By Alex Wagner Skill Distillery Alumni
I had just been laid off; I was going nowhere, and I needed a career change. My brother-in-law tapped me about attending a coding bootcamp to become a programmer – we’re putting computers in everything from phones to backpacks, so the need for developers is not going to go away for a while, I reasoned. It seemed like as good an idea as any; my knowledge of what a computer programmer actually does was pretty much limited to movies at that point, but after I picked his brain a little bit more I could see myself doing what a programmer does – after the right training, of course.
I thought a career in programming looked promising, so I started looking at coding bootcamps in
the area, and a lot of them looked good to me. Each bootcamp I looked at had a fancy web
page, similar tuition, and student testimonials that was some variation of, “this is really hard, but
if you work hard you’ll get a developer job and live happily ever after.” “Great – they all sound
good, I’ll just pick the one closest to me and be on my way,” I said to myself at the time. A
nagging thought made me pause – what if these schools are just running a good con? How
would I know the difference? Coding bootcamps aren’t cheap – what if after roughly four months
of hard work and thousands of dollars I couldn’t find a job?
I didn’t really know what to look for in a bootcamp, or what separated a good bootcamp from a
bad one, so I knew I had to do more digging. A more careful look at what each bootcamp’s
curriculum offered began to reveal important differences. Some bootcamps only focused on
front-end development or only on data management. I figured I would get most of the important
coding experience when I eventually entered the workforce as a developer, so a program that
wouldn’t pigeonhole me into one type of role or developer was ideal for me.
In that vein, I wanted to attend a program who’s primary mission was to mold me into a wellrounded
junior developer. Some programs focused their curriculums around just getting you a
job and shaping up your resume to get a callback. That’s all well and good, and I definitely
wanted to get callbacks, but I primarily wanted to earn that interview from my skills and potential
as a developer. I figured that a strong investment in developing my skills would be more
valuable than relying on the nuances of what a hiring manager is looking for. I wanted to present
the version of myself that was the strongest programmer I could possibly be to employers.
Technology changes constantly – what kinds of technologies a company might want in a
developer today may be obsolete tomorrow – but developers with a strong programming
foundation and an ability to learn do not go obsolete so quickly.
Finally, I wanted a program that had experience doing what they were doing. I hadn’t heard of
coding bootcamps before my brother-in-law mentioned it to me, and with some more
conversations and internet searches I found out why – coding bootcamps are relatively new, with
a good chunk of them surfacing around 2010. Bootcamps in my mind mirrored trade schools,
which teach practical skills to do the job without the background theoretical knowledge more
academic institutions spend time on. This was equal parts reassuring and disconcerting – on the
one hand, I would be entering a field in which there would be a demand for my skills in a
relatively short period of time, but on the other hand lots of trade schools are subpar and are
better at taking your money than getting you in shape for a job – a sentiment I encountered often
in my research. To differentiate between the good bootcamps from the bad, I wanted to focus on
bootcamps that had years of experience and knew how to produce capable programming
graduates, not fast-talkers looking for a quick buck.
Skill Distillery focused on full-stack development, which not every bootcamp I explored did, and
did. Skill Distillery was clearly the outlier – most other bootcamps focused on Ruby and
noise on the Internet, the general consensus was that Java was a language that is widely used
and learning it provides a good foundation for thinking like a programmer, but that as a first
language it is very difficult to learn, whereas Ruby is much closer to spoken English and is more
fun and easy to learn.
There’s nothing wrong with coding being more “fun”, but I wanted to finish my vegetables before
eating dessert. I reasoned that working harder to learn a language that would provide a stronger
programming foundation would help me grow into a better programmer than learning an easier
language and playing catch-up later. My programmer brother-in-law knows (and works with)
several programming languages, so I wanted to learn a language that would not only be useful
in itself (Java is used all over, especially in Fortune 500 companies), but that would also give me
a good base from which I could become a better programmer in general.
I didn’t see Skill Distillery’s curriculum include much explicit job preparation – some bootcamps I
looked at spent more than two weeks on interview prep – and at first this gave me pause. As I
thought about it more, I realized that this difference could be a strength. Skill Distillery posted
similar graduation placement numbers as those other high-scoring bootcamps (somewhere
north of 90% of Skill Distillery grads found jobs in the field after three months of graduation).
What this told me was that Skill Distillery graduates were likely better coders than graduates of
bootcamps that spent their last few weeks learning interview buzzwords instead of learning to
code, since Skill Distillery grads were able to get similar job placement results as other
bootcamp grads without needing to explicitly prepare for interviews. I didn’t want to just squeak
into my first job – I wanted to grow and thrive within it. I wanted to leave a bootcamp program
with the confidence that my coding skills would speak for themselves in an interview.
Upon further research, I found that Skill Distillery’s origins were not in the bootcamp boom of
2010 – they came on to the scene with experience teaching programmers in the corporate
world. That was important to me – they filled a market demand by re-tooling skills they already
had in-house, rather than by trying to “get into” the bootcamp market before the hype died
down. Perhaps they were just better at conning students, and at that point I didn’t have a crystal
ball to tell me for sure that they were the real deal (and unfortunately I still don’t have a crystal
ball), but from my experience con artists don’t tend to stick around in one place for a long time.
Especially since I wouldn’t be getting a state-recognized “degree” from any of the bootcamps I
was looking at, I wanted to be as sure as I could that my time and money would be going to
people who knew what they were doing, and while time in the field isn’t a sure-fire way to
determine that, it’s usually a good indicator to take into consideration.
I eventually ended up enrolling in Skill Distillery’s bootcamp, and I don’t regret it a bit. After
finishing the program, I ended up needing to only send out about five applications, and that was
all it took to get an offer I liked and start a job as a junior developer, making about twice as
much as I had made in my previous job. It’s very possible I would have found similar results
after going through another bootcamp, but it’s also hard to argue with the results I have
achieved, and much of my cohort worked harder than I did and received better jobs than I did. I
walked out of Skill Distillery with not only a well-paying job with strong growth prospects – I
walked out with the ability to learn and think like a programmer.
Skill Distillery was the bootcamp that most closely matched what I was looking for in a
bootcamp, but I encourage you to do your own research. I highly recommend applying to Skill
Distillery, but figure out what you want out of a coding bootcamp – it’s possible another
bootcamp is offering something closer to what you want. Other bootcamps offer some things
and approach teaching in ways Skill Distillery doesn’t, but there is no other program out there
like Skill Distillery’s. Some bootcamps give you the skills get a programming job – Skill Distillery
gives you the skills to become a programmer.