Who becomes the App Academy (or other developer bootcamp) stars?
February 20, 2018 9:27 PM   Subscribe

How does one stand out in the hiring process among the people who get through reputable boot camps? The programs, the really reputable ones, sound like they're hard enough and keep you on the ball enough that you simply can't graduate if you don't know your stuff--as in you can't just muddle through the weekly exams and paired coding projects. Is there significant variation in graduates' skill level, or is it a tightly clustered group because the selection process is rigorous? Are the good ones the most studious, or does talent come into play?

Does a newbie who makes it into and then through a very selection program (App Academy) even compare to someone who went to, say, Stanford and has a CS degree?

When will he catch up to the guy with the rigorous CS college degree?

When it comes to finding a coding job, will his other work experience play into it, or do software companies pretty much only care about what you can code?

I'm based in the Bay, so it can easily feel like software engineers have it made. There's a lot that goes into the pros v. cons category, but let's say money is NOT a factor--infinite money for bootcamp tuition, expenses, no opportunity cost involved in doing a bootcamp. So I'm asking only about the product, the student who makes it through App Academy, or some other highly selective program that has a deferred payment model--they're incentivized to help you get through it to get a high paying job.

I'm not remotely in the field, but I've been in SF for five years and have a few friends who are doing 180s in life, and they're attracted to coding "because it's so results oriented." They say that the best naturally rise to the top, there's no masking talent, and there's no falling through the cracks (unless your personality is just horrible, but that's rare). Do newbies to coding (but who get through a coding program) really figure into that kind of meritocracy? Or is that all at a much higher level that would be hard to approach, coming to coding later in life?
posted by flyingfork to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Does a newbie who makes it into and then through a very selection program (App Academy) even compare to someone who went to, say, Stanford and has a CS degree?

No, because the two courses are teaching very different things. App Academy takes you through the process of building a web app from start to finish in Ruby on Rails + Javascript, teaching you a little bit of CS along the way, alongside some SQL & a few other bits and piece. Looks like an ideal entry point for a junior programmer in the average SV company (that really doesn't need any more than this).

Stanford is a high level Computer Science degree over three - four years (in pure teaching time alone, that’s a minimum of 3 times 3 terms of 8-10 weeks, so about 7 times the teaching load of app academy.) Plus they have a very high entrance bar in the first place - the 'signalling' grade of having a Stanford (or other top-tier University) CS degree is much higher.

When will he catch up to the guy with the rigorous CS college degree?

In salary? Knowledge?

Depends on what you mean by "catch up". Most Computer Science isn’t really relevant to the average SV developer anyway (despite the standard coding interview trope of 'reverse a binary tree on a whiteboard' most people never code up a CS algorithm from scratch in reality) so whilst in one sense the App Academy developer will never catch up, but it’s not clear that it really matters. On the flip side if what you want to do is go work for Deep Mind (say), then the App Academy alone is probably not going to cut it, because it really isn’t going to give you the maths background that you need for their work.

I would imagine that in salary terms they’ll do just fine, but will leave that to any SV insiders here to confirm!

Bootcamps in general have acquired something of a bad reputation in recent years, so I’d make sure that a Bootcamp you attend is regarded as reputable by any prospective employers: don’t rely on the Bootcamp’s own PR.
posted by pharm at 12:34 AM on February 21, 2018

To directly answer the question in your question's title, one of my acquaintances has an undergraduate CS degree from Caltech. We worked at a search engine for two years, and then she decided she wanted to become a Front-End developer and have a change of scenery, so she went to Flatiron School in NYC. She now works at Etsy.

Is she a highly-successful graduate of Flatiron School? Certainly. Could she have gotten a job at Etsy without Flatiron? Probably.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:15 AM on February 21, 2018

I am not in the Bay Area but I don't know any large software companies that are looking for bootcamp grads. Large software companies want CS degrees, preferably graduate degrees and/or previous internships at the same company.

