20 weeks later I’m a software engineer!

I’m a career-switcher who recently graduated from Launch Academy. It’s an immersive web-development bootcamp located in the heart of Boston. Outside of review sites there isn’t much content about the bootcamp experience so I’m sharing my journey here. I’ve been interested in coding as long as I’ve had a computer, and as that interest progressed from a hobby into a potential new career I started considering bootcamps. There are a lot of free online resources for learning to code, but I chose to pay. Why? What interested me in paying for education was that I could trust their curriculum to get my skills to a hirable level without wasting time learning irrelevant content. Otherwise I could continue self-teaching forever and remain at a skill level below entry-level. I viewed it as a way to accelerate my learning to the point where I could be hired (and then the real learning starts!)

“It never gets easier: you just go faster.” -Greg Lemond

Who is a Bootcamp right for?

Now that I can look back on it (HA! 4 weeks ago!) launch was a great fit for me. I think I was really well prepared coming in because I had been self-teaching for 200+ days at that point and had pre-run a lot of the curriculum. The funny thing is that with all of that prep it was still pretty difficult for me. They do a great job of teaching to a wide gamut of abilities and there is an opportunity to push yourself at every level. Like the famous quote attributed to Greg Lemond “It never gets easier: you just go faster.” That really sums up my launch experience. No matter how confident I was with what we had been taught, there was always an infinite well of other things to learn, classmates to help, and subjects to review.

Launch was a great fit for a bunch of other people as well. Everyone has different skill levels going in and coming out of the program. There doesn’t seem to be a super strong correlation between skill level and outcome, ie the most prepared people going in aren’t always the strongest coming out or more importantly the most hirable. If I had to draw any conclusions I would say that the drive to take everything seriously, not get frustrated, and push hard on learning new concepts were important traits for success.

Who is it wrong for?

The only people who didn’t seem to get as much out of the experience were the people who didn’t or couldn’t put the time in. This could be caused by a family that needs you at home, or the need to keep working on the side, or just a lack of commitment. Launch is a very demanding program and if you can’t be fully committed to it then another route into software development might be right for you. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t have the time to dedicate to an intense program like this. There is something wrong with signing up, paying the money and not being able to commit yourself to the task. Be honest with yourself about your preexisting commitments and your commitment to learning to code.

Starting slow: “Ignition”

Launch starts with an 8 week online course called ‘ignition’ that is an on-ramp to the subjects you will learn more in-depth on-campus. It is 5-20 hours per week of work depending on how much background knowledge you have. I ended up quitting my job before ignition started and I really had a lot more time than ignition demanded. I would not advocate for others to do that unless they were very concerned about their level of base knowledge. There were several people in my cohort who worked two jobs through all of ignition! There is a graded assignment due every week that somewhat mirrors the on-campus “systems check” as well as a lot of reading and ungraded assignments. This is a great time to get used to the schedule of having work to do all the time and also starting to get used to your weekly review / planning / time management / note taking system. If you find this time to be easy for you then use the free time to work on future curriculum or auxiliary skills. For instance: this is a great time to start feeling out your local meetup scene and start networking.

Speeding up: on-campus

This is where the rubber meets the road! You meet your classmates and your instructors (called EEs for “Experience Engineers”.) These people and this place will be your world moving forward so get to know them, be open, and be kind even if you are nervous. This section is split up into three parts. Week 1-6 are curriculum, where you are learning a TON and your primary focus is to get prepared for the tests (“system checks”) every Friday. Week 7&8 are a small group project where you will build an app with 3-5 people. Week 9&10 are the “breakable toy” weeks and you really spread your wings and fly while building your own app. As each week progresses the content gets more difficult and the “training wheels” get pulled away slowly.

Weeks 1-6: curriculum

There is a general routine of learning mon, tues, wed, reviewing thurs, and testing on friday. After the system check on friday you will get an overview of the material to be learned over the weekend, and then it’s rinse and repeat. The first systems check is always a nervous time, but everyone calms down slightly after it is over and they know what to expect for next time. The concept of a ‘flipped classroom’ can be frustrating some times. They don’t teach you the subjects, they give you the material to teach yourself and then the next day you review what you have learned with the group. There are supplemental lectures after that, but it is certainly not the usual classroom experience. I think that enables deeper learning since we are essentially making the connections ourselves after a little bit of struggle, i.e. “aha!” vs someone telling us it and then saying “that makes sense.” In my opinion the weeks get progressively harder as we go on. Specifically rails and databases in the last two weeks made for a lot to learn. Throughout this time you should be thinking about “breakable toy” concepts. This is your capstone project, so a good idea that is scalable up and down is key. Cut it back to the bare minimum features that would still seem interesting to employers and then make that. Add features if you have extra time. It might not feel right, but this is the perfect time to be hitting up as many meetups as you can. The easiest way to get a job is to be known to the person who is about to post a position. Go out and meet people. Tell them your story, and ask them about theirs.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Weeks 7&8: “group project”

You will learn a ton in these two weeks, and it will probably not be about coding. That is ok. There is a ton to learn about git, team dynamics, project structuring, pr workflow, and so much more. Remember that the process is the product and work on pushing yourself and acting as if you are already at work. Keep hitting up those meetups, and send your project to your network if you are happy when it is finished. This is also particularly stressful because your entire team only has 6 weeks of development experience at this point and is stressed out as well! There will definitely be a few times when you have to take a walk, or say “that’s not the way I think we should do it, but ok.” That is totally normal in a work environment and something to get used to dealing with.

