My Experience as a Full-Time Web Development Bootcamp Student at Thinkful
March 1st, 2017
Since my graduation in October, I’ve wanted to write about my time
at Thinkful. Honestly, it’s been hard to know where to start, and
it was important to me that I dedicated enough time to adequately
capture my experience. In short, Thinkful greatly exceeded my
expectations in every respect and I have nothing but positive things
to say about their program and their staff.
Prior to Thinkful, I had no more than a few weeks of self-taught programming experience. For many years leading up to the program, I planned to learn to code at some point, if the opportunity presented itself. I had enjoyed my cursory exposure to programming and thought it might make for a cool hobby someday, but I never imagined I would be able to make a career out of it. Early last year, I came across several ads from various bootcamps and was immediately intrigued. The prospect of completely changing my career path in less than a year sounded amazing, but I definitely had reservations about the validity of their promises and claims. I researched the available programs extensively, but was not impressed by the first few I inquired about, which at best were unmemorable. In contrast, Thinkful had a unique quality from the start.
On the initial, informational call, I instantly clicked with the program manager, whose academic backgrounds and interests paralleled my own. He was straightforward and thorough, and I appreciated that he provided me with a clear representation of not only what I could expect from the program, but also what it would require from me. Unlike my calls with some of the competitor bootcamps, our conversation in no way felt like a sales pitch. He was completely upfront about my possible options and the associated costs. It was apparent that his intentions were to help me decide whether the rigorous program would be the right fit for me, and to ensure that I fully understood the degree of commitment required for a successful outcome. I excitedly put in an application the same day. Within a couple weeks, I was notified of my acceptance, and the course started a few days later.
One of my first noteworthy impressions of the program was the high quality of the other students in my cohort. I was in the second session, with seven others, ranging in age, academic backgrounds, and work histories. Initially, the only thing we all seemed to have in common was our programming background, or lack thereof. Nonetheless, we became acquainted straightaway, and I promptly had the realization that each one of us was hand-picked for our cohort. It was evident that careful thought went into building a balanced group of people who would mesh well and cultivate each other’s growth on a daily basis. It never felt like we were in competition with one another, or like there was a weak-link impeding the advancement of the rest of the class. We all were equally motivated to learn and willing to put in the required work and effort. I found myself helping one of my classmates understand a new concept just as often as they would teach me the finer points of something else. The high standard for acceptance into the program is what makes its peer-programming driven curriculum especially effective. Additionally, the supplemental reading materials are exceptional. The texts are extremely concise considering how content-rich they are. I never felt like I was buried in reading, but always had thorough explanations for reference when I needed them.
Even still, the first several weeks were challenging, as the fast-paced course takes off at full speed from day one. There were moments where I doubted my ability to stay on track, but the 1-on-1 attention from the instructors/TAs/mentors made such a difference early on to prevent me from falling behind. One thing I love about Thinkful’s faculty is that they take such a personal interest in every student. It is not my nature to ask for assistance until a situation becomes dire, but I would regularly get the help I needed without asking for it. All of the instructors are expert programmers and could quickly zero-in on the holes in my comprehension from briefly scanning a few lines of my code. Accordingly, they would often provide answers to questions that I didn't even realize I had. Thinkful’s support team is also really wonderful. Whenever I had an administrative question or some other request, I would receive a swift response from the right person, who would be more than happy to help me. On a few occasions, I even received a compliment on one of my projects or some other positive feedback from a support team member, alongside their response to my request. To me, this perfectly illustrates how every person at Thinkful is involved in the progress of the students and dedicated to their success, regardless of whether or not they are directly involved in the learning process.
Before I knew it, I was halfway through the course and was independently building full-stack web apps as side projects. This was a huge turning point for me, and I couldn't believe how much I had learned in two short months. Around this time, I experienced a newfound confidence in my coding ability. I witnessed not only my competency begin to increase rapidly, but also my love for programming. From that point on, I was literally coding around the clock. I would work all day on my projects for the course, and then would continue coding on my side projects in the evenings. Beyond the formidable skill-set I learned throughout the program, I also attribute the love I developed for programming to my instructors and mentors, who displayed their own genuine passion for coding on a daily basis.
The second half of the course flew by even more quickly than the first. I remember feeling excitement on the last day, but it was coupled with an anxious uncertainty about what would happen next. While I was very confident in my programming ability by that point, I was concerned about no longer having the support system that I had relied on so heavily for the past four months. As a student, I felt this 'safety net' of people behind me. As I exited the program, I was unsure whether my growth and success would continue as an alumnus without that safeguard to fall back on. Luckily, I was never faced with that scenario -- the instructors and mentors I worked with throughout the course were just replaced by equally impressive career-prep coaches, but the unfailing support and guidance I received remained unchanged. At no point during the course or in the months that followed did I ever feel like I was on my own.
