Coding Bootcamp! It was the “______” decision of my life!

 If you are like the majority of the business world, you hear the word “tech” and your ears perk. An instinctual decision will soon be made as to whether you are going to jump into the conversation and throw in your two cents.

businessRufflesSince the late 90s businesses have been sinking their teeth into the idea of technology adoption and continuous improvement as a means to cut costs and innovate, as well as increase profitability, efficiency and overall quality. Fast-forward a notch and we’ve entered 2.0 of the tech revolution or what some refer to as the Digital Age. Call it what you must, but there is no doubt that technological advances are accelerating with software being very core to the movement. Today’s buzz around social media, data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and deep learning… the modern world is realizing transformation with greater rapidity at all levels.

Getting back to Brass Tacks

In order to fuel this transformation, a talented, engaged workforce is necessary to turn those 1s into 0s and vice versa. That workforce needs to hold a reputable proficiency in the art of programming and software engineering.

CodingNiceWith a myriad of technologies shaping the landscape – computing languages, software and hardware platforms, frameworks, application programming interfaces (APIs), database structures, and networking protocols are just some of the keywords that are referenced when talking about tech these days. Being able to hold a conversation on any one of those topics let alone developing any level of expertise may seem nothing short of daunting to those looking to get into the field.

The standard route, if someone had the urge to work in tech, involved attending a 4-year university, majoring in Computer Science (CS), starting out as a junior developer/software engineer, and then subsequently working his way up the corporate ladder. An alternate route is for the new developer to take on a little bit more risk and motion to start their own company or join an early stage tech firm. They are destined to learn a lot, be given more than their fair share of responsibility, and possibly even win the lottery of being an early employee with a high value tech firm.

Demand for Tech Talent

While that 4-year CS degree served as a gold standard entry point into the aforementioned career trajectory, there are certain forces at play that have changed the dynamic. The demand for a technical workforce has exploded. Specialized technical talent is hard to come by.

Programmer

An example of one of the most notoriously aggressive moves to acquire technical talent was made by Uber Technologies in spring 2015. Uber poached 40 of Carnegie Mellon University’s researchers and scientists from the University’s Robotics Institute. This kind of move was near unprecedented, and disruptive to the trust between academia and business. Looking forward, by the year 2022 the average growth in technology-related roles is projected to be 18% when compared to projected growth of 11% for all other industries. Let’s take a look at the following projected growth breakdown in 2022.

Projected Growth Breakdown in 2022

  • 37% – IT Security
  • 25% – Business Data Systems Analysts
  • 22% – Programming and Software Engineering
  • 20% – Web Development
  • 15% – Database Development Administration and Business Intelligence
  • 15% – IT Project Management

How to Learn

Ironically, as technology transforms the way the world works, it has also transformed the way technologists learn. For self-driven individuals, there is no shortage of online resources, forums, blogs, as well as in-person and digital communities that can be tapped in order to build their knowledge base and associated tech super powers. Some well-known sites include CodeAcademy, Udemy, Udacity, Lynda.com, iTunes University, MIT OpenCourseWare, and the volumes of YouTube tutorials.

While self-teaching is ambitious and arguably effective, most will argue that this is labor intensive, time consuming, and rife with trial-and-error. Despite this Sisyphean task, StackOverflow’s 2016 Developer Survey showed insights into the makeup of the global developer population. Of the more than 56,000 respondents, 69% claimed that self-teaching was a component of their education, while only 35% had a BS in Computer Science or a related field. Given the workforce demand, a marketplace has developed for what are now colloquially referred to as Coding Bootcamps. Note that 6.5% of the survey’s respondents indicated that they were educated in a full-time immersive Coding Bootcamp.

CashBang for Your Buck

These bootcamps aim to fill the need between the aspiring programmer who does not have the means, time, or desire to complete a 4-year CS degree, and is looking for something that goes deep, provides a certain level of intensity, is sensitive to schedule availability, and of course produces results.

Some of the more renowned Coding Bootcamps claim to turn the aspiring coder from Zero to Hero in 10 to 19 weeks with tuitions ranging from $12K to $21K. The average college semester is 15 weeks long and most 4-year degree holders will have put in 120 weeks of course study by the time they graduate. Additionally, assuming an annual average college tuition of $24K, students will be responsible for $96K in tuition fees upon graduation. Given these figures, these coding bootcamps are attempting to make good on providing technically proficient coders in about 12% of the time and at about 20% of the cost that it takes to get a CS degree. A tall order, but the need certainly merits it!

The A-Typical Candidate

These coding bootcamps have a knack for attracting a young aspiring workforce. The target demographic may vary, but there are some consistent themes found amongst the students. According to CourseReport.com, the average student is 29 years old with 6 years of working experience. Just over 70% have bachelor’s degrees, and the male–female split lands right around 60/40. Prior to attending the bootcamp, those who held full-time positions, held annual average salaries of $55K. Upon graduation students can expect to command annual salaries between $50-$110K.

I have segmented the typical candidates into broad-based personas. They are as follows: the Hail Mary Tosser, the Anti-Establishment Careerist, the Career Switcher and of course the Skills-Builder.

