Coding bootcamps have risen quickly as a destination for people looking to learn in-demand software engineering skills. Compared to degree programs, they are a lesser investment of time and money. Many bootcamps are also connected with employers and provide a place to source talent. While they can be a stepping stone to a tech career, that is by no means a guarantee and it requires careful navigation to make the leap from student to professional developer.
Tolu Edionwe, 22, is looking to make this leap. A 2015 graduate of Grinnell College, a liberal arts college in Iowa, she returned to her hometown of New York City and completed a three-month web development intensive course at the New York Code and Design Academy (NYCDA). Once the only girl on her high school football team, she is now taking on the notoriously male dominated software engineering industry. I spoke with her about why she chose to learn to code after completing a sociology degree, what coding school is like, and what advice she would give anyone thinking about going down the same path.
What sparked your initial interest in computer science?
I like languages. I saw computer science as the language of computers. The way I think about languages is that when you speak a language, you can understand a culture. For example: Portuguese. I started learning it through books in college, but it wasn’t until I was actually in Brazil that I picked it up a lot better. I feel like the way it’s spoken reflects a lot of Brazilian culture. When I would hear myself speak after a few months, I felt like “yo, I’m really in it! I’m in the culture!” I always wanted and I still want to feel that way about computers.
Why did you decide to attend a coding bootcamp?
The summer [after college] got really dark for me. There was an expectation that I would leave college with a job in hand, and that wasn’t the case. That’s when I started looking into coding bootcamps. All summer, I saw ads [about coding bootcamps] on Facebook. I decided I was going to put all my energy into this.
How did you select a bootcamp?
I made a list of all the bootcamps in New York City on Course Report. I had a document and I wrote down their curricula, prices, and then if I kept seeing a pattern in reviews, I wrote that down too. People have written blogs and articles about their experiences with bootcamps and I read those as well. At the end of the day, price was the biggest factor. My first choice, App Academy, was free until you got a job, and then they would take a percentage of your salary. That seemed so fair to me, but the admissions process was really difficult and the next cohort would start in a few months. I honestly wanted to attach to something sooner. With NYCDA, the admissions process wasn’t too bad, and it was starting the next week.
Describe your first day and an average day in the program.
We had ice breakers the first day, and I was — of course — looking around trying to find the other people of color. There were a good amount, so I was pleasantly surprised. The first day was good; I had done the pre-work pretty fast and I wasn’t too lost. It was HTML and CSS.
The program was 10:00 am to 6:00 pm everyday. On a typical day, there would be a lecture. We were looking at slides, taking notes, and trying out these concepts. There would also be workshop slides. The TA and the instructor would be there for assistance. We would break for lunch, then [resume with more lectures and workshops] afterwards. I would usually stay late and work on whatever homework assignment or project we had to do and go home around 8:30 or 9:00 pm.
Who would you say a coding bootcamp is for?
Best case scenario — a computer science major. They would have the best of both worlds. Computer science degrees are less applied. It’s learning about algorithms and logic, whereas coding bootcamps are trying to get people to where they are producing software in a short amount of time. Going into a coding bootcamp, a computer science major would come out with the more applied skills that are ideal for getting a job. A lot of the time, employers are looking for both capabilities.
But honestly, I think coding school is for anyone who wants to build something with code. That feels great. You’re proud of it. You can explain how it works, why you made certain choices. And you really understand it. That’s a really gratifying feeling.
The negative side is that a lot of times people who are going to bootcamps are looking to get a job afterwards, and that doesn’t always happen. It’s hard to find a job when you really need one. People who come out and are applying for jobs right away…maybe their skills are a little more raw than people who can take more time to work on an idea, explore different technologies, and also apply for jobs. For [the latter group], it’s about the means and not the ends the way it is for people who are hungry for a job.
What advice would you give a friend who’s considering a bootcamp?
I would ask what their ultimate goal is. If it is to get a job, I would say go to a job search engine, search for “developer”, see what technologies people are looking for and focus on learning those specific technologies. Look for a school that will teach you those technologies and try to incorporate them into your projects.
Was going to a bootcamp worth it for you?
Yes. A coding bootcamp will teach you to be a developer. It is not a replacement for a computer science degree, but it is enough to get you started and give you the confidence to say “I’ll find that out” when you don’t know something.
There is also the value of being surrounded by people who want to learn what you do. I’m always falling into conversations with people about what they are doing. It creates a community; everyone knows what I want and people are looking out for me.
Tolu Edionwe is a 2015 graduate of New York Code and Design Academy. You can find more information about Tolu at her website.