My Bootcamp Experience

I attended a coding bootcamp in the Spring of 2015, General Assembly DC's Web Development Immersive. It was a 12-week, full time program, and most weekdays I was there 9am to 9pm, and also sometimes on the weekends. After graduating, I spent about a month job searching before getting an offer I took, for a position as a junior web developer at PBS.

I had always been messing around with HTML/CSS and had done a bit of jQuery. In high school, I took C++ as Computer Math, but was mostly discouraged from going into Computer Science as it was "for boys." While unemployed and depressed, I decided to try a few free online tutorials and take a cheap one-night intro to Ruby on Rails in town.

When I decided to take a bootcamp, I sort of went all-in. I quickly researched and contacted the ones in my area (I was trying to find one locally) and went through the application process for General Assembly, which had a cohort starting within a few weeks. A week out, I was told that someone had dropped and since I was first on the waitlist I had a spot. There was pre-work, which was thankfully fairly basic, that I did in a whirlwind of activity.

The bootcamp itself was about as stressful as one could imagine. It was often compared to "trying to drink from a firehose" when people tried to describe the method in which we were taught--a great deal of information, in a very limited amount of time. Some people struggled from the beginning--some hadn't done the pre-work and therefore weren't ready for class, some weren't prepared to not be good at something right away, some just weren't cut out for that sort of learning. We had a few drop-outs, though I think the most memorable was one person dropping out a week before the end.

While some people were holding down part-time jobs during the bootcamp, I was thankful I wasn't. Though my unemployment checks went almost entirely to my rent and I ended up with quite a bit of credit card debt, I knew I wouldn't have been able to handle the extra stress, mentally or physically. While it did hurt me a bit in the end, as I basically took the first job offer I got after graduation because my unemployment had run out and I was worse than broke, one benefit of being on unemployment insurance was that I was expected to be job searching the whole time--meaning I was networking while others hadn't even thought about their job search yet, and I was getting lots of contacts because of that. I think at least half of my job interviews came from networking.

One of my biggest regrets, actually, is that I didn't have the flexibility afterwards to choose a job that might have been more of an apprenticeship (which a few shops around DC did) or even a more stressful one at an agency or established startup, where I'd be constantly coding and doing more challenging work.

I've spoken to others who were in bad economic situations after bootcamp who have had similar issues, where the first job was probably not the best first job for a bootcamp grad, either because of lack of mentorship and training, low salaries for the industry, or other issues. This particular part of the economic divide is not something I think many people discuss when talking about these programs--those of us that could (technically) afford to do a bootcamp, but couldn't afford to make the best choices after.

And while I do enjoy coding, and being able to create apps and whatnot, my personal time has been taken up by volunteering, minor socializing, and dealing with health problems. This left me at a disadvantage for tech interviews, as I didn't have much new code to show and also wasn't from a background where I could easily understand and solve algorithms.

At this point, over two years out, I am in fact moving to a different role within the tech industry. Would I have stayed a web developer, if my situation had been a little different? Probably. While I always wanted to eventually work more with people than code, I had also planned to make it to a senior dev position before branching out, so I would have more experience and credibility. There's also a touch of shame in knowing I'm going into a "soft skills" tech job as a femme despite not facing rampant misogyny at my work place.