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Weeks 9&10: “breakable toy”

This is really the main event. This project is going to be your calling card and will be the thing that you are judged on at the career kickoff. Try to find a concept that is interesting, try to find an interesting technology to incorporate, and style it WELL. I heard a great quote from an alum on this topic “Not everyone who looks at your site will be an engineer, but everyone who looks at it will have eyes!” There is no excuse for having an unstyled site. I would try to find a balance of a week for the functionality and a week for styling. Yes, I’m serious. You’re going to be presenting a video of the site as your visuals during career kickoff and they will have 2 minutes to decide if they would like to interview you. Theoretically they can look at your github and check out the live heroku instance, but google analytics shows me that absolutely no one looked at my heroku site! I think they are looking more at your presence and what you have built visually (and/or taking your word for it on the functionality!)

“Not everyone who looks at your site will be an engineer, but everyone who looks at it will have eyes.”

One other piece of advice it to try to make your app and presentation different from the other launchers. The hiring partners sit through 20-30 presentations, and many of the apps and speeches are essentially the same. Try to make yours funny, or dramatic, or memorable in some other way. Make your app look different by putting the buttons in a different position or by styling the heck out of it (get rid of foundation!) If you stand out they will have the opportunity to individually consider you, as opposed to running down the list and trying to remember who else made a to-do list app.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

The End of The Beginning: “Career Kickoff”

This is a career fair where launchers present their breakable toys to potential employers. By now you’ve been coding and practicing for a long time and you have your speech nailed down. Relax a little, breathe, and dive in. The partners aren’t there to shoot you down, so view them as friendly faces and engage them. After the presentations are all done talk with everyone! Even if you’re not super interested in the company / industry / person it will help you get the jitters out and hopefully get some more practice. I spoke with a few people who I didn’t initially think I would want to work with and they changed my mind. Be open minded and remember to smile. This isn’t super fun, but it’s part of the dance you need to do to get an interview and then a job. By the way, the interviews that come out of career kickoff are generally the most ‘friendly’ interviews. I.e. they know what launchers are capable of and they know what level to test you at for your interview. You will run into other positions where you are being evaluated alongside 2-4 year veterans and the whiteboarding will be much more difficult. Even if you don’t get a job out of career kickoff the interviews that result will be great practice for the harder ones to follow.

Job search

This process takes time and there are so many reasons for a “no” that are outside of your control. That’s ok.

Oh boy, the job search! This will be an entire article of it’s own, but I’ll give you an overview here as well. Once you graduate it can be a flurry of interviews and coding challenges or it can be silence. I was really surprised by the talented coders who were initially met with silence while others got a lot of interviews. Some of it can be chalked up to “looking good” vs “coding well” ie personable people tend to get more interviews than shy people, but getting the interview is only the first step. Once you are in the room you need to convince them that you can do the job AND that they would like to work alongside you. That can be hard when both sides are nervous, but I found all of my interviewers to be really kind. It’s ok if you don’t get any interviews, it’s ok if you don’t initially get any offers. This process takes time and there are so many reasons for a “no” that are outside of your control. That’s ok. It also takes a lot of confidence to walk into a room and then draw some code on the wall. Don’t let a few no’s stop your momentum, and don’t let a lack of emails bring down your confidence. Coming out of a bootcamp you have proved that you can learn, but you probably don’t know everything that you need to in order to start contributing on day one. Some companies don’t have the overhead in order to bring an entry level person in, and they don’t have the budget to bring in anyone higher so they have a low budget and high expectations. Don’t let that get you down, you’ll find a place.

Job Offer

Congratulations! You finally got an offer! Lucky for you Launch Academy has great career services and they will help you understand what the offer means. They will help you negotiate and figure out if you want to accept it, and generally be an ally in this nerve-racking process.

And then?

Then you start work! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Well, I bet that moment will actually come in about 2 weeks once you get your first paycheck, but this is the beginning of a new path. This is not the end of the learning process though. I’ve heard people say that in the first 3 months of work you learn more than you did in Launch Academy! Good thing you now have practice in teaching yourself, finding resources to learn from, asking good questions, and dealing with frustrations. You will need all of those superpowers in this path. Good luck, and remember:

“It’ll never get easier, you’ll just go faster!”

About me: I’m a brand-new dev and a grad of Launch Academy cohort 24. I live and work in Boston. For more backstory you can check out my blog. I’d love to answer your questions about career switching into software development. Send me a message or a linkedin request!

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