The Tech Industry and the Rapid Rise of the Bootcamp Graduate

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Our first tech talk of 2016 was on a hot topic despite the chilly weather: the increasing number of junior developers coming out of software bootcamps and from similar non-traditional pathways.

Though it is starting to change, CS programs traditionally focus more on theory than practice, the opposite approach of bootcamps. Kaylyn Gibilterra, a software engineer from Capital One with a CS degree, provided excellent insight into the history of this trend. Computer science education has historically been led by Stanford University, with other universities following their lead. Stanford decided to teach theory instead of practice as tech changes so fast that it can be hard to keep up with practice. With a solid grounding in theory, Stanford supposed that students would be well positioned to tackle practical aspects when they graduated.

As an instructor at a bootcamp, Adam Bray pointed out one major other difference between university instruction and bootcamp instruction. At General Assembly he has appreciated the frequent feedback that he receives from instructional coaches, and being able to team teach with a co-instructor to ensure that each student receives the attention they need.

Given that most people who attend bootcamps are career changers of some sort, one of the most common questions bootcamps get are variations on “How do I get a job after the bootcamp?” Each of our panelists agreed that the human connection is the most important piece in that process.  Go to meetups that focus on your area of interest. Go to hackathons and connect with other programmers. Get your face out there however you can (in a positive way) and you’ll be surprised how far that alone can get you. You will need to put more work in, but making people aware of who you are and what you’re interested in is an important step. Whether it’s a good thing or not, tech companies often have the tendency to only look at people’s resumes and only interview people who have been referred to them through a connection.

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Panelist Adam Bray, an instructor from General Assembly, offers great career growth stories about his past students

Moderator Jason Nellis, the Director of Business Development for Brllnt, offered his own advice for people bogged down in the job hunt, whether in tech or another field. He suggested that people try and periodically schedule a number of coffees, drinks, or Skype connections with new people, finding out about them, what they do, and who they know, as opposed to approaching others with a needy focus all on yourself.

Another common question is whether a prospective bootcamp student needs any programming experience whatsoever to successfully graduate from the program and get a good starting job in tech. As a graduate of DevBootcamp with no prior programming experience (not even making a webpage) who now works as a software engineer at LivingSocial, I suggested that the answer was no. While there are a few bootcamps that are aimed at people with some experience, most bootcamps take people with no experience but a desire and ability to learn. I would suggest that people with no tech experience “try before you buy” and check out free resources like Codecademy or resources offered through your local library to see what language (if any) appeals to you.

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I (Katherine McClintic) offer my perspective as the bootcamp grad on the panel

The panelists were asked for one closing bit of advice at the end. “Don’t compare yourself,” Kaylyn said. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, a month ago, a year ago, but not to other people. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” I said. “If you are afraid, ask anyhow.” No one knows everything and even the most experienced engineer has to ask for help every now and then. “Don’t undervalue the value of practice,” Adam said. Know why you are doing what you’re doing and how it is meaningful. Struggling can be productive and a learning experience, but be aware of when you’ve gone beyond into the realm of meaningless struggle.

Bootcamps aren’t for everyone, and not every bootcamp has the same standards, but they represent a reaction to a very real need within the tech industry. If you have further questions about bootcamps, feel free to reach out to us and we can put you in touch with one of the panelists.

Some thoughts from attendees:

“The Moderator did a great job of asking timely and interesting questions of our expert panel, and the whole thing was quite an education, thank you.”

“Great discussion!”

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-Katherine McClintic

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