course costs.
posted by fabius at 8:18 AM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a "try it for a week or two option" in the course for say 500-1000 quid so if it's smoke and mirrors or terrible (for you?) you can exit? Perhaps it would give you time to do a 2-week notice for your job, but still leave you employed if it was a shit show.
posted by lalochezia at 10:29 AM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to caution that it might be kind of a cul-de-sac long-term

In a word, this is FUD. A less-charitable (but no less accurate) term for it would be "horse shit."

Learning a programming language, even one that could be accurately described as drjimmy does (and I don't think there's anything correct or accurate about his descriptions of ruby, rails, or their respective communities), is not going to be a cul-de-sac unless you refuse to learn anything else ever. Learning your second language is easier and your third easier still.

I'd also question the idea that "trendy languages come and go" -- they do stop being trendy, true, but languages and frameworks with the prevalence of Rails don't just disappear. Hell, you can still get a job 2014 writing Cold Fusion, ferchrissakes.

The one (and only) situation in which I would think drjimmy's advice would be anything other than awful would be if you think there's a good chance that Ruby on Rails will fall out of favor and stop being used sometime before you'd have a year or two experience in web dev. I cannot even imagine what that would take, but it seems pretty unlikely to me.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:12 PM on May 7, 2014

I live in New York and did App Academy. It was a GREAT decision for me. I did it because I was pretty sure I would love being a programmer, which I do.

A couple months after finishing my course, I started working full-time as a software developer. I was hired with the understanding that I still had a ton to learn and would be learning on the job, which is exactly what I wanted. App Academy does a Rails curriculum, but I mostly work in Java/Android and AngularJS now.

About that 100% placement rate: it's probably an indication of good things, but they may be gaming their numbers a tad.

Feel free to contact me.
posted by the_blizz at 6:14 PM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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