Hello World!

- - posted in hackreactor, thoughts, | Comments

About 2 months ago, I started learning about programming bootcamps one day as I was browsing through my Facebook News Feed. One of my friends had shared a link to an article about a programming bootcamp called App Academy, which had been featured on ABC News because they changed the nature of these bootcamps by doing one thing: changing how they charge for tuition. Rather than charging for tuition upfront, like many other educational institutions, they (at the time that the article was published) take 15% of your annual salary over the course of 6 months, from the first job you land after graduating from the academy. Intrigued by both the concept of a programming bootcamp and the lack of upfront costs, I applied. I went through the 5 stages of the application process (the initial application to apply, followed by 2 coding challenges, followed by 2 “interviews” where you chat with them over Skype and they see how you tackle another one of their coding challenges). After the 5th and final stage, they send you an email after a couple days to let you know if you got accepted. I got rejected.

Luckily, I had been looking into alternatives ever since I finished the first step of applying for App Academy. Turns out: There’s lots of programming bootcamps out there. Of the ones available, 3 stood out as great contenders based out of San Francisco (which is where I really wanted to move to):

  1. App Academy, the first one I applied to
  2. Dev Bootcamp has a great website, detailing nearly everything you’d want to know about them.
  3. Hack Reactor has a slightly different philosophy compared to the other 2. Rather than focusing on the server-side of  web development (in most cases, Ruby on Rails), they place an emphasis on teaching Javascript, noting that modern web applications are getting increasingly sophisticated and web browsers are also getting better at running Javascript, which allows us to create great client-side applications that do most of the processing, using the server simply as a means of syncing or storing information. Also, it’s the only one of the 3 (as of the time of this writing) that even has reviews on Yelp, not that reviews on Yelp would be the determining factor for me to spend the $17,780 tuition fee on Hack Reactor. Hack Reactor’s philosophy seemed to make a lot of sense to me. Take Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook as examples. When you visit those sites, your web browser essentially downloads and runs a complex Javascript program, which then pulls just the bare minimum information from the server and processes that information to figure out how to display it to you, rather than relying on the server to tell your web browser how to display it. For instance, when you’re on your Gmail inbox, the browser window never refreshes to get new information from the server. Instead, it periodically checks the Gmail server for new email in the background. Once something new comes in, the entire email message gets downloaded, and the Gmail Javascript program in your browser stores it and figures out how to display it to you, and then understands how to immediately show it to you when you click on the email subject from your inbox. Contrast this to the days when each link we clicked on our web-based email inboxes forced our web browser to send a request to the server and refresh the full page.

People often ask me why I chose Hack Reactor as opposed to the other development bootcamps. Here’s a few of the things that factored into my decision:

