Once upon a time…there was a man who taught himself to code in 8 weeks. He got a job he loved making mad amounts of cash. He lived happily ever after with his puppy, a magic lamp, and a reasonably priced 2bed/1bath rental in San Francisco. Ha. Hahaha. HAHAHAHA.

Nine months ago, I made the decision to go to a developer bootcamp called Hackbright Academy. I recently finished my first week employed as a software engineer, but my own experience was quite different from the fairy tale above.

Let’s break that story down:

Diversity is a problem in tech.

Lack of diversity is a big problem in tech today. Of the 64,000 developers who responded to StackOverflow’s yearly survey, 88.6% identified as male and 74.4% identified as white. One of the companies I interviewed with boasted that their engineering team, including QA and Data, was almost 33% women. And they should be proud — it was by far the highest team percentage of women I encountered  during my job search. This lack of diversity is perpetuated by a homogenous group of people (sometimes ignorantly) supporting biased candidate filtering techniques.

The learning cycle for a new dev is waaaaaay longer than 8 weeks.

Whether you’re a self-taught hacker or a bootcamp grad, the bottom line is the same: you’re starting out in a new career. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was considering attending a bootcamp was from a fellow graduate: this process will make you hirable, but it will not make you a good software engineer. In other words, this will get you started, but you’ll still have to work hard to keep up after you graduate.

In short, that timeline is completely bogus. It took me two weeks to initially apply to Hackbright (which, in comparison with my classmates, was an extremely short time horizon), 3 weeks to learn I had been accepted, and another month after that for class to start. The bootcamp itself lasted for 12 weeks, followed by 2 weeks of Christmas/New Years holidays, and then 10 weeks of grueling job searching. I’m now looking at spending the next 3-6 months getting comfortable and relatively independent in my new role. 8 weeks? Yeah right. Buckle up for a year’s worth of hard core learning.

It is indescribably difficult to land a job you love.

The 4 words “(s)he got a job” fall woefully short of describing the terrible, heartbreaking process that is job searching. I searched for 10 weeks, falling just short of the 12 week Hackbright average. Throughout the 49 business days of my unemployment, I:

  • volleyed 667 Emails (~13/day)
  • communicated meaningfully with 54 people
  • applied to 32 companies
  • dialed in to 18 phone screens
  • had 18 coffee dates
  • attended 11 practice white-boarding sessions
  • (barely) ate 10 networking lunches
  • made it through 6 technical on-site interviews
  • and hung out at 2 Girl Geek Dinners

I cold applied to only 5 companies, and was rejected immediately by 4 of them. I found I could convert to a phone screen or onsite MUCH better if I had someone internal recommend me. Plus, the coffee dates a) gave me a reason to get dressed outside of my pink cat pajamas and b) made me feel better about myself during a job search that made me question whether or not I was worthy to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.

Talking in terms of conversion, I discounted the 5 companies I cold applied to since that was clearly a suboptimal application strategy. After that, a little over 50% of the companies moved my application onward to some sort of phone screen, and 44% of those converted into onsite interviews. One of those materialized into an offer, leaving me an overall 3% application to offer conversion. The work I doggedly put in to each of those 49 business days and a 3% offer conversion can not be contained in 4 words, unless those 4 words are misery, doubt, anguish, and ice-cream.

All about the Benjamins

Sure there’s stories about unicorns who make a gazillion dollars working at Airbnb, but the reality is that less than 40% of Hackbright graduates make over 100k at their first position. Be grounded in the reality and not the exception.

Conclusion

It’s so easy to idealize the seemingly ubiquitous success stories of untraditionally taught hacker dudes (like this guy or this guy), but these kinds of stories perpetuate inaccurate expectations all around. This is especially true for women and minorities, for whom the system is already biased. The crazy thing is that I was told about the grueling nature of the challenge I was undertaking before, during, and after my bootcamp experience — I was just already so familiar with the happily ever after version that I didn’t internalize what people were telling me.

So let’s deconstruct the fairy tale version of this story and set realistic expectations with regards to the untraditional developer: Once upon a time…there was an individual who wanted to change their career. They went back to school and studied hard. They doubted themselves as they spent months looking for a job that would nurture their new skills and value them, despite their untraditional upbringing. But they did not give up! It took about a year for them to make the full transition and be relatively comfortable in their new role. They didn’t live happily ever after because they had to keep paying rent in the SF Bay Area, but never regretted the time they spent transitioning to their new career in tech.

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One thought on “Stop romanticizing self-taught hackers and bootcamp grads

  1. I commend you on all of your hard work, Becca. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story! We are very proud of what you’ve done and all you will accomplish. Best of luck in your new role!

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