Should I try to do a computer programming bootcamp?
August 7, 2015 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm 41, recently downsized from a legal publishing job, possibly looking for a career change into something involving news websites. Would a coding bootcamp be helpful? Am I too old? Are these programs worthwhile and reputable? More details inside.

Here's my background: I'm 41 and live in NYC. I have a JD (law degree). I practiced law for a few years, and most recently I worked as a legal editor for a major legal publishing company for the last eight years. I was downsized this spring, along with several other people. I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do next; I'm having no luck so far with other legal publishers; I don't want to back to practicing law.

Recently I read this NY Times article about coding schools, and it got me thinking about a career change. I'm thinking about trying to get into the technology side of a news website. (In my dreams, that would be the New York Times, but I know that's idealistic.) I'm a news junkie, I like computers, I've taught myself HTML and CSS, a few summers ago I taught myself some Python, and when I was a kid I learned BASIC and Logo. This is all by way of showing that I'm not totally inexperienced. I like math and puzzles, I'm smart, I think I could be good at it.

But: if I went through one of these coding courses, specifically a web development course, would I be able to get a job like the one I describe - or any job? Do people really come out of these programs with a decent salary? My most recent salary was about $75,000, so I don't necessarily need six figures, but $30,000 would be challenging. I've checked out this list of programs, and so far I've been looking at Flatiron and Dev Bootcamp. Does anyone know about them, or know someone who has gone through them?

I'm also wondering about my age. Would I be too old to get hired somewhere? I mean, if the answer is yes, I may as well give up on doing anything new in my life, because I'll only get older. But: would these programs be useful for what I'm talking about?
posted by Tin Man to Work & Money (18 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I went to App Academy and am doing well in the aftermath. Feel free to Memail me.

In the meantime, have you checked out the Hacks/Hackers meetup here in NYC? It's mostly about data journalism and is a really interesting group of people.
posted by the_blizz at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I remember the article being in the Blue as well; did you see the comments there? I believe there was some cold water splashed on the high salary expectations, as well as some success stories. Might be worth reviewing.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:12 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you're a good candidate. If you have dabbled in programming for fun that's a good sign.

You are not too old. Older is a minus, yes, but I had a friend who switched from sheet metal work to Ruby on Rails at age 40, with no certs or degrees or anything. Taught himself and kept knocking on doors until he found someone who would hire him. Look for a program that helps you with getting placed afterward and you should do fine.

I have heard good things in general about the coding bootcamps, but I don't know any specifics about one from another.

I am sure you'll do better than 30K out the gate. You'll want to check expected salaries for yourself but I would guess 50K-80K depending on region. If you are in a hot area you can expect a big jump after the first year or so (claiming it may require switching jobs, do this if needed).

There are probably niches where your JD will turn out to be a valuable credential. Possibly very valuable. If you decide to become a coder, explore this angle.

Study up on it a little more, but you sound like an excellent candidate to me. Welcome aboard.
posted by mattu at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2015

If you already know a bit and want to broaden your knowledge and get placement into an entry-level job, then yes.

If you are starting from zero and have trouble with coding basics, then it's a bad idea. The bootcamps would be happy to take your money though.
posted by miyabo at 11:17 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make sure you have a path in mind that goes beyond the next five years, when whatever language you learn first may have passed as a fad... or not...
posted by amtho at 11:19 AM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: You also sound like a good candidate for Recurse Center.
posted by the_blizz at 11:20 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: in my experience, it's a lot easier to find work (and better pay) as a programmer if you have some extra "twist". in your case, that would be the law degree in some way. if i were you i'd search for startups that are trying to "disrupt the legal space" blah blah blah. i imagine they'd be interested in someone with your background.

as for how you learn to program - i think that depends on you. are you the kind of person that would learn best via a bootcamp? if i were hiring you, i don't think i'd care much how you learnt, but i would want to see evidence. typically, that's a github account with code in it, and, for web dev, working sites you were involved in. however, i do imagine that these things do have one advantage on learning yourself, which would be networking - a big part of finding a job is knowing someone who knows someone who's looking to employ someone.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps you have looked at them already, but a few folks have asked similar questions recently and I suspect that most of the answers in those threads still stand as general advice. In particular, this one seems relevant.

