Austin Sharman: Is A Coding Boot Camp Worth It?

Austin Sharman

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My name is Austin. I recently graduated from the full-stack developer bootcamp at UCF and I just want to talk a little bit about what my experience with that was like and if I would recommend that boot camp.

[0:16] So, would I recommend a boot camp to someone? Yes, I would. I guess—let me give you a little bit of background on how I got into programming.

So, I took a programming class in high school. We got into it in the first semester of the class in high school. We were making a video game but it was in the language Visual Basic, and if you don’t know what that is, it’s just a really bare-bones programming language that can 3D render some things and you can take user inputs.

So, that’s what we built a game [with]. I kind of wish I still had a video game or some sort of video of it, that’d be kind of interesting to look back at I guess what Visual Basic looks like, or now that I know more about programming what it’d be like. But anyways, we got into doing that and I remember not liking it as much as I thought I would. The video game aspect of it didn’t appeal to me as much.

[1:18] The second semester, though, we got into talking about Java and we started doing algorithms, starting to solve actual code questions a little bit. We started getting a little more abstract concepts and mathematical stuff and that actually intrigued me more in coding, you know, it got me more interested in coding than learning Visual Basic.

I felt like we were actually doing programming. It actually made a little more sense to me than Visual Basic did for some reason, so that’s how I got into programming.

[1:53] After graduating high school I did nothing with programming and there were a couple of points in time where I was like, “You know I really do kind of miss that,” and I wanted to get back into it and I just really didn’t know how to.

So I got a little course on Udemy and started teaching myself a little bit about Python and that was great and everything but…I was learning Python and I was learning concepts. I did some basic Hello World projects, I built tic-tac-toe with Python, but I didn’t know how it connected to everything else. It felt like I was in a vacuum. So, after putting Python and programming away again I started working in coffee.

[2:40] After about two years of sitting in the coffee industry I noticed that the learning curve of just me getting new information and just learning new things started to plateau.

And so I started getting bored with that again and my fiancée at the time thought about [it and] she kind of sat down and talked about what I was going through, so like figuring out what I wanted to do, and we decided that I would sign up for a coding boot camp. So we signed up.

[3:12] I didn’t really know what to expect, I mean they always told me it was super hard and I was really prepared, I mean I had six months of preparation time before I actually started the program, so I started looking at HTML and CSS, kind of doing some little inch short resources that they gave me.

I took some stuff on Freecodecamp and things like that, so I kind of started self-teaching myself again but from HTML and CSS this time and I noticed that these concepts were pretty easy for me to grasp but I didn’t have, I guess, enough structure to implement.

Like, okay I know what an A tag is, or I know how to link between pages, I can build out a really ugly page of HTML and add some basic styling to it. I didn’t know the breadth of what you can do with these things and these technologies and I think the boot camp is another good resource for that and that’s kind of why I enjoyed it so much.

[4:10] I started doing the boot camp, the main stack we used was the MERN stack, so if you’re not familiar that’s MongoDB, Express.js, React, and Node.js. I did a full-time program so I took time off of work.

That’s the way I would recommend it and, you know, life gets in the way. You’ve got bills to pay and everything, so it’s not the most ideal situation but if you can manage to do it for full-time, get it over with quicker, you can dedicate the next 12 weeks of your life to learning programming.

[4:38] The biggest benefit I got out of the boot camp was, kind of, what I lacked with Python was I didn’t know how it connected to everything. I started hearing things like Flask and Django and stuff like that and I didn’t know what those terms meant. I thought I knew how to import a library.

And then again I didn’t even know how much was out there in terms of libraries and how much you rely on them and things like that, and so the program, just really, it’s not a matter of just trying to teach you these programming languages. It’s more of a 10,000-foot view of how everything just kind of connects together. I don’t think I would have found any of these resources or tools or anything like that if I were just Googling. Maybe I would have but in 12 weeks I got a good grasp on how everything works together, and if I need to learn something new, how to plug it into my current knowledge base.