  • Of the 3 programming bootcamps, only App Academy and Hack Reactor had openings for sessions this year. The earliest cohort available through Dev Bootcamp was in February 2014, 8 months away from when I started this whole process. Given my excitement for this kind of a program after several years of thinking to myself  ”Man, I really wish I had more experience with x. That sounds really cool!“ (where x is the name of just about every tool in web development, like git, Node.js, Backbone.js, JavaScript in general, MongoDB, Ruby on Rails, etc.), I couldn’t stand the idea of waiting 8 months just for the chance of getting into a program like Dev Bootcamp.
  • Hack Reactor is expensive. I’m not going to lie. $17,780 is not something to scoff at. That’s not including the cost of food (besides the continental breakfast they provide), living/commuting in SF, and all other normal living expenses, during a period when I wouldn’t have any income. In order to attend any of these bootcamps, I had to quit the job I had been working for nearly 3.5 years. With Hack Reactor’s schedule of 9am-8pm, Mondays-Saturdays for 12 weeks, there’s no way I’d find time to work a part-time job. In fact, Hack Reactor specifically tells students they shouldn’t have any other commitments during those 12 weeks due to the intensity of the program. I thought Dev Bootcamp’s $12,200 was high enough, but Hack Reactor is another story altogether. Even after taking into account that Hack Reactor provides more hours, it still comes out to being more expensive. I even did the math on it: Dev Bootcamp: 8 hours per day * 5 days a week * 9 weeks = 360 hours / $12,200 = $0.0295 per hour Hack Reactor: 11 hours per day * 6 days a week * 12 weeks = 792 hours / $17,780 = $0.0445 per hour Dev Bootcamp: $12,200 / (8 hours per day * 5 days a week * 9 weeks = 360 hours) = $33.89 per hour Hack Reactor: $17,780 / (11 hours per day * 6 days a week * 12 weeks = 792 hours) = $22.45 per hour
  • In other words, Hack Reactor costs 50% more than Dev Bootcamp. (App Academy is slightly more expensive than Dev Bootcamp, if you calculate 15% of the average salary an App Academy graduate makes ($89,000 * 15% = $13,350). Either way, Hack Reactor is more expensive. Edit: Cofounder/CEO Tony from Hack Reactor pointed out the mistake I made with calculating the cost per hour; that’s what happens when I try doing math really late at night after my first (incredibly intense) week at Hack Reactor when I first composed this entry (but more on that first week in a separate entry). On a per-hour basis, Hack Reactor turns out to actually be cheaper! However, most prospective students tend to do the calculation on a per-week basis, which is where Hack Reactor would come out as more expensive: Dev Bootcamp: $12,200 / 9 weeks = $1,355.56 per week Hack Reactor: $17,780 / 12 weeks = $1,481.67 per week (Sidenote: Hack Reactor published a blog post outlining reasons why their program is more expensive. This blog post didn’t factor into my decision to choose Hack Reactor, since it wasn’t published until after I already got accepted and paid the deposit + tuition fees).
  • The application process for Hack Reactor was incredibly better than App Academy. With App Academy, the focus was strictly on how well you knew Ruby (after they gave you a few resources to use). Their “interviews” were essentially closely proctored Ruby tests that took place over Skype. It just felt very impersonal. The interviewers never really asked any questions to get to know me to gauge my personality. Hack Reactor, on the other hand, was a breathe of fresh air in comparison. That alone made it worth the premium over App Academy. After submitting my application to Hack Reactor, they invited me to come in for an interview (in-person), or use Skype if I couldn’t make it. That alone was a nice surprise, considering App Academy never even invited me to tour their facilities despite how far I got in their interview process. During the interview with Hack Reactor, I got to meet a few students (even in the elevator ride to Hack Reactor on the 8th floor), so I had a chance to ask random students how they liked the program. All the students I met were enthusiastic about being at Hack Reactor. So I figured they either did a good job of screening out those who weren’t as passionate about the program during the admissions process, or they were just really good at hiding those students from me during my visit.

The first interview gave them a chance to get to know me, and very importantly, gave me a chance to get to know them and their facilities. After having me tackle an easy Javascript problem, they gave me a small take-home Javascript project to work on. Once I submitted it, they scheduled me for a technical interview, where they gauged my ability to learn new concepts (as opposed to just testing me on something they referenced in an email).

A few days after that second interview, I got my acceptance email (at which point I did several happy dances in the privacy of my room, and continued doing so for the next few days). Now that I was accepted, I knew I couldn’t contain my excitement for moving on to the next chapter of my life and starting to learn all the things I had been wanting to learn for the past several years. There’s no way I could contain myself and wait for a Dev Bootcamp session that’d start 8 months from that day. I had already fallen in love with Hack Reactor and I couldn’t think of what Dev Bootcamp could offer that made it worth waiting 8 months for (and besides, Dev Bootcamp makes you send in a video; I can’t say I’m a fan of that idea). And so, on July 9, I turned in my resignation letter at my job, paid my deposit, sent my tuition check in the mail, and prepared for my new and exciting beginning at Hack Reactor.

During my initial search of programming bootcamps, I stumbled upon a few blogs out there of people describing their experiences with various bootcamps and found them to be both interesting and informative, since they helped me confirm that these programming bootcamps were worth quitting my job and emptying out my life’s savings to pursue. I started this blog with the intent of letting others know about my experience with programming bootcamps (primarily Hack Reactor), with the hopes that someone else reading this will find it just as useful as the other blogs I found useful in my initial search. Stay tuned for the next entry, when I reflect on my first week of Hack Reactor (spoiler alert: It’s awesome).