Why attending a boot-camp could be a huge mistake

Bootcamp graduates don’t get jobs, only Engineers do 🙁

Software Engineering is one of the most exciting things in my life, it’s second only to the fact that I get to call the most amazing woman in the world mine 😉. In my time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many amazing people at different jobs, and I currently at the most amazing company building the most amazing piece of software and towards one of the most revolutionary ideas I’ve been exposed to in a long while!

How did I end up here? Deep in the matrix 💭

I wished it, dreamed it, imagined it as a kid growing up, all I wanted was the ability to spend time with my family, and partner(who I didn’t know at the time 😆), this, in turn, meant having a flexible job that pays incredibly well and allows me to spend a good chunk of my time with the people that mattered the most— at the time I didn’t know what remote was, but I knew I wasn’t interested in the commute 🚸

I also vowed never to work for any companies here in Nigeria because they usually have a poor culture, meager salaries, and nothing to look forward to every day, but to be saying “yes sir and yes ma” to people who are not half as smart as you are, only because they are older than you. So I did what anyone would – well not anyone, but I stopped showing up to classes at the university and started spending most of my time on what was just the beginning of the never-ending journey of learning to code

P.S: I am not encouraging anyone to do this, no two people have the same path in life and there were consequences for my actions, some of which I may share in a later article.

I started out just like many of you have, not knowing anything about code. I went to a five-year university, for Chemical Engineering and no 😆 I didn’t love it as you may or may not have guessed from the last paragraph. I ended up there much like many others who found themselves somewhere at some point in time for reasons they owe to indecisiveness. I did, however, try to make the best of the situation, in retrospect, I’m glad I did it because that’s how I met my partner I won’t shut up about 😝, but this is not the story for today.

During my five year journey, I went on to build several businesses, ranging from a barbecue food stand to a design business, to a small startup in my local community. One day, I visited a business partner at home to check on him, he was supposed to be working on the web app for business but he had been a ghost and unreachable for months, sitting in a small downstairs dining, he brought out his laptop to show me a bit of progress and that was the first time I ever came across Ruby on Rails.

In my head, I wondered “What’s this beautiful cryptic writing”, and every time I wanted to ask him a question, I’d shut myself up because, at that time in my life, I hadn’t adopted the philosophy that there are no stupid questions. Finally, after a long pep-talk with myself in my mind, I asked what MVC was. He explained but all I could hear was “Bloo-blah, bloo bloo bloo. Blah?” and this was it folks, my introduction to programming.

On the way back home, I couldn’t get it out of my head, I had seen HTML, I had ingested CSS, I understood those, but Ruby on Rails was so much more sophisticated, I HAD to understand it, my brain wouldn’t stop nagging at me until I did. So I asked how he learned it and he sent me here. This experience set the ball rolling for me 6 years ago.

Getting back to a small beautiful 3-bedroom flat that I still call home today, I opened up the Ruby on Rails tutorial site, and I soon came to realize that if programming was a beach, then HTML and CSS are just one grain of sand each, everything I had skipped classes to learn up till that point was just a tip of the iceberg. Learning this would be a full-time project and not just a hobby for me.

This was my progression:
* Learn Enough Command Line To Be Dangerous
Learn Enough Git to Be Dangerous
The Ruby On Rails Tutorial

This took me about 2 months to get through, after which I was on fire 🔥 and my fingers were itching to build, so I started with building the app for my startup idea, because my partner relinquished his interests, I moved on to build a cash delivery app, built an e-commerce store that never went into production, and also started working with a company in the UK, where I learned a lot about security, database design/architecture and plenty more concepts. I felt like there was more, and there was, I just struggled with the idea of where to go next.

So I thought, “Hey, maybe after I graduate Chemical Engineering, I could go get a CS degree”. I wasn’t going to be able to afford the education so my best bet would be a scholarship, I had 1 more year to go at the university and I felt like I was running out of time, so like every other 90’s kid, I hopped on google and began searching for my gateway into CS — for free of course, I was broke 😆.

While this was on-going I started to win small local contracts, building websites for businesses, consulting for them, and all that. It was good, the money was good but good enough has never been enough for me 😆.