[5:37] So, I think that’s really what I got out of the boot camp, is how you connect everything together; not necessarily like, “oh I can write HTML,” or “I can write JavaScript.” I mean, I think I could have learned that on my own with any free online resource, but how to start a React project, how to hook it up to a back-end with Node.js and Express—how do you even look for that stuff?

I didn’t know what any of those vocabulary words meant, like that wouldn’t have meant anything to me before the boot camp, and so that’s the most valuable thing I got out of it.

[6:11] And doing the 12-week program, it gives you just enough surface information of each topic so that you can run with it. There were many times where I would want to finish a homework assignment in the boot camp quickly, so that there was maybe a day before it was due, so that I could start learning a little bit next, get a jump on the next topic, or maybe I discovered something Googling or going on Stack Overflow to answer a question—I was like what the heck is that?

That’s how I found SaaS. The boot camp didn’t teach us anything about that, it just taught us what CSS was and then what Bootstrap was. It gave us the tools and the knowledge to dig deeper in those things that we wanted.

[6:58] The boot camp is there as a way to test yourself, sure, and your instructors and teacher’s assistants are going to push you, and they’re there if you need help and they really strongly encourage you to be a better problem-solver. They tell you in day one you have to learn how to use Google and use those resources.

As a developer, I think that’s the most important skill. It’s not can you type in React code easily, it’s how quickly and how efficiently can you solve problems or how discouraged you get when you hit a roadblock. Are you able to quickly knock it down or keep trying different avenues and brute force your way through and figure out how to do it or do you just give up and just wait until someone does it for you?

[7:44] So, I think the boot camp is a kind of, I mean I don’t have any college experience so I can’t speak for that, but from what I understand I think the boot camp is a pretty good middle ground of being self-taught and doing a standard university, like a Comp Sci degree. You get enough structure that if you really don’t know what you’re looking for, how to tackle a problem, you have someone there who can at least point, “hey head in that direction,” whereas when you’re being self-taught you don’t have that per se. I mean, yeah, you can go on online forums and everything but you’re not getting that tangible feedback from an instructor or someone who’s code reviewing for you.

There’s enough structure there to where I think it’s better than being self-taught but not enough structure, or not too much structure, to the point where you don’t know how to do anything yourself. Whereas online resources, like if you’re doing Freecodecamp or Code Academy or anything like that, you’re gonna learn CSS that way. They’re just gonna teach you the very basics, like okay here’s how you change the background color, here’s font weight, font family.

Let’s style it this way, then you get cookie-cutter templates and they kind of hold your hand and I think that’s the part where the boot camp takes over, where they’re like okay here’s how you do this, we’re gonna let you fail, we’re gonna throw you out into the deep end, let you flap around for a little bit, try and figure things out and then we’re gonna reel you back in a little bit, give you another little hint and kind of steer you. And so they didn’t hold your hand they just kind of gave you little tugs every now and then to kind of help you.

[9:25] So when they gave us stuff like “build this,” like they gave us an image and they’re like, “okay make this into a website.” They knew it was challenging enough for us to maybe not know how to do everything on it, but not as complex as maybe a building, I don’t know, ESPN.com or something like that.

Whereas when you’re kind of teaching yourself, you don’t know where you lie on the curve of experience. You don’t know how much you know, you don’t know what you don’t know, so being able to place benchmarks that were accurate for the students is another great benefit. So, yeah, I mean that’s really what I got from the boot camp.

[10:10] I would say understanding how everything connects alone was well worth it. Figuring out how to find information, how to learn new concepts, is just an invaluable skill as a developer and I feel like the boot camp, really I mean those 12 weeks, that’s the one thing that really hit home for me, is how do I navigate now, where do I go from here, how do I keep learning, how do I continue to be a better developer.

If you’re on the fence about doing a boot camp or anything like that I’d highly recommend one.

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