Software development bootcamps are, at least in my experience, somewhat polarizing within the professional software development world. Some people have had good experiences (either actually attending one, or hiring people who came out of them), other people have had very poor experiences or are very skeptical of them. In general, the skepticism (when it's not just traditionalist bias, although there is that and it does matter) boils down to preferring candidates with a wider range of skills and strong theoretical background vs. someone whose experience is potentially heavily concentrated in one particular technology stack or programming language. But other companies don't have a problem hiring someone who's a specialist, provided it's the right specialty.

If I were you, and I knew that I wanted to work in a particular industry and perhaps even for a particular company, I'd try to do some digging (especially if you might have some contacts in that industry) and see if you can get an idea of what the perception of bootcamps in general or the bootcamp you're considering in particular within that industry or even in the organization you want to work in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:39 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This might be worth a listen. On Point with Tom Ashbrook did a show on this very topic recently. His programs are always excellent and might answer all of your questions.
posted by incolorinred at 1:15 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just finished a code school immersion course - 40 hours a week for 4 months, with a big team project at the end.

I've been a front-end developer for about ten years and wanted to deepen my Javascript knowledge. One of the most important things to think about is what kind of assistance they'll give you in the job hunt. During the course we usually did one or two company visits a week where we got to tour companies, talk to HR people, and do Q&A with other developers. The director also has a great network of employers who are looking for people and he sends them out on the alumni mailing list. Several of the employers who approached the director of the school were specifically looking to hire code school grads. We also did practice whiteboarding and talked with several recruiters.

I'm currently working about 20 hours a week with one of the other students from my cohort on an app, so I haven't been aggressively job-hunting yet.

Of the other ten students in the class, several had job offers before the end of the class and the others got hired within a month or two.

Memail if I can answer more questions. Also, I'm older than you and another student is in his 50s.
posted by bendy at 3:27 PM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I graduated from the iOS program at Lighthouse Labs in Vancouver in April. I'm 46 and did media and advertising research for many years, as well as consulting in postsecondary educational policy for a while.

In terms of previous experience, I dabbled in Visual Basic 6 many, many years ago and liked it a lot, and fiddled with PHP and MySQL, but nothing really stuck until I started learning Python about 8 years ago for a family project.

Learning Objective-C and Swift to the extent of being able to write quality mobile software has been a real benefit, not just in the sense of discovering the joys of code but in helping me to apply logical thinking and structured planning to other areas of my life, which, sad to say, hasn't been the case until now. I'm also looking forward to eventually getting into web development in a year or so.

I've been to a good number of interviews, but haven't managed to secure a full-time position yet. However a group of 4 of us started prospecting and we've landed two team gigs in the last month. We're already incorporated as a dev shop, and we have suddenly realised we've already having to think about staffing issues.

The other three have just landed full-time jobs, all are younger (32, 29 and 25) but I'm hoping something like their jobs will come soon. There's not so much ageism here due to the labour shortage in the field. There's no lack of work, but here they need senior iOS people, and not so much junior iOS developers. Many fellow alumni from both web dev and iOS sides have found work relatively quickly, they tend to be either a bit younger or a lot younger.

I have seen increasing numbers of 40+ people in both cohorts but it's a slow tick. That being said, the total number of coding bootcamps here is now 3, which is a bit weird to consider in a city of Vancouver's size.

I'd say go for it. You'd always kick yourself if you didn't try it.

I love it.

I'm open to any questions you may have on MeMail.
posted by northtwilight at 10:15 PM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: the biggest issue with the coding camps is the price and relative value you get out of them. It is very wild wild west out there and there seems to be even less regulation than for-profit colleges. Not a huge fan of nytimes not asking hard questions about the dev bootcamps. If you feel you cannot self-teach or find a tutor to get you in the right direction and the cost of the bootcamp is worth it then give it a shot. Ageism may be a factor in some devshops but you probably wouldn't want to work there either. Having a JD could be very valuable for a company focused on that market.
posted by andendau at 11:16 PM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: Legal Hackers in NYC might also be a good group to meet other lawyers-turned-programmers.
posted by elisse at 4:25 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a software engineer and I've worked with a few junior people who went through these programs. I think they can be valuable but the way the media presents it is one-sided.

