hack reactor students

Computer programming, software engineering, software development, coding-whatever you call it, the job of writing computer code has become one of the hottest, most lucrative fields. And unlike most other well-paying careers that require college degrees, a plethora of coding bootcamps claim that they can teach anyone to code in just a few months. More than that, they claim that after graduating from a “coding bootcamp” you’ll be able to land a six-figure job. Sounds too good to be true, right? But is it?

To get the real story, I interviewed Kevin, a Gliffy Software Engineer who graduated from Hack Reactor. Read on!

Kevin’s a smart guy. He started out as a Physics major at Cal Berkeley, but quickly realized the academic track wasn’t for him. He ended up switching to Mechanical Engineering, which he thought more practical, and ended up graduating from UCLA with a Master’s Degree. Upon graduation, Kevin worked for 2 plus years in a corporation where he felt like a cog and made a comparatively paltry salary. He hated life.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kevin was surrounded by friends who were software engineers. He had a college roommate who had gone through coding bootcamp. His friend had a Bachelor’s in Psychology compared with Kevin’s Master’s, and yet the friend had a great job and was winning at life, whereas Kevin felt like the bird on the second rung of a bird ladder.

One day Kevin decided that enough was enough. He too would go to coding bootcamp, win at life and be rid of tyrannical, shitting birds.

shitting birds

Why Hack Reactor?

After looking at various Bay Area bootcamps (here’s a list) Kevin’s decision came down to 2 factors. 1-he had friends who had gone to Hack Reactor and loved it, and 2-the intensity of the program appealed to him. The thought of going back to school to get a formal Computer Science degree briefly crossed his mind, but it just didn’t make sense to pay more for something that would take much longer.

The Specifics

Hack Reactor is a 3-month program that costs around 18K. Students go to class 6 days a week and are expected to be there well over 12 hours a day. One of their most touted selling points is that over 99% of HR students who want a job, land one within 3 months of graduating at an average salary of 105k. For Kevin,

"School started at 9, but you were expected to be there at 8.30 to have coffee and bagels and talk to your classmates because a lot of time you were working so hard you forgot to talk to people. We got an hour lunch break then worked until 5. Dinner was from 5-6 and then we were in school until 8pm. But very few people left at 8, most stayed until 9. I rarely left before 10. Then I’d come home and work until midnight many nights. This was Monday-Saturday. On Sunday I would continue to code at home."

HR values soft skills too. In addition to teaching students to code, the program teaches them to deal with everyday work issues and gives them a chance to talk about anything else going on in their personal lives. It’s a smart way to offset the intensity. During the 3-month program, Kevin saw his girlfriend for exactly 15 minutes before he went to sleep and literally dreamed of code. But it was worth it.

What Specifically Do You Learn?

Coding Bootcamps differ in what they teach you. Some allow you to choose between front-end, back-end or full-stack development. At HR everyone learns to be a full-stack engineer. Specifically, on the front-end you learn JavaScript and frameworks including React, Angular and Backbone. On the back-end you learn NodeJS and Express. To round things out you learn a bit of database design with MySQL and MongoDB.

Was There Any Real World Coding Skill HR Didn’t Teach?

A 3-month program has its limitations. Students "didn’t write very many tests and our error handling cases were not as good, but I still felt very prepared when starting my job. HR teaches you how to learn and gives you the confidence that you may not know something right away, but you have the skills to figure it out."

software engineering salary

Is It Really for Everyone?

Kevin’s educational background put him at the top of his class. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a math or engineering background to succeed. In his class, there were people from all walks of life. People who were auto mechanics or worked at Safeway, people who didn’t know common computer shortcuts and typed with one finger. It didn’t matter; they all did well.

When he started, there were 39 people in Kevin’s class. Three saw the materials and dropped out in the first week. The rest graduated and as promised got a job within three months.

Do You Get Help with Resume Prep?

A 99% + job placement rate is incredible. It’s a huge competitive advantage and HR works hard to keep it that way. That’s why resume-writing and critique are both part of the curriculum. HR makes sure odds are stacked in students’ favor.

"The last week of graduation you’re expected to apply to 10-20 jobs a day. I applied to 120 jobs in a week and a half. They expect you to apply to at least 200 jobs while you’re there."

Kevin was the first of his class to receive a job offer. Fifteen minutes after receiving his, 2 more classmates got theirs.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Kevin says that the best and most unexpected thing he got from HR was "a lot of emotional maturity. We learned effective communication skills, how to say things without making someone defensive." He also ended up making a lot of lifelong friends, as often happens when people go through an intense experience together. The worst was that he basically didn’t get to see his girlfriend for three months, but he’s since made up for it.

So, Should You Go?

Bootcamps vary. Some are 5 days a week, from 9-5. Some, like Hack Reactor are more intense. Kevin’s most important advice is "have the drive to work hard because you get out exactly what you put in." Every single person in Kevin’s class who wanted a job got one within the first 3 months. His classmates are now at Google, Facebook, Visa, Yelp, but also at all sorts of smaller startups. Their salaries range between 105-130k.

"If you think you’re intelligent and you have the motivation to drastically change your life, HR is for you no matter what your background. Coding is one of the easiest things because it’s very logical. Loops and if-statements is all it basically is.  If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll be just fine."