I strongly dislike resumes/applications/interviews/marketing myself/etc., but Thinkful's career-prep personnel made these dreaded aspects of the job search as easy and painless as possible. They assisted me in every step of the process, helping me focus on small manageable tasks so that I never felt overwhelmed. Also, all of my former instructors and mentors continued to make themselves available to me. They were always happy to assist me with debugging or provide me with feedback, despite the fact that I was no longer a current student. Furthermore, several of them wrote recommendations for my applications and served as references throughout the interview process. At no point in my job search did I ever struggle to find help from someone when I needed it.
Another aspect of my job search that I appreciated, was that I never felt pressure to apply to a job that didn’t fit what I was looking for, or accept an offer that I wasn’t thrilled about. In the same way, I always considered the advice I received from my career advisors to be in my best interest. I never felt like their guidance was influenced by some other agenda -- like getting me hired as quickly as possible and out of their hands. When I first learned about Thinkful’s guarantee (essentially that you will get hired within six months of graduation, in a full-time role as a programmer, or your money back), aside from the more obvious implications of this promise being a testament to the effectiveness of the course, it reassured me that I would be provided with adequate career support, reasoning was that they would be sufficiently motivated to protect my tuition funds in light of the guarantee. In reality, I had it backwards. They are able to provide that guarantee because they are the best at what they do, and have built a highly skilled team that genuinely cares about their students. With that combination, there is no question that their students will be hired, as long as the appropriate commitment exists on the part of the student.
In my past experiences with ‘guidance’ counselors or some equivalent, I can confidently say that this is not the norm. Before Thinkful, I was familiar with a dynamic in which my best interests were a much lower priority, and were eclipsed by many other considerations unrelated to my success. For example, my pre-med advisor in college was far more concerned about maintaining the school’s statistics surrounding acceptance and matriculation rates, to the extent that she would regularly discourage me from applying to med schools altogether, and instead direct my efforts toward a dentistry program or a career as a physician's assistant. She would prefer for me to aim small and guarantee her own success, than to reach toward something that was in line with my goals, but had a more uncertain outcome. As it turned out, I never did apply to medical school. Looking back, I feel like I should thank her -- I cannot imagine a situation in which I would receive the same gratification from a medical profession that I experience in my career as a programmer.
A few weeks ago, I took on a full-time role as the sole software engineer for a small medical-device startup, where I'm building the corresponding mobile app. I am still blown away by the notion that I am being paid to write software full-time, not even nine months after that initial call with the program manager at Thinkful. Aside from the broad-base of programming knowledge I now posses, one of the most valuable skills Thinkful offers its students is how to think like a programmer. Additionally, they teach you how to learn, and how to do so extremely efficiently. Throughout my job search, whenever I saw a posting that mentioned experience with a technology I hadn’t used or some other requirement I didn’t quite meet -- I was never concerned that I might be unqualified for the job, because I was confident that I could quickly pick up any new skill. Instead, I was focused on how I could convey my learning capacity and adaptable nature to the hiring manager.
Thinkful’s program is structured in a way that, as a student, you are positioned to absorb increasingly larger amounts of new information, over shorter periods of time. Effectively, I came out of the course with a very high potential for learning -- so much so, that my current employer was confident in hiring me to build their mobile app, despite my very limited prior experience with mobile app development. In a few short weeks, the app is well underway and I have another skill to add to my growing repertoire. Even now, Thinkful continues to serve as a valuable resource for me. I still refer back to the program’s curriculum frequently, and attend the Q&A sessions for supplemental code help a few times a week. Additionally, I continue to keep in touch with all of my former classmates and instructors, many of whom I chat with several times a week and consider to be close friends, despite having still never met them in person :) .
Just to be clear, I do not work for Thinkful, and was not paid to write this review. I wanted to spread the word about what a genuinely good company they have, and what a solid programming bootcamp they offer. I feel like I owe them so much, as this experience has changed my life. This is my first salaried job and I'm earning more than I ever have previously. For the first time, I can honestly say that I'm fulfilled by the work I'm doing -- it is a very rewarding feeling to build a website or an app. Also, I love that I will always be challenged and continue to learn in this career. I don’t foresee ever feeling the mundane repetition in my current position that I've experienced in previous roles. In fact, my new job doesn't even feel like work at all -- I get to write code all day, my lunches are catered, I take ping-pong breaks whenever I need to move around for a bit, and my skateboard is my primary means of transportation inside the 'office'. In all seriousness, this is the first time that I have ever truly experienced firsthand the old adage, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I wouldn't be able to say that without the opportunity Thinkful provided to me -- the opportunity to completely transform my career in a few short months.