I decided to take it a step further and move into the international space, where the opportunities were much better and I would have a better trajectory for my career. So I did what most people do, I opened up an account on Upwork and began searching for gigs. I failed, and soon my account was suspended because “I wasn’t good enough”.

I took a step back to re-strategize, and soon enough I stumbled on the concepts of boot-camps for the first time. I found Vikings Coding School, I applied, got accepted but at the time I couldn’t continue with it because it was immersive, meaning it wouldn’t accommodate any other commitments I had. I was distraught 😩

I continued learning and building for a few more months, and just as my next resumption date was approaching I stumbled upon another Bootcamp, where I would go on to meet a group of 3 amazing brothers(My standup team). I went through the application process, got through it in a flash, and thankfully they had the option of picking future start dates. So I picked one for the day I’d be graduating from the University. My final year was tough, but I had something to look forward to on the other side, an education that would finally allow me to consider myself a Software Engineer and teach me all I needed to know to have a successful career. A few months later, after writing, defending my final project, and escaping the 4 walls of a traditional classroom, I was out and ready to write some “Software codes” 😆

I started the Bootcamp with plenty of excitement, but the first thing I noticed about the projects I had lined up was, I had built these projects before. They were all from the Odin-project and I had gone through most of the course content till that point in time. I was excited nonetheless because I felt like when I graduated from the program, I’d be able to waive my certificate and be respected as an Engineer, getting jobs, left-right, and center.

The way the program is designed, you are assigned 1 coding partner for every section in the curriculum;

  • HTML & CSS 🎭
  • SQL 🔎
  • Ruby 💎
  • Ruby on Rails 🔥
  • Javascript 🚀
  • React & Redux 💞

But after the second section, the one part of the program that I convinced myself would be beneficial for me was gone and it wasn’t coming back — pair-programming. My partner dropped out of the program for personal reasons and I had to go through the Ruby section all by myself, and this was the turning point for me in my reasoning. I realized that this wasn’t the school I imagined it to be, there were no teachers here, the material was freely available on the web, I had gone through it before, I was back where I started without realizing it but now I owed money through an ISA, a whole $15,000. But I kept on keeping on because I don’t ever give up 😉.

One member of my stand-up team had always pointed it out but I ignored him every time and just kept going, but it was true, I was teaching myself to code, it was the school system all over again, this re-affirmed to me that certificates mean NOTHING and much of everything throughout life is just you pushing yourself — I have never flashed my Bootcamp certificate and I have never mentioned it professionally throughout my career, it’ll probably reduce my chances of getting a job rather than increase them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ashamed of attending a boot-camp, but I don’t attribute any bit of my success to it. I worked hard to get where I am, leveraging self-discipline, self-motivation, and deep work and the only association I have with my boot-camp days is trying to keep up with the ISA payments(which hasn’t been the easiest because my country is a mess)

I came into this program to become a Software Engineer, but being honest with myself, it wasn’t going to make me one. I had all I needed all along, but now I had used up 1 year of my life, “learning” the same things I already knew and more that was open-sourced, hoping that there was some kind of magic kool-aid you drink to become an Engineer and I’d get it here, but there’s no kool-aid, all it is, is hours of serious deep work that can be done by anyone, which I had proved to myself(for the second time). But this brought me back to my initial problem, how do I land a remote job? So as always I began restrategizing.

This time I got it right, I put off completing the final bit of the course work at the Bootcamp, I researched a few open-source projects and I started there, building things, learning real-world concepts, learning more advanced version control tricks, reviewing actual production code while building a portfolio of real projects and not toy apps most Bootcamp graduates have in their portfolios and after a few months of hard work, it was game time.

I went back to complete the coursework at the Bootcamp for the sake of it, checked the final box, and continued my open-source work, and for some reason, and at this point, for whatever reason, I wasn’t thinking of getting a job. I just wanted to write code and build, and so I did, I continued open-sourcing

Somewhere in there, one of the developers I try to help regularly with debugging his programming problems brought a gig my way. He got a job on Upwork and needed help executing it, I lent my skills, it was fun(and in case you’re wondering, I got paid via a 50–50 split), I really enjoyed it! I wrote a few API clients for Crypto Exchanges.

