Reflecting on Hack Reactor

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2 months after graduating from Hack Reactor, I’ve been asked several times about what it was like to attend Hack Reactor. When I was considering going to Hack Reactor in the first place, I found it really helpful to read about other people’s experiences, so I’m adding my 2 cents for anyone else who might be interested (and also so I don’t have to answer the same question multiple times!).

TLDR: Hack Reactor been an awesome experience and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

I graduated from Hack Reactor in early November as one of the 29 students in the 6th cohort, which started in August 2013. As a testament to just how great and effective Hack Reactor is, by the end of the 2nd week after graduation, I already started getting job offers with 6-figure salaries. The statistics on their webpage aren’t kidding around. At the time that I applied, they bragged about the average graduate getting $85k salaries. I was already skeptical of that at the time that I applied (but it was still a lot better than what I earned before). After we’ve graduated, as other students in my cohort got offers, it became apparent that the average salary has been increasing with each cohort and a 6-figure salary was the new norm.

What sets Hack Reactor apart from the other immersive schools out there, like Dev Bootcamp and App Academy? There’s a few things:

  1. Most other schools teach students Ruby on Rails (a server-side language), while Hack Reactor focuses on teaching students software engineering principles using JavaScript, a (often client-side) language used by virtually every online presence out there. Because of its ubiquitous nature, there’s a lot more demand for JavaScript engineers on the job market.

  2. At 12 weeks long (technically 13 weeks, more on that later), 11 hours a day (I stayed 13), and 6 days a week, you’re investing a lot more time into the program. This means you’re more thoroughly immersed in the curriculum and you get to spend 3.5 weeks on developing awesome projects: one to show off what you can do on your own, and one amazing one to show off what you can accomplish as part of a team. Both of these projects give you the opportunity to demonstrate what you’re capable of doing, once you start applying for jobs.

  3. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention cost. Hack Reactor (at the time of this review) costs $17,780. That’s a hefty chunk of change, but it’s easily the best investment I’ve ever made. The salary difference between my job prior to Hack Reactor and afterwards more than makes up for the cost of tuition. Also, if you wished Hack Reactor did something akin to App Academy, where they garnish 18% of your first year’s salary, consider this: 18% of the average Hack Reactor graduate’s salary (which at the time of this writing is $110k) comes out to $19,800, which is even more expensive!

  4. Marcus and Ruan. Marcus Philips used to teach JavaScript and Front-End engineering at Twitter’s #CodeClass and is now Hack Reactor’s primary lecturer during the incredibly intense/brain-warping first several weeks of the curriculum. He has the unrivaled ability to turn any complex concept in JavaScript and explain it in such a way that it sounds incredibly simple, sometimes distilling it down to a single sentence. He does an amazing job of engaging students and won’t move onto the next topic until he’s certain everyone fully understands the current one. Ruan is the ultimate job hunting guru you’ll ever meet. A Hack Reactor alum himself, he isn’t working at Hack Reactor because he couldn’t find a job himself (heck, he was featured in Wired’s article “Hackers Spawn Web Supercomputer on Way to Chess World Record” because of his group’s project on creating a distributed computing system to tackle the n-queens problem; he’d have no problem getting the job he wants). Instead, he works at Hack Reactor because he loves the environment and he knows practically everything there is to know about the best strategies for getting the job you want.

Hack Reactor also does a great job of screening applicants for culture fit. Every student comes into HR because they genuinely want to learn to build applications and tackle new challenges; they’re not just there because they heard that HR graduates make a lot of money. Once you’re in the program, you’re surrounded by people who are just as driven and inspired as you are, and it encourages you to do even better.

After the group projects are done, HR kicks off the job search period by hosting a Hiring Day event where they invite recruiters from various companies (including Salesforce, Yahoo, Pandora, Udacity, Inkling, and Walmart Labs) and students get to talk to each company for 5 minutes, speed-dating style (because if you think about it, job searching is really similar to dating, in the sense that both parties are looking for the best fit and determining if they can make the relationship work). From this day on, HR helps you with all aspects of the job search, from boosting your online profile and resume, to one-on-one practice interview/whiteboarding sessions, reaching out to give you advice on each step of the way. This is probably the most underrated part of Hack Reactor, but it’s crucial to its success, because college career services don’t offer anywhere near this level of personal support after you graduate.

Of course, Hack Reactor isn’t without its flaws. The main issue: class sizes are starting to exceed capacity, and they currently don’t have enough physical space and staff to deliver the full level of support they’re aiming to provide (which includes very limited restroom stalls, which meant waiting in line for a few minutes after lectures). At least, they didn’t when I was there, but I’ve heard plans that they’ve acquired another floor in the same building, with plans to use it in early 2014, and they’re constantly hiring more staff to deal with their growth.

I took a gamble when I decided to attend Hack Reactor, a program that none of my peers had ever heard of, let alone attended. I had quit my stable, full-time job, drained my entire savings account to pay for tuition and living expenses, and moved nearly 200 miles to SF. After months of intense (but rewarding) work, I’m thrilled (and relieved) that it all worked out in the best way possible and proud to say that going to Hack Reactor was the best life decision I’ve ever made.