One question that keeps me up at night is where to pursue my computer science education next year. Stay at Queen’s, where I’m comfortable and happy but a little bored and the degree takes three years? Sell everything I own and move across the country (with a dog!) to the University of British Columbia’s two-year Integrated Computer Science program? Or maybe sacrifice the amazingness of downtown Vancouver for the less expensive option of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby?
Coding boot camps are relatively new on the education scene. Generally 9-17 weeks long (although some online models are popping up now, like Udacity’s nanodegree, which can take up to a year), these coding boot camps offer a high-intensity immersion into today’s hot languages and technologies. Many of these boot camps claim pretty impressive employment rates post-graduation (for example, Fullstack claims a 97% hiring rate for its grads). Although these boot camps seem wildly expensive (especially since, in my case, I’d also have to move to a new city for a couple months to do it), they are still a lot cheaper than going the traditional higher education route. You’re also out in the workforce faster than if you do a 3-4 year degree.
Since I’m so curious about the future of education, you can imagine this is all pretty intriguing to me.
But! The first step to following any of these paths is getting admitted. While I’m still in the middle of applying to Queen’s, UBC and SFU, I recently found out that I’ve been accepted to Fullstack Academy (yay!). I thought I’d share my experience of the application process.
I applied to Fullstack right before Christmas. The written application includes some typical questions about why I was interested in learning how to code, what I might be able to contribute to the community, etc. This was straightforward, and the only remotely tricky part for me was just thinking about how my previous work experience could transfer over to an intensive coding boot camp. I hadn’t attended CAN-CWiC when I applied, so this was a tougher hurdle than it would be for me now.
However, if you haven’t taken any computer science courses and are preparing for the programming challenge, I urge you to consider Fullstack’s admission prep resources. The challenge was not as easy as I thought it would be! I gave myself a strict timing budget and if any question took longer than the allotted time, I moved onto the next one. It was probably the first time in my life where I didn’t feel like I had enough time on a test.
Maybe because I had finished the first round right before Christmas, it took a while — maybe two weeks — before I heard back from Fullstack whether I’d been selected for the second round of interviews. In fact, I had basically given up hope by the time I got the email invitation.
The second-round interview was my favourite part — I actually got to speak to a human being! Over Skype, with my dog whining softly in the background, but still. It was nice. The interview happened over Skype, and it was pleasantly conversational; it seems like Fullstack is trying to assess mutual fit in terms of interpersonal skill as well as coding ability.
The most nerve-wracking part of the interview was the programming component. This time, I had to pair-program with my interviewer on a couple more puzzles. Once again, I’ve understandably been asked not to reveal too much about the problems, but I will say that I left the interview with zero idea as to how I did (although I did ultimately manage to figure out the problems by the end of the interview). Did I laugh too much or come across as snarky or immature? Contribute enough in the pair-programming component? Was it okay that I didn’t know the answers right away, or that sometimes Huntly had to give me some hints? Was I too demanding when I asked to speak to Canadian alumni?
I’m pretty sure at one point my interviewer asked why I want to attend Fullstack, and I responded, “Well, frankly I’m not sure that I do yet.”
Miraculously (or so it seemed to me), a few days later I received my acceptance.
To boot camp, or not to boot camp?
I’m still not sure if I’ll attend Fullstack Academy. At this point, I lean more toward UBC or SFU. One of the big advantages of Fullstack — and any coding boot camp — is that it’s a much faster way to learn the practical skills, but since I already have a degree and several transferable credits from Queen’s, UBC and SFU are both only two-year programs. Two years ain’t so bad.
I’m also still nervous about how untested coding boot camp graduates are in the long run. If I’m looking to take on a senior software developer role someday, will I need a degree for that promotion? How much depth can really be achieved in just a few months? What about the math skills needed for computer science? American coding boot camps are spreading like wildfire, but the concept is still fairly new here in Canada (and I am not as convinced of the quality of Canadian boot camps, either). If I attend Fullstack, will the connections I make in New York actually translate to any job leads in Toronto?
On the other hand, there’s a more adventurous part of me that would love to take on the challenge of an immersive program like this. I couldn’t handle a lifestyle like that forever, but spending six days a week learning how to code with a bunch of other like-minded people just sounds awesome. It’s rare these days to find that kind of time and passion to devote to one singular pursuit, and that level of obsessiveness (not forever! just for a few months!) appeals to me.
Fortunately, I have several months to decide, since I’m not planning on joining any cohort until August or September 2016. Although Fullstack can’t guarantee me a spot in the cohort until I put down a $2000 deposit, I won’t need to undergo the lengthy admission process a second time. I may just have to do another technical test to ensure my programming skills haven’t gotten rusty.
My advice to future Fullstack applicants
So long as applying is free, I say go for it! You have nothing to lose. The team has been nothing but friendly and transparent with me, and now that I’ve been approved to attend, they are going to try and put me in touch with a Canadian grad so I can chat with them about how the experience has transferred over the border.
Ready to dive in? Here is how I think you can best prepare, based on my experience:
- If you don’t have many computer science courses under your belt already, do all the recommended programming pre-work listed on Fullstack’s admissions prep resources.
- Write down in advance your reasons for wanting to apply and for joining the industry. It helps to articulate this before the interview or application.
- Consider what traits Fullstack might be looking for in their applicants (don’t forget those soft skills), and then write down any experiences or previous training you’ve received that can demonstrate how you possess those traits.
- Prepare some interesting questions — you’ll want to make sure that you’ll be happy with the boot camp, too.
- Check out some of their students’ final projects — really cool stuff, and it’s nice to talk about some of these during the interview (or even mention during your written application, although I didn’t think to do that…).
Good luck! Maybe I’ll see you in New York if we are in the same cohort.