Why DBC was worth the investment
I attended DevBootcamp in summer of 2014 (Gopher Snakes San Francisco!) It’s one of the original coding Bootcamps that sprung up in recent years to help plug the demand for reasonably competent junior software developers in the tech industry. The pitch is something along the lines of “learn enough about coding to get hired in only 9 weeks of intensive effort”.
You can already see a bunch of mysterious ‘DBC Reflection’ notes I wrote during my time there that are mostly for my personal benefit. A quick skim through them gives an insight into what the curriculum was like at the time and how little time there was to put together meaningful prose.
This post collects my final impressions of DBC as a learning program more coherently.
I applied for DBC at the beginning of 2014 after about 2 months of deliberation and 3 years of increasing disdain for my dayjob activities. I knew enough about software to know that there was plenty of opportunity to create more beautiful and meaningful tools, but I didn’t know enough to remedy the situation myself.
After a few months of very slow learning via online courses and tinkering, I was introduced to someone that had just finished DBC in Chicago. He sold me on the concept with enthusiasm while describing his take on their core value proposition (paraphrasing slightly):
“DevBootcamp facilitates accelerated learning, if you’re ready for it.”
Why it was great
- Many layers of resources - were available to find an answer to your question. Even though you were encouraged to hone your googling skills, there were also your immediate peers, peers that were a few weeks ahead in the program, on-hand teachers (between 9-6pm), DBC alumni just hanging around, DBC alumni that were specifically available for coaching, books, online videos of previous DBC lectures, the DBC facebook group(s), an inhouse counsellor (sometimes the answer is within!), and guest speakers. All of this totally eliminated ‘lack of resources’ as an excuse for anyone trying to learn more about the coding craft. Rather, one was forced to work on their resourcefulness because that was the only variable preventing near-instant resolution to any questions. This was a welcome change from sitting alone at home trying to plough through fuzzy youtube tutorials, looking up every other word on wikipedia. Not an impossible situation, but certainly not an accelerated learning environment.
- Immersion - in an environment where everybody is fiercely striving to improve themselves and their skills makes 15-17hrs of learning each day feel weirdly natural. Of course you take numerous breaks, and a decent lunch, and you stay active with standing desks or yoga or walking your commute or all of the above. However, you realise that it all serves to keep you energised and ready to absorb even more material. I found it super effective.
- Feels time & yoga - encouraged a healthy amount of self-awareness throughout the whole process that was extremely cathartic to say the least. Feels time was the fond name for weekly breakout sessions where groups of around 15 allow each participant to take just a couple minutes each to vent their thoughts. There were also many mindfulness exercises interdispersed between formal lectures throughout the 9 weeks that were of a similar nature. Yoga sessions encouraged a similar focus on the self, from a more physical aspect.
All of this served to encourage the idea that you can be more effective when you
- take both physical and mental breaks
- are aware of how your body and emotions react to both personal and external triggers (e.g. hunger, anger, shame.)
- are vulnerable
- Habit breeding - being immersed in a positive and safe environment away from the distractions of the daily grind is a perfect opportunity to plant the seed of new habits. I think I probably spent the first 3 weeks realising what I wanted those habits to be, but then I had 6 whole weeks to put them into practice.
- Safe and inspiring network - none of the mindfulness and vulnerability exercises could have been possible without reassurance that nobody was going to attack you or make you feel terrible. DBC somehow managed to bring out the better side of both staff and students - for some people this meant holding back their most abrasive traits, and for others this meant boosting their kindness and generosity to almost suspicious levels. The resulting culture seemed to surprise everyone there constantly; the sheer novelty of it was encouraging enough for both staff and students to fight hard to maintain it. This was the most powerful part of the whole experience for me.
- Culture > Lectures - I felt that DBC’s best competitive advantage was its culture but that seemed to be in danger of changing with the turnover of staff. As a new student being offered ‘cultural koolaid’, you’re a lot less likely to drink up if even the person offering it to you seems unconvinced of its taste. At times there was a feeling of mutual experimentation with both the technical and cultural aspects of the program, which is great if you’re being paid but not when you’re paying for the privilege.
- Scaling up imperfection? DBC were expanding with bigger cohort sizes and into more locations, which I would encourage after smoothing out more of the kinks in their product. There seemed to be some recurring themes in feedback from students (e.g. complaints about particular teachers or exercises) that were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Without clear systems in place it seems as though these issues are destined to scale in frequency and impact with DBC’s footprint.
- Why are they in such an expensive part of town? There really wasn’t a satisfactory answer to this from a student perspective. The cons seem to outweigh the pros.
There are many more details than what I’ve already mentioned in this post, but these are my lasting impressions about my overall very positive experience. I was looking for a general review like this when I was researching what it was like so hopefully this can help someone else considering a coding bootcamp. Feel free to comment below with any questions or feedback.