Coding bootcamps are one of the great ways you can start your career in software development but it can be a big decision to make for many.
Developer, Richard Thompson tells us about the process he went through and how it has helped him to reach his ambition of developing software.
Do you have a favourite code bootcamp?
'My ambition, for a few years now, has been to develop software. So, what better place to start than a coding bootcamp? Deciding to commit to a bootcamp was a massive decision for me, mainly due to costs, as at this time there weren't any finance options. But, I took the plunge, interviewed with Northcoders and braced myself for the entrance exam.
My first reaction to developer life was — this is hard. I would liken the Northcoders exam to learning the basics of a new language and then jumping straight into a conversation with a native speaker. Nerve-racking or what? Looking back, the entrance exam seems pretty reasonable (I now think doing loops within loops isn’t hard) but at the time, having to piece it all together was tough. Entrance exams are always difficult, but if you are new to the idea it’s worth bearing in mind that they are designed to be challenging and the interviewers won’t be expecting you to know everything, they just want to know what you know and see where the gaps in your knowledge are.
What to Look For in a Bootcamp
In my opinion, you are looking to get the following out of a bootcamp:
- To be taught how to practically write code using your chosen language (not just academic teachings).
- To develop problem-solving skills and make you resilient when you face problems on your own.
- To learn frameworks which are there to allow you to build things faster, frontend or backend, depending on your preference.
And most importantly in a bootcamp environment:
- To get you used to learning quickly (a valuable commodity in any job).
Not everyone is a fan of the bootcamp set up, and I’m sure there are dozens of reasons for and against, but these (above) four skills were the most valuable things I took away from the Northcoders bootcamp.
Did the Bootcamp Provide Me With Everything I Needed?
The short answer is no. So, (I hear you ask) why did you go?
It would be impossible for a bootcamp to provide you with every skillset and piece of knowledge you needed to be a successful developer. That takes years of continual development and learning. You would have to study for many months to get a deeper understanding that, say, a junior developer accumulates over a year in a commercial environment. Even then studying is no replacement for real-world commercial experience.
The point of a bootcamp is to try and provide you with just enough knowledge, in that short space of time you have, to get a junior role. As well as developing skills such as problem-solving, resilience and fast learning, which will ultimately drive you to become successful throughout your career.
What Was a Junior Role Actually Like?
Well, it was tough, really tough. You may think that just because you know the basics you're fully equipped, when in actual fact there is so much more to developing than what you can learn in 3 months. My first week at BuildEmpire was a big eye opener, I wasn't outputting even half the work I do 9 months later. But this was ok, because there is a grace period where this is to be expected. What I assume management were banking on was that over a period of weeks or even months I would pick things up and learn quickly, which I am pleased to say, I did.
I feel I was very lucky to land this job at BuildEmpire. For one reason only — they have fully supported me from the day I started, to present. I could feasibly have started at a number of companies, one I remember was based in VR and augmented reality in Manchester city centre but wasn't really my cup of tea.
Transitioning to working in the real world is hard. You have to learn how to debug commercial projects and large code bases with chrome dev tools. You have to use more advanced features of the git workflow. Managing agile software for task tracking, code reviews, meetings and so much more.
Was It Worth It?
Yes, it was definitely worth it. I didn't truly enjoy my previous jobs in property and needed fulfilment. For anyone thinking of taking the plunge and starting a career in software development, my advice would be…
- Ask lots of questions.
- Write down important things! (At least to start with.)
- Always push yourself, when you feel comfortable push yourself more. (Shout out to James the co-founder of Northcoders for this way of thinking.)
And, as a side point, be flexible with your first job. It might not be the job you’ve always wanted or dreamed about but it is all about getting exposure to as many environments as possible and learning.
How Can I Improve My Chances of Getting a Good Job Offer?
For frontend development, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances. The bread and butter of day to day life will involve CSS and HTML. So, while you're unemployed straight out of a bootcamp or university, pick a website, say Netflix, Facebook or Twitter and replicate the layout as precisely as possible(or even some functionality). I can honestly say from my experience the more you practice the better you will become.
Another thing I would say is develop a website, use a framework of your choice and flesh an application out. This will prepare you for working on projects. A few key points to remember here are:
- Use a task tracker system. Even something as rudimentary as Trello.
- Design the project using something like Adobe XD (a tenner a month — no contract). This will teach you to follow designs closely.
- Do tasks on separate branches and merge this into a development branch when done.
- And finally, use a source control system like git so people can view what you’ve done online!
All of these things are practical ways to prepare you for what a real-world job will entail.
One of the things you will learn quickly is that juniors are not going to be building projects from scratch. More than likely, you will be in an agile environment and working on small quantifiable tasks. You will not be expected to build projects from scratch and think in depth about architectural decisions, this is mainly what seniors and mid-level devs will do. That is not to say you will have no input, you will be able to express yourself and make points in meetings. If you show you can already do this to some extent, then great — you have another unique selling point to show potential employers.
One thing directly after Northcoders I suffered from was job hunting fatigue. A lack of motivation was creeping in, due to knockbacks from interviews and tech tests. Just think of it like this (and I did), if you don’t hit the mark on a tech test then the job probably isn't for you. That job you failed to get an interview for doesn't mean you're a failure, it just means that particular job wasn't a good fit for you. And believe me, there are plenty of employers looking for juniors, so don’t feel after 4 months you’re a failure, persistence pays off and most of all — believe in yourself, as this will shine through at interviews.
If, after a few months, you don’t get a job you want, take a step back and come up with a plan. If you haven’t already, do what I said above and start your own project and do it properly, don’t just open up your IDE and start coding (what I used to do), plan and prepare what you're going to do, give yourself targets.
If you’re like me and enjoy tutorials, here are a few places you can go for frontend dev tutorials (and also backend):
- Frontend Masters (one of the best in my opinion)
(I’m sure there are so many more)
In the end, you have to stay motivated and also have persistence. And most importantly, set yourself targets and time frames of when you want to get things done.
Are you a junior developer who fancies working alongside me at BuildEmpire? Go to buildempire.co.uk/developer-jobs. I know it was the right choice for me, they are here ready to help you get your developer career off the ground with a full range of support and a whole load of personality. Hit me up with any questions you have, or if you want advice from someone who's been there, let me know!'