The problem with bootcamps isn't anything about the programs or the selectivity right now, it's just that they're graduating too many people with exactly the same knowledge areas. If you want to hire entry-level people with a couple months of training, you can hire any of 500 bootcamp grads who came out this week... or wait 3 months and there will be another batch of 500. Basically the market is flooded with people who all have similar experience levels.

If all you want to do is make money, learn something that helps companies make money, and there's limited competition of other knowledgeable people for. Salesforce, Netsuite, Oracle, SAP, etc. If bootcamps started teaching those things tomorrow, the salaries would drop in those areas though.
posted by miyabo at 6:38 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

The famous big tech companies (Google, Facebook, etc) generally won’t hire someone right out of a bootcamp unless that person went in to the bootcamp with a non-CS STEM degree, and has taught themselves the kind of CS fundamentals that a bootcamp generally doesn’t cover. So, for instance, I know one person who wound up at Google right out of a bootcamp, but she had a math degree, which gave her both the mathematical background she needed to quickly learn theoretical CS and a way to signal a history of experience with quantitative reasoning beyond just the bootcamp.

That’s not to say these companies won’t hire bootcamp alums, just that they won’t hire them right out of bootcamp. It generally seems like with a demonstrated track record (4-5 years or so) of success in a technical role at one or more different companies will put a bootcamp grad on the same footing as any other applicant. This is broadly true in tech, where your school, grades, and internship matter a great deal to get your first job, and barely at all for every job from there on.

The takeaway from this is that as a bootcamp grad, odds are your first tech job will be a smaller startup that’s willing to take a risk on bootcamp grads, and you’ll probably be underpaid relatively to a junior developer with a CS degree. Your best bet is to stick that out for a few years and then jump ship somewhere else, where now that you’re in the “experienced developer” box instead of the “bootcamp grad” box you’ll be able to do better for yourself. Once your career is in swing you shouldn’t have any major difference between your trajectory and that of someone with a CS degree, though more conservative tech-adjacent companies may not be willing to ever hire you without the CS degree as a signaling credential (though odds are you wouldn’t want to work at those kinds of places anyway).
posted by Itaxpica at 6:56 AM on February 21, 2018

I graduated App Academy three years ago. I second miyabo's point, of bootcamp graduate saturation. I recently chatted with a new graduate, and we compared response rates to our cold emails; I think his were about a third of mine, and his cohort was taking longer to find placement.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:52 PM on February 21, 2018

My experience has been that if you have relevant experience and can do well on an interview, the formal credentials you have or don't have are not super important in getting a job in software engineering. I'm involved in interviewing people at my (small) startup and basically nobody ever talks about at the education part of a resume, unless there's something interesting there like a degree in philosophy or maybe a really famous place like MIT or something. But the overall conversation is focused on "what do we think this person could do if he or she came to work for us" and none of my colleagues give a lot of weight to the "formal education" part of that signal.

Different companies will have different cultures around this, of course, but it's been a fairly consistent pattern I've seen in 20ish years of doing software development in the Bay Area and NYC. The resulting problem is that as someone just starting out it can be hard to get your foot in the door with no experience. I usually recommend that people contribute to open-source projects as a way of demonstrating experience, and then call attention to those contributions when they apply to places. My colleagues and I definitely pay attention to that when we're talking about hiring someone, since it gives us something very tangible to talk about. Also we spend all day reviewing code so we're pretty comfortable with it, whereas we don't spend much time conducting interviews and none of us see ourselves as particularly expert in that field.

I would also take that stuff about software engineering being a meritocracy with a huge grain of salt, in my opinion it's a just-so story people tell themselves to explain things that are more easily explained by a combination of luck, cultural homogeneity, and the fact that there is a high demand for skilled programmers so it's relatively easy to change jobs. The fact that experience counts for so much in the field means that it's easy to confuse longevity with merit.
posted by whir at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

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