My experiences in the admissions process for Fullstack Academy

Millie ate my math notebooks.
This is not related to Fullstack Academy, but it is one of many reasons why Millie would stay with my parents while I attend Fullstack if that’s where I end up.

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?

Or … attend one of the best coding boot camps in the States, Fullstack Academy, for just three months in New York?

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.

The timeline

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.

Then, within a week of submitting the written application, I had to complete a programming challenge online. Without revealing too much of the challenge, I will tell you that my previous experiences in Queen’s first-year computer science courses were definitely helpful. It had been a 4-month gap between when I had written those exams and when I took the programming challenge, so I was a little rusty, but I felt okay about it (I knew I had passed even without counting any part marks they might have looked at). The nice thing was that the challenge allowed me to use Python even though Fullstack teaches JavaScript.

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.”

Yikes.

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.

15 thoughts on “My experiences in the admissions process for Fullstack Academy

    1. Hi Maddie! Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. No, I didn’t go with Fullstack. I was accepted to the University of British Columbia’s 2-year computer science program and decided to go with that, instead. Let me know if you have any other questions about my experience. 🙂

      1. Hey, I’d love to know how you ended up making that decision.
        I value time the most and $ is secondary and only from a return on investment perspective. So I am teetering on the edge of biting the bullet knowing it’ll take me waaayy longer to achieve the same level of coding proficiency by myself (while hustling a full-time startup job) and also not sure if I end up getting a jr. dev job in Canada if the investment would be worth it. (Considering the tuition, the lost wages of approx 12k and the going salary of jr. devs being approx 40k cad.)
        Best of luck with UBC, it’s a great program and got an amazing campus!

        1. This one slipped through the cracks! Sorry for not responding sooner. I decided on UBC for a few reasons (some personal, some academic/career-oriented):

          1. I love British Columbia and wanted to move back here 🙂 I needed a change!
          2. I didn’t want to attend a Canadian boot camp (they don’t seem as rigorous as the high-quality American ones), but I was worried about how the career connections from an American boot camp would translate to my finding a job in Canada. When I applied to Fullstack, they only had one Canadian alumnus I could speak to (they might have more now, or maybe they could only find one who wanted to talk to me haha).
          3. I am worried that boot camps are still a little new. I’m not sure how the education from a boot camp will hold up over a career. What happens when the tech that boot camp grads learn goes out of style? The BS takes longer but not *that* much longer (due to the program I’m in – it’s only 3 years, including 8 months of work experience in there).
          4. I could afford going back to school for that long. Certainly if I couldn’t afford a university degree, then a boot camp would make much, much more sense.

          UBC has been great but SOOOO hard! Definitely a transition…!

  1. Hi there! Hopeful candidate here. I am in the middle of the interview process and was wondering if you could expand on the second interview? I’m a bit nervous and just trying to gauge if I’m truly ready.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Christine, sorry I responded so late. It looks like your second interview must have come and gone already. Hope it went well 🙂

  2. Hi there,

    I also have applied to several universities for computer science major. I am curious to know to why you chose university over full stack academy? Are there any specific reasons you wanted to chose university or were there any negative reviews which you came across your way while making this important decision? I am on verge on whether to go with university or with boot camp like full stack. I would appreciate if you can give your insight on this.

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hey, Aayush! Sorry for not replying sooner – I have been busy with finals. I think coding bootcamps can be a good option for folks who don’t have the time or resources to get a university degree, but I was just nervous about the fact that bootcamps are still untested in the long term. Will they still exist or be taken seriously in 15 years? How will the knowledge you learn there hold up as technologies change and their graduates have to retrain?

      I was also concerned that bootcamps don’t seem to have the time to get into more complex topics – like bootcamps are pretty light on math, for example. I like that at university I can spend a whole term just diving deep into databases, as an example (which I haven’t done yet, but I want to!).

      I thought that a degree in the long run was a safer bet for my career than a bootcamp certificate. But I did think long and hard about doing the bootcamp route, instead, so I don’t want to dissuade you – ask lots of questions of folks at both places to see what’s in better-keeping with your goals.

      If you’re in Canada, there are a couple universities that offer fast-track comp sci programs for people who have a previous degree (UBC, SFU and apparently McMaster). There are also many colleges that offer shorter certificate programs in computer science. Those might be good choices if you’re looking for something shorter than a 4-year undergrad degree in comp sci, but a little more traditional than bootcamp.

      I don’t know too much about your options outside Canada, though.

      Good luck!

      1. Hello Caleigh,

        I am living in Seattle, Washington and I am currently in second year of university. As computer science is competitive major, I am looking for back up plan just in case if something happens with my admissions. This is the major reason I asked you about why you chose bachelor’s. Currently, two bootcamps are on top of my list i.e. Hack Reactor and Full Stack Academy. However, I must admit that I am worried too on whether bootcamp which be helpful in longer run.

        Since you are pursuing BS in CS, what do you think is a good option, bootcamp or BS degree? Also, while you were taking this decision did you come across any negative reviews about FSA or Hack Reactor?

        1. Hi Aayush! I didn’t come across any negative reviews about Full Stack or Hack Reactor. In fact, those two seem to be among the most highly-regarded in the States. In my case, I live in Canada so I was worried about going to an American boot camp (since I wasn’t sure the career networking would transfer well when I moved back home), and I didn’t want to go to a Canadian boot camp because they don’t seem as rigorous as the high-quality American ones.

          I’m happy with my decision to go the BS route, but a boot camp might be right for you 🙂 I’d do a LOT of research and see if you can speak to people who are *not* affiliated with the boot camps, who currently work in the field and preferably have hiring experience, as well as recent alumni so you can learn from their experiences. Heck, that might be a good excuse for you to do some informational interviews with people you might want a job from some day 🙂

          Good luck!

  3. Hey Caleigh, Nimit here, co-founder of Fullstack Academy. I ran across your post and just wanted to say Hi! Thank you for sharing your experience – the post is very well written. Of course, we would have loved to have you attend Fullstack Academy, but UBC’s CS program is also a great choice and I wish you the very best there.

    For any other readers here who are looking into Fullstack Academy – feel free to reach out to me at nimit.maru {{at}} fullstackacademy.com with any questions you may have. Best of luck with the admissions interviews if you’re applying!

    1. Thanks, Nimit! I had a wonderful interview experience and I’m glad you stopped by 🙂 UBC has been great but I gotta say, the prospect of being in school for another year sometimes makes me wish I had gone the bootcamp route, instead!

  4. Hi Caleigh – David Yang from Fullstack Academy here. Thanks for the thorough post, I enjoyed reading it from the perspective of a possible applicant and admire your conscientious process.

    Best of luck at UBC!

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