I think if you're already a hobbyist and you just need something on your resume and a structured environment to learn very job-specific skills it might be valuable for getting your foot in the door. But these training programs are expensive and their curriculum is fairly limited. And it's unclear to me how much work the coding schools do to ensure job placement. I think my company actually went out to the schools and asked for grads and picked through to find the ones we liked, but AFAIK this was mostly about finding personalities that would be a fit. I don't know if the schools themselves go out and try to find companies for their graduates. Maybe some of them do, but it's worth asking about.

The salary information thrown around in this article is a bit misleading. For example, $100k / year in San Francisco is not a brag-worthy salary when you factor in the cost of housing in that market. Experienced developers in the Bay Area make several times that. I would not go into this program expecting to make the salary of a seasoned software engineer in two years. It is far more likely that you would optimistically get to an entry-level salary after a year or two.

My biggest beef with these programs is that they don't teach anything in the way of CS fundamentals and core material, which is fine if you're just looking for an entry-level web development job in a start-up, but not fine if you want to work on hard problems and get to a senior level. The core CS material that this article derides as "all math and numbers, and not a creative pursuit" is actually really, really important when you reach a critical volume of data and everyone in your company starts panicking because you built everything on top of MongoDB. Being able to solve those hard problems is what makes some engineers worth these ludicrous salaries that you hear about.

I don't say this to poo-poo your ambitions. I don't think age is an issue, assuming your brain still functions. But I want to offer a count weight to the unbridled optimism of the media coverage.
posted by deathpanels at 4:48 AM on August 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: That said, all the people I work with from these programs are awesome and obviously things are going pretty well for them – their job transition worked. Personally if I were in your shoes I'd like to see just what I'm buying for going to one of these programs, so that's my reason for being a little critical of them. It sounds like this is a good option for you, just have realistic expectations going in.
posted by deathpanels at 4:54 AM on August 8, 2015

Best answer: The salaries quoted in the NYT are bunk. You will not be earning $100k on your first job unless you are a total genius. I do think a bootcamp could be good for you, though.

On schools: I went to General Assembly in NYC. It was eh; I think they were disorganized because they were trying to scale up too quickly and suffered as a result. I would've preferred some place smaller. Most of their instructors are recent grads from the program, which is obviously not ideal, so if you decide to go to a bootcamp, make sure the instructors are actual experts in the field. After graduating and having spoken to people in the field, I've learned that Flatiron has the best reputation and helps the most with job placement once the course ends; Dev Bootcamp is generally considered a waste of money.

I don't have any friends who graduated bootcamp that are making the sort of money ($60-75K) promised to them by the program, but we all had jobs within two months. Most of us are on contracts, not salaries, but I too left a career in publishing and can see my meager coding skills are more in-demand than my editing skills ever were. I declined to sign another contract with the start-up that was employing me up until three days ago because they paid too little and I didn't want to commit myself to it. I had another contract job that pays a little more lined up within two hours of leaving the first one. I spent months on unemployment when I was in publishing, and I had a solid resume and experience, plus a Master's. This job hired me after I passed a simple HTML/Photoshop test and promised them I can use Git. (I'd never used Photoshop before I took the test; I just Googled.) It doesn't pay as much as my old publishing jobs did, but I imagine that at the rate I'm gaining skills, I'll be able to match and surpass my publishing salary within a year and a half, which seems like a good bet to me. At this time, though, I'm making maybe 25% less than I want.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 2:13 PM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and I'm in my mid-30s; most of the people I befriended in class were in their mid-30s to mid-40s range. You'll be in good company. All of the older students in class are doing well.

(There were plenty of younger people in the class but I didn't remain as friendly with them so don't know how they're faring right now.)
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 2:58 PM on August 8, 2015

The thing that would worry me in this situation is that you are not the only person who read that NYT article. The increased supply of grads from these bootcamps are going to depress starting salaries. If you are going to do this, time is of the essence.

I've a CS degree from way back, I'm trying to imagine what you could learn in a few months. I'm guessing it would be simple tasks that are repetitive but require some (minimal) analysis. So for long term success, you would need to move up the complexity ladder or meld your coding skills with a specialty of some kind.
posted by storybored at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2015

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