  • Hail Mary Tosser. This candidate is searching for something. They may or may not have a college education, but regardless, they are hoping that the bootcamp lands them on their feet and they get involved in something professionally rewarding. They are uncertain of their follow-on career prospects, but the bootcamp seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • Anti-Establishment Careerist. These folks never had any intention of going to college. They generally view college as expensive, time-consuming, and lacking in Return on Investment (ROI). In lieu of attending a four-year degree program, they have high expectations that this will serve as their entrance into a career in programming.
  • Career Switcher. They represent a majority of the student body. They often times come from careers that were either not financially or professionally rewarding. They are familiar the prospects of a career in technology, and they see this as a calculated move that will get them into a stabile career where they can exercise their talents and creativity.
  • Skills-Builder. These students vary in terms of previous education and work experience, but they generally have some degree of programming experience. This experience typically lacks functional depth. They are looking to build upon their current skills and leverage their newly acquired development skills in a more technical role.

There is one more persona that is not overly represented in these bootcamps, and that is the atypical category that I fall into. This is the Young Entrepreneur category.

  • Young Entrepreneur. These candidates are looking to build the skills that will provide a solid foundation for growing a tech startup. Early stage tech companies place a huge emphasis on product development. Whether the Young Entrepreneur is personally doing the coding or working closely with the CTO and/or development team, the Young Entrepreneur is expecting to round out skills that will pay dividends as they pursue their entrepreneurial passion.

The WhymobileApp

Previously, I have had the opportunity to work on two startups. One was an academic content aggregation platform called eVelero that never made it past the idea stage. The second was Frienso Inc., a mobile app designed to enhance personal safety on college campuses through location-based interaction. Frienso made it through the first round of product development, initial beta testing on iOS and Android, and our team even pitched to potential customers and users. It is through both of these experiences that I decided my programming skills were in need of a turbo charge.

Going forward, I knew I wanted to be more involved in getting the initial product off the ground. That type of sweat-equity is needed to get the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) going as well as better lead and manage a technical workforce. I am a believer that attending a coding bootcamp, will help make this possible.

Now if someone were to glance over my resume and associated work experience, he might think that I would be one of the last people that would need to attend a coding bootcamp… I’m a self-starter, have a Bachelor’s in Information Technology, worked in IT project management, and have an MBA from a top school. I even worked at a Big-4 consulting firm as a tech consultant. I check most of the metaphorical boxes in being able to dominate in the tech space…So why did I decide that a coding bootcamp was right for me?

A Story on Fixing Cars

Could I have forgone the coding bootcamp? Quite possibly.

CarWhen I was a boy, I would watch my father work tireless on the family cars. My mother and father typically drove 120 miles a day commuting into New York City in some of the worst traffic the east coast could muster. Subsequently, these autos were frequently in need of maintenance. My father is a Do-It-Yourselfer. It’s just in his blood. He is a problem-solver, relentless, and yes stubborn. There was seldom a car problem or other that he couldn’t fix, but he paid a heavy price with regards to time in order to keep those cars running.

His genes and work ethic rubbed off on me. We share in each other’s affinity for solving problems, tenacity, and, of course stubbornness. And while I have held a number of leadership roles to date in and outside of the military, I am the type of person that needs to dance in both worlds. I thrive off of having a degree of technical prowess as well as managing at the executive level. I can hardly fathom doing one without the other. In the Navy, there were a number of leadership lessons that I picked up along the way. While I won’t recite them all for you here, I will highlight a couple.

  1. Never ask your people to do anything that you would not do yourself.
  2. Lead by example, and lead from the front.

Those two have stuck with me through the years, and if I am to continue to pursue my tech entrepreneurial path, I feel that attending a coding bootcamp would be the best way to marry my ethic, drive, and leadership style going forward.

The Now

As I write this post I am 6 weeks into a 19-week coding bootcamp in Denver, Colorado called Skill Distillery. The program is an immersive, hands on experience focused on building the skills needed for a lasting career as a web developer and full-stack Java application developer. And while I have no intention of seeking a full-time career as a developer, I do plan on continuing to code and leveraging the skills I learn in my next startup.

ClassShotIt’s a tough program. My class of 13 are in school working through lectures and labs for upwards of 50 hours a week and have assignments and self-study outside of the classroom. There are number of seasoned programming professionals that serve as both our core instructors and teaching assistants. There is never a time when a programming question will go unanswered.

So far I have been very impressed with the experience. In these weeks, we have covered the core concepts of Java object-oriented programming and have completed various programming assignments putting that knowledge into practice. We have since transitioned into configuring web servers and setting up our own functional web pages from scratch. We are in a sense building our domain expertise with setting up and managing the stack of web applications. With 13 weeks to go, I have no doubt that this program will answer the mail in terms of building the technical skills that I signed up for.

HeadshotThe Next Step

Entering this coding bootcamp, I knew where my limitations were, and deep down I believe that this was the right decision. While I have a strong business background and entrepreneurial zest, I am uncertain as to what the future holds. I do know that I will be much better equipped to build, manage, and scale operations in my next startup venture.

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