Later that week, I revisited Upwork, opened a new account, loaded it with tokens, and began applying for gigs, but this time it was different, I was an open-sourcerer 😆, I had worked with tons of intelligent engineers, I had many many concepts under my belt, I had knowledge of Git that was beyond my years 😆, I was ready, to me, all of life was source-code

Soon enough, with a short piece of text I had crafted to submit with applications, I was winning tons of gigs, and I had the privilege of hand-picking which ones I accepted or rejected.

In no time, I had worked on an Online Radio Station in Australia, built a few Shopify apps in Canada, built an API for a school in the U.S., worked on an App for a company in Poland, and I loved freelancing, but when I got the opportunity to move into a full-time role with a small team in Spain I took it, and it was one of my best and worst experiences at the same time, but that’s not a story for today! 😝 There were some dark days but thankfully, after 5 months of those, I was recruited into the most exciting company in the world Almanac, hands-down 🙌 — well, hands-up, but you get it.

Somewhere in the title of this article, I promised to tell you what Bootcamps won’t and also explain what “Bootcamp graduates don’t get jobs, only Engineers do” means, I have, but in case what I’m saying isn’t open enough, one last paragraph.

Let’s do it 🚀

First, I’ll start with the reason Bootcamp grads never get employed fresh out of the cohorts.

The reason most people struggle to find jobs after they complete the program is simple and clear as day, experience. We get mad when no one wants to hire Engineers with no experience, but put yourself in their shoes. You have a company, your company has goals, tight deadlines, etc. Who would you hire? An Engineer with 3+ years of experience or an Engineer who has only built a few toy apps and never worked in a team and hence knows nothing about relating with others, helping others and asking for help.

The only graduates you find who get jobs are actual Engineers, people who learned extra or even better people who went out and got some real-world experience, either before or after joining the Bootcamp, these are the only people who make it into teams. Do the research, I’ll wait.

Next, the second thing that Bootcamps never tell you and many people who graduate from them never go on to realize is there is no difference between a ‘self-taught’ Engineer and a Bootcamp graduate because, under the hood, they are both self-taught if you really think about it, the Bootcamp graduate just owes a shit-load of cash — $15000 was the price in my case.

I’m going to answer two questions that you probably have in mind;

Would I attend a Bootcamp if I could do it all over again?

Nope, I will not. I’d use the material on The Odin Project, in conjunction with the material here, more specifically the courses I listed earlier in this article. I’d also learn to build APIs in Ruby on Rails, test Rails apps, Build React/Rails apps and write tests for both. Next, I’d immerse myself in 2–3 open-source projects, heavy on whatever area of the stack you want to be proficient in. I’ve been in conversations that determine who gets the job, and I promise you, it’s never the Bootcamp grad, it’s always the Engineer and I understand why, so do yourself a favor and toss the toy apps in the trash.

How do I know when I’ve learned enough to be dangerous?

My answer is — when you can comfortably plan for and build features on open-source projects, you have a great grasp of git and popular workflows and you have control over the urge to build things because you feel like and you can direct your energy to only build things because they’re necessary. Also, you know you are ready when you can give help but more importantly when you learn to ask for it properly and in a timely fashion.

In my opinion, success in the as an Engineer boils down to these simple truths, you need to learn how to learn, you need to learn to teach, you need to learn to ask for help, and last but not the least, you need large blocks of uninterrupted time to practice and hone your skills especially when you’re starting out.

Things I hope to have passed across at this point:

  • Don’t go to a boot-camp, it’s an over-priced insurance policy that doesn’t ensure anything except getting emails from finance people asking for your hard-earned cash–sometimes rudely.
  • You need large blocks of uninterrupted time when learning to code. You don’t need 12 or more hours every day, you don’t need to code on the weekends, all you need is to log out of your social media, put your phone away and focus for 5–6 solid hours every day, trust me. Disappear for a sec.
  • After 6–8 months of learning, start applying to jobs, interviewing is one of those skills you can only learn by being in the thick of things. No book, tutorial video, or manual will ever help you as much as interviewing, taking notes, and learning from your mistakes.
  • Find a good open-source project to work on, it will go a long way in aiding your job-searching efforts.

See you soon! Ciao 👋

– Dami

A human being. I love, write, teach, build, and live. Rarely without a hat or beanie. Probably off somewhere using the 🚀 emoji